The head of a children’s charity was found shot dead in Chechnya today, a day after she and her husband were abducted by armed men.
The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov were found in the boot of a car in a suburb of the capital Grozny, the human rights group Memorial said. The murder of Ms Sadulayeva comes less than a month after a gang kidnapped and killed Natalia Estemirova, another prominent rights activist in the turbulent southern Russian region.
Chechnya’s Interior Ministry said the couple had been shot in the head and chest, the same method used to kill Ms Estemirova in July. Ms Sadulayeva and Mr Dzhabrailov were taken from the office of her charity, Save the Generation, on Monday.
The latest killings will pile pressure on the Kremlin to act over an apparent campaign of assassination against activists involved in civil society work in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch said that witnesses reported that the couple had been ordered to accompany armed men who identified themselves as members of the security services.
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Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed president, Ramzan Kadyrov, will be under renewed suspicion after the leader of the human rights group Memorial accused him of involvement in the murder of Ms Estemirova, the organisation’s representative in Grozny.
She won international acclaim for her work exposing torture and kidnapping of people by security forces linked to Mr Kadyrov, and repeatedly criticised Chechnya’s President. Her body was found dumped on a roadside in the with gunshot wounds to the head and chest in neighbouring region of Ingushetia after she was kidnapped on a Grozny street by a group of masked men.
Mr Kadyrov rejected accusations of involvement in her murder. But he dismissed Ms Estemirova in a radio interview as someone who “never had any honour, dignity or conscience”. Russia’s President Medvedev responded to Ms Estemirova’s murder by praising her for speaking “the truth”.
Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The shocking murder of Natalia Estemirova…has made it obvious that activists in Chechnya are being targeted for their work and are extremely vulnerable.”
Save the Generation was established in 2001 as a nongovernmental organisation offering psychological and physical rehabilitation to children injured and traumatised in two bitter wars fought between the Russian military and Chechen separatists since the early 1990s.
It also worked with Unicef to promote the rights of disabled people and promote awareness of landmines.
Mr Kadyrov was installed as Chechnya’s leader by Vladimir Putin, to whom he has sworn loyalty. In return, activists claim, Mr Kadyrov is allowed to rule with impunity and has pursued a brutal campaign to wipe out opponents of his regime.
“The number of abductions in Chechnya has risen dramatically this year,” said Varya Pakhomenko of the Demos rights group. “The situation has become really catastrophic.”
The group returned to the Save the Generation office after taking Ms Sadulayeva and her husband away. They removed the couple’s mobile telephones and took her car.
Kheda Saratova, a local rights activist, said the organisation’s security guard had told her that three of the kidnappers were wearing military fatigues and two were in plain clothes. The guard is now under the protection of Chechnya's human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev.
Ms Saratova said that Mr Dzhabrailov had been in prison for four years, accused of membership of an illegal separatist group. He and Ms Sadulayeva married a few months ago after he was freed.
"This is just unimaginable. They killed a young woman, she was probably 25, and her husband, who was about the same age. They had just got married," said rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki group.
Ms Alexeyeva said that there had been no political element to Ms Sadulayev’s work, adding: "She headed an NGO that saved a generation of children.They just helped disabled children and children from poor families...It just shows that anyone whose position allows them a gun can kill whoever they like.” Times Online
August 11, 2009
Click to view image: 'Zarema Sadulayeva'
Click to view image: 'Alik Dzhabrailov'
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