In Which Guatemala Clinches a Definitive X-Judy Win

Holy crap, guys. When we said that we couldn’t choose between Kenya and Guatemala for the title of Ultimate X-Judy champion, we weren’t suggesting that they should try harder to convince us. Apparently Guatemala understood things differently, however, because this is a doozy. Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg has accused the President Alvaro Colom of murder -his own.

Rosenberg was assassinated last weekend as he rode a bicycle near his home in Guatemala City. He had been representing two murdered anti-corruption activists, Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie, who were killed last March. Khalil had recently resigned from the board of Banrural, a Guatemalan bank rumored to be engaged in corruption on a massive scale. Supposedly, Guatemala’s President Colom had asked Musa to join the board, but then the bank never actually permitted him to take up that seat. Fearful that his good name was being used as windowdressing for criminal activity, Musa withdrew from the position that he’d never really been able to occupy in the first place. Apparently someone wasn’t cool with that, because Khalil and Marjorie were shot soon afterwards. (In public, in the middle of the day as they waited at a red light in a well-populated area. No one can accuse Guatemala of not knowing the X-Judy drill by now.)

Rosenberg anticipated his own death. Before he died, he recorded a short video accusing Colom, his wife Sandra de Colom, and his private secretary Gustavo Alejos of murdering him in retaliation for speaking out against the curruption at Banrural and the Musas’ assassination. They were posted on the website of Guatemala’s El Periodico, along with a copy of Rosenberg’s written statement. The videos are below, and a translation of the statement is included in full after the jump. It is heartbreaking, but well worth a read.

Via a helpful commenter at boingboing, a transcript of the written document left behind by Rodrigo Rosenberg before being shot to death:

Rodrigo Rosenberg’s Declaration, prior to his death

If you are reading this message, it means that I, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, was murdered by the President’s Private Secretary Gustavo Alejos and his associate Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of mister Alvaro Colom and Sandra de Colom.

The reason for which Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez have ordered my death, and for which the President of the Republic Alvaro Colom has approved it, is because until the day I was killed, I was the lawyer for two incredible Guatemalans, Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, and knew exactly how Alvaro Colom, Sandra de Colom, Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez were responsible for this cowardly assassination, which I made known to them and to anyone who could and would hear me.

I was a 47 year old Guatemalan, with 4 beautiful children, with the best brother one could ask in life, with wonderful friends, and with an overwhelming desire to live in my country, but I could not have lived with myself without rebelling, arming myself with valor and denouncing before all Guatemalans who have principles and values the real reasons for the deaths of Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, without regarding the consequences, and understanding that my life was in danger, I wanted to leave behind this testimony, should something come to happen to me, as it unfortunately did.

It was Alvaro Colom who, through Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, asked for the collaboration of Mister Khalil Musa to form part, Ad honorem, of the board for Banrural, without Mister Khalil Musa being aware of the illegal, million-dollar business transactions taking place daily in Banrural, which range from money laundering to the deviation of public funds to non-existent programs belonging to the President’s wife, Sandra de Colom, as well as the funding of paper firms employed for drug-dealing.

It was Alvaro Colom, in agreement with Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, who withheld Mister Khalil Musa’s already signed appointment, without his knowledge, for over three months, for in reality they had no intention whatsoever of granting him this post, but were using his good name with the argument that if new quotas of power were not distributed, Mister Khalil would denounce the corruption with which Banrural’s General Manager Fernando Peña operates this bank at his whim, for the service of Mrs. Sandra de Colom, as an associate and financier with the funds of the bank and of the businesses owned by Gregorio Valdez and Gustavo Alejos, without the bank’s president, José Angel López, doing anything to stop Fernando Peña from turning Banrural into the dwelling for thieves, drugdealers and murderers which it is now.

With the impunity with which Guatemalans in recent years have granted to thieves and murderers, José Angel López, Fernando Peña and the cowardly Gerardo de León directly threatened and intimidated Mister Khalil Musa a few weeks before his assassination, so that he’d give up his post and Mister Khalil Musa, as a true gentleman, told them he had no problem with his appointment being canceled, as it was Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, in agreement with our most splendid President Alvaro Colom and his perennial shadow, Sandra de Colom.

