Another Casualty of the “Russian Abu Ghraib”

The Nation‘s Katriana Vanden Heuvel (and wife of Russia scholar Stephen Cohen) has addressed the murder of Natalya Estermirova. According to preliminary reports, Estermirova was abducted and stuffed in a van.  Her corpse was later found murdered near a woodland area near Nazran in Ingushetia.  Estermirova had a direct connection to the Nation. She wrote a chronicle of Anna Politkovskaya’s work in Chechnya for the magazine in 2007.  About Politkovskaya, Estermirova wrote:

“There are those with a vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Ghraib forgotten–so that they can once again kidnap and torture. Our task, however, is to uncover their deeds and to fight them. Anna was at the forefront of this work for many years.”

The final line of that article reads: “She is no more. Now it is up to us to continue her work.”  Well, Estermirova did, and like Politkovskaya, paid the ultimate price, most likely at the hands of very people who have a “vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Gharib forgotten.”

For Russian Live Journal reactions see  Vilhelm Konnander’s summary on Global Voices.

While Estermirova was no journalist by trade, her personal friendship with Politkovskaya once again reminds one of the dangers of activist journalism in Russia.  However, it is important to remember that most Russian journalists who’ve been killed or beaten don’t have high profile status or Western liberal friends. Most write for small papers.  Most live far from Moscow where local power is much more immediate and violent and where baseball bats and metal pipes, not pistols, tend to be the weapon of choice.  Most write not on Chechnya or oligarchs in Moscow, but on local political and business corruption.  The most recent example of such a journalist was Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, the editor-in-chief of Rostov paper Corruption and Crime.  He was beaten to death in April and died of his injuries in late June.

Vanden Heuvel says that more than thirty journalists have been killed since Yeltsin.  I’ve read much higher numbers. It just depends how you categorize them.  But one thing is for sure, this pattern unfortunately has continued with Putin and Medvedev at the helm.

Equally sad is the pessimism that these types of incidents induce.  While I share Vaden Heuvel’s call to honor the courage of Natalya Estemirova, I’m afraid that even despite Medvedev’s expression of outrage, that her call for justice, however necessary, will ring hollow.