Two Russian nationalists have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a prominent journalist and a human rights lawyer.

Nikita Tikhonov, 31, was convicted of killing Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a reporter, in Moscow in January 2009.

Tikhonov's girlfriend, Yevgenia Khasis, 26, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for assisting him in the murders.

Tikhonov was also fined 2-million rubles (about $73,000) in compensation due to the victims’ families.

Investigators in the case said that Baburova, 25, was shot by Tikhonov because she witnessed the murder of Markelov, 34.

The murders occurred in broad daylight and raised the suspicions of observers across the globe who complained that the Russian did little to punish those who harm anti-government critics.

The nationalists were apparently enraged by Markelov's activities in defending Chechens who were reportedly victims of human rights abuses.

Baburova worked for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, an opposition vehicle that focuses on human rights issues.

Tikhonov and Khasis, who were arrested in November 2009, were linked by the police to the outlawed extreme-right wing paramilitary party, Russian National Unity (RNU). However, RNU denied any connection to the murders and said the two defendants were never members of the group.

Other reports claimed they belonged to another outlawed ultra-nationalist Russian group called Russky Obraz (or Russian Mind).

Tikhonov and Khasis denied the murder charges and their attorneys plan to appeal the convictions.

Initially, Tikhonov confessed to the killings, but later retracted, claiming that police investigators pressured him.

According to media reports, Baburova's mother, Larisa, said: We think their guilt is totally proven - by the witnesses' testimony and the testimony of the accused themselves.”

A spokeswoman for Novaya Gazeta called the investigators' work brilliant, reported Agence France Presse.

Tikhonov’s father told the Interfax news agency: “The sentence was not unexpected. We understood this throughout the whole process. The judge was the chief prosecutor. I will not speak about how during proceedings the defense were made to shut up.”

Another reporter for Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered dead in 2006 – she had extensively covered reports of human rights abuses being committed by Russian troops in Chechnya.