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(Moscow) - Russian authorities should immediately investigate the killing of Stanislav Markelov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, and bring his killers to justice, Human Rights Watch said today. Markelov was shot dead on the afternoon of January 19, 2009, on Prechistenka Street in central Moscow, and a newspaper intern with him was fatally wounded.

"We are appalled and deeply saddened by Markelov's murder," said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "For victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, Markelov's name was synonymous with hope for justice. His murder shows that those who speak out against abuses and work to hold abusers to account risk their lives."

An intern for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Anastasiya Baburova, who was with Markelov at the time of the murder, was hospitalized with a severe head injury as a result of the shooting, and died in hospital.

Markelov represented numerous victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya. His clients included the Kungaev family, whose daughter, Elza, was murdered by Colonel Yuri Budanov in 2000, and the Murdalov family, whose son was tortured and forcibly disappeared by Russian police in 2001. Budanov was sentenced in 2003 to 10 years of imprisonment for the murder of Elza Kungaeva.

Markelov also represented Mokhmadsalakh Masaev, a Chechen who said he was held in a secret prison in Tsenteroi, the native village of President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya, for more than four months in 2006-2007 and subjected to inhuman treatment. Masaev was abducted in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on August 3, 2008, several weeks after Novaya Gazeta, a leading Russian independent newspaper, published an interview in which he accused Kadyrov of running illegal prisons in Chechnya.

Several critics of the authorities in Russia, particularly those who spoke out about torture, abductions and extrajudicial executions in the North Caucasus, have lost their lives in the past few years, most recently last week.

On January 13, Umar Israilov, a Chechen who had filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging that he had been tortured by Kadyrov, was shot dead in Vienna. Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of Ingushetiya.Ru website, which reported on human rights abuses during counterterrorist operations in Ingushetia, a republic in the North Caucasus which borders Chechnya, was killed in a police car on August 31, 2008, after he was taken in for questioning by police at Magas airport in Ingushetia. In the most prominent case, Anna Politkovskaia, a leading Russian independent journalist and human rights champion, was killed in the entrance of her apartment building in the center of Moscow on October 7, 2006.

"Markelov's killing evokes the murder of Anna Politkovskaia," said Denber. "Russia's international partners, especially the European Union, should urgently press the Russian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for these killings. And they should push Moscow to ensure the security of people like Markelov, who are fighting for justice in Russia."

Human Rights Watch extends its deepest sympathies to the families and colleagues of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasiya Baburova.

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