A Russian court on Friday sentenced a nationalist leader to life imprisonment for organizing a string of hate killings including the shooting of a prominent rights lawyer in broad daylight.
Moscow City Court jailed Ilya Goryachev, a former journalist and pro-Kremlin activist, after he was found guilty of ordering the murder of 34-year-old lawyer Stanislav Markelov on a busy Moscow street in 2009 as he walked from a news conference.
A 25-year-old reporter at opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Anastasia Baburova, was also shot dead as she accompanied Markelov.
“Goryachev has been sentenced by the court to a term of life imprisonment,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
A nationalist activist, Nikita Tikhonov, is serving a life sentence for shooting Markelov, while his co-accused, Yevgenia Khasis, was sent to a penal colony for 18 years.
“It was Goryachev who gave Tikhonov the assignment to murder lawyer Stanislav Markelov,” investigators said.
Goryachev felt “ideological hatred and enmity” towards Markelov due to his “professional activities in defending the rights of victims with anti-fascist views,” they added.
The Moscow City Court said in a statement on Friday that the life sentence reflected the “exceptional danger of the defendant for the society.”
Russian investigators said Goryachev and Tikhonov were among the founders in 2008 of a “highly organized” and heavily armed group called the Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists, or BORN.
Goryachev, 33, studied history at a Moscow university before founding with Tikhonov a radical group called Russian Image, inspired by a Serbian ultra-nationalist movement.
He worked for a time on an Orthodox television channel and wrote articles for several newspapers. He also claimed to have worked as an assistant to two Russian MPs.
BORN committed dozens of crimes including eight murders, investigators said.
Their victims included a judge, several anti-fascist campaigners and members of ethnic minorities.
“The aim of the group was to commit extremist crimes and attacks on civilians — to commit murders motivated by ideological and nationalist hatred and enmity, to make attempts on the lives of law enforcement officials,” the Investigative Committee said.
In April, three members of the group were sentenced to up to life in jail for the murders as well as several attempted murders.
Goryachev fled the country in 2010 after being questioned as a witness in the Markelov case. He was detained in Serbia in 2013 and extradited to Russia later that year.