It becomes more and more clear with every passing day that if you are not the "right" color you are not welcome in Russia -- indeed, you can be attacked or killed on sight. When was the last time you heard "president" Putin give a speech condemning Russian racism and praising those who attack it? A reader comments by e-mail: "This is life on the ground in . Putinism at an international level is a scandal but then there are the poor people that suffer daily because their leaders couldn't care what the consquences are when they encourage xenophobia and whip up enmity across communities and nations." Two stories from the St. Petersburg Times flesh out the horrifying details:
Expert on Hate Crimes Violently Attacked
One of Russia’s leading experts on racial issues and hate crimes was violently attacked on Tuesday in what her colleagues and human rights advocates see as an attempt to force the expert to change her testimony in a high-profile legal case. Valentina Uzuniva, was attacked by a female assailant, wearing a mask and was dressed in camouflage, who hit Uzunova several times on the head and took a dossier on a court case Uzunova has been working on dealing with charges of extremism. The assailant also took Uzunova’s earrings. Uzunova, 59, who received treatment in the Alexandrovskaya Hospital, sustained a concussion and hematomas on her head. Her condition was described as satisfactory on Thursday. The expert was attacked at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday outside 7 Ulitsa Podkovyrova, when she was on her way back from visiting the relatives of her former colleague, Nikolai Girenko, a prominent expert on ethnic issues, who was gunned down on exactly the same day in 2004. Girenko was shot through the door of his apartment, when he went to answer the doorbell. His killers have not yet been identified.
Uzunova had received threats of violence before, her colleagues said. After a recent anonymous nighttime call, in which the caller threatened to execute the expert and her family if she did not help to clear a defendant now facing extremism charges in court, Uzunova appealed for police protection but without success. The request was turned down as the police claimed there was lack of evidence of a credible threat. The police established the location of a phone booth used to make the phone call but failed to establish the identity of the caller. The case in question concerns a retired submariner Vladislav Nikolsky, who is facing charges of distributing extremist literature and forming a nationalist group. Uzunova had been give expert testimony in the court on Wednesday but the hearing was cancelled because of the attack. The assailant, who attacked Uzunova, took the materials on the Nikolsky case. Uzunova’s colleagues and human rights advocates said they have no doubts that extremists were behind the attack.
Alexander Vinnikov, a senior official at the St. Petersburg Union of Scientists and regional coordinator of the nationwide non-governmental movement “For Russia Without Racism,” said the Nikolsky case was coming to an end. “Uzunova had enough evidence in her hands for the judge to convict Nikolsky during the next hearing,” Vinnikov. Yuly Rybakov, a prominent human rights advocate with the St. Petersburg rights group Memorial, is convinced an organized extremist group was behind the attack. “She definitely had been followed, and in all likelihood, her phone had been bugged; the assailants had to know about her plans and visits in great detail to be able to get to her when she would be carrying the case materials, when she would be in a deserted quite place and when she would be on her own,” Rybakov said. “It requires timely and careful preparation with a certain number of people involved.” Rybakov accused law enforcement agencies of a biased and negative attitude towards anti-fascist campaigners. