GROZNY, Russia – Attorneys, activists and lawmakers Wednesday condemned the brazen shooting of a human-rights lawyer on a busy Moscow street and called for a thorough and honest investigation into a killing that spotlighted the risks faced by Russians who fight for justice.
Rights activists have compared Monday's murder of Stanislav Markelov to the 2006 slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. They fear the investigation into his killing, like many others involving victims who have pressed to hold authorities accountable for their actions, will hit a dead end.
"The most worrying thing is that (such attacks) give certain signals to society," Karinna Moskalenko, another leading human-rights lawyer, said Wednesday. She expressed outrage — but little surprise — over the latest killing of a member of Russia's beleaguered, close-knit community of justice seekers.
Lawmakers in the State Duma, aware of the criticism Russia has faced over a dismal record on prosecuting the killers of government critics, voted unanimously to demand prosecutors share details of the investigation into the slaying of Markelov and a journalist who was with him, Anastasia Baburova.
Communist lawmaker Oleg Smolin called the attack "political terrorism."
Sergei Markov, a Duma member from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's dominant United Russia party, urged a "stop to the wave of attacks on rights defenders."
But there has been no public comment on the killings from Putin or his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev — a former lawyer who has called for urgent reform of Russia's corruption-tainted justice system but has made little progress.
Prosecutors, yet to make any arrests or offer a concrete motive in the double killing, on Wednesday questioned colleagues and searched offices that Markelov, 34, had used. Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin told a news conference Wednesday that authorities had little evidence.
"All the investigation has to go on is the data from video cameras," Pronin said, Interfax reported.
The daily Izvestia said the attack was meticulously planned: The assailant approached Markelov, avoiding a clear view from several security cameras nearby, and shot the lawyer at point-blank range with a silenced Makarov pistol, it said.
Baburova was accompanying Markelov from a news conference toward a subway station and was fatally shot after she challenged the attacker. The 25-year-old woman was a student and freelance journalist who contributed to Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.
Markelov's array of contentious cases provided ample room for speculation on a motive.
The most obvious possible link was to Markelov's representation of the family of a Chechen teenager killed in 2000 by a Russian officer. Col. Yuri Budanov was released from prison last week with more than a year left in his 10-year sentence for the murder of Heda Kungayeva.
His early release caused anger among Chechens and rights activists who pointed out that people imprisoned on what they see as politically motivated charges are routinely denied parole.
Markelov was working with the victim's family to put Budanov back behind bars, and he reportedly received death threats days before the attack.
According to Izvestia, he received a cell phone text message five days earlier that read, in Russian, "You brainless animal, you are again involved in the Budanov case? Idiot, couldn't you find a calmer way of killing yourself?"
Markelov had discussed the case at a news conference minutes before the attack.
But many believe the Budanov angle to be a smoke screen.
Markelov also defended Mikhail Beketov, the editor of a suburban Moscow newspaper who had been charged with slandering local authorities amid crusades against environmentally threatening development projects. Beketov was brutally beaten by unidentified assailants in November and remains in a coma.
Markelov had said he knew who attacked Beketov, and claimed local officials were behind it.
Russian media have also speculated that neo-Nazi groups could have been behind Markelov's shooting.
He was beaten in Moscow in 2004, around the time he was representing victims of beatings by ultra-nationalists, and had since received further threats from skinheads.