ECHR finds Russia failed to investigate assassination of journalist Natalia Estemirova

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russian authorities failed to investigate the murder of activist and journalist Natalia Estemirova.

Estemirova was abducted and shot in the chest and head in 2009. No one was ever charged or convicted of the crime.

At the time of her murder, she was working on an “extremely sensitive” investigation into human rights abuses in Chechnya, including alleged kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial killings by Russian troops. Eyewitnesses said they saw Estemirova bundled into a car in the early morning, shouting that she was kidnapped.

Her body was found riddled with bullet holes later that afternoon.

The ECHR ruled this week that Moscow failed to carry out a proper investigation. It ordered the State to pay Estemirova’s sister €20,000 for ‘moral damages’. The court dismissed other evidence presented by the family that alleged the State was involved in the assassination.

European judges added that while the investigation had been opened swiftly, several contradictions in expert testimony had not been resolved. Investigators also failed to explain the lack of DNA traces belonging to the accused or others involved that had been found.

Lastly, the ECHR said there were parallels between Estemirova’s murder and the assassination of human rights activist and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who reported Chechen human rights abuses.

Following the ruling, the family said they were happy the court found no proper investigation but were “extremely disappointed” at the dismissal of evidence related to State involvement.

Estemirova’s daughter, Lana, who has taken on much of her mother’s unfinished work, has pledged to continue pursuing the case.

Pen International tweeted that it’s time to end impunity and bring the guilty to justice.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Acting Director, said: “This judgment exposes the impunity surrounding the murder of Natalia Estemirova and the cynical inaction of the Russian authorities. In the 12 years since Natalia was killed, not only have they failed to identify and bring the perpetrators to account, but they have also remained silent and complacent as other human rights defenders in Chechnya were exposed to the same perils, attacked, threatened and prosecuted.”

Reporters Without Borders called the result “disappointing” and said it could further fuel a culture of impunity in the country.

 

During her career, Estemirova worked as a correspondent for local newspapers and filmed short documentaries about the victims of Russia’s punitive practices. She had also gathered extensive evidence of human rights violations against children and adults during the Chechen war.

She received various awards and accolades for her work during her lifetime, including the Robert Schuman Medal, the first Anna Politkovskaya Award and the Right Livelihood Award. 

Following her assassination, a vigil was held in Pushkin Square. After the event, police arrested the organiser and charged him with disturbing public peace.

Dmitri Medvedev, who was President of Russia at the time, said it was obvious her murder was linked to her work. Russian human rights organisation Memorial, of which Estemirova was a member, said the State was to blame and it was an “extrajudicial execution” carried out by government-backed death squads. 

They also revealed she had been threatened and that they believed Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, was responsible. Kadyrov denied the claims and accused Russian businessman and oligarch Boris Berezovsky of the murder.

In 2010, an anonymous source within the investigative team leaked information to the media saying the authorities knew who murdered her. This is believed to be Chechen activist Alkhazur Bashayev, yet he has not been apprehended and his whereabouts are reportedly unknown.

                           
                               
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