On Monday 19 January, a masked assassin gunned down one of Russia's leading human rights lawyers - Stanislav Markelov - prompting an international outcry.
Also caught up in this ruthless attack was 25-year-old journalist Anastasia Baburova who died of her wounds after being shot while trying to intervene.
She'd been walking with Markelov to the Moscow metro after a press conference about the early release of Yuri Budanov, a Russian former colonel jailed for the murder of 18-year old Kheda Kungaeva.
The young Chechen woman was abducted, raped and strangled to death in March 2000. Last week Budanov was released from prison 18-months early, despite an appeal filed by the human rights lawyer. Over the last week Markelov had received numerous death threats for his work on behalf of the family of Kheda Kungaeva.
Those who knew and worked with Markelov reacted with outrage to the news of his assassination. “Stanislav Markelov’s murder is a despicable crime. The Russian authorities must take decisive steps to show that such crimes will not be tolerated. Silencing those who defend human rights and work to uphold the rule of law is absolutely unacceptable.” Says Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director of Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation has repeatedly warned of the great danger journalists and human rights defenders face in Russia and has urged the authorities to end impunity for violence against them.
In the past it has been next to impossible to achieve justice in similar high profile murder cases. For example, no one has ever been brought to justice for the murder Forbes magazine editor Pavel Klebnikov in 2004. And chaos has reigned in the Moscow military court, where those accused of being involved with the killing of the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya have faced trial since last October.
Those who turn to Europe for justice are also at great risk. Last week a 27-year old Chechen Umar Israilov was gunned down while grocery shopping in Vienna, where he had been living in exile. Israilov had filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 and had stated publicly that he had been tortured by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
“We are deeply alarmed about what appears to be another politically motivated killing of a critic of high-level Russian government officials,” said Oleg Orlov, director of the Memorial Human Rights Centre. “In light of the brutal retaliation inflicted on those who speak out on abuses in Chechnya, Israilov’s actions were particularly courageous, and his killers and those behind them need to be promptly held to account.”
Another Chechen man, Mokhmadsalakh Masaev, had given an interview in which he described being tortured in a secret prison in Kadyrov’s home village for over four months. Weeks after the publication of the interview Masaev was abducted in Chechnya in August 2008. Until this day Masaev’s whereabouts remain unknown and the lawyer, who represented his family, is now dead: It was Stanislav Markelov, who also worked for Politkovskaya.