Russians Gather to Commemorate Death of Activists Killed by Neo-Nazis

People brought flowers and candles to commemorate the death of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.
March in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. Photo: Maria Michela D'Alessandro

MOSCOW, Russia — As Orthodox Christians celebrated the baptism of Christ or Epiphany, some people in Moscow and other cities of Russia gathered to commemorate a somber occasion.

On January 19, 2009, neo-fascists killed human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Since then, the double murder, which happened in the capital, has become a symbol of ultra-nationalist violence in Russia.

On Friday evening, activists gathered in central Moscow to commemorate the event.

“We don’t just remember Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, [but] we want to gather those who are not indifferent to the values of equality, democracy, and human rights,” wrote the event organizers on Facebook.

“To live in Russia and not escape,” “to remember means to fight,” read some of the posters brought by people who attended the anti-fascist march.

Under the slogan “Never Again,” activists met at Pushkin Square to walk down Tverskoy, Nikitsky and Gogolevsky Boulevards and reach Prechistenka street, where nine years ago Mr. Markelov and Ms. Baburova were gunned down.

Even though authorities authorized the march, police officers and security forces followed the crowd that had to walk within barriers established along the rally’s route.

Around 500 people attended the march and left flowers and candles near Kropotskinskaya metro station, just behind Christ The Savior Cathedral.

According to human rights project OVD-Info, four people had been detained during the event. Among the participants of the march was a conceptual artist and political activist Nadezda Tolokonnikova, a former member of the Anarchist Feminist group Pussy Riot.

“I am here just because I knew Markelov and Baburova,” she said.

Shot Fighting for the Truth

Stanislav Markelov, 34, was shot dead on January 19, 2009, after a news conference in central Moscow. His young colleague Anastasia Baburova, 25, a freelance reporter for a liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was shot in the head while trying to shield Mr. Markelov from an unidentified gunman.

Mr. Markelov worked on numerous human rights cases, but one of them, his campaign against a Russian army officer, cost him dear. In 2000, former Colonel Yury Budanov killed a Chechen woman, Elza Kungayeva.

On the day of his murder, Mr. Markelov was representing Ms. Kungayeva’s family. He decried the early release of Mr. Budanov, who was serving ten years in prison. A week before Mr. Markelov was shot, a court ruled to set Buldanov free.

“His [Mr. Markelov’s] murder shows that those who speak out against abuses and work to hold abusers accountable, risk their lives,” Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch said about the incident.

At the time of his death, Mr. Markelov was also involved in the case of Mikhail Beketov, a newspaper editor from Khimki, a town near Moscow, severely beaten by unknown assailants.

After the double murder, investigators examined the link between Mr. Markelov’s work and his death.

In November 2009, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) released names of the killers: Eugenia Khasis, 24, and Nikita Tikhonov, 29. On July 15, 2015, the Moscow City Court convicted Ilya Goryachev, the leader of the extremist Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists, as the mastermind behind the murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Since 2009, there have been no significant changes when it comes to ensuring the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Russia. In its latest World Report, HRW called 2017 a “dark year” for the opposition, sexual minorities and free speech activists in Russia.

“Last year was a dark year for independent voices in Russia,” Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’ Russia program director, said in a release.

The Story of Ali Feruz

During the Friday anti-fascist march, the name of yet another person was repeatedly said by the participants. Gay people continue to face discrimination in Russia, and the story of Ali Feruz is one of those that should be known.

Mr. Feruz is an openly gay human rights activist and journalist who has been covering hate crimes, migrant workers’ rights and LGBT issues for Novaya Gazeta, the same newspaper Ms. Baburova reported for.

In 2008, he fled Uzbekistan after he was arrested and tortured by security forces. In 2011, Mr. Feruz moved to Russia, but authorities repeatedly refused to grant him a refugee status or temporary asylum.

In August 2017, Mr. Feruz was detained. He has been in jail ever since.

In November 2017, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow fined Mr. Feruz for “illegal labor” in Russia. However, his deportation was suspended due to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“Being LGBT is not a crime,” said a poster held during the march by Andrey Obolensky, the founder and chairman of the LGBT “Rainbow Association.”

Mr. Obolensky became an activist in 2009, and for the fourth year in a row, he took part in the march not only to commemorate the death of Mr. Markelov and Ms. Baburova but also to raise his voice for LGBT rights and the release of Mr. Feruz.

“I don’t see any changes in today’s Russia, but I believe in human rights education among young generations, and I am sure something will change in the future,” Mr. Obolensky told The Globe Post.