A top Russian human rights activist took the stand in a Moscow court Thursday to defend his argument that the feared leader of Chechnya bears responsibility for the brutal kidnapping and murder of a colleague.
Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial rights group, flatly rejected a defamation claim filed by Chechnya's Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov that could land him three years in jail.
The trial pits the ruthless leader of Chechnya, who has been accused of using kidnap and torture to maintain stability in the volatile region, against an activist trying to hold him accountable for those crimes.
Orlov stood by his allegation that Kadyrov is guilty of the July 2009 murder of Natalya Estemirova because of the atmosphere of fear and impunity he has fostered in Chechnya. He stressed he did not accuse Kadyrov of direct complicity.
"In my opinion, the political guilt of Ramzan Kadyrov in the murder of Natalya Estemirova is obvious," Orlov told the court. He called the defamation charge "absurd."
Estemirova was abducted in the Russian republic's provincial capital Grozny and found shot to death along a roadside hours later. Orlov said at a news conference a day after the murder: "People ask me, who is guilty of this murder? ... I know the name of this person. ... His name is Ramzan Kadyrov."
To back up his claim, Orlov argued that Kadyrov steamrolls his opponents by equating them with separatist insurgents and terrorists _ who Kadyrov says deserve to be killed rather than being arrested and tried.
Kadyrov also developed a fierce personal enmity toward Estemirova when at a meeting she objected to his insistence that all women in the predominantly Muslim province cover their heads, Orlov said.
Kadyrov's lawyer Andrei Krasnenkov said in court on Thursday that his client is seeking to defend his honor and could not allow such accusations to go unanswered.