International PEN is appalled by the July 15, 2009 abduction and murder of the courageous human rights defender and journalist Natalia Estemirova. PEN welcomes statements by Russian President Medvedev that an inquiry has been ordered into her death. It urges that the investigation be carried out speedily and that it not be beset by the problems encountered in other cases of murders of human rights commentators, notably that of the trial of writer Anna Politkovskaya, a close friend and colleague of Natalia Estemirova, who was herself murdered in October 2006.

Background Information

Natalia Estemirova, of Russian-Chechen descent, worked at Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization. Tenacious in her investigations into torture, killings, and other abuses in Chechnya, Estemirova was awarded for her courage by the Swedish and European parliaments, and in 2007 she was the first recipient of the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award given by the Reach All Women in War campaigning group. From 2001 until Politkovskaya’s assassination in 2006, the two had worked together to expose abuses carried out by Russian armed forces in Chechnya and by Moscow-backed Chechen officials. Politkovskaya’s killers remain free three years after her death. In June 2009, three Chechen men were acquitted of her murder after a trial that many observers describe as a farce. The Supreme Court has ordered that the acquittals be reviewed.

Despite knowing the acute danger, Estemirova continued to research and advocate on abuses in Chechnya, most recently a spate of house burnings by government-backed militia. She has been commended by local and foreign journalists for whom she was an important source of independent information in the conflict. Witnesses reported hearing Estemirova calling out that she was being kidnapped as she was forced into a van around 8:30 a.m. as she left her home in Grozny. Her body was found some hours later in the woods in neighboring Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest.

In December 2006, Natalia Estemirova was a guest speaker at a PEN American Center event commemorating Anna Politkovskaya. She told the audience that, “Criminals were afraid of Anna and afraid of her investigations.” It is clear that these same criminals also feared Estemirova.  Aged 50, Natalia Estemirova leaves behind her 15-year-old daughter. PEN extends its deepest condolences to Estemirova’s family and colleagues.

Since 2000, 17 journalists have been murdered in their attempt to uncover the high levels of criminality and abuses in Russia, specifically in Chechnya and Ingushetia. None of the cases have been properly resolved and their murderers act with impunity. It has become increasingly urgent that the Russian government take serious measures towards fully and properly investigating these murders and ensuring that those responsible be brought to justice.

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  • Expressing shock at the murder of Natalia Estemirova, clearly in retaliation for her investigations into human rights abuses in Chechnya;
  • Welcoming President Medvedev’s promise that there will be an immediate investigation into her murder, and urging that this be carried out fully and impartially, and that those responsible be brought to justice;
  • Raising concern that almost three years after her murder, no one has yet to be convicted of the murder of Estemirova’s colleague, Anna Politkovskaya, leading to concerns that there is little real commitment to resolving such crimes and thus allowing impunity to those who carry them out;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to counter these concerns by unequivocally condemning all attacks on the independent press and human rights monitors, and to review the unresolved murders of 17 journalists killed in the past decade.

Send Your Letter To

President of the Russian Federation
Mr. Dmitry Medvedev
Kremlin
Moscow
Russia
Fax: + 7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408
E-mail: president@gov.ru

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Mr. Chaika Yuri Yakovlevich
Ishaya Dmitrovka 1 a GSP e
Moscow 12599 3
Russia
Fax+7 095 292 88 48

Please contact PEN if sending appeals after August 15, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org