A leading Russian human rights activist is blaming Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin for what he calls a climate of "permissiveness and
impunity" in Chechnya, where acclaimed rights campaigner Natalya
Estemirova was murdered Wednesday.
The chairman of the rights group "Memorial," Oleg Orlov, called Estemirova the soul of his organization -- a woman dedicated to uncovering widespread criminality in Chechnya. Speaking Thursday in Moscow, he accused Chechen leader and Putin protege Ramzan Kadyrov of direct responsibility for the murder.
In Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on visiting Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to clarify circumstances of the killing. He pledged a thorough investigation.
Several men kidnapped Estemirova, a 50-year-old single mother, Wednesday in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Authorities found her body hours later in neighboring Ingushetia, with gunshot wounds to her head and chest. It was returned to Chechnya Thursday for burial.
Estemirova had collected evidence of kidnappings, torture and killings in Chechnya since the start of the second separatist war there in 1999.
She was killed on the same day as the release of a report she helped research that itemizes evidence of ongoing criminal activity in Chechnya. The report by the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society says officials involved in the Chechen conflict should be held accountable for crimes committed there.
Estemirova had worked with other top rights activists, including lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Both Markelov and Politkovskaya, who researched and wrote extensively about rights abuses in Chechnya, were gunned down in separate attacks in Moscow over the past three years. No one has been convicted in either killing.
Estemirova's death sparked protests from the White House, the United Nations and governments and agencies across Europe. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, said the EU condemns what it called a "brutal act."
In 2007, Estemirova was awarded the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award, in honor of her colleague and friend. The prize was created with the support of female recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.