Memorial chief suspects political pressure in Estemirova murder probe

Investigators probing the murder of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova may be facing political pressure to ignore the real reason for her death, the head of the Memorial rights group said on Friday.

“The Investigation Committee’s reluctance to move away from its one and only theory points to – in my opinion – a political order,” Memorial chief Oleg Orlov told RIA Novosti. He did not say who he believed gave the order.

Estemirova was shot dead exactly two years ago, on July 15, 2009. Abducted from outside her home in the Chechen capital of Grozny, her body was found later the same day in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Memorial accused police in a report released on Thursday of refusing to provide materials on an extrajudicial killing in the Chechen village of Akhinchu-Borzoi. It said it believes that Estemirova’s investigation into the killing led directly to her murder.

Memorial activist Alexander Cherkasov said in 2009 the execution was carried out in front of the whole village to warn them against “helping militants.”

Russia’s Investigation Committee extended earlier on Friday the probe into Estemirova’s death until November 15. It also however said it stood by its belief that the activist was killed by Chechen militant Alkhazur Bashayev in revenge for her articles about his activities. Memorial said in its report – basing its opinion on independent DNA tests – that Bashayev was not guilty.

Orlov welcomed the extension of the probe, but said it “would be good” if investigators looked into other possible motives.

“I hope the investigation bodies will have the opportunity to carry out an independent and objective probe,” Memorial member Svetlana Gannushkina said.

The murder of 51-year-old Estemirova – who had written extensively on human rights abuses in Chechnya – caused an international and domestic outcry and highlighted the dangers faced by journalists and rights workers in Russia.

Memorial chief Oleg Orlov was cleared last month of slandering Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov in connection with the case. Orlov had said Kadyrov, a former militant accused of human rights abuses, was “guilty” of the activist’s death.

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