Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Chechens protest against killing of prominent lawyer

AP , GROZNY, RUSSIA

Hundreds of people rallied in the Chechen capital on Tuesday to protest the slaying of a lawyer who opposed the early release of a Russian army officer convicted of strangling an 18-year-old Chechen woman.

A crowd of about 1,500 in Grozny demanded justice following the killing of Stanislav Markelov, 34, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer who had worked with the investigative journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya. She was gunned down in Moscow in 2006.

Markelov was shot on a busy street near the Kremlin on Monday, shortly after speaking to journalists about the case of Colonel Yuri Budanov, who admitted killing Heda Kungayeva in 2000. A 25-year-old journalist, Anastasia Baburova, was fatally shot when she tried to intervene after the shooting.

Budanov, a former tank regiment commander, said he believed the teenager was a rebel sniper in the Kremlin’s war against Chechen insurgents. He was freed last week with more than a year left in his 10-year murder sentence. Reviled in Chechnya, he was held up as a patriot by racist nationalists.

“Markelov showed his courage, unlike many others who could not raise their voices to denounce Budanov,” Kungayeva’s uncle Lecha Kungayev said.

Minkail Ezhiyev — like Markelov, a lawyer for Kungayeva’s family — told demonstrators Markelov received threatening calls and text messages from people identifying themselves as supporters of Budanov days before his murder.

Investigators said Markelov’s work was likely the motive for his slaying, but that it was not clear whether he was shot by a contract killer or an individual acting alone.

“The investigation presumes the murder was carried out either by a professional killer or by a lone criminal who disagreed with Markelov’s views,” Federal Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.

Markelov was shot in the back of the head at close range by a masked attacker near Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Markelov had just told reporters he was considering challenging Budanov’s release in an international court.

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