Mister Khalil Musa let Gustavo Alejos and Alvaro Colom know that he’s decided not to take part in the board of Banrural to avoid troubles, but they asked that he give them time, as all was getting resolved, without Mister Khalil Musa having the slightest idea that once the thieves and murderers had everything settled, they would kill him along with his daughter, Marjorie Musa (whose only crime was to be an exemplary daughter who always accompanied her father), as he’d served his purpose, without caring for anything or anyone and with the utter leisure of knowing that good Guatemalans would once more do absolutely nothing, justifying their inactivity in the impotence which always pervades us, or simply saying “Most likely, they were involved in something…”

Boasting lack of moral principles or values and of the vaguest sense of shame, Gustavo Alejos, after trying to invent other theories who nobody accepted on the grounds of the moral virtue of the victims, personally told Mister Khalil Musa’s family that he’d regrettably been assassinated for the horrible problems which exist in Banrural, reaching the point that the very President Alvaro Colom invites one of Mister Khalil Musa’s political relatives to his office to confirm what’s been said by his Private Secretary.

Now you can understand why neither Alvaro Colom and much less Gustavo Alejos publicly declared what they told to the family of Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, and ordered the corrupt and incompetent Secretary of the Interior and the nonexistent Attorney General to let this assassination slide, as always occurs with the murders, thefts and violations which have thrust Guatemala into its darkest depths.

Day by day this horrible story repeats itself and fills with grief one more of our Guatemalan families, while good Guatemalans decide to look the other way and pray it’s not our turn.

It’s enough! Let’s rescue our country from thieves, murderers and drugdealers, and once united, let us reclaim our Guatemala, our values and our faith in justice, and let us kick out the current puppet we have for president, and let us imprison the thieves and murderers, starting with Gustavo Alejos, Gregorio Valdez, Fernando Peña and Gerardo de León, among others, and once and for all, let us demand the resignation of all the current members of Congress, all of who, with very few exceptions, are a bunch of thieves, and let us start all over again, for the love of God and our country.

Surely the cowards will try to defend themselves by staining the memory of Mister Khalil Musa or his daughter Marjorie Musa, and will try to convince Guatemalans that this is all a new ploy, but in the end, the one and only truth that matters is that if you are reading this message, it’s because I, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, was murdered by Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of Mister Alvaro colom and Sandra de Colom, for refusing to allow the vile and cowardly assassination of two incredible people like Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa to become another statistic, thus continuing to hand over my country to the killers, cowards, thieves and drugdealers who currently govern it.

Rodrigo Rosenber Marzano

I remind Mister Vicepresident of the Republic, Doctor Rafael Espada, that he who’s silent, yields, and that you are neither a thief nor a murderer, and should be the first one to head the movement to recover our Guatemala, and make the law be carried out with the help of all the good Guatemalans who support it without reserve.

(Hat Tip: My sister, who sent me the boingboing link.)

Without Further Ado: The X-Judy Awards!

Today is an important day. After exactly one month, we are ending Extrajudicial Killings Week. (Let that be a lesson to us about making firm time commitments.)

Awards as follows:

To Karl Horberg, for naming the X-Judy, and for submitting a quality death-by-boiling entry from Uzbekistan, we are awarding one Cyrano de Bergerac-style ghostwriting of a letter of his choice. Choose wisely, Karl.

To the Transitionland blogger for her submission on chutzpah-tastic broad daylight killings of human rights activists in Russia, and to the anonymous source of the second Uzbekistan submission, we are awarding one hex apiece, to be used against the enemies of their choice. Again, choose wisely.

To Karolina Castro, who took us on a trip down memory lane to the 1992 Brazilian Carandiru prison massacre, we are awarding the newly-created Lucky Charms skull and crossbones marshmallow. Because that whole thing about playing soccer with the decapitated heads after the Ursa Branco riots was hella morbid. (We’ll get that to you as soon as we convince General Mills that it should be a new addition to our favorite cereal.)

To the anonymous source of the Uganda entry, we are awarding one box of Lucky Charms, because that extortion racket is just nuts. Let us know where to send it.

