Daily Archives: January 20, 2009

Stanislav Markelov: On the Frontlines

mos14_russia-chechnya-lawyer_0120_11We continue our series of publications on the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova with a translation of an obituary of Markelov written by Alexander Cherkasov.

For more information on the background to this shocking case, we recommend “Double Murder in Broad Daylight,” by Roland Oliphant, on the Russia Profile website. For more information on Stanislav Markelov’s work as a lawyer, please go to his biography on the website of the Rule of Law Institute, which Markelov founded.

Alexander Cherkasov
“On the Frontlines”
Ezhednevyi Zhurnal (Daily Journal)
January 20, 2009

Stanislav Markelov has been murdered. I would really rather not believe it, but that is how things go.

It has to be said that there had been a bullet with his name on it ever since the day he and I met, October 3, 1993. Stas was running around Moscow, caring for the wounded. What else was there to do among the general madness? A group of leftist youths recalled the poet Maximilian Voloshin, and organized a medical brigade. Markelov was one of these young people. He still wore a ponytail then. None of the “Voloshinites” got hurt during those days.

People from the Memorial Society were also on the streets then, for the same reason. That is how Stas and I met. In the summer of 1994, Stas even traveled to Inghushetia, which had recently seen armed conflict.

Stanislav, however, did not become a “human rights activist” (a term that sometimes conceals a person’s backwardness and incompetence), but a lawyer, a defender of rights in the strict sense of the word. He left the “informal” scene.

By the late nineties his skill had even been recognized by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Stas acted as defense counsel in many cases where Russian leftists had been accused of terrorism, ranging from attempts to blow up Moscow monuments to the tsars to an alleged plot to assassinate Governor Kondratenko in Krasnodar. As a result, when the latest such case came up, the FSB hastily interrogated Markelov as a witness—because a witness in a case cannot act as defense counsel.

But Stanislav garnered genuine fame for his involvement in two of the most controversial cases surrounding the war in Chechnya. Markelov represented the families of the victims in the Budanov and Lapin cases. He worked on the Budanov case until the very end, trying to appeal the murderer’s early release on parole.

But the Lapin case—the only instance where the disappearance of a resident of Chechnya resulted in the conviction of a Russian silovik—is less well known.

Sergei Lapin (whose code name was “Cadet”) had been foolish enough to threaten Anna Politkovskaya, who had written about the disappearance of a young Chechen man, Zelimkhan Murdalov, in her investigative articles.

Lapin even signed his threatening e-mails with his code name. That is what led to his downfall: the case became a public affair, and Cadet was arrested and extradited to Chechnya.

During the trial, Stanislav Markelov, who represented Astamir Murdalov, the father of the disappeared young man, successfully filed a motion excluding from consideration illegally obtained evidence. After all, in Grozny, Lapin had been imprisoned in ORB-2, an illegal torture prison. If this place was better than the Oktyabrsky Temporary Department of Internal Affairs, then only by a little. If you were imprisoned there, it was very hard not to give whatever testimony they wanted you to give.

It seemed as if the lawyer was undermining his own case, but in the end the sentence was based only on objective evidence, not on the accused’s personal confession. And a subsequent appeal of the court ruling failed to get Sergei Lapin acquitted. “The rule of law” is not a slogan, but a practical requirement.

In these two cases, Stanislav Markelov had defended the honor of Russia.

For he was practically the only Russian lawyer who worked on controversial cases in Chechnya itself. Until quite recently, Stanislav had acted as defense counsel for Magomedsalakh Masayev, who had sued the Chechen authorities over his lengthy detention in an illegal prison. In August of last year, Masayev was disappeared. That is how things go.

Markelov also represented victims of the Blagoveshchensk Affair, when the Bashkortostan OMON, which had returned from Chechnya, “filtrated” an entire town.

He represented victims in the Nord-Ost Affair. He helped Tatyana Lukashova, the mother of one of the victims, find out whether the body she buried was really that of her daughter. He acted as defense counsel for hostage Yakha Neserkhoyeva, whom investigators had accused of being involved with the terrorists.

You can track many of Stanislav’s cases via Anna Politkovskaya’s articles. True, only until 2006. That is how things go.

Why do we find one and the same man involved in such different cases? Probably because there is so little space on the frontlines.

Stanislav went from being a young leftist to being a lawyer, and he cut off his ponytail, but he didn’t change his convictions.

He took part in human rights conferences and social forums, trying to unite the ideas of human rights and social justice. In this sense, he stood out from other human rights activists and, probably, from other lawyers.

He turned his convictions into actions.

Markelov defended leftist activists throughout Russia.

He defended environmentalists, whose protest camps in various parts of the country were more and more often being scrutinized by local administrations, law enforcement officials, and legal and illegal armed units.

He defended trade union activists.

He defended members of the Belorussian opposition. This, if you haven’t heard of it, is called internationalism.

He defended anti-fascists: after all, being against fascism has also become dangerous. Markelov represented the victim in the Alexander Riukhin case. This young anti-fascist was murdered in Moscow in 2006.

This is how things went, these were the cases Markelov took. You can’t even begin to list them all.

But Stanislav himself had been the victim of an assault five years ago. On April 16, 2004, he was beaten in the Moscow subway. His attackers took a briefcase with legal documents and his telephone.

Who did it? In connection with what case?

These are the same questions we ask now.

Stanislav Markelov was involved as a lawyer in so many hot cases that it hard to say exactly who might have pulled the trigger.

