A Moscow judge famous for his verdicts against political extremists was shot dead on Monday in a crime investigators said was probably linked to his job.
Eduard Chuvashov, 47, sentenced 12 members of the White Wolves, an ultra-nationalist group, to up to 23 years in prison in February and also ruled against Artur Ryno, one of Russia’s most notorious skinheads, and his partner, Pavel Skachevsky.
Chuvashov was on Monday scheduled to hear the case of Vladimir Belashev, a former employee of the interior ministry accused of bombing two statues.
The murder comes a year after Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a reporter for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, were killed at a Moscow metro station in daylight in a case that installed fear among human rights activists.
The most recent death is a blow to Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, who has fiercely campaigned over the past year to eliminate what he calls “legal nihilism” and improve the safety and transparency of Russia’s judicial system. The Kremlin has recently taken steps to combat fascism after a decade of relative tolerance towards it.
Karinna Moskalenko, one of Russia’s most prominent human rights lawyers, said she thought Chuvashov’s death was almost certainly caused by members of the skinhead movement who were angered by his verdicts and trying to “show that they are stronger”.
“Secret criminal groups feel that they are the proprietors of society . . . [The fascists] are a very dangerous political movement,” she said, adding that their crimes of revenge would not only be limited to judges and lawyers. “I’m scared that no one in this country is free from danger now.”
Dmitry Agranovsky, who was the defence lawyer both for members of the White Wolves and for Mr Skachevsky, denied that his clients had played any role in Chuvashov’s killing.