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Aid organization leader shot to death in Chechnya

The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband are found stuffed in their car. Many attribute a new wave of reported disappearances, torture and other abuses to the republic's security services.

August 12, 2009|Megan K. Stack

VLADIKAVKAZ, RUSSIA — An aid worker and her husband were found shot to death Tuesday, their bodies stuffed in the trunk of their car, a day after being abducted at gunpoint from their office in Chechnya.

Zarema Sadulayeva, the head of a nonprofit organization known as Save the Generation, had devoted her life to helping children traumatized by and maimed in the two Chechen wars. She was particularly known for acquiring prosthetic limbs for the children, her colleagues said.

Her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, was a former rebel fighter.

It was not clear why the pair were abducted. They were led away in Grozny, capital of the Chechen republic, Monday afternoon by armed men clad in camouflage, according to Russian news reports.

The couple's slaying highlighted the rapid deterioration of law and order that has gripped Chechnya in recent months, amid a sharp increase in reports of disappearances, torture and other abuses, often attributed to the republic's security services. The deaths also sent shock waves through a beleaguered human rights community still reeling from last month's slaying of prominent Chechnya-based investigator Natalia Estemirova.

"We are in complete shock," said Tatiana Lokshina, a lawyer with the human rights group Demos. "After what happened with Natasha we all expected there would be some kind of pause, some kind of respite. We didn't expect something so horrible to happen so soon."

As news of the latest killings spread, the statements were reminiscent of the outcry after Estemirova's death. Once again, the federal government pledged to investigate. And again, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he was shocked by the attacks.

"It is a cynical, inhuman and demonstrative killing," Kadyrov said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency. "This is the killing of people who devoted themselves to people with limited capabilities. I see this as a challenge to society."

Human rights workers say Kadyrov's own security forces are responsible for abductions, torture, executions and other abuses. His role has come under increased scrutiny since the death of Estemirova.

A dogged investigator with the Russian organization Memorial, Estemirova was snatched off the street outside her house last month and found dead later that day in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Some of her colleagues blamed Kadyrov for her death. If he wasn't directly responsible, they said, he was at least guilty of fostering an atmosphere of impunity in Chechnya.

Kadyrov denied any involvement. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated that Kadyrov, who has long been backed by the Kremlin, would be off limits in the investigation. Many human rights workers believe the comments dashed hope of a thorough investigation into Estemirova's death.

In recent days, Kadyrov stirred outrage in Russia's rights community by insulting Estemirova.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, he denied any involvement in the death of the activist, with whom he had repeatedly clashed and, according to reports, threatened.

Then, referring to himself in the third person, he added: "Why should Kadyrov kill a woman nobody needs? She never had any honor, dignity or conscience."

Since Estemirova's death, Memorial's staff in Chechnya has shuttered the group's offices and suspended work. This absence means there is no independent human rights group left to document violence in the Caucasian republic.

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megan.stack@latimes.com

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