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Russian court says rights activist defamed Chechen strongman

The head of one of Russia's most respected human rights organizations smeared the reputation of Ramzan Kadyrov when he blamed Kadyrov for the death of a fellow activist, a Moscow court rules.

October 07, 2009|Megan K. Stack

MOSCOW — A Moscow court handed a moral victory to Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov on Tuesday, ruling that the head of one of Russia's most respected human rights organizations had smeared his reputation.

Oleg Orlov, chair of the rights group Memorial, was ordered to pay Kadyrov about $2,300 in damages for blaming him for the shooting death of a colleague. Orlov was also ordered to retract his statement.

The lawsuit stemmed from the slaying this summer of Memorial's Chechnya-based rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, who had been one of the few remaining voices willing to speak about repression, killings and disappearances in Kadyrov's Chechnya.

Gunmen forced Estemirova into a car in broad daylight, shot her execution-style and dumped her body in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia.

"I know, I am certain, who is to blame for the murder of Natasha Estemirova," Orlov told reporters after her death. "We all know this person. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov."

Orlov also said that Kadyrov had threatened Estemirova in private conversations.

Kadyrov, a former rebel guerrilla who is heavily backed by the Kremlin, rules the restive republic with an iron fist. He has been accused of presiding over numerous rights abuses, including torture, extrajudicial executions and secret prisons.

Activists called for a thorough investigation of Estemirova's death and Kadyrov's possible role. But to their disappointment, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev immediately declared that Kadyrov had not been involved in the slaying.

Kadyrov further angered activists by deriding Estemirova, saying she "never had any honor or sense of shame."

These days, Kadyrov appears emboldened and trying to clean up a tarnished reputation -- or at least eager to silence further criticism.

Fresh off Kadyrov's court victory against Orlov, his lawyer said Tuesday that Kadyrov had also sued the Novaya Gazeta newspaper for linking the Chechen president to the shooting death of one of his former bodyguards.

The bodyguard had fled to Vienna and had publicly accused Kadyrov of participating in torture sessions. He was shot outside a grocery store in January.

Since Estemirova's death, Memorial has stopped all work in Chechnya.

Remaining researchers in Grozny, the Chechen capital, have reported threats and harassment.


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