Vienna, April 7 – The number of “crimes on the basis of extremism” in Russia – what in many countries are known as hate crimes – has increased more than 25 percent each year since 2005 and is likely to increase by at least that much in 2008, according to the senior official in the Russian Federation Procuracy responsible for tracking crimes of this type.
In an interview posted online today, Aleksey Zhafarov, deputy head of the Procuracy’s Administration of Monitoring the Execution of Laws on Federal Security, Inter-ethnic Relations and Countering Extremism, provided not only the numbers but also described what officials are trying to do to prevent rather than just counter such crimes (www.narodru.ru/smi20690.html).
In 2006, he said, the number of such crimes had increased 73 percent over the year before; in 2007, the number was 35 percent greater than in 2007; and in 2008, it was 29 percent higher than in 2007. He said that the jump in 2006 was the result of changes in legal definitions, and he predicted that the increase in 2009 would be of the same order of magnitude as in 2008.
But he noted that the total number of such crimes was still running at under 500 year, and that the amount of crime committed by migrant labor was less than one percent of all crime committed in the Russian Federation and that a third of the crimes committed by Gastarbeiters targeted other Gastarbeiters.
Both those assertions challenge widely held views. On the one hand, human rights activists give far higher numbers, but as Zhafyarov noted, they generally count all crimes by members of one ethnic group against another as a hate crime even when there is no evidence that a particular crime was committed out of ethnic animosity.
And on the other, media reporting to the contrary, the Moscow procuracy official said, Gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation are not responsible for a disproportionate percentage of all crime and seldom appear to engage in hate crimes, although they are sometimes the victims of such crime.
Deciding which crimes are hate crimes and which are not is no easy matter, Zhafarov continued, especially since most hate crimes would be crimes even if there is no ethnic hatred as a motivating factor. And there is the additional issue of which laws allow for harsher punishments where it is present and which laws do not.
“How actively” this or that law “will be applied, only time will tell, but [as more laws include this provision],” Zhafarov said, that alone “will undoubtedly have an influence on statistics.” And consequently, he warned against focusing on statistics alone in this area, especially when making year on year comparisons.
Like other specialists on this phenomenon, the Moscow procuracy official said that most such crimes are in major cities with populations greater than a million and that most such crimes do not involve bodily injury or death – of the 460 this past year, only 158 involved force and only 17 involved deaths.
Zhafarov said that last year, Russian prosecutors had brought 418 people to trial on the basis of such charges and that more than half of those charged were convicted and sentenced to incarceration, large numbers but rates dramatically lower than is the case with other charges, a reflection of difficulties of proving intent and the attitude of jurors in some case.
According to Zhafarov, Russian prosecutors are especially concerned about the way in which extremist groups are spreading their poison and recruiting supporters via the Internet, a sector of the media that many Russians are still reluctant to regulate because in his words it represents the last “swallow” of freedom in the country.
But because of the nature of the threat, he said, prosecutors are working with IP providers to get extremist sites offline, monitoring what is appearing and then encouraging those working in this sector to take action on their own. At the same time, he said, prosecutors are also working to draft legislation that would make process easier and more widely applicable.
One of the most important initiatives his administration has been involved in, Zhafarov continued, is the preparation by an experts group of a 500-page book on “Interethnic Relations without Conflict: A Handbook for Prosecutors, Law Enforcement Organs, Judges, Government Employees and NGO Leaders.”
That work, which he said will be released later this spring, should help combat manifestations of ethnic and religious hatred and also help officials and all others involved in the legal system to ensure that hate crimes laws are fully and fairly applied, something that his comments suggest may not always be the case at the present time.