The Telegraph’s Russia correspondent has paid tribute to the crucial help given to journalists by murdered Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova.
Estemirova, who won numerous international awards for her humanitarian work in Russia, and worked with many journalists from the UK. She was murdered last week near her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital. She was abducted hours after her organisation, Memorial, called for Vladimir Putin to face trial over deaths in Chechnya.
On the day she was killed Estemirova had just published a report that accused members of the Kadyrov administration in Chechnya of carrying out revenge killings. Friends say she was fearful for her life because she was working on such highly sensitive cases.
Telegraph Russian correspondent Adrian Blomfield told Press Gazette: “Natasha (the diminutive by which Natalya was known) played a hugely important role for any journalist on a clandestine visit to Chechnya. Without her work, her guidance and her support we would have very little idea about the litany of human rights abuses in the republic. Apart from Memorial, no other human rights organization properly operated full-time in Chechnya.
“She was the leader of a small but courageous team which dedicated itself to Chechnya even when the rest of the world had turned away. She was indefatigable – nothing was ever too much trouble, even though she was juggling so many things from investigating atrocities to providing comfort to the victims of the regime to helping out many journalists. Despite the fact that all these things put her life in danger. She was a trustworthy voice in a region full of confusion, smokescreens and bluff.”
Blomfield went on to describe how Estemirova dedicated most of her time to chronicling the disappearances of regime opponents as well as charting incidents of torture.
“Many of my colleagues depended on her, as did I, when they visited Chechnya and naturally Natasha always welcomed press interest and international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch depended on her.”
Blomfield described how many other activists are at risk in Chechnya.
He said: “The murders of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in January are just some examples of the dangers of working to highlight what is going on in Chechnya. Natalya was the eighth opponent of the Kremlin-backed Chechen regime to be murdered in the past 10 months alone.
“Even outside Chechnya, criticising the authorities is an increasingly hazardous thing to do, as the mounting journalist death toll attests. Many of the bravest and most outspoken voices in Russia belong to women but, as has been seen, gender offers no protection in a country where it has become so dangerous to speak out.”