Masked Gunman Kills Russian Human Rights Lawyer
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And now we check in on Russia where a top human rights lawyer was shot dead last week on a central Moscow street along with a journalist walking alongside him. Several critics of the Kremlin have been killed in recent years in cases that remain unsolved. Lawyers who have been fighting for human rights in Russia fear the latest shooting may not be the last. NPR's Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer reports.
GREGORY FEIFER: The Kremlin has long suppressed independent media and silenced opposition politicians, so it's increasingly falling to lawyers to probe the boundaries of Russia's authoritarianism.
Inside a cramped courtroom in an old 19th-century Moscow neighborhood, a judge reads the accusations against three men. They're accused of involvement in the murder two years ago of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, but none of these defendants pulled the trigger or ordered the killing. Those people are still at large. Still, Karinna Moskalenko, a veteran lawyer who represents Politkovskaya's family, says she hopes the proceedings will uncover at least some of the truth - a process she says is obstructed by the official hostility toward human rights defenders like her.
Ms. KARINNA MOSKALENKO (Human Rights Lawyer): The authorities by doing this, create possible situation when people can be assaulted or even killed.
FEIFER: It was one of Moskalenko's close colleagues, Stanislav Markelov, who was killed last week. He had opposed the release this month of a Russian army officer imprisoned for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old Chechen girl.
(Soundbite of rally)
Mr. STANISLAV MARKELOV (Human Rights Lawyer): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Before his death, Markelov spoke at a Moscow rally to protest an attack against another client, a campaigning journalist who was brutally beaten and left for dead.
(Soundbite of rally)
Mr. MARKELOV: (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: What we do can no longer be called work, Markelov said about human rights defenders. It's survival and will succeed only when we learn to protect ourselves because no one else will.
Last week a masked gunman shot Markelov in the head in broad daylight within sight of the Kremlin. Markelov died on the snow-covered sidewalk. He was 34. Several hundred mourners trudged through slush under icy rain last Friday to attend his funeral, which they watched in stunned silence.
Ms. IRINA BAGERLEVA(ph): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Markelov's friend Irina Bagerleva says killers are carrying out political murders with growing impunity, despite the promises of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Medvedev, a lawyer and a former law professor, promised during his lavish inauguration last May that establishing the rule of law and providing security to ordinary Russians would be among his top priorities. Critics say the promise was hollow. Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, who often worked with murdered lawyer Stanislaw Markelov, says the security forces are unable to protect society.
Mr. LEV PONOMARYOV (Human Rights Activist): (Through Translator) That's because they're required to spend most of their time cracking down on legitimate opposition groups instead of tracking down killers.
FEIFER: Ponomaryov believes he was mistaken to take Markelov's courage to mean the young lawyer fully understood the risks he undertook. Now Ponomaryov and the other members of Russia's dwindling human rights community have been forced again to think who may be next. Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.