Chechnya president sues human rights activist over murder claim

• Group leader Oleg Orlov names Kadyrov's 'political guilt'
• Kadyrov seeks 10m roubles damages over Estemirova claim

The reputation of Chechnya's Kremlin-appointed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, was under question in a Moscow court today, as he launched a defamation suit against the leader of Russia's leading human rights group, Memorial.

Kadyrov is seeking 10m roubles (£207,800) in damages from Oleg Orlov, the chairman of Memorial, in the wake of the row over the kidnapping and murder of a human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, in Grozny in July. Orlov had accused Kadyrov of being guilty of the murder, explaining in his defence today that he meant "political guilt".

"I didn't speak of his involvement, I spoke of his guilt. These are two different things," Orlov told the court.

Kadyrov did not attend the hearing. His lawyer, Andrei Krasnenkov, called no witnesses and did not question defence witnesses. "Human rights activists are miserable people," he said outside the court.

Russia's human rights community hopes the hearing will further expose the autocratic Kadyrov's alleged oversight of atrocities they say are committed almost daily in Chechnya, from kidnappings and extrajudicial killings to torture and house burnings.

Estemirova's death struck a blow to human rights work in Chechnya. Memorial shut its office there and a number of journalists fled the republic. Kadyrov had personally threatened Estemirova, prompting her to flee Chechnya for months at a time, at least twice, the court, which adjourned until 6 October, heard.

He has called her a woman "without honour or a sense of shame", and has blamed her murder on those seeking to destabilise Chechnya. In an interview published on Thursday, he said US and British intelligence were involved in the republic's growing Islamist insurgency.

"We're fighting in the mountains with American and English intelligence agencies. They are fighting not against Kadyrov, not against traditional Islam, they are fighting against the sovereign Russian state," he told the Zavtra newspaper.


Miriam Elder in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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