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31 Jan, 2009 12:22

Police question associates of murdered human rights lawyer

Moscow investigators have questioned a number of associates of the murdered lawyer Stanislav Markelov. The controversial human rights advocate was gunned down with a young journalist on a Moscow street in mid-January.

Lawyer Stanislav Markelov and 25-year-old Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova were shot dead in broad daylight as they were walking out of the last press conference of their lives.

Investigators say the lawyer was the main target. He had worked on a number of human rights cases, leading many to believe that’s what made him vulnerable.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev didn’t comment immediately on the incident, but has now condemned the murder and expressed his condolences over the deaths. Medvedev spoke with Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, where the late journalist worked.

“It was humanly clever and even angry. It’s good that he said that. And I am happy I could relay it to the families of the journalist and the lawyer. He said that tolerating the incident was very difficult, but he didn’t want to make any statements on the day it happened or the next day, because, as a lawyer himself, he knew that any statement by a person in his position might influence the investigation,” said Muratov on his conversation with the president.

The investigation is ongoing. Many human rights activists have already compared the lawyer’s murder to that of prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Politkovskaya was a client of Markelov and, like the young journalist who was shot dead, she wrote for Novaya Gazeta.

According to his clients, Stanislav Markelov had received multiple death threats prior to his killing. His friends say he understood the dangers, but was determined to continue his work, which was tragically cut short in the centre of Moscow on January 19.