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Murders in south suggest systemic rights violations

Investigative journalist Adulmalik Akhmedilov was killed on 11 August in Dagestan
Investigative journalist Adulmalik Akhmedilov was killed on 11 August in Dagestan


The bullet-riddled bodies of a Chechen activist and her husband were found in the trunk of their car in Grozny last week, a day after they were kidnapped. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Dagestan, a well-known investigative journalist was killed. IFEX members ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch and others say that the violence is a sign that in Russia today, especially in Chechnya, independent voices continue to be ruthlessly silenced.

According to ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, were abducted on 10 August from the office of her group, Save the Generation. The murders came less than a month after rights activist Nataliya Estemirova was kidnapped and killed in the volatile Russian region after she exposed alleged rights abuses by Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadyrov's government.

ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch report that eyewitnesses saw five men enter the office and demand that Sadulayeva and her husband accompany them. They then returned to collect Sadulayeva's cell phone and car. The men reportedly identified themselves as representatives of state security services.

When rights activists initially requested the help of law enforcement officials, they refused to take action, says ARTICLE 19.

Save the Generation helps victims of the armed conflicts in Chechnya, particularly disabled children, and works closely with UNICEF.

Rights activists have long blamed the forces of Kadyrov for abductions, killings and torture - and the impunity that usually accompanies them. They have accused the Kremlin-backed leader of being behind Estemirova's killing on 15 July, which Kadyrov has denied.

According to Russian news agencies and international news reports, the Chechen leader blamed the latest killings on unspecified forces that want to destabilise the republic. "This is a challenge to society, an attempt to intimidate the people of Chechnya," he said.

"Hopes that the official end of the so-called 'counter-terrorism operation' in Chechnya in April 2009 would improve the human rights situation have diminished. The deteriorating security situation has reduced the ability of NGOs to work in the region," said ARTICLE 19.

"These latest killings show that not only human rights activists and journalists are targeted and silenced for expressing critical views, but that this has been extended to anyone who works on issues that could be viewed as critical to the government or constitute civil activism," ARTICLE 19 added.

According to Human Rights Watch, the killing of Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov brings to four the number of activists working in Chechnya who have been killed this year. In addition to Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer, was murdered in January.

Human Rights Watch is calling for an independent, federal investigation that also examines the possibility of collusion by local officials, and offers protection to the eyewitnesses.

Meanwhile, Abdulmalik Akhmedilov, deputy editor of the daily Avar-language paper "Hakikat" (The Truth) and chief editor of the political monthly "Sogratl", was shot in his car on 11 August on the outskirts of Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to CPJ sources, Akhmedilov sharply criticised federal and local forces for suppressing religious and political dissent under the guise of an "anti-extremism" campaign. The government campaign is supposedly designed to curb the spread of Wahhabism, a conservative form of Islam, which has gained popularity in Dagestan and other North Caucasus republics.

The Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) says Akhmedilov was also known for his investigative reporting into the recent assassinations of Dagestan officials.

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