This is from my latest contribution to the Huffington Post:
No one can cast personal blame for a murder when the culprit is an entire system of grand corruption. For years now, self-enriching state officials have gorged themselves on public institutions while withering away democratic rights, reflected by a corruption ranking of 147. The government of Chechnya is perhaps one of the worst, as the decision by Putin to pass total control of the region to the 32-year-old Kadyrov is akin to placing the State of New York under control of the Gambino crime family (no disrespect to the Gambinos).
When such a high number of government officials are in on the take, by definition the justice system does not work. From here, there is a thread connecting Estemirova’s murder to other state conduct, such as the attack on history, the rhetoric of aggression and expansion against neighbors, the extortion and racket of the energy trade, show trials, and the stranglehold on media. Journalists are not safe when a government attacks civil society organizations like Memorial, when they refuse to investigate shootings five years after the fact, and when it shows no inclination toward transparency. David Satter recently wrote in Forbes that there may even “be attempts by the authorities to use the killing of journalists for their own purposes, for example, by hinting that they were carried out by the regime’s political enemies.”
The reality known well enough inside Russia. Human rights leader Lev Ponomarev, who has suffered his own fair share of violence (he was beaten right before Medvedev’s first meeting with Obama) told The Financial Times, “When they kill three people in a row in a short space of time who worked on the same subject, then all questions disappear. (…) Politkovskaya, Markelov and now Estemirova, they were all investigating abuses by law enforcement and the killings of peaceful citizens in Chechnya – and all these people have been killed . . . It is absolutely clear.”
Image credit: People hold portraits of murdered rights activist Natalya Estemirova during a rally to mourn Natalya Estemirova in Moscow, Thursday, July 16, 2009. Several hundred people gathered in downtown Moscow mourning rights activist Natalya Estemirova whose kidnapping and killing shocked Russia’s beleaguered human rights community and prompted international outrage. (AP Photo)