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Rights group loses in defamation suit

Associated Press / October 7, 2009

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MOSCOW - Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, won a defamation lawsuit yesterday against a rights activist who blamed him for the killing of a colleague whose death sparked international outrage.

Tverskoi district court in Moscow ordered Oleg Orlov, chairman of the Memorial rights group, to retract his statement that Kadyrov was responsible for Natalya Estemirova’s death.

Kadyrov’s lawsuit attracted new attention to the July slaying of Estemirova, who headed Memorial’s branch in Chechnya and drew Kadyrov’s ire by reporting on rights abuses there.

Orlov has never said he had evidence of Kadyrov’s direct involvement in Estemirova’s slaying, but has repeatedly blamed him for it, citing an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity he said the powerful leader has fostered.

Orlov vowed to appeal. “I don’t agree with this decision, but in modern Russia one couldn’t expect any other,’’ he said.

Kadyrov said he was “satisfied’’ with the ruling. “I tried to explain to Orlov right from the start that he is not right, and I gave him my opinion on this matter very nicely and politely,’’ Kadyrov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Kadyrov sought $330,000 in damages, but Judge Tatyana Fedosova ruled that Memorial and Orlov should only pay $2,300.

“It’s a pity the amount is so small; it would have been a good lesson to other liars,’’ Kadyrov’s lawyer Andrei Krasnenkov told reporters.

Still, the ruling came was a blow to Russian rights activists who have sharply criticized the government’s policies in Chechnya and elsewhere but have been stonewalled by the Kremlin.