Investigators say they are examining several theories as to the motive
A top human rights lawyer who acted for the family of a Chechen woman murdered by a Russian army officer has been shot dead along with a journalist in Moscow.
Stanislav Markelov, who acted for the family of Kheda Kungayeva, 18, was shot by a gunman after a news conference in the centre of the Russian capital.
He had voiced outrage after officer Yuri Budanov was released early.
Budanov was the first Russian officer to be prosecuted for killing a civilian during the conflict in Chechnya.
He confessed to strangling Ms Kungayeva in 2000, saying he had acted in a fit of rage while interrogating her, suspecting she was a sniper.
He was subsequently jailed for 10 years and was released with more than a year of his sentence to serve.
Mr Markelov was shot in the head with a pistol fitted with a silencer not far from the building where he had just held a news conference on the Kungayeva case, law enforcement officials said.
Mr Markelov had said that Russia's legal system was deeply flawed
A newspaper journalist who was with him, Anastasia Baburova from the Novaya Gazeta, was badly wounded in the attack and died a few hours later in hospital.
Investigators say that they are examining several possible theories as to the motive for Mr Markelov's killing, including the possibility that it was linked to his professional activities.
According to the Russian RIA-Novosti news agency, Mr Markelov had just told reporters that he planned to appeal against Budanov's early release.
The municipal court in Dimitrovgrad, where Budanov was serving his sentence, ruled in December that he should be freed early because he had repented his crime.
The decision led to protests in Chechnya attended by both human rights activists and representatives of the pro-Moscow authorities.
In an interview with the BBC's Russian Service a few days ago, Mr Markelov said the decision to release Budanov showed that the Russian system was deeply flawed.
"I understand now that there is no rule of law," he said.
"My task now is to find out who gave the order for Budanov to be released, and to present a criminal case to the chief prosecutor in order to find out who is guilty of breaching their legal authority."
Chechnya has been devastated by heavy fighting since 1994, when Russian troops first poured in to crush a separatist movement.
January 20, 2009, 20:14 High-profile lawyer murdered in central Moscow
The lawyer of the Kungayev family, the relatives of a Chechen woman, who was murdered by a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, has been killed. Stanislav Markelov was shot dead in the centre of Moscow in broad daylight on Monday. According to witnesses, a man wearing a ski-mask approached Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, a 24-year-old free-lance journalist for ‘Novaya Gazeta’ newspaper, in the street and took out a gun.
The lawyer was shot dead on the spot, while the woman was fatally injured with a gunshot wound to the head, and died shortly after she was taken to the hospital.
”Today at around 14:20 Moscow time, a man’s body with a wound to the head was found in the centre of Moscow. The ID found on the victim identified him as the lawyer Stanislav Markelov. The second victim, Anastasia Baburova, also with wounds to the head has been critically injured. The ID found on her identifies her as a student of a Journalist’s faculty,” Vladimir Markin from the General Prosecutor's Office Investigative Committee, said.
Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor Sergey Sokolov said Baburova could have been killed intentionally.
“There are two versions of what happened – the first one is that she was killed while trying to stop the attacker, and the second one is that she was shot on purpose,” Sokolov said.
Before his death, Stanislav Markelov told his colleagues that he had been receiving threats.
The lawyer had been holding a press conference on Monday, dedicated to the release of Yury Budanov, a former tank commander, who was jailed for 10 years in the summer of 2003 for murdering Elsa Kungayeva, an 18-year-old Chechen woman.
Budanov admitted to killing the teenager, but said he thought she was a sniper. He claimed temporary insanity and a fit of rage. However, in December 2008 the court ordered the release of Budanov, claiming he had “repented” for his crime. He left the prison on parole four days ago.
”We’re all in shock, my wife, my kids. He told me Thursday night, he said Visa, I’m getting threats. What kind of threats, I asked him. If I don’t drop this case, I’ll get killed. Who are these threats from, I asked. I’m getting anonymous text messages, he answered. Right away, I said to him that maybe I should get a new lawyer, and he said No, I’m going to persevere,” Visa Kungayev, the father of Elsa Kungayeva, said.
The police are now searching for the murder suspect. Witnesses say he escaped into the subway after committing the crime.
"A special investigation group has been created to investigate the crime. The team is looking into motives of the crime including the current professional activity of the deceased. At this point, the investigation has been able to establish that the killer was wearing a ski-mask,” Vladimir Markin from the General Prosecutor's Office Investigative Committee, said.
An empty cartridge was found at the murder scene on Tuesday. The investigators working at the site missed it, but an attentive pedestrian spotted it.
Earlier, it was reported that the murder weapon had yet to be located. It’s believed the killer fled the scene with it.
But was the double murder related to Budanov - or another case Markelov was involved in?
“This murder was meant to shock as much as possible. In broad daylight, metres away from the Kremlin, in the heart of Moscow - someone wanted to make a statement with this crime. Whether it’s related to Budanov or not, it is too soon to say, but the message is certainly strong. Whoever did this was not afraid to throw out a challenge,” believes Aleksandr Brod, Director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.
Human rights activists are already comparing this murder to that of prominent journalist, Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.
Politkovskaya was a client of Stanislav Markelov. While, Anastasia Baburova, the young journalist who was killed by his side wrote for Novaya Gazeta, the same paper as Politkovskaya.
Nicola Duckworth from the Amnesty International in London says the authorities must do their utmost to protect human rights activists and journalists in Russia.
“We are very concerned about the murder of Stanislav Markelov. We feel that it can be certainly linked with his profession,” Duckworth said.
Budanov’s lawyer has been quick to deny any possible involvement of his client. “He doesn’t know him and has never seen him,” Aleksey Dulimov said.
Russia's Prosecutor General has taken this case under his personal control.
Although I believe that these two articles quoted above are quite selfexplanitory, I cannot but remind that the presumed "mastermind" behind similiar cases in Serbia in the 90's has been granted political asylum in Russia for a number of years now. I were of a more cynical dispositon I would even say there has been a successful transfer of knowhow in return. Anyhow, kudos to Russsia's fully developed democracy and relentlessly administered rule of the law.