MINELRES: RFE/RL: Statistics Show Russia's Anti-Extremism Efforts Biased, Ineffective

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Wed Aug 25 19:08:02 2004

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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 8, No. 158, Part I, 19 August 2004


By Nickolai Butkevich

        The deputy chief of the Russian Interior Ministry's Organized
Crime Department, Yurii Demidov, held a press conference on 17 August
to announce the latest results of the government's struggle against
political extremism. According to a transcript of a Radio Mayak
report covering the event, Demidov mostly focused on the threat posed
by Islamic extremists, especially the transnational group Hizb
ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Alleged members of
both of these groups, which the Russian government classifies as
terrorist organizations, were arrested in Russia in March and May of
this year. In addition, Demidov revealed, neo-Nazis have been
detained in Orel, Kursk, and Voronezh. He termed Russian neo-Nazis
"more aggressive, organized and politicized" than ever before, and
vowed to continue monitoring and arresting them.
        Readers not intimately familiar with the Russian government's
sad record when it comes to countering hate crimes can be forgiven
for thinking that Demidov's statements mark a new level of official
determination to combat hate crimes, which have steadily grown over
the past few years into a mass phenomenon.
        In truth, such announcements come regularly from officials,
yet for all the tough rhetoric, not much seems to change on the
ground. Ethnic and religious minorities still get beaten and even
killed by organized skinhead gangs, whom the police often insist are
nothing more than "ordinary hooligans."
        One way to address the gap between official rhetoric and
reality is to look at statistics of hate-crimes prosecutions under
Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits speech or acts
aimed at inciting ethnic or religious hatred. For years, the Russian
government resisted releasing detailed case information of Article
282 prosecutions to NGOs, but last month, the Union of Councils for
Jews in the Former Soviet Union's (UCSJ) Russian affiliate -- the
Moscow Bureau on Human Rights -- finally persuaded the
Prosecutor-General's Office to relent. The bureau's subsequent report
reveals that while the number of Article 282 prosecutions has
increased in recent years, the number of convictions remains low,
since most never make it to a court. In addition, there is a clear
bias in the Russian justice system against accused Islamic radicals,
who are much more likely to be successfully convicted under Article
282 than ethnic Russian extremists, the vast majority of whom get off
with not guilty verdicts, suspended sentences, or convictions later
annulled by amnesties.
        The bureau's study is based on statistics collected by the
Prosecutor-General's Office on Article 282 cases covering 2000-03,
the first three years of the administration of President Vladimir
Putin. According to these statistics, in 2000 there were 17 Article
282 cases; eight of which were brought before a court. These cases
included two youths who beat up a citizen of Somalia in Moscow. One
was sentenced to three years, while another got one year in prison.
However, both were freed under an amnesty, ironically issued to
commemorate the 55th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. In
another case, a resident of Krasnaya Gorbatka (Vladimir Oblast)
distributed leaflets by the violent neo-Nazi group Russian National
Unity (RNU) calling for the murder of local Jews. He was found guilty
and given a two-year suspended sentence.
        According to the bureau's report, "The only people convicted
under this article [282] in 2000 were two residents of Daghestan who
ideologically supported the invasion of [Chechen] separatists into
Daghestan in 1999 (they were sentenced to six months and a year of
prison, respectively)." This is the first of many cases cited by the
bureau in which prosecutors and courts showed a clear anti-Muslim
bias in their selective use of Article 282.
        In 2001, there were 32 Article 282 cases, only six of which
got as far as a court. The cases included a security guard who went
on a drunken rampage in a Jewish youth club in the Komi Republic,
injuring two youths and causing extensive property damage. The guard
received a four-year suspended sentence. The bureau points out that
in 2001, "the only person sentenced to a real prison term, just like
in 2000, turned out to be a member of the Islamic underground in the
Northern Caucasus."
        In 2002, the number of Article 282 cases jumped significantly
to 74, and 19 of them were sent to court, the vast majority of which,
as in past years, ended in suspended sentences or in charges being
dropped. The next year was similar, 72 cases were brought under
Article 282 in 2003, but only 11 made it to court, and only one
person was convicted under Article 282 that year -- "a representative
of the Islamic underground" who received a six-year prison sentence.
        Though the threat of Islamic radicalism in Russia should not
be discounted, especially in light of recent terrorist acts in
Moscow, the fact that the full weight of Article 282 is almost
exclusively applied against accused Islamic extremists demonstrates
dangerously skewed priorities. Ethnic Russian skinheads and other
violent neo-Nazis are a clear and present danger to the lives of
millions of Russian citizens, migrants, and visitors to the country,
and a violent reaction by extremists among some of the victimized
groups in Russia is possible.
        The bureau's study notes in its conclusion that "the use of
suspended sentences and requalifying cases [to 'hooliganism' for
instance] leads to extremists losing their fear of the law, and they
become even braver in their crimes." A quick glance at recent
headlines shows how true that statement is. Neo-Nazis are suspected
of murdering an expert witness in St. Petersburg earlier this year
and threatening an antifascist activist in Orel last month, prompting
Amnesty International to issue a warning that his life is in danger.
Last week, two leading Russian newspapers speculated that the RNU may
be behind the shooting of a federal judge in a Moscow suburb, and the
attempted assassination of another judge in June.
        Meanwhile, courts continue to deal with neo-Nazi violence in
a very uneven fashion. Just last week, a group of Moscow skinheads
got long sentences for killing a police officer in the aftermath of a
rap concert, while in Lipetsk, a skinhead was given a suspended
sentence for stabbing an African student multiple times. With the
state budget awash in oil revenue, the government inexplicably
decided to eliminate its program for promoting ethnic and religious
tolerance this year. Given this careless attitude on the part of the
authorities, is it any wonder that skinheads in Russia feel so bold

Nickolai Butkevich is research and advocacy director at the
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union