Leading article: Killing exposes the true face of modern Russia

The Kremlin's outrage over Natalia Estemirova's murder rings hollow

Share
Related Topics

Uncovering the truth is a lethal business in Russia and its republics. Another independent human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, was assassinated this week. She was abducted from near her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital, on Wednesday. Her body was found in the neighbouring state of Ingushetia later that day; she had been shot in the head. Ms Estemirova's death adds to the growing tally of courageous activists and independent journalists who have been assassinated in Russia in recent years.

Ms Estemirova knew the risks of revealing evidence of human rights abuses in modern Russia as much as anybody. She had experienced threats on more than one occasion. But that does not make her killing any less appalling – or any less damning of the political culture that prevails in her homeland.

There was stern condemnation of the killing from the Russian authorities this week. President Dmitry Medvedev declared his "outrage" at the crime, and the Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, vowed that he would lead the investigation into Ms Estemirova's death. But there were similar promises following the murder of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in her Moscow apartment building in 2006, and still no one has been convicted of that murder. Two Chechen men were acquitted of involvement in the crime in February after a farce of a trial. With each unsolved killing, the question grows more insistent: does there exist any genuine desire on the part of either the Russian or Chechen authorities to see the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice?

Many powerful people in Grozny and Moscow had reason to want Ms Estemirova silenced. She had uncovered numerous human rights abuses by the Chechen authorities – cases of torture, disappearances and extra-judicial killing. She had recently completed an investigation for Human Rights Watch into the Chechen authorities' practice of burning the homes of those suspected of having links to rebel groups. She speaks of these crimes in her final article, which we publish today.

Ms Estemirova was also adept at persuading victims and witnesses to testify in court cases – a considerable skill in a region cowed by the fear of official retribution. No one seriously doubts that she was targeted because of her work in exposing government abuses.

The Kremlin likes to portray Chechnya as a success story of modern Russia – a region being rapidly rebuilt after two decades of terrible conflict. The former Russian president and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, declared in front of the Chechen parliament following the 2005 election that "peace has come to the republic". But this "peace" has been achieved by putting the region under the control of a brutal gangster regime. Human rights are routinely abused by the security forces, there is impunity for lawbreakers, and brave individuals such as Ms Estemirova – who tell the world what is really going on – end up dead.

The Kremlin might put on a show of concern about such high-profile killings, but it has shown no inclination to force its Chechen subordinates to change their ways. The Russian government's tight control of the national media show its essential antithesis to the kind of open, democratic society Ms Estemirova was fighting for. Her murder exposes the true face of Chechnya, and modern Russia, and it is not a pretty sight.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a suitably ...

Legal Cashier - Oxford

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

Legal Cashier - Oxford

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

Production and Merchandising Assistant

£19,000 - £21,000: Sauce Recruitment: A contemporary, original wholesale distr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor