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.