Bakhrom Khamroyev, a prominent member of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, was brutally attacked by a group of strangers as he entered his apartment building in southeast Moscow this past Monday. According to the head of Memorial, Oleg Orlov, the attack was intended to disrupt Khamroyev’s upcoming trip to Murmansk, where he was to meet with an Uzbek citizen who is facing extradition on charges of militant Islamic activities. This was not the first time that Khamroyev has been victimized because of his work. “In December last year,” Memorial said, “an attack was carried out on Khamroyev. A criminal case was opened, but until today no one has been called to take responsibility.”
Meanwhile Orlov himself has been enduring a lengthy criminal trial on charges of slander brought against him by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Following the July 2009 abduction and murder of Chechen rights activist and Memorial worker Natalya Estemirova, Orlov accused Kadyrov of being responsible for her death. Orlov never went so far as to claim that Kadyrov directly ordered the killing, which has remained unsolved, but he has accused the Chechen leading of creating the climate of fear and violence in Chechnya that led to his colleague’s death.
In his final statement to the court on June 9, Orlov stood by his accusations, saying that he felt it was his duty to the memory of Estemirova to tell the truth about Kadyrov’s rule: “ It would have been impossible not to tell the truth about who was responsible for her death—a man who has created a system of absolute personal power, legalized lawlessness, a system that demonstrates its hostility to people like Natalya Estemirova.” “In today’s Chechnya only opinions fully shared by one man — its leader — can be publicly expressed,” Orlov said. “A decision by the court will either push Russia further toward a despotic rule or, the other way round, help protect basic human rights.” The court is supposed to announce its verdict next Tuesday. If convicted, Orlov will be fined the equivalent of over $5,000 and faces up to three years in prison.
It might be recalled that many observers suspect that Kadyrov had a role in the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a close associate of Estemirova and a fierce critic of Kadyrov. Although Russian authorities recently arrested the man suspected of shooting Politkovskaya (after more than five years!), the person or persons who ordered the killing have never been identified. By Politkovskaya’s own account, Kadyrov had threatened her on more that one occasion when she visited Chechnya to report on human rights abuses there. He also threatened Estemirova.
The fact that a Moscow court would even consider Kadyrov’s defamation case against Oleg Orlov unfortunately says a great deal about the sorry state of Russian justice. The case makes it clear that, as Politkovskaya once said, Kadyrov, a brutal, corrupt and primitive chieftain, is the “Kremlin’s little dragon,” who is firmly entrenched in power. He was recently re-elected Chechen president for a five-year term.