And finally, to Ryan Briggs, we are awarding an honorable mention for reminding us of a virtuoso extrajudicial killer who is sadly no longer with us: Odai Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, Ryan did not nominate any specific killings, so he gets no marshmallows. (A good choice might have been the time Odai killed his father’s valet with an electric carving knife in the middle of a dinner party for Egyptian President Mubarak’s wife. Alright, the hell with it: Ryan, you get two red balloon marshmallows for reminding us of that incident. Extrajudicial killings: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.)

Finally, the winner of the coveted “X-Judy Award” for the best instance of an extrajudicial killing is…

A tie between Guatemala and Kenya. In the end, we just couldn’t decide. Guatemala’s breadth (murder of foreign diplomats and then, in a clever twist, slaughter of the police officers who confessed to killing them) was matched by Kenya’s depth (a relentless campaign of threats and murder against the activists who were, um, publicizing the existence of that relentless campaign of threats and murder).

Congratulations to the police forces of both countries for exhibiting such excellence in cold-blooded killing. The competition was stiff, but their perseverance and hard work have paid off. We’re thrilled to finally bring them the recognition they deserve.

X-Judy Entry 8: Uganda

We’ve received a last minute, just under the wire entry for the X-Judy awards. (No really, we were totally just about to close this thing down.) And it’s a good one. Apparently, the Ugandan Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force (JATT), not content to extrajudicially execute people, have taken to feeding false information to the victims’ families in the hopes of extorting money from them. (You can read HRW’s recent report about JATT’s abuses here.)

Our anonymous source provides an example:

JATT arrested Saidi Lutaaya around November 22, 2007, from the Old Taxi Park in Kampala where he worked as a hawker. Witnesses recalled his arrest as coinciding with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Kampala for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (of course, you have to clamp down if the queen is coming to town). Two days later, the Voice of Africa radio program broadcast that the body of Saidi Lutaaya was at the mortuary at Mulago hospital in Kampala. A nurse from the hospital recognized Lutaaya and wanted to make sure his family was informed, so she phoned the radio station. According to eyewitnesses, those who attempted to collect his body were told that soldiers had come and taken the body away. Nurses informed family that Lutaaya had been brought to the hospital early in the morning by soldiers. One said that the man had “a hole in his foot and the bone of his lower leg was out, and that he was hit in the head with a hammer, blood was oozing out of his body.” He was still alive. He had been registered as “Sergeant Lutaaya” and was wearing an army jacket.

Soldiers told the nurses to call the soldiers who brought him to the hospital if and when he died, which they did later that night. Friends and family continued to search for news of the whereabouts of Lutaaya’s body. Eventually, a friend was approached by men he knew to be informers for JATT. He was told to tell Lutaaya’s wife not to give money to anyone who approached claiming to know Lutaaya’s whereabouts. “He said that Saidi was dead. People will come to her and say that they can help her but they cannot. He is dead.”

Two detainees who were in Kololo at the time of Lutaaya’s detention remember seeing him there. One told Human Rights Watch that Lutaaya was held in a room, referred to as Number 7, which was next to a small building where the toilets are located. It is separate from the main
house in the compound.

Because Lutaaya was not held with other male detainees in the garage of the main house, details of his detention and the manner of his death remain unclear. One detainee who knew Lutaaya from his neighborhood told Human Rights Watch that he saw Lutaaya trying to stand up and falling over repeatedly while guards told him he would be beaten for pretending to be injured. Then, three co-detainees were ordered to put Lutaaya’s injured body in a pickup truck and he was taken to the hospital. Several detainees who were brought to Kololo after Lutaaya’s death remarked that soldiers there occasionally mentioned Lutaaya’s beating as having been very severe. Lutaaya’s friends and family members have sought information from government authorities about is whereabouts. They have to date received no information. On March 9 2009, hospital administrators gave Lutaaya’s family his death certificate, which noted that he had been brought into the hospital on November 23 2007, comatose, and that his cause of death had not been ascertained. The section of the certificate which asks for details of the “morbid conditions” giving rise to the cause of death was not completed. In a response to Human Rights Watch, CMI [Chieftancy of Military Intelligence] denied any knowledge of the case of Saidi Lutaaya.

