Human rights lawyer, journalist murdered in central Moscow

A masked gunman shot and killed a prominent human rights lawyer who prosecuted the high-profile case of a Russian army officer accused of killing a Chechen civilian. A journalist was also shot in the attack and later died in hospital.


AFP - A masked gunman on Monday killed a human rights lawyer who exposed one of the most notorious cases of abuses by Russia's army in Chechnya, together with a journalist who died later in hospital.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that Stanislav Markelov had been gunned down on a busy street in central Moscow, while a woman, Anastasiya Baburova, was hospitalised with a bullet wound to the head.

A spokeswoman for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta confirmed the death of intern reporter Baburova in hospital on Monday evening.

Following the lawyer's death, the prosecutor's investigative department said: "The investigation is studying various theories on the killing, including a link to the deceased's professional activities."

Baburova, 25, had written a number of reports on Russia's growing problem of racism and ultra-nationalism for Novaya Gazeta, the paper of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006.

Human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said: "The murder in the centre of Moscow of a man, of a lawyer involved in cases of political importance, has as much significance as the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya."

Markelov and Baburova had just emerged from a press conference given by Markelov on the latest turn in the case of Elza Kungayeva, the 18-year-old Chechen whose 2000 strangling by Russian army colonel Yury Budanov became a cause celebre, highlighting systematic abuse by the Russian army in the war in Chechnya.

Budanov was released from jail on Friday after serving most of his 10-year sentence for the young Chechen woman's murder.

Markelov had vowed to challenge the granting of early release to Budanov, who was convicted in 2003 after pressure for a conviction by human rights activists, while ultra-nationalists had rallied to his side.

Budanov's release from jail had prompted street protests in Chechnya attended by both human rights activists and representatives of the region's Moscow-backed authorities.

Kungayeva's father, Visa Kungayev, told Echo of Moscow radio Markelov had recently received death threats.

The murdered lawyer had also provided legal help for Politkovskaya, whose work centred on the war-torn southern region of Chechnya, where Russia has fought two full-scale wars since the 1991 Soviet collapse, said Novaya Gazeta.

RIA-Novosti news agency quoted a police source as saying evidence had already been gathered from witnesses to the killing, who testified the gunman had lain in wait as Markelov gave the lunchtime press conference.

"The killer chose his moment, when there weren't many people in the way, quickened his step and shot the lawyer in the back of the head.... The murder was committed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people," the police source said.

While large-scale hostilities have ended in Chechnya, low-level attacks on Russian forces there take place regularly and a number of incidents testify to continued aftershocks.

The murder last week in broad daylight in Austria's capital of a Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, has prompted claims that killing was politically motivated, although Austrian prosecutors say they have no evidence of this.

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