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On Monday, January 19, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Yuryevich Markelov was shot in the back of the head while leaving a press conference he had called to discuss one of his cases, the rape and murder of a Chechen girl and the subsequent appeal against the early parole granted to her killer.
Markelov spent his career working in support of his beliefs that individuals have certain fundamental human rights, and that the apparatus of government is not infallible.
Although he called Moscow his home, his work often took Stanislav Markelov to Chechnya; to the far outposts of Siberia; to Ingushetia; where he represented those who had been tortured, humiliated, or killed by members of the army, the police, and other agencies of the government.
During his career, Markelov defended a number of journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who uncovered many human rights abuses, disappearances and suspicious deaths in Chechnya before she was murdered in 2006. He later represented some of the victims of these abuses and their families.
On the afternoon of Monday, January 19th, an assassin wearing a ski mask and carrying a silenced gun shot Markelov from behind, killing him instantly. When his companion, a young journalist named Anastasia Baburova tried to intervene, the assassin fatally shot her, too.
The Russian people have spoken loudly in condemnation of these murders. Ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to demand justice for Baburova and Markelov. The Public Chamber, some Duma members, and other Russian officials have joined these calls, and the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has set up an investigative committee and special task force to find and prosecute those responsible for this crime.
The United States believes that these calls are critical in order to stem the climate of fear and bolster the rule of law and freedom of expression that are undermined by continued assassinations of journalists and human rights defenders without justice.
Stanislav Markelov once argued that only when citizens felt confident registering complaints and injuries with authorities would governance by law supplant rule by gun and by bribe.
We hope Russian officials will heed the calls of their people, and ensure justice for Markelov, Baburova, and the many human rights advocates and journalists whose murders remain unresolved.