X-Judy 7: India Will See Your Lawless Mayhem, and Raise You Some Bollywood Stardom

Video clip of “Shootout at Lokhandwala.”

Do you know what really spices up an extrajudicial killing? A jazzy musical number!*

In India, “encounter” and “encounter killing” are euphemisms for “shot by the police.” The term implies that the victim was armed, and shot first – if the police shoot an unarmed person and plant a weapon on the body, that’s a “false encounter killing.”

In the 90s, encounter killings were so common in Mumbai that some officers became known as “encounter specialists” -specialists in shootouts. Human rights groups have long criticized the practice, noting the high civilian death rate and few positive results to show for it.

The encounter killings have also caught the attention of India’s media and its vast film industry, known as “Bollywood.” And let the result be a lesson to all of us who seek to “bring attention” to human rights violations: encounter specialists were lionized in Bollywood movies like Shootout at Lokhandwala, Risk, and Encounter: The Killing. The movies depict police officers heroically taking on massive criminal cartels in bloody shootouts, fighting for justice ten thousand bullets at a time. And then taking a break to sing a song, do a dance, and get the girl. From Wikepedia’s description of Shootout at Lokhandwala:

“A long and devastating gun battle begins. The criminals launch RPG (rocket propelled grenade) from their flat and try to escape. But they are overwhelmed by police fire and all five criminals are eventually slain. The battle lays waste to the entire building: film shots show the staircases, hallways and several civilian flats completely pulverized by gunfire. […]

Charges are brought against Khan and the ATS. But when [Private Prosecutor] Dhingra rises to defend them as their appointed counsel, he, in a surprising twist, presents an unconventional argument as defense. The film ends with Khan and the ATS being acquitted”

Everyone loves a good musical number, but the heroic, all-singing, all-dancing image of encounter specialists has served as a screen for the much darker truth.

There is substantial evidence that police have used “false encounter killings”to conceal extrajudicial killing, torture, and other abuses on a massive scale. Ensaaf recently analyzed police reports of more than 20,000 alleged encounter killings in Punjab:

“Punjab Police released press reports almost daily to local newspapers, detailing the civilians, security forces, and alleged militants killed. Alleged militants were most often reported killed in encounters involving an exchange of gunfire. However, human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases in Punjab where victims were arrested, abducted, or executed by security forces in the presence of witnesses – but then would be reported a few days later as a “suspected militant,” killed in an “encounter” with security forces. These reports suggest that many such reported encounters were falsified. So-called “fake encounters,” in fact, were so prevalent that the practice has been remarked upon by the U.S. State Department and widely acknowledged in the media. Empirical findings from our report are also consistent with qualitative findings that reported encounters were often faked. ”

In other words: bummer about being kidnapped and murdered, but maybe Amitabh Bachchan will play you in the movie version!

*The embedded clip is from Shootout at Lokhandwala, but I’m not actually sure what it’s depicting. These particular singers/dancers might be playing gangsters, not encounter specialist cops. More information would be much appreciated, commenters!

X-Judy Entry 6: Guatemala Gets it Done

Guatemala may be a small country, but when it comes to the X-Judys, they play with the big boys:

19th February, 2007: A burned-out car containing the charred corpses of three Salvadoran officials and their driver is found in the countryside near Guatemala City. The bodies are identified as Eduardo D’Aubuisson, William Pichinte, and Jose Ramon Gonzalez, all members of El Salvador’s then-ruling ARENA party. (If D’Aubuisson’s name rings a bell, that’s because his father was Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of ARENA and fan of Hitler and blowtorches.) The three men had been visiting Guatemala as representatives of Parlacen, the Central American Parliament. Their car had disappeared from a police-led convoy the night before.

21st February, 2007: Guatemalan President Berger announces that the FBI will be assisting in the investigation of the murders. But not because the Guatemalan police can’t be trusted, or anything. Just because the FBI has all of these newfangled toys, like “DNA testing,” and “actual forensic methodology.”