We can say almost the same thing about Anna Politkovskaya. Perhaps I am wrong, but I have the impression that Markelov was just as much an odd bird in the legal community as Politkovskaya was in the journalist community. The paths of these two people had intersected many times during recent years. They did different jobs, but on the frontlines their cause was the same.

Amidst the general madness, to find a meaningful task for yourself—and, perhaps, save yourself and others in the process. Perhaps. . .

Stanislav Markelov would have turned thirty-five on May 20. We will mark this day without him.

The writer is a member of the board of the Memorial Society.


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Stanislav Markelov Has Been Murdered

stanislavStanislav Markelov, one of Russia’s most well-known human rights lawyers, was yesterday (January 19, 2009) gunned down by an unknown assassin in downtown Moscow. This is the latest in a series of attacks on the country’s human rights and social activists. Markelov was murdered along with Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist and anarchist activist who was accompanying Markelov after a press conference at which Markelov discussed his plans for opposing and investigating the early parole of Colonel Yuri Budanov, who was convicted in 2003 of the murder of a young Chechen woman, Elza Kungayeva, and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Although, given the recent events surrounding the parole of the war criminal Budanov, the foreign and Russian press will inevitably focus on this connection, Markelov was a hero of the Russian social movements for his work on behalf of anti-fascists, migrant workers, union activists, and others. His murder clearly has to be seen in the context of the recent string of attacks on activists in these movements, which has received little coverage in the west and little more in Russia itself. 

You can find coverage of the murders in English, among other places, in the New York Times and on Robert Amsterdam’s website.

The collective at “(The) Movement” (dvizh.org) has issued the following statement:

Stanislav Markelov has been murdered. Only a few hours ago, with characteristic decisiveness and energy, he was trying to make sure Colonel Budanov, who had raped and killed a Chechen girl, a citizen of Russia, would serve out the remainder of the prison term to which he had been sentenced. Several hundred footsteps later, his body, struck down by death, was growing cold on the pavement in the very center of Moscow. There are theories as to why he was killed and who killed him, but there can be no justification for this murder. The murderer did not merely take the life of a brilliant professional, an ambitious organizer, and a witty interlocutor. In the person of Stanislav Markelov we have lost that rare thing—a lawyer who was also a public intellectual and civic activist. His profound and weighty statements were always double-edged, aimed both at achieving practical results and increasing our knowledge of our world. With confidence and elegance he would cut through the thickest layers of the falsely obvious and achieve the unachievable in the courtroom and in public discussions.

Stanislav was of the few lawyers, if not the only one, who tackled  the heaviest cases against the Russian state—and won them. He always mounted an active defense of his clients. He was man of indisputable civic genius. Stanislav succeeded in many of the things that he did, and in the future he would have done a lot more. Another famous lawyer and intellectual, Robert Bandinter, succeeded in getting the death penalty abolished in France when he was fifty-three. Stanislav was thirty-four. His murder has robbed us of all the coming years of his brilliant career as a judicial and social activist, of all those things that he could have done during this time. We no longer have those years to look forward to. We no longer have any time at all. How much time will pass before we see again in the Russian legal system  young trial lawyers and intellectuals capable of beating the system on its own ground with such elegance, of making it less cruel?

nastya-232x350With his activism, Stanislav showed that we don’t have to be afraid of taking control of our lives. Today, someone allowed himself to take control of Stanislav’s death. Anastasia Baburova, a young activist and journalist who had been accompanying Stanislav on Prechistenka Street and attempted to stop the murderer, was shot from the same pistol and died in hospital. The chain of crimes against justice in Russia has not been unbroken for the past several months. The murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova are two more links in this chain. How can we break the chain? What do we have to do to deflect the arms of the hired thugs, who attack us with baseball bats, pistol barrels, and search warrants? What do we have to do to breathe more freely?

On January 20, a memorial will take place at twelve noon at the site of Stanislav and Anastasia’s murders (Prechistenka, 1). Come with flowers, and bring your friends and people who share your views.

On January 20, a memorial march will take place at 7.00 p.m. in Saint Petersburg. Marchers will meet at the Bukvoyed bookstore (Ligovsky Prospect, 10) and march to the Field of Mars. Marchers are asked to bring photographs, candles, and flowers.

Stanislav Markelov  was a lawyer who worked on such cases as the trial of Colonel Yuri Budanov; the Nord-Ost hostage tragedy; neofascist attacks on migrants and anti-fascist activists; the massive police pogrom against the residents of Blagoveshchensk; the murders of journalists; and the first cases filed under Russia’s new terrorism laws. In addition to working with and defending the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and participating in other major cases, he worked for long periods in Chechnya and other major hotspots. He created the Rule of Law Institute, a network organization that offers legal assistance in publicly important cases and fosters public discussion of the legal and social aspects of the work of journalists, law enforcement officials, lawyers, activists, apartment owners, and workers. He participated in a number of intellectual and civic initiatives, including the Russian and international Social Forums. He consulted individuals and organizations on freedom of assembly and combating police abuse, and he also consulted activists of social movements, trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, and civic initiative groups.

Anastasia Baburova was an activist in the anarchist and environmental movements. She participated in many protest actions and civic initiatives, such as the European Social Forum in Malmö (2008). She was a freelance journalist for Novaya Gazeta, where she covered non-mainstream youth movements, street actions, demonstrations, and court cases.


Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, Russian society