Murders of Lawyer, Journalist Slammed as 'Political Killings'
Published: January 23, 2009 (Issue # 1442)
Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times
Mourners hold photographs of Stanislav Markelov (l) and Anastasia Baburova in central St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
More than 150 people gathered in central St. Petersburg on Tuesday to mourn lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, who were murdered in Moscow on Monday, and protest against political killings.
Markelov was known for taking on human rights cases and defending left-wing and anti-Nazi activists, while Baburova was also an anarchist and anti-Nazi activist, so a plan for mourners to gather by Bukvoyed book store on Ligovsky Prospekt was quickly hatched on leftist and activist e-mail and Internet forums late Monday, just hours after the two were murdered.
The site near the book store was chosen because anti-Nazi activist and musician Timur Kacharava was stabbed to death there by a group of neo-Nazis in 2005. Vigils are held there every Nov. 13 to commemorate the day Kacharava was killed.
From there, mourners planned to march to Marsovo Pole (the Field of Mars), the park where victims of the 1917 Russian revolutions and Civil War are buried, and hold a vigil near the eternal flame monument.
Although information about the event was distributed only via the Internet and word of mouth, dozens of mourners turned up, from young punks, anarchists and left-wing activists to older human rights activists and sympathizers.
By the announced time of 7 p.m. the police were already on the site, with several police vehicles parked next to Bukvoyed. Three young people were reportedly detained at an early point in the gathering.
People held flowers, candles and portraits of Markelov and Baburova at the site. But when the mourners tried to move toward Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, at 7:25 p.m, they were blocked by policemen. A policeman with a megaphone warned the mourners that they were blocking the movement of pedestrians on Ligovsky Prospekt and demanded that they leave the site “one by one” and go home.
Some protesters replied that it was the police themselves who were blocking the movement of pedestrians. The policemen formed lines on both sides of the gathering, ready to act.
However, after 15 minutes of negotiations, mourners were allowed by a police colonel in command to walk along the side streets to Marsovo Pole rather than along Nevsky. They were allowed to carry flowers, but not candles or portraits. An estimated 65 people walked, accompanied by four police vehicles, to Marsovo Pole, while some used city buses to get to the site. Some activists distributed leaflets as they walked.
The mourners arrived at the eternal flame at 8:20 p.m., where some 40 people were already present. The mourners stood silently around the flame, holding photographs, flowers and candles, until Vladimir Plotnikov of the left-wing group Rabocheye Deistviye (Workers’ Action) made a speech describing the killings as “state terror” against left-wing activists.
According to Plotnikov, the killings were a continuation of the attacks on newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov and left-wing activist Carine Clement in Moscow and Ford Plant trade union leader Alexei Etmanov in St. Petersburg in November.
“We were saying, ‘They will start killing us soon’ then, but with a laugh, disbelieving – but now they really are killing us,” he said, before declaring a minute’s silence in remembrance of Markelov and Baburova.
Later in the evening, around 10 p.m., between 20 and 25 punks and anarchists marched under a black flag from Sennaya Ploshchad to Marsovo Pole in protest against the murders, according to the Indymedia anarchist website. The police were not aware of the march and did not intervene in the protest.
Moscow prosecutors, who are yet to make any arrests or offer a concrete motive in the double killing, on Wednesday questioned colleagues and searched offices that Markelov had used, the Associated Press reported. Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin told a news conference Wednesday that the authorities had little evidence.
“All the investigation has to go on is the data from video cameras,” Pronin said, Interfax reported.
The killings were condemned by international rights organizations.
“Freedom House is outraged by these cold-blooded murders which reflect the impunity that exists in Russia today,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director, in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“Responsible critics of the government appear to be fair game for contract assassins in a political climate in which Russian authorities have abdicated their responsibilities for protecting these important voices.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by saying that Baburova was an “innocent victim of the situation,” while, according to the latest information, it was Markelov who was targeted, ITAR-TASS reported on Thursday.
“The tragic events connected with the death of a journalist are starting to get artificially politicized and used, with dishonest intentions, to discredit Russia and adjusted to the previously developed concept of the lack of freedom of the press in the Russian Federation [and the] persecution of journalists,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry official was quoted by the agency as saying.
Neither Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have commented publicly on the killings.