Dmitri Sidorov, Washington Bureau Chief for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, writing in Forbes magazine:
Stanislav Markelov was buried in Moscow Friday, Jan. 23. A well-known lawyer and human rights advocate, he was murdered Jan. 19, not far from the Kremlin. His killer also mortally wounded Anastasia Baburina, a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The 25-year-old Baburina, who had been walking alongside Markelov, died in the hospital several hours after the shooting.
Novaya Gazeta, where Baburina worked, has lost many of its leading lights in recent years. Among them was Anna Politkovskaya, who had written about human rights violations in Chechnya; she was shot. Another probable victim was Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was poisoned. He had written about a corruption scandal involving high-ranking officials in the security services.
The double murder of Markelov and Baburina comes as yet another dreadful confirmation that to be a human rights advocate, or an investigative journalist without Kremlin sanction, is equivalent to a death sentence in today’s Russia.
Any unsanctioned move rouses the ire of the various forces in and around the Kremlin that prize, above all else, control over “sensitive” information they consider an obstacle to the brainwashing of the population. If the defense of human rights and the exposure of crimes committed by members of the security service is at issue, as it was with Markelov, the stakes are even higher.
Markelov had successfully pursued a number of cases in which members of Russia’s security services stood accused of violating human rights in Chechnya. The most famous case was that of an 18-year-old Chechen girl named Elza Kungaeva, who was abducted and murdered during an interrogation by the Russian Army Colonel Yuri Budanov in late March 2000. An official Russian Army autopsy confirmed that Kungaeva had also been raped.
Three of Budanov’s underlings were convicted of the latter crime, but came under a May 26, 2000, amnesty and charges against them were dropped. Stanislav Markelov represented the victim’s family.
The Budanov case received widespread coverage, both in Russia and abroad. Thanks in large part to this publicity, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution in April 2000 calling on Russia to create a national commission to investigate such crimes.
Moscow never intended to comply with the U.N. resolution, and high-ranking Russian military officers and officials did their best to keep Budanov out of prison, but they were unsuccessful. A three-year trial ended in 2003, and Yuri Budanov, found guilty of abducting and killing Kungaeva, was sentenced to a 10-year jail term. On Jan. 15, 2009, 15 months before the end of his sentence, Budanov was granted early release. Stanislav Markelov took issue with the court decision, and spoke out at a press conference in Moscow Jan. 19.
At the press conference, Markelov refused to rule out the possibility of bringing charges before an international court if his appeal of Budanov’s release bore no result. A half-hour later, a hit man shot Markelov in the back of the head using a handgun outfitted with a silencer.
The lawyer’s funeral drew 350 people, and these did not include a single high-ranking representative of the Kremlin or the Russian government. As for the rest, they either didn’t care about yet another execution-style killing of a human rights advocate, or they took fright at the consequences of attending.
“Show me the manner in which nation or a community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideas,” wrote 19th century British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone.
It would seem that the obedience of the majority hinges on the views and indulgence of officials in the Kremlin and other government offices. And most of the latter don’t care whether the country has any laws, let alone moral principles.
Unlike the governments of France and Germany, neither Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made any statement condemning this dreadful killing. Top officials in the Russian government and leaders in the docile, pro-Kremlin parliament meekly followed their example.
The silence of the Russian authorities raises questions about who was behind the highly professional murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburina. The chances of getting a real answer, on this case or on the many other cases involving the killing of well-known journalists and human rights advocates in Russia, are close to zero.
The Kremlin’s efforts to block information about how rights and freedoms are violated in Russia, and to prevent the free discussion of this issue in society and the press is a fine example of so-called “sovereign democracy” in action. Hiding behind this clever phrase, the Kremlin has convinced itself that is has carte blanche, both within its borders and beyond. In so doing, Russia is a “truly” democratic nation. Examples abound, from the elimination of former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was blown up in Qatar by two agents of Russia’s security services, to the well-founded suspicion that Moscow was involved in the scandalous poisoning of former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London.
In his book Points of Rebellion, Justice William O. Douglas wrote: “There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is responsive to human needs.” The men who lead Russia today made their choice long ago. And the hunt for the last human rights advocate will continue, in Russia and abroad.