|Born||28 February 1958
Saratov Oblast, RSFSR
|Died||15 July 2009 (aged 51)
Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia, Russia
|Alma mater||Grozny University|
|Occupation||Human rights activist, journalist, teacher|
Natalya Khusainovna Estemirova (Russian: Ната́лья Хусаи́новна Эстеми́рова; 28 February, 1958 – 15 July 2009) was an award-winning Russian human rights activist and board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial. Estemirova was abducted by unknown persons on 15 July 2009 around 8:30 a.m. from her home in Grozny, Chechnya, as she was working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Two witnesses reported they saw Estemirova being pushed into a car shouting that she was being abducted. Her remains were found with bullet wounds in the head and chest area at 4:30 p.m. in woodland 100 metres (330 ft) away from the federal road "Kavkaz" near the village of Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia.
Born in Sverdlovsk Oblast to Russian and Chechen parents, Estemirova graduated in history from Grozny University and taught history in a local high school until 1998.. In 1991, she worked as a correspondent for the local newspapers The Voice and The Worker of Grozny While working on TV in Grozny, she filmed thirteen short documentaries about victims of the Russian punitive practices. She participated in the Organization of Filtration Camps Inmates as a press-secretary. The widow of a Chechen policeman, she gathered evidence on human rights violations since the beginning of the Second Chechen war in 1999, leaving her daughter in Yekaterinburg with relatives. In 2000, she became a representative for the Memorial Human Rights Centre in her native Grozny. She visited many hospitals in Chechnya and Ingushetia, filming child victims of the war on hundreds of photographs.
Estemirova received the Right Livelihood Award at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament building in 2004. Along with Sergey Kovalyov, chairman of Memorial, she was awarded the Robert Schuman Medal by the Group of the European People's Party in 2005. In October 2007, she was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award by Reach All Women in War (RAW), a human rights organization supporting women human rights defenders in war and conflict. Estemirova worked with investigating journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, both of whom were also murdered, in 2006 and 2009, respectively.
Estemirova was abducted on 15 July 2009 from her home in Grozny, Chechnya. According to Tanya Lokshina of the Moscow bureau of Human Rights Watch, unknown individuals abducted Estemirova near her house in Grozny at around 8:30 a.m. Her colleagues raised an alert when she did not come to a planned meeting and went to her home, found witnesses and questioned them. Two witnesses reportedly saw Estemirova being pushed into a car shouting that she was being abducted. Lokshina said Estemirova was abducted as she was working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Lokshina said that she had been targeted for her professional activities. Human Rights Watch had demanded to the Kremlin and Ramzan Kadyrov that Estemirova be returned home safely.
Vladimir Markin, press secretary for the investigative committee of the Prosecutor General of Russia, said a body of a woman with bullet wounds in the head and chest was found at 4:30 p.m. in woodland 100 m away from the federal road "Kavkaz" near the village of Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia. Investigators found items belonging to Estemirova in the purse of the woman. These items were a passport, an ID of the Chechnya expert for the Human Rights Commissioner of Russia and the mandate of the penitentiary supervision public committee .
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, stationed in Moscow, reported that Estemirova was engaged in "very important and dangerous work", investigating hundreds of cases of alleged kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings by Russian government troops or paramilitaries in Chechnya.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev expressed "outrage" at the murder and ordered a top-level investigation. Speaking in Germany at the time of her funeral, he paid tribute to her and again pledged a thorough investigation. He said it was "obvious" to him that her murder was linked to her professional work.
Memorial claimed that "state terror" was to blame, calling the killing an "extrajudicial execution" by government-backed death squads. Memorial's chairman Oleg Orlov said that Ramzan Kadyrov threatened Natalya and that Russian president Medvedev is content with Kadyrov being a murderer. Orlov said in a statement: "I know, I am sure who is guilty of Natalya Estemirova's murder, we all know him. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov." According to Orlov, shortly before the murder, Kadyrov made an open threat to her by saying: "Yes, my hands are up to the elbows in blood. And I am not ashamed of that. I killed and will kill bad people". Kadyrov denied any involvement and promised to investigate the killing personally. He condemned the killers, saying they "must be punished as the cruelest of criminals". It was later reported that in response to Orlov's accusation, Kadyrov would be suing the rights group for defamation, and would target Orlov personally in the complaint. Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, Kadyrov's human rights ombudsman, called Orlov's accusation "groundless and ludicrous".
Medvedev responded to the accusation, saying the timing of the crime, a day before his trip to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, was a provocation intended to give rise to "the most primitive theories and those most disagreeable to the state". Merkel said she expressed her "outrage" over the killing in her talks with Medvedev "and made clear that everything must be done to solve this crime".
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was "appalled and saddened" by Estemirova's murder. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe stated that Ban "urges the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation in order to bring the perpetrators of this heinous killing to justice, and by doing so, to send a strong and unambiguous message that the targeting of human rights activists will not be tolerated". The chairman of the EPP Group in European Parliament, Joseph Daul, condemned the perpetrators and called for investigation and bringing the perpetrators to trial.
About 150 people attended a vigil that was held in Moscow's Pushkin Square about nine days after the murder, following Russian Orthodox tradition. After all but twenty people had left, police arrested the organizer of the event, Viktor Sotirko of Memorial. He was held for two hours and charged with disturbing peace. Police said only 30 people had been sanctioned to attend the event, but far more had shown up.
Less than a month later the head of children's charity Save the Generations, Zarema Sadulayeva and husband Alik Dzhabrailov were found in the boot of a car with fatal gunshot wounds in Grozny.