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Daughter Blames 'System' Built By Putin, Kadyrov For Rights Activist Estemirova’s Death

Lana Estemirova was 15 when her mother, rights activist Natalya Estemirova, was abducted in the Chechen capital before turning up dead hours later.

The daughter of Natalya Estemirova, the Russian rights activist who who was abducted and killed 10 years ago, said she blames President Vladimir Putin, the leader of Chechnya, “and the whole system that they have built” for her mother’s death.

In an interview with Current Time, Lana Estemirova, 25, also said she agreed with reporting by Russian investigative journalists who say her mother’s abduction on July 15, 2009, was linked to her efforts to examine a police department in Chechnya that had allegedly been abducting civilians.

Hours after disappearing from the Chechen capital, Grozny, where she was abducted shortly after leaving her apartment building in the morning, Natalya Estermirova’s bullet-riddled body was found in neighboring Ingushetia.

“The only thing I always told her was to be more careful,” Lana Estemirova said in the July 14 interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. “I always begged her not to put herself in danger, so she would always say where she was going.”

Natalya Estemirova led the Grozny office of the Russian rights group Memorial and was renowned for her writing and activism on human rights abuses in Chechnya and nearby regions of the North Caucasus.

She was one of a growing number of rights activists, reporters, or prominent political figures who died or disappeared under suspicious circumstances. In nearly all of those cases, law enforcement agencies have failed to identify or arrest any organizers, instead detaining lower-level suspects such as the gunmen or getaway drivers.

Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in the Chechen capital in September 2004.
Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in the Chechen capital in September 2004.

Russian and international rights groups echoed that complaint on the anniversary of Natalya’s killing, accusing Russian authorities of failing to bring anyone to justice.

Her daughter Lana, who now lives in Britain, told Current Time that she blamed Putin, as well as Ramzan Kadyrov, who has headed Chechnya for more than a decade and has been repeatedly accused of overseeing or condoning gross rights abuses in the southern Russian region.

“I’ll just say that everything is to blame for this: Putin, Kadyrov, and the whole system that they have built over the past 20 years are to blame,” she said.

It’s “a system in which you cannot speak the truth without consequences, a system in which you cannot criticize the actions or inaction of the authorities,” she said. “The whole system is to blame, which my mother fought against, which hundreds of human rights defenders and journalists, and lawyers continue to struggle against.”

At the time of her death, Natalya was investigating the disappearances and abductions of Chechen civilians, allegedly committed by a police precinct in the region. Reporters from the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and activists from Memorial have linked her killing directly to her work.

“I absolutely trust my mother's colleagues, 100-percent,” she said when asked if she shared those conclusions. “I am sure that if they stick to this version, then this is most likely close to the truth.”

Estemirova said she began to worry for her mother’s life in more seriousness after the January 2009 killing of Stanislav Markelov, a Russian defense lawyer who was gunned down in Moscow as he left a news conference, and Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova.

Markelov represented the family of an 18-year-old Chechen woman allegedly killed by a Russian colonel in one of the most notorious examples of war crimes to occur during the second Chechen war. Baburova was a young journalist who had been interviewing Markelov.

After Markelov’s death, “I doubly began to fear for my mother. But I never told her to stop doing it,” she said.

Written by Mike Eckel based on an interview conducted by Aleksei Aleksandrov