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17 Jul, 2009 21:18

“Provocation” murder – or murder by mistake?

Kidnappers were not going to kill human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, the preliminary investigation states. The murder in the Russian republic of Ingushetia was, rather, viewed by many as a provocation.

The body of the human rights activist who was kidnapped on Wednesday in Chechnya has been found in the neighboring north Caucasian Russian republic of Ingushetia. At the time of her death she was investigating alleged torture, killings and abductions in the Caucasus.

Some were quick to blame the President of the Chechen Republic and the Kremlin, saying they are responsible for the murder of a popular activist.

The Chechen president plans to sue Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial human rights organization, claiming he was slandered.

Another version said this was a provocation by armed gang leaders who wanted to defy the region’s authorities. Natalya Estemirova was found dead just one day before President Dmitry Medvedev’s talks with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However, as the Kommersant newspaper reports, according to preliminary results of the investigation, the criminals were initially only interested in kidnapping the activist. Only later, when frightened by police arriving to investigating a different crime, did they kill her.

How it all happened: the preliminary version

Estemirova was kidnapped in the Chechen capital Grozny on Wednesday. She left home to meet a Moscow journalist at her office and then visit the Chechen regional department of Russia’s investigation committee. She was supposed to meet its head to discuss illegal detentions in Chechya.

According to the investigation results, when she approached a bus stop a VAZ-2107 car stopped nearby and occupants of the vehicle forced her into the car. However, the witnesses didn’t rush to call the police as they thought local policemen had detained the woman.

Several hours later, the alarm was raised by colleagues waiting for Estemirova at the office as she hadn’t returned and her mobile was not responding. When the search operation began she had been already been killed, as the medical examination later revealed.

The body of the human rights activist was found in the evening lying in the road side near the Ingush village of Gazi-Yurt. Residents, as it appeared later, noticed it earlier in the day but no one called the police. Only one man decided to come closer, and having noticed blood near the body, called police. It was later determined that she was killed at the site where her body was found. She died from two gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

It is believed that the kidnappers found the road blocked by officers investigating the recent shooting at police officers who were accompanying an Ingushetia’s Economy Ministry official, in which one policemen was killed. Having seen the blocked road and police cars, the kidnappers might have panicked and killed Estemirova.

Investigation promised to be thorough and open

Natalya Estemirova has been laid to rest in Chechnya. She was buried in her native village, in accordance with Muslim tradition.

However, her killing has caused outrage in Russia and abroad.

Vladimir Vasiliev, head of the State Duma Security Committee, insists the police investigation will be thorough and open. “Obviously, the investigation will be objective and transparent,” he stated.

“You know that the President, himself, took it under his control. He expressed his condolences and shared his view on how the investigation should be carried out. We understand and share the concerns coming from abroad, but their stance in no way contradicts the position of the Russian leadership”, said Vasiliev.

Earlier President Medvedev expressed his opinion on the issue.

“Such a crime must not remain unpunished. It will be investigated in a most thorough way,” President Medvedev said.

He also said Estemirova’s murder was linked to her professional activities.

“Human rights activists are necessary for every normal state,” Medvedev stated.