The Russian authorities must urgently end the cycle of impunity for crimes against journalists, PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN said today, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the authorities had failed to properly investigate the murder of prominent journalist and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.
Natalia Estemirova, a journalist and human rights activist who worked with the human rights centre Memorial in Chechnya, was abducted by unidentified armed men on 15 July 2009 near her home in Grozny and found dead on the same day in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia. She was 51 years old. Twelve years on, no one has been brought to justice for her murder. On 31 August 2021, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia in violation of Article 2 (investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered it pay 20,000 euros in compensation. The Court further urged the Russian authorities to ‘continue in so far as possible to determine the circumstances of Ms Estemirova’s abduction and murder, identifying the perpetrators, and punishing those responsible.’
‘Natalia Estemirova was a fearless journalist and activist who tirelessly worked to expose human rights violations in Chechnya. She had to leave Russia twice for her safety yet returned to Chechnya despite the dangers she was facing. For this, she paid the ultimate price. We urge the Russian authorities to implement the binding ruling of the European Court of European Rights. They must ensure an impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigation into her abduction and murder, and they must hold to account those responsible for her disappearance and death,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Natalia Estemirova was a close friend of investigative journalist and PEN member Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in the lobby of her apartment block in central Moscow in 2006. Although five men have been sentenced for Politkovskaya’s murder, those who ordered her killing have never been brought to justice. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 58 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992. Russian groups place the figure much higher, considering all those who have been killed, who have disappeared or who have died under unclear circumstances and whose death could be linked to their professional activities, to be victims.
‘The Russian authorities have repeatedly failed to respond to violence against journalists, including murders, physical attacks and threats. Law enforcement agencies often refuse to launch investigations, claiming the tragedies to be the result of domestic violence, accidents or suicides. This climate of impunity emboldens perpetrators and encourages further attacks’, said Nadezhda Azhgikhina, Executive Director of PEN Moscow.
‘If the Russian authorities are to uphold their human rights obligations, they must publicly, unequivocally and systematically condemn all forms of violence against journalists and activists, dedicate the resources necessary to investigate attacks and prosecute those responsible in fair trials’, added Elena Chizhova, Director of St Petersburg PEN.
For more information about the state of freedom of expression in the Russian Federation, including violence against journalists, please see PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN’s joint report Russia’s Strident Stifling of Free Speech 2012-2018.
Text, Photo: Pen International