On Monday afternoon in Moscow a human rights lawyer and an independent journalist were gunned down by an assassin, who escaped the scene. Human rights activists in Russia are mourning the loss of a fearless advocate.
At approximately 3 p.m. the lawyer, Mr. Stanislav Markelov, and the journalist, Ms. Anastasia Baburova, were leaving the Independent Press Center, where Markelov had just held a press conference regarding the premature release from custody of a Russian Colonel convicted of the murder of a Chechen girl.
According to press reports, Markelov was shot a few times from behind with a pistol that had a silencer. Ms. Baburova was shot in the head as she tried to stop the assassin.
Markelov died on the scene. Baburova was rushed to Gradskaya Hospital No. 1 where she was operated on and then died.
Although these murders took place on the street, directly opposite a busy office building, no one has admitted to the press having witnessed anything.
Markelov had argued in the press conference that the release from jail on Jan. 15 of Russian Army Colonel Budanov, who had been convicted in 2000 of murdering a Chechen girl, has been improper and essentially illegal. Markelov was working to try to reverse this release.
Markelov’s Chechen connections go beyond his participation in the Budanov case.
He had previously worked closely with Ms. Anna Politkovskaya. She had been known around the world for her coverage of Russia’s actions in Chechyna and was assassinated, apparently for this reason, on Oct. 7, 2006.
Human Rights Defender
Markelov was known as a fearless man who took all kinds of cases, seeking to protect human rights in Russia.
He was known, for instance, for protecting journalists, and had taken the case of Mr. Mikhail Beketov. This journalist had been beaten so badly on Nov. 13, 2008, that he has since lain in a coma in the hospital.
Markelov had also responded to the victims of a growing Russian neo-Nazi movement, seeking to use the law to protect them.
In the summer of 2008, Markelov had agreed to represent the Falun Dafa association in a lawsuit against the Moscow city government. Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) is a meditation practice that the Chinese regime banned and began brutally persecuting in July 1999. It is practiced in over 80 countries around the world.
According to Falun Gong adherents, the Moscow city government has repeatedly acted to obstruct their peaceful activities. They understand that the Chinese Communist regime is behind this obstruction.
“Our peaceful protests were always a concern to the Chinese Communist Party. They tried different ways to interfere with us, putting pressure on the Russian authorities”, said Ms. Alexandra Ikhinova, who practices Falun Gong in Moscow.
“We previously filed a lawuit against the consul of PRC He Guan for spreading slanders about Falun Gong and his calling for limits on our freedom,” said Ikhinova. “However, material benefits have become more important in the world, and the Russian government has interfered with Falun Gong for material gain."
Last week Markelov had agreed to file a complaint with the European court of human rights in reference to a new case of abuse of power towards the practice of Falun Gong in Russia. At this time, it is not known whether that case will go forward. The Russian human rights activist Mr. Valery Nikolsky says that Markelov’s murder is a great loss to the adherents of Falun Gong.
A Barrier Broken
According to the Russian human rights lawyer Mr. Yuriy Schmidt, “In the past, it happened that lawyers got killed, but they were involved in business. However, killing lawyers who do general practice, I cannot even remember a case like this.”