Today’s murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov was preceded by many clear warnings and physical threats, some indirect and others quite overt.
In addition to being an outspoken human rights activist with a focus on Ingushetia, the South Caucasus, and the filtration camps of Blagoveshchensk, he also represented numerous clients perceived as opponents of the Kremlin, including the family of Anna Politkovskaya and the victims’ families in the high profile cases against Yury Budanov and Sergey “Kadet” Lapin. Taking into account the general context of the state’s well documented “war on lawyers” currently occurring in Russia, Markelov’s politically volatile client roster put a specific target on his head. It is not difficult to understand how any group wishing Markelov harm would interpret the government’s position as “a green light” for impunity.
As such, there exists a pattern of threats against Markelov and government inaction to protect him, which accumulated over the years.
Back in 2004, Amnesty International issued an urgent briefing memoto the Russian Federation, expressing their grave concerns for hisphysical safety. The report makes reference to an attack Markelovsuffered while riding home on the metro: “According to Stanislav Markelov, the men, who wore civilian clothing,surrounded him and shouted: “You got what you’re asking for. No morespeeches for you [in court] then”. They then hit him on the head with aheavy object, causing him to lose consciousness. He woke up two hourslater at the last metro station. His mobile phone, which contained thephone numbers of all his clients, was missing as were various identitydocuments, including his lawyer’s licence card, his passport and anentry card for the State Duma. He later discovered that variousdocuments from the case files of his clients were also missing from hisbag. He was surprised that neither his money, nor his expensive Swisswatch had been stolen in the attack. Without his lawyer’s card, he iscurrently unable to appear in court until a replacement is issued.“
In her posthumously published book of journal entries, A Russian Diary, the slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote about the physical attacks against Markelov (she also gave careful coverage to the Sergei Lapin case, which forms a disturbing parallel as the other Novaya Gazeta reporter who was murdered today, Anastasia Baburova, authored a series of articles on Budanov): “Markelov is a young, very active laweyer. In the case against ex-Colonel Budanov he defended the interests of the Chechen family of Elza Kungaeva, whom Budanov raped and murdered. For this he has been subjected to constant attacks by ‘patriots.’ (…) The militia refused to open a criminal case following the attack on Markelov. Who beat him up, and who ordered them to, remains unknown.” (pp.129)
Politkovskaya continues: “When Stanislav Markelov from Moscow and Vasilii Syzganov from Vladimir arrived in Blagoveshchensk at the request of Moscow human rights associations and met their clienhts, a drunkied hooligan with a knife rushed into the house. It was only because the owner of the apartment, Vitalii Kozakov, took the blows on himself that the lawyers were saved. Kozakov’s blood was all over the apartment and staircase, but when the militia were called they turned and drove away, refusing even to arrest the knifeman. At this point the attacker spilled the beans; he admitted the militia thyemselves had instructed him to provoke a drunken brawl. They wanted a pretext to arrest the lawyers defending the victims of their own earlier violence.” (pp.289)
Here we have two examples of the authorities refusing to undertake any investigation or protective measure following attempts on Markelov’s life. We are told that these stories represent only a small chapter from a long history of death threats, intimidation, and scare tactics. The fact that so many clear warnings were available, and that the authorities were directly petitioned by human rights NGOs requesting that they help protect Markelov’s safety, is something that should be carefully considered before the media begins to frame this story as “an eye opener” to the true nature of this administration. There is no excuse but to be wide awake to this reality.
Photo: Lawyer Stanislav Markelov is seen speaking to the media in Moscow in this Feb. 3, 2005 photo. Markelovwas shot and killed Monday, Jan. 19, 2009, after a press conference incentral Moscow, officials said. (AP Photo by Grigory Tambulov)