10-Years on – still no justice for Natalia. Women journalists and human rights defenders are not safe

Joint Statement by Women Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and winners of the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award. Today the statement was published in Anna’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta

15th July 2019

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the murder of Chechen human rights activist and freelance journalist, Natalia Estemirova, who worked in Chechnya for the human rights organization, Memorial.

In a ceremony held in 2007, the Women Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, on behalf of RAW in WAR, presented the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award to Natalia Estemirova, for her courage in seeking and telling the truth about the torture, disappearance and murder of civilians in the war in Chechnya.

Natalia continued to document and speak out about the atrocities against civilians in the war in Chechnya, despite repeated harassment and death threats. Eventually, in 2009, she paid for it with her life, just like her good friend, the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who also reported the truth about the war in Chechnya and was killed in 2006 to silence her voice. There is nothing more dangerous than telling the truth in today’s Russia.

Ten years on, no adequate investigation into Natalia’s murder has taken place, nor has anyone been brought to justice for her killing. Ten years on, we repeat the call for the Russian Government and the Chechen authorities to bring to justice, both those who murdered, and those who ordered the murder of Natalia Estemirova.

In doing so we remember and give thanks for her life of courage and truth-telling in the face of grave danger. We also call again on the Russian authorities to bring to justice the masterminds of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, now almost 13 years ago.

Today, as we remember Natalia Estemirova, and all that she stood for, we are gravely concerned for the safety of yet another woman human rights defender whose life is in danger. Since May 2019, Gulalai Ismail, a courageous Pakistani women’s rights defender and a 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award winner, has been forced into hiding. 

After speaking at a rally in Islamabad demanding justice for the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, Farishta Mohmand, Gulalai received death threats and was charged under anti-terrorism legislation and banned from leaving the country. Gulalai’s family home has been subject to repeated raids by military and police, during which her younger sister has been threatened and the family’s driver recently detained and apparently tortured in an attempt to make him reveal Gulalai’s whereabouts.

We call on the Pakistani Government and the Pakistani Military authorities to ensure that the charges against Gulalai Ismail are dropped and that urgent steps are taken to protect her and her family from harassment and threats to their lives.  

The world’s leaders met in London last week, at the Global Conference on Media Freedom, and pledged to end the persecution and harassment of journalists and to ensure their safety.

At the same time, women journalists and human rights defenders, working in war and conflict zones, continued to live under threat.  

Yet the international community appears powerless to prevent the attacks and the killings and to provide protection and safety to those facing grave danger.

Today, in honouring Natalia Estemirova, we, the undersigned women human rights defenders, call on the world’s leaders to demand justice for Natalia and to do everything in their power to protect journalists and human rights defenders who, like Gulalai Ismail, work in areas of war and conflict, and who speak out on behalf of the victims. It is time for the international community to turn the pledges into action.

We owe it to the memory of Natalia and Anna to protect the very few who still speak out, on behalf of those to whom nobody wants to listen.

Signed by the Women Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and the Anna Politkovskaya Award winners.

Go to Natalia’s award page for more information