Investigation into Estemirova’s killing extended

Moscow : Russian activists hold portraits of slain human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in Moscow on July 15, 2010 during a rally to mark the one year anniversary of her killing. (AFP Photo / Oxana Onipko)
The Investigative Committee of Russia has prolonged the probe into the killing of rights activist Natalya Estemirova after facing criticism from the Presidential Council on Human Rights.

­The term of the investigation into Estemirova’s kidnapping and murder was extended till November 15, 2011. The move was announced on the same day the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Non-Governmental organizations released a report on the independent investigation into the case. The report was recently presented to President Dmitry Medvedev while he was meeting with Human Rights activists in Nalchik.  The summary of the report was released on Thursday. In the document, rights activists accused the investigators of deliberately botching the investigation in order to place the blame for the crime on a Chechen militant who was killed in an air raid not long after the murder was committed.

However, corresponding with the announcement of the decision to prolong the probe, investigators said that they still considered the main version of the probe to be correct as the facts attested to it. According to the Investigative Committee, Estemirova was kidnapped in Chechnya on July 15, 2009, by members of a gang headed by Islam Uspakhadjiyev.  She was then taken to the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia where she was killed by Alkanzur Bashayev, who was assisted by several other militants. Investigators maintain that the militants sought revenge for Estemirova’s reports about Bashayev’s activities in recruiting new gang members and an attack on the family of a Moscow businessman.

The Investigative Committee insisted that they had not only collected enough evidence to prove that Basharov was guilty of murder, but that  his criminal activities extended to trading in arms, kidnapping, and illegally participating in a militant group. Basharov has been put on an international most wanted list and a court has put out a warrant for his arrest. 

Investigators also objected to making public the preliminary results of the investigation, as this could affect the process and even put the lives of some of its participants in danger. After releasing the summary of the report on Thursday, Human Rights activists insisted that their work be added to the official probe materials and made public.

The investigative committee sharply criticized the conclusions of the activists’ report, which claimed that Alkanzur Bashayev was not involved in the killing and that investigators deliberately botched the probe in order to put the blame on someone who was already dead (according to some media reports, Bashayev was killed in an air raid soon after Estemirova’s murder). “Certain statements in the media about his [Bashayev’s] non-involvement in Estemirova’s murder are not based on real facts, they are only the personal opinions of those who are lacking in competence and who possess no information as they have no access to the criminal case materials,” reads the Investigation Committee’s statement.

The leading activist from the Human Rights Center Memorial, Svetlana Gannushkina, said on Friday that she was satisfied by the fact that the probe into Estemirova’s death had been extended and hoped that law enforcers would have an opportunity to conduct an objective investigation. “Of course I am glad, as this testifies to the fact that the investigators’ narrative is not the final one,” Gannushkina said in an interview with RIA Novosti news agency. At the same time, she insisted that the narrative that supported Bashayev’s involvement in the murder “was made up and could not withstand any criticism”. “I hope that the investigative bodies will have an opportunity to conduct an objective and independent investigation. I hope they will be granted such an opportunity and after communicating with them, I have no doubts that they have sufficient “navigation” and the professionalism to do that,” the activist said.