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April 29, 2011

Neo-Nazi Couple Convicted For the Murder of Rights Defenders in Moscow

Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis. Photo ITAR-TASS

Over the past decade, we’ve observed a disturbing pattern of threats and assaults against human rights activists in the Russian Federation. Perpetrators of these heinous acts have been rarely brought to justice, and we still don’t know who is responsible for the murders of Natalya Estimirova, Anna Politkovskaya, or Magomed Yevloyev.

Last night, however, a divided jury issued a guilty verdict against Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis, the neo-Nazi couple accused of murdering Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in downtown Moscow on January 19, 2009. Seven jurors found the defendants guilty, and the forthcoming sentencing could yield a life imprisonment for Tikhonov and as many as 20 years behind the bars for Khasis.

Markelov, a human rights defender, lawyer and founder of the Rule of Law Institute, and Baburova, a young freelance reporter working for Novaya Gazeta, were fatally shot after leaving a press conference. Markelov, who is a well-known and respected figure in Russia’s human rights community, represented victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, independent journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya and Igor Domnikov, as well as victims of neo-Nazi violence. Anastasia Baburova wrote about street protests, demonstrations, youth movements, and high-profile court cases, including the latest ruling against Russian skinhead violence. Human Rights First, joined by some 1,400 of our supporters, appealed to President Medvedev, calling on the Russian authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the murder of Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, and to find and prosecute those responsible.

Tikhonov and Khasis are well-known figures on the ultranationalist scene in Moscow. At the end of last year, the neo-Nazi movement demonstrated its potential as a viable threat to public stability and an aggressive opponent to the Russian government. In December 2010, ultranationalist groups were able to quickly mobilize thousands of supporters to spread xenophobic rhetoric and rally in downtown areas, committing a slew of violent acts against ethnic minorities encountered by the angry mobs in the streets and on the subway. Trials of alleged organizers are set to begin later this year.