Late on the evening of April 16, 2004, a 30-year-old Russian attorney named Stanislav Markelov was attacked in the Moscow subway by a gang of five men who screamed “you asked for this!” as they brutally beat him unconscious. They stole his cell phone and various legal papers relating to his clients (including Anna Politkovskaya, the firebrand star reporter for the maverick Novaya Gazeta newspaper) from his briefcase, but left his wallet untouched. The police refused to accept his criminal complaint against the attackers, accusing him of faking his injuries. Markelov had graduated from law school just eight years before.
Some of the stolen papers related to Markelov’s lobbying efforts seeking the prosecution of OMON officer Sergei Lapin. OMON is like a combination of the FBI and SWAT, assuming their officers were paid $3/hour and their primary function was to eliminate political opposition to the president. Three years earlier, Lapin had been the subject of an article in Novaya Gazeta entitled “The Disappearances” and penned by Politkovskaya, an article which accused him of, among many other things, kidnapping and torturing 26-year-old Chechen Zelimkhan Murdalov in a Grozny prison in January 2001. Murdalov then disappeared while in police custody and his body has never been found.
He was not the first victim of torture by Russian police officers imported to Chechnya to “keep order.” In fact, as Politkovskaya began pressing Murdalov’s case it was revealed that dozens of young Chechens had been put to death in what some have called Lapin’s “death factory.”
The following year, as the authorities were forced by her coverage to institute criminal proceedings against Lapin, Politkovskaya began receiving death threats. Amazingly, though Lapin was dismissed from the ranks of OMON when the criminal charges were filed, he was released on his own recognizance pending trial after a finding that he was “not threatening” to public safety, and it was reported that he had been “reinstated as a police officer in the city of Nizhnevartovsk” and “awarded a medal ‘For Protecting Public Order,’ accompanied by a letter, signed by the Russian President.” The prosecution then became mired in red tape and essentially ground to halt. Outraged, Markelov began agitating to move the prosecution forward.