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Missing Russia human rights activist found dead

[JURIST] Russian officials announced on Wednesday that the body of Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin had been found in a quarry. Kulagin, the former head of rights group Spravedlivost, had been missing since May [AP report]. Although officials did not comment on the cause of death, Spravedlivost director Andrei Stolbunov believes Kulagin was murdered. The announcement comes just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] approved amendments [JURIST report; summary, in Russian] to regulations governing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), loosening and simplifying registration requirements for the groups. The amendments eased reporting and auditing provisions and eliminated a requirement that the groups prove they are not a threat to the Russian state or identity.

Several human rights advocates have been killed in Russia in recent years. Last week, Russian activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary] was reportedly kidnapped and murdered [JURIST report]. Estemirova had investigated allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya for about 10 years. A Kremlin spokesperson said opposition to her activism was likely the motive for her murder, and Medvedev has ordered an inquiry [BBC report] into the killing. In April, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin [official profile] expressed concern [JURIST report] that activists in Russia were being attacked with greater frequency. In January, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Moscow. Markelov had represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006.

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