August 11, 2009 / 3:01 PM / 9 years ago

Head of children's charity shot dead in Chechnya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The kidnapped head of a children’s charity and her husband were found murdered in the boot of a car in Russia’s Chechnya Tuesday in the latest in a string of killings in the troubled Muslim republic.

People pray during Zarema Sadulayeva's funeral ceremony at the village of Shalagi, 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Grozny, August 11, 2009. REUTERS/Said Tsarnayev

The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and husband Alik Dzhabrailov were found with multiple bullet wounds hours after they were seized from the office of the Save the Generations charity in the regional capital Grozny, prosecutors said in a statement.

The attack comes a month after leading Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and murdered by unknown assailants, triggering international outrage.

“It is impossible to contemplate rights work in that region now,” said Human Rights Watch activist Tatyana Lokshina, who regularly travels to Chechnya. “Activists there are terrified.”

Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov pledges loyalty to the Kremlin but has failed to stem growing separatist violence. He has been accused by some critics of ordering the killing of Estemirova and ordering rights abuses by the security forces.

The discovery of the bodies prompted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to demand that investigative agencies solve the murder, news agencies said. A Kremlin official was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying Medvedev ordered a full inquiry.

“The president has demanded the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB (intelligence agency) ensure these terrible crimes are investigated and solved,” Tass quoted the source as saying.

“INHUMAN CRIME”

Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched sides, condemned Tuesday’s killing as an “inhuman crime” and said he would take the investigation under his personal control.

“The person who committed this crime wanted to split our society, to destabilize the Chechen republic,” he said.

Rights group Amnesty International said Sadulayeva was a courageous activist who had been harassed by the authorities and whose murder illustrated the precarious circumstances facing other activists working in the Russian Federation.

Amnesty said both Medvedev and Kadyrov’s pledges “are worth little, considering the complete failure of the authorities over the last years to bring to justice those responsible for the killings and abductions of human rights activists, lawyers and journalists working in the North Caucasus.”

“The light of public scrutiny is gradually being turned off in Chechnya,” said Amnesty in a statement.

The Save the Generations charity that Sadulayeva headed provides medical and psychological help to young people who have suffered as a result of violence in Chechnya, including children who lost limbs during the region’s separatist wars in the past two decades.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The group’s work was not political, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki rights group. “It just shows that anyone whose position allows them a gun can kill whoever they like.”

The government blames Islamic militants for a rise in attacks on security forces and local officials in Chechnya and neighboring North Caucasus provinces in the past few months.

In a separate attack Tuesday, a sub-editor for a local Avar-language newspaper was shot dead in neighboring Dagestan, a police spokesman said.

Editing by Jon Boyle; Editing by Sophie Hares

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