MOSCOW, January 19 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Hundreds of people gathered in central Moscow on Saturday afternoon to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 2009 murders of a human rights lawyer and a journalist by a far-right gunman.
“Down with fascism!” chanted a crowd of what police said was around 500. Sergei Udaltsov, one of the leaders of the ongoing protests against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, put attendance at 2,000.
Two nationalists were jailed in 2011 over the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, whose killings in broad daylight within sight of central Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral made international headlines and highlighted the dangers faced by human rights workers and journalists in Russia. The gunman, Nikita Tikhonov, received a life sentence, while his girlfriend and accomplice, Yevgenia Khasis, was imprisoned for 18 years.
Markelov was killed after attending a news conference where he had outlined his plans to appeal the early release of former army Colonel Yury Budanov, who was jailed in 2003 for the torture and murder of a Chechen woman. Baburova, a journalist with the opposition-minded Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was shot down as she tried to detain the gunman. Budanov was himself murdered in Moscow in 2011. Islamist militants based in Russia’s North Caucasus region claimed responsibility for his death.
The authorities had given permission for a short march and rally on Saturday, but stood by as hundreds of people – many of them silently holding portraits of Markelov and Baburova – continued on past the event’s official endpoint to the site of the 2009 shootings. They then laid flowers at the steps of the murder scene. There were no arrests, police said.
“The authorities are flirting with nationalism and this is extremely dangerous,” said Anton Kurzin, a student, who was carrying two red roses. “We have to insist that there is no place for nationalist sentiments in Russian politics.”
Putin has described himself as a “Russian nationalist” on a number of occasions, but he also warned last year against the promotion of the idea of the creation of a “mono-ethnic, national Russian state,” calling it, “the shortest path to both the destruction of the Russian people and Russia’s sovereignty.”
Some participants at Saturday’s march also called for the release of “political prisoners,” including the almost twenty people facing trial over violent clashes between police and protesters on the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term last May.
Markelov’s brother, Mikhail, a lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party, called for a ban on the annual rally by anti-fascists, whom he accused of seeking to “overthrow the government.”
“How much longer…will my brother and our family’s surname be used for absolutely filthy and vile political aims?” Mikhail Markelov told the Vzglyad newspaper on the eve of the rally. He also said he would seek a court order to ban the use of his brother’s image and name without his family’s permission.
Updated with reporting from the march.