: On the first anniversary of the murder of crusading Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, of the Russian human rights group Memorial, tells a harrowing story about Politkovskaya’s confrontation in Chechnya with the notorious Sergey Lapin, a police official responsible for the imprisonment, torture and murder of Chechen civilians. She received the first annual award commemorating Politkovskya’s work from the international human rights group RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) in London October 5.
They met in November 2003–the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the policeman Sergey Lapin–in a tumbledown court building that was part of the Oktyabrsky District Court in Grozny. He was accompanied by a strong, heavily armed and camouflaged escort composed of several armored personnel carriers (APCs), which surrounded the building. She was with several of her friends, each of whom had suffered in one way or another at the hands of Lapin and his associates. He was on trial, and the very fact that this had actually happened was largely due to Anna. Thanks to her efforts his name was soon to be known to the whole world. To his victims he was known by the nickname Cadet.
In September 2001, Anna had met the Murdalov family, whose only son, Zelimkhan, had disappeared. Paradoxically, the building where he’d disappeared was occupied at the time by a multiservice team of police officers from the Federal District of Khanty-Mansijsk in the north of Russia.
At the time, Chechen police were considered incapable of maintaining law and order in Chechnya and (in addition to local police divisions in each of the districts) parallel divisions had been set up, staffed with police officers from other Russian regions. The “Khantys” moved into the building (a boarding school for deaf children, who had been placed elsewhere) in January 2000. In January 2001, they dragged 26-year-old Zelimkhan Murdalov into it. As it later transpired, he was tortured and tormented for several hours in an attempt to turn him into an informant. Then, while he was in a semi-conscious state, he was thrown into a cell. The following morning, the dying Murdalov was dragged out again. That was the last time anyone saw him. (He was to be their last victim.)
How many other corpses they had taken out of the building, that year, they would probably find it difficult to recall themselves. But it is clear that dozens had disappeared inside the boarding school and in the vicinity. This death factory was stopped by Zelimkhan’s parents, who fought to find out the truth about their son’s fate despite the threats and hostility of those who were supposed to assist them. Shocked by the despair of Zelimkhan’s mother and impressed by his father’s resolve, Anna wrote an article, later to appear under the headline “The Disappearance,” in which she named Sergey (Cadet) Lapin as one of the culprits for the first time. When witnesses began to “talk,” in her articles, the horrific details of what Lapin had done in regard to various detainees sent shivers down many readers’ spines.
Immediately, Anna’s newspaper received a letter in which Lapin threatened the journalist with retaliation. The letter was passed on to a prosecutor to deal with, while Anna turned her attention to the Murdalov family, who were in obvious danger. The family lived in the two rooms still standing in the ruins of their house, from which, through the holes left by bullets and shells you could glimpse the APCs as they passed by. From the street you could also see right into the Murdalovs’ house, but it was in that house that Anna stayed on her several visits to Chechnya.