Chechen ruler wins libel case over murder allegation

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The Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, won libel damages from a human rights organisation yesterday after its head implicated him in the murder of a human rights activist.

A Moscow court ordered Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial, to retract his statement that Mr Kadyrov was responsible for the murder of Natalia Estemirova, and ordered Mr Orlov and his organisation to pay combined damages to Mr Kadyrov of 70,000 roubles (£1,400). The news came the day before the third anniversary of the death of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, as two officials from Reporters Without Borders were denied visas to Russia. They were due to give a press conference demanding her killers be brought to justice.

Ms Estemirova was Chechnya's best-known human rights activist. She was kidnapped from outside her house in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in mid-July; her body was found in a neighbouring republic the same day. Mr Kadyrov promised to find those responsible, but in a later radio interview said that Ms Estemirova had been a woman "lacking in honour, dignity and conscience".

Mr Orlov told a press conference shortly after the murder that Mr Kadyrov was responsible for the killing, at the very least because he presided over a republic where kidnappings could occur in broad daylight with impunity. He was later called by an angry Mr Kadyrov, who announced his intention to sue.

"We will appeal the decision, although we have absolutely no hope that we'll win given the current political climate in Russia," said Mr Orlov. "However, what I'm happy about is that the case gave us a chance to get across the real nature of the situation in Chechnya today, and almost all of the witnesses supported our point of view."

No arrests have been made in the case. Mr Orlov said yesterday that Memorial has received information from many sources suggesting that the investigation has uncovered both the executors and the mastermind of the crime but officers are unwilling to make arrests due to the untouchable nature of the people involved.