MOSCOW — A prominent Russian human rights lawyer who often clashed with the security services was shot and killed on Monday in central Moscow, along with a student journalist investigating neo-Nazi activity, prompting grief and outrage from colleagues who suspect they were targeted for their work.
The brazen daytime attack occurred moments after the lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, 34, stepped out of an afternoon news conference he had called to protest the release on parole a few days earlier of the highest-ranking Russian officer convicted of atrocities in the Chechen war.
Authorities said a gunman wearing a dark ski mask shot Markelov in the head on a street not far from the Kremlin. The journalist, Anastasia Baburova, 25, may have attempted to stop the assailant, and he shot her in the head as well before escaping into a nearby subway station, officials said.
Markelov died on the sidewalk, and Baburova, a Moscow State University student writing freelance pieces for the independent biweekly Novaya Gazeta, succumbed on an operating table a few hours later.
Human rights activists expressed anger and sorrow, and many said the attack recalled the 2006 shooting of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative reporter for Novaya Gazeta whose killing sparked an international outcry about deteriorating freedoms in Russia.
Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of Russia's oldest human rights organizations, described Markelov as an "exceptionally selfless" young man and condemned his slaying as "a disgrace for our country."
Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said some witnesses told police the gunman shot Baburova after she tried to stop him, but others said he appeared to target her as well.
Baburova began writing for the newspaper in October and had been examining neo-Nazi groups in Moscow and following court cases involving them, he said.
Markelov, who friends said was survived by a wife and young children, had represented labor unions, environmental groups and journalists, including Politkovskaya. But he was best known for his aggressive work on behalf of victims of torture and other crimes committed by the Russian security forces during the Chechen war.
Markelov had given a series of interviews in recent days challenging a court's decision to grant parole to Yuri Budanov, a former army colonel who was convicted in 2003 on charges related to the killing of an 18-year-old Chechen woman whom he believed to be an enemy sniper.
Budanov, a decorated tank commander, admitted abducting and then strangling the woman, Elza Kungayeva, in a fit of rage while questioning her in his quarters in March 2000. After an initial acquittal on grounds of temporary insanity, he was stripped of his rank and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Despite the conviction, Budanov continued to enjoy some public sympathy in Russia, and his supporters repeatedly sought his early release. He walked free Friday, about 15 months before the end of his sentence.