22nd February, 2007: Wow, that didn’t take long! Luis Herrera, the head of the Guatemalan Police’s special unit on organized crime, and three of his officers are arrested for the Salvadorans’ murder. It turns out that they didn’t know that the police vehicle that they used to kidnap the men had a GPS tracking system. Which places them at the times/places of the kidnapping and murder. Photographs from traffic cameras corroborate the men’s movements that night, and clearly show who was in the car. The men confess quickly, claiming that they were confused -they thought that their victims were drug dealers. Which would, of course, have made everything totally okay. Carlos Vielmann, Guatemala’s interior minister, releases a public statement claiming that the arrests are a sign of newfound dedication to cleaning up corruption.

25th February, 2007: Oops, not so fast! Herrera and co. are murdered in El Boqueron prison, the maximum-security facility where they had been taken after their arrest. The government initially claims that they were killed during a prison riot, but news sources note that there was confusion about whether the riot started before or after the men were killed. However, eyewitnesses and the New York Times report that armed men in riot gear and ski masks stormed the prison, went through seven sets of locked doors, and murdered the men without any resistance from Boqueron’s guards.

2 March, 2007: Reporters Without Borders voices its support of Cable Guatevision, a Guatemalan TV station that has been receiving death threats ever since airing a report on the Feb. 25th murders at El Boqueron. In a rather charming understatement, it notes that recent events have given “reason to fear” that the police and security systems might have been infiltrated by criminals. (Um, what tipped you off?)

The Following Several Months: Guatemalan government shrugs shoulders, says “investigating high-level corruption and organized crime is hard!!”, makes no progress on solving the case.

19 June 2007: El Salvador’s President Tony Saca issues a statement condemning Guatemala’s lack of progress in solving the case.

Since Then: What, you haven’t forgotten about this yet? Those dudes were killed ages ago. I mean, seriously, by now they’d probably be dead of old age! This whole thing is totes a downer, so we’re just going to let it go. You know, for the good of the children. And the future. And puppies. We love puppies. You love puppies too, right? Nice puppy you’ve got at home, for instance. It would be a shame if something were to happen to that puppy of yours.

Right Now: Just saying.

X-Judy Entry Number 5: Brazil

Reader Karolina Castro offers yet another reason to avoid the Brazilian prison system: risk of massacre. (Totally worse than being forced to join a gang.)

Karolina draws our attention to the oldie-but-goodie 1992 Carandiru massacre in which 111 inmates died in the aftermath of a prison riot. The Military Police later argued that the 102 inmates shot with government-issue bullets were killed in self-defense. Clearly, they self-defended the hell out of those prisoners, many of whom were found to have been shot dead while hiding in their cells after having stripped naked as a sign of surrender. Others had been shot in the head execution-style. Oh yeah, and the troops all survived unscathed.

Of course, Brazilian inmates have proven that they don’t need the Military Police around to pull of a rockin’ massacre. In 2002, a prison riot at Urso Branco devolved into open gang warfare, eventually resulting in the beheadings of several unfortunate inmates. Karolina tells us that surviving prisoners followed up the slaughter by playing soccer with the decapitated heads. They are also rumored to have sent one along to the prison’s director as a thank-you gift. Classy.

X-Judy Entry 4: Anything You Can Do, Kenya Can Do Better

I mean, seriously, folks. Let’s review the tape:

2007: The Kenya National Human Rights Commission accuses the Kenyan Police of hunting down and murdering members of the “Mungiki,” a criminal gang with political and religious pretensions. The police deny the claims, suggesting that the Mungiki have probably been murdering themselves and stashing their own corpses around the city.

2007: The Oscar Foundation, a Kenyan legal aid NGO, publishes a report on extrajudicial killings, entitled “License to Kill: Extrajudicial Killing and Police Brutality in Kenya.” Its in-depth analysis considers allegations that the Kenyan police are engaging in extrajudicial killings, torture, and other unacceptable behavior on a massive scale. (Report’s conclusion: “Oh, holy crap, are they ever.”)

June 2008: Kenyan police officer Bernard Kiriinya gives video testimony to the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, confessing on tape to having witnessed 58 extrajudicial killings by police.

September 2008: Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights releases “The Cry of Blood,” a report on extrajudicial killings.

October 2008: Kiriinya is shot dead in Nairobi.

16-20 Feb 2009: Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, visits Kenya to investigate allegations of killings by police. He meets with Oscar Kingara and John Paul Oulu, two senior officers of the Oscar Foundation, who provide him with testimony on police killings in Nairobi and Central Province.

