July 24, 2009 -- Just days after the kidnapping and murder of prominent human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, another civil rights activist in Russia has been buried after being found dead. The body of Andrei Kulagin, head of Spravedlivost ('Justice'), was discovered in a quarry on July 10, roughly 600 miles north of Moscow.
Although Kulagin's body was discovered two weeks ago near Petrozavodsk, capital of the Karelia region, his family didn't want his death publicized until after the funeral last weekend, according to radio station Ekho Moskvy.
His death, known now, is the latest in a string of attacks and murders on activists, journalists and lawyers seeking to expose wrongdoing and win human rights in Russia. Estemirova was murdered last week in Ingushetia after she was kidnapped from her home in Grozny.
"It's another illustration of the continuing of lawlessness in the Russian Federation," said Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Executive Director of the civil rights advocacy group Freedom House. "Local human rights activists trying to document or lobby for changes are somehow considered second-class citizens and fair game for thugs."
Spravedlivost's director, Andrei Stolbunov, told Interfax there is no doubt that Kulagin was murdered but, as of now, there is no indication of how he died.
The website of Spravedlivost stated that a second member of the organization, Andrey Karasev, was assaulted. Nothing was stolen and Spravedlivost concluded that it was another attack in what was referred to as the "silent war," in which activists are frequently threatened and assaulted.
Stolbunov wrote on the organization's website that Kulagin was last seen leaving his home late on May 14 after receiving a phone call, and the taxi driver who drove him to a local café was the last person to see him. Stolbunov speculates that Kulagin knew the person who called him.
Human Rights Activists in Russia
Local authorities told Interfax that they don't have any information about his work as an activist but they claim to have him connected with several cases of hooliganism. Little personal information about Kulagin was listed on Spravedlivost's website, such as age or hometown, though it did state he had a wife and daughter.
There have been numerous slayings of Russians working on civil rights and human rights in the past few years. Prominent deaths prior to Estemirova's include human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was killed in Moscow in January and Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist, who was killed in 2006.
Rights activists and international rights organizations have called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to set up an independent investigation committee to look into Estemirova's murder. Preliminary hearings in the retrial of Anna Politkovskaya's murderers are set to begin Aug. 5, according to her family's lawyer.
Joel Stonington is a 2009 Carnegie Fellow with the Brian Ross Unit and recently graduated from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.