Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered officials in the North Caucasus to ensure what he called the “normal work” of human rights groups operating in the volatile region, news agencies said.
Human rights activists in and around Chechnya have been attacked and even killed in recent years in incidents Kremlin critics blame on local authorities who have little patience for their work. They spend most of their time investigating accusations of rights abuses by police and the personal security forces of the regions’ leaders.
Convictions have been almost nonexistent in such attacks and critics have blamed Mr. Putin for allowing an atmosphere of impunity.
Mr. Putin arrived in the southern city of Pyatigorsk to chair a meeting of the leaders of the provinces that suffer the most from violence linked to Islamist separatists.
“I ask the representatives of regional authorities ... to do everything for the support of normal work and daily activity of rights-defending organizations in the Caucasus,” Mr. Putin said in comments carried by RIA Novosti and ITAR-Tass, both state agencies. “Those who work within the framework of the law,” he added.
The rights movement in the North Caucasus has been decimated in the last few years as fear of being the next target has driven those who fight for the accountability of the authorities out of the area. Leading rights group Memorial was forced to close its Chechnya chapter in the aftermath of the July slaying of rights activist Natalya Estemirova.
Estemirova’s bullet-ridden body was found in Ingushetia hours after she disappeared in neighbouring Chechnya. A few months before Estemirova died, Stanislav Markelov - a lawyer she had worked with in Chechnya - was gunned down in a daylight attack in central Moscow.