Feb 25th, 2009: Alston releases a damning preliminary statement, to the effect of “I notice that you have quite a large number of extrajudicial killings. Also, I noticed that no one is ever punished for them. Just saying.” (Video here.)

March 2009: Government official releases a statement accusing Oscar Foundation of having “ties” to the Mungiki. A police officer threatens to “take action” against those who had organized protests of Mungiki “supporters,” apparently in reference to rallies of students that the Oscar Foundation organized to protest extrajudicial killings of alleged Mungiki members.

A Few Days Later in March 2009: Kingara and Oulu are shot at close range while their car sits in Nairobi traffic. (Probably a complete coincidence.)

Later That Day in March 2009: After hearing the news that Kingara and Oulu have been murdered, students take the bullet-riddled car and bodies into campus, and refuse to release them to the police. A standoff follows, which eventually breaks down into rioting. Police officers “storm the campus,” firing live ammunition and tear gas. Students respond by hurling stones. One student is shot and killed by police, and eleven others are seriously injured. The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights releases a statement condemning the police for using excessive force, and noting that police had continued to shoot live bullets, even after the rioting students had been overcome and arrested. They suggest that, in the future, the police could perhaps use different tactics?

Since Then: US and UN call for investigation into the murder of Kingara and Oulu. Kenyan police think that’s a great idea, and that they totes meant to, but they’ve been so busy lately, and it just slipped their minds. But remind them next time they murder some human rights activists in cold blood, and they will definitely try to investigate things then, okay? Cool!

X-Judy Entry Number 3: Another Offering from Uzbekistan

An anonymous submission demonstrating, once again, just how dangerous it can be to report the news:

Central Asia is, literally, murder on journalists. They are beaten, detained, vanished, and killed with depressing regularity throughout the region. One of the most egregious examples is Alisher Saipov, a skinny young guy who had a wife and a daughter who was three months old when she lost her dad.

Alisher Saipov was killed on October 24th, 2007. He was a freelance journalist and an outspoken critic of the Uzbek government. He was murdered in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, less than an hour from the border with Uzbekistan. He was 26, and he was shot once in the leg and twice in the head by a gunman, with a silenced gun, who stepped out of the shadows and then fled. It was seven o’clock in the evening, and just getting dark. Saipov was on his cell phone when it happened. No one has been arrested for Saipov’s murder. Kyrgyz authorities are allegedly still investigating.

Saipov was a journalist for the Voice of America, and he edited the only newspaper in the region that was critical of the Karimov regime – Siyosat, or politics. He wrote about torture – people burned, boiled alive, electrocuted. He wrote about oppression – lack of freedom of movement, lack of freedom of speech. He wrote about the Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, afraid to go home and constantly under pressure where they were.

His investigations helped to prove that the Uzbek government was kidnapping Uzbek asylum seekers who had fled to Kyrgyzstan. He revealed the climate of fear and coercion that led up to Karimov’s sham of a re-election in Uzbekistan.

Alisher Saipov was afraid of the Uzbeks. He told friends that he was being followed by Uzbek secret police, and he’d been badly beaten in 2006 by unidentified assailants. He wrote anyway. He interviewed banned religious groups, opposition leaders, and people the government had described as terrorists. His newspaper was smuggled into Uzbekistan by people desperate for honest information. The Voice of America eulogized him as “fearless journalist, with impeccable skills and deep knowledge of the region, who was always willing to go to the scene to report events.”

Among the other journalists, and human rights activists, there is no doubt that he was killed by the government of Uzbekistan. It’s been documented that the Uzbek secret police are active in Osh, and this kind of assassination fits their mode of operation.

X-Judy Entry Number 2: Russia

The lovely-but-anonymous blogger at Transitionland submits the following entry:

Russia: Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova

On the afternoon of January 19th, 2009, in central Moscow, Stanislav Markelov, 34, one of Russia’s leading human rights lawyers, and his friend, journalist and anti-racism campaigner Anastasia Baburova , 25, were gunned down in broad daylight.

