Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Victims: On the Road to Chechnya | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In 2007 Russian activist Natalia Estimirova came to London to accept a certificate of appreciation on behalf of her friend, the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She was asked by journalists of her feelings towards the impending danger that surrounds her in Russia, particularly following the murder of her friend. She answered, “Sometimes I can’t even feel this danger because I have other strong emotions.” What Natalia meant by other strong emotions was her strong passion to uncover the murder of thousands of civilians in Chechnya, and this is something that she did in fact achieve after long and strenuous efforts.

Secrets regarding the corruption of the elite ruling class or stories of systematic violence are extremely tempting to journalists and activists in the fields of human rights and public opinion, especially in autocratic countries. However some of those working in the above fields do not look for such stories merely to demonstrate their uniqueness, professionalism, and courage; there are others who believe that uncovering atrocities and systemic corruption is the true meaning of life, even at the cost of their own lives.

Natalia Estimirova was one of these people. Natalia had been working to uncover the details of atrocities committed under the Soviet Union since the 1980s, particularly during the Stalin era. She further developed her experience in uncovering the truth during the Chechen war, and even after this era came to an end, Natalia worked to document the atrocities committed by the militias affiliated to the Russian government.

The Russian activist – born to Russian and Chechen parents – became the latest victim of a series of 19 murders committed against Russian journalists and activists since 2000. The 50-year old Russian activist was abducted and killed in cold blood last week. Her body was later found on the side of a road in Grozny.

Most of the journalists and activists who suffered similar fates to Natalia over the past nine years shared the same concerns. They dealt with sensitive cases that implicated influential, powerful figures and were murdered under suspicious circumstances because of their insistence to follow up on cases related to corruption and violence, two characteristics of the ruling elite in Russia.

The era of the Chechnya war that marked the 1990s is still complicated and there is still a long way to go with regards to disclosure and answerability. Until further notice, this troubled republic will live under real observation and targeting.

It is true that the Russian army and its allies are not the only perpetrators who have committed atrocities against civilians; British and American soldiers have also confessed to carrying out awful crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there is a fundamental difference; in the US and the UK, an effective judicial system investigated these crimes, prosecuted the perpetrators, and allowed the media to reveal and report on such crimes. In Russia, there is nothing of the sort. Until there is a change in this regard, the number of murdered activists and journalists will continue to rise.