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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Memorial Chief Blames Kadyrov Again

APOrlov speaking to reporters Friday at a Moscow court, where hearings opened into Kadyrov’s suit against him.

Oleg Orlov, chairman of the Memorial rights group who is on trial over a defamation claim filed by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, said Friday that he stood by his statements blaming Kadyrov for the slaying of activist Natalya Estemirova in July.

Orlov has never said he had evidence of Kadyrov’s direct involvement but has repeatedly blamed Kadyrov for her killing, citing an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity he said the powerful leader has fostered.

“There is no doubt of the political guilt of Ramzan Kadyrov in the murder of … Estemirova,” Orlov told reporters outside Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court where the defamation trial got under way.

Estemirova was a staunch critic of Kadyrov who led Memorial’s branch in Chechnya and reported on rights abuses there. She was abducted July 15 outside her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Her bullet-riddled body was found by an Ingush roadside hours after she was kidnapped.

Kadyrov denies involvement in her killing. He filed suit against Orlov, seeking 10 million rubles ($330,000) for damages to his “honor and dignity.”

Kadyrov did not appear in court Friday. His lawyer, Andrei Krasnenkov, claimed Orlov’s comments were part of a Western effort to weaken Russia and were destabilizing the situation in Chechnya.

“Odious groups such as Memorial are sponsored by Western sponsors, and they need to justify their funding,” Krasnenkov said.

He claimed that Estemirova was “somehow used in a dirty game” against Kadyrov and the Kremlin.

Orlov, meanwhile, said he rejected what he said was Kadyrov’s offer of an out-of-court settlement in which he would drop the monetary damage demand if Orlov issued a public retraction. Orlov called the offer “strange.”

Orlov also said Kadyrov put activists in Chechnya in peril, claiming Kadyrov had “directly, publicly, on television equated rights defenders with terrorists, bandits and criminals.”

Kadyrov and his security forces have led a violent crackdown on the insurgency that persists after two separatist wars in Chechnya. Critics have accused Kadyrov of using the Kremlin-backed fight against militants to frighten local civilians with the threat of repercussions for anyone who crosses him.

Orlov said Kadyrov and forces under his control target everyone who acts and or even thinks critically about his rule and policies. “Today’s Chechnya is … George Orwell’s ‘1984’ where people are threatened with punishment for ‘mind crimes,’” he said.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called on Kadyrov to drop the suit and urged authorities to identify the masterminds of Estemirova’s killing.

Orlov said he was “pretty satisfied” with the first session of the trial, which will continue Oct. 6.

The slaying of Estemirova, a 50-year old single mother and former schoolteacher, followed a string of killings of Kadyrov’s critics and political rivals.

Estemirova worked with Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who accused Kadyrov of atrocities and gross human rights violations and was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

Estemirova also helped Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer involved in Chechen rights abuse cases who was shot dead on a Moscow street in January, along with a Novaya Gazeta reporter.