Vienna, August 28 – Calls by individuals or groups, even during the commission of a crime, to “kill” members of minority groups in the name of “Russia for the Russians” are not in themselves “extremist,” according to an expert advisor to St. Petersburg investigators. And on the basis of that, prosecutors there are declining to charge those involved with “extremism.”
Because a lawyer for the victims is appealing this conclusion and because other Russian courts are not bound by this decision as precedent, it does not have the force of law throughout the country. But it is indicative of a shift in attitudes, all the more so since Vladimir Putin himself in 2003 said that such calls were “provocations” that prosecutors should address.
The current case began on February 14 when a group of young people in St. Petersburg beat Tagir Kerimov and his friend Suleyman Ramazanov, who tried to protect him from their attacks. The attackers, who shouted the slogans cited above as well as “a Rat’s death for a Rat,” inflicted such damage on Kerimov’s skull that he remained in a coma for weeks.
Prosecutors brought charges against five of those involved, initially for “the intention infliction of serious bodily harm as a result of hooligan attitudes” and later for attempted murder. And then the prosecutors asked the Center of Judicial Expertise of the North-West District to evaluate whether the slogans of the attackers qualified as extremism.
Yesterday, “Gazeta” reported today, “it became known” that one of the Center’s experts, Elena Kiryukhina “had come to the conclusion that the phrases ‘A Rat’s death for Rats!’ “Russia for the Russians!’ in the context of this case were not intended to inflame inter-ethnic hostility or to denigrate an individual on the basis of nationality.”
The expert, who has been working at the Center for ten years, added, the paper said, that other phrases used by the attackers including “Beat the blacks!” “might or might not” be evidence of a violation of the Russian law against inciting inter-ethnic hostility depending “on the motives of those employing them” (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2009/08/27_a_3241783.shtml).
Kiryukhina said that her experience suggested that it is possible those using them were doing do “ironically and not seriously.” And she pointed out that in her judgment, the specific words used to identify those to be attacked or killed referred to “the object of aggression and not nationality.”
Consequently, the expert consulted by the St. Petersburg investigators continued, “if the motive of the fight did not have any relationship to nationalism, then the meaning of the appeal should not be connected with xenophobia.”
Not surprising, the lawyer for the victims of this horrific crime, Dmitry Dinze has announced that he is calling for prosecutors to seek a second evaluation of the slogans those who attacked his clients and plans to seek the transfer of the case from the investigators to the militia in the hopes of getting justice.
And human rights activists are expressing outrage. Pavel Chikov, head of the AGORA Legal Rights Defense Association, for example, said that evidence that “30 Slavic youths” had shouted such slogans during an attack on a non-Slav was quite “sufficient” to warrant charges under Russia’s anti-extremism law.
But others have a different view. Vasily Kostyuchenko, head of the Moscow non-governmental Center for Judicial Expertise said the use of these slogans was “insufficient” to justify bringing charges of inciting inter-ethnic hostility. And Aleksandr Belov, the head of the anti-immigrant group DPNI, said he was “satisfied” with Kiryukhina’s conclusion.
However that may be, many Russians are likely to view this case as an indication of what officials will permit, and consequently, the expert evaluation already registered may lead some to feel freer than they did to act on whatever prejudices they have, confident that officials are on their side and won’t enforce the law vigorously in this area.
That in turn means, however, as Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the SOVA human rights analytic center put it today, the real question this case raises is whether “we will recognize that there is racism in Russia or not? In order to do that, political will is needed [because such] recognition is a political problem.”
At the very least, she told “Svobodnaya pressa,” “the dispatch of these slogans for expert evaluation in this context is a very strange history (svpressa.ru/society/article/13362/).