The masked gunman shot Markelov in the head at close range, killing him instantly. Seconds after witnessing the murder of her friend, Baburova chased after the assassin. He put a bullet in her too, before disappearing into a busy metro station. Hours later, on a hospital operating table, Baburova succumbed to her injury.

Markelov’s body lay on the sidewalk for hours as forensic investigators collected evidence. The international press arrived. Cameras lingered over the pitiful scene, the young lawyer’s slight frame slumped in a pool of blood. The street was still not fully cleaned by nightfall, when mourners gathered to place candles in the snow.

The extrajudicial killings of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova represent so much of what has gone so very wrong in Russia over the past decade.

Markelov was one of a dwindling number of human rights defenders willing to take on the powerful and well-connected. Minutes before his death, Markelov had come from a press conference at which he announced he would be filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the parents of Elza Kungayeva, a young Chechen woman who was abducted, raped and murdered by a Russian colonel in 2000. Kungayeva’s killer received a ten year sentence, and was paroled early.

Markelov was a long-time defender of civilian war victims in the North Caucasus, and took up dangerous and politically-charged cases –of police brutality, torture, war crimes, and corruption– that other lawyers refused to touch. To young people on increasingly marginalized left, Markelov was a trusted friend. He dispensed legal advice to youth anarchists, anti-fascists, and environmentalists and served as an unofficial mediator between these groups and the police.

The day after Markelov was killed, thousands took to the streets for a rare public airing of grief and outrage in the Chechen capital Grozny. In Moscow, hundreds of young protesters, many of them personal friends of Anastasia Baburova, carried signs accusing the government of Dimitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin of complicity in the killings.

A whole six days later, the Kremlin issued a statement of condemnation.

Anastasia Baburova was the third Novaya Gazeta correspondent to be killed or die under “suspicious circumstances” since 2000. Pavel Felgenhauer, one of Baburova’s colleagues, did not mince words in the Eurasia Daily Monitor when he wrote:

In the opinion of the Novaya Gazeta staff, of which I am a member, the Russian security services or rogue elements within these services are the prime suspects in the murders of Baburova and Markelov. The boldness of the attack by a single gunman in broad daylight in the center of Moscow required professional preliminary planning and surveillance that would necessitate the security services, which closely control that particular neighborhood, turning a blind eye. The use of a gun with a silencer does not fit with the usual pattern of murders by nationalist neo-Nazi youth groups in Russia, which use homemade explosives, knifes, and group assaults to beat up and stab opponents to death.

The offices of Russia’s rulers President
Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have not issued any statements expressing indignation or offering any condolences after the two murders. This follows the usual behavioral pattern of the authoritarian Putin regime when its critics are murdered in cold blood.

In an obituary, published by OpenDemocracy, the Novaya Gazeta staff remembered the rare courage of their slain friend and colleague:

Stanislav and Anastasia were simply decent people who could not tolerate what the majority in our country has accepted. That was enough for the lords and masters of Russia to issue their verdict, for those who are allowed to kill in our country.

These were the latest killings of those who did not fit within the present system. A 34-year-old lawyer who defended Chechens against Russia’s military, and defended Russia’s soldiers from their corrupt commanders. He spoke out against the neo-Nazis who are supported by the regime and defended Russia’s anti-fascists whom the regime sends to prison. Markelov defended journalists and rights activists nd was himself a defender of human rights. As a consequence in the elite milieu of the capital’s attorneys he was regarded as an outsider.

25-year-old Nastya Baburova was also a romantic rebel, an anarchist who took part in the anti-fascist movement and the Dissenters’ marches.

It was no accident that she found herself in such company: she quite consciously chose that path in life. In the eyes of the regime and ordinary people, who only want to keep out of trouble and quietly survive the present regime, Nastya’s choice also made her an outsider. Therefore few people in our country could die as she did, struggling to apprehend the assassin. In the office in front of which Stas and Nastya were shot people heard gunfire and even understood immediately what had happened. They were afraid to go out, however, or even to glance through the window.

Yes, Stanislav Merkelov and Anastasia Baburova chose their path, undoubtedly aware that it might one day lead exactly where it did on January 19th.
They fought the good fight, against silence, cruelty and impunity. In doing so, they lost their lives. This should not have happened, and should never happen.