By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
MOSCOW, Aug. 11 -- The head of a children's charity in Chechnya and her husband were found shot to death in the trunk of a car Tuesday in the latest sign of violence and lawlessness in the region and the Kremlin's inability to contain it.
The killings of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, who together ran a center for children suffering from war injuries and trauma, came less than a month after the slaying of a colleague, the prominent human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, prompted international outrage.
Friends said the couple, recently married and in their mid-30s, stood out in the small community of Chechen aid workers because of their independence from the local authorities, and some suggested that the killings were intended to intimidate the few remaining activists left in Grozny, the Chechen capital.
Memorial, one of Russia's most well-known human rights organizations, shut down its office in Chechnya after Estemirova's death, saying the work was too dangerous and blaming the Kremlin-appointed strongman in the region, Ramzan Kadyrov. No independent human rights groups remain, according to Tatyana Lokshina, who conducts research in Chechnya for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
"The Kremlin must realize that Kadyrov is a great liability, not only for its image but also for stability in the region," Lokshina said. "Russia is paying quite a high price for how he is governing Chechnya."
Sadulayeva directed an organization called Save the Generation that operated a rehabilitation center for children maimed by land mines and traumatized in the two wars fought by Russian forces against Chechen separatists. The group received funding from the United Nations and other international agencies and worked with the Chechen government at times.
Colleagues said armed men who identified themselves as being with the security services led the couple away from the center Monday and returned an hour later to retrieve Sadulayeva's cellphone and her husband's car. They told the couple's co-workers that everything was fine and that the two would soon be released. But at 4 a.m. Tuesday, their bullet-ridden bodies were discovered in the trunk of the car in a village on the outskirts of Grozny, authorities said.
Speaking to reporters in Grozny, Kadyrov condemned the killings as "cynical and inhumane" and said he would personally supervise the investigation. He suggested that militant rebels trying to destabilize Chechnya were behind the crime.
But Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, an activist at Memorial who had worked with Sadulayeva, said the militants were unlikely suspects because Sadulayeva was a devoutly religious Muslim and because it would have been difficult for them to wander into the city and seize the couple in broad daylight.
Save the Generation's former director was found slain in 2005 after witnesses saw security services take him away. Lokshina said a propaganda film later broadcast on state television attacked the organization as one of several groups receiving funding from international aid organizations determined to support the rebels.
Kadyrov praised Sadulayeva as someone who "was helping people in organizing their medical treatment and solving other humanitarian problems," contrasting her work with that of Estemirova, whom he said "was misleading society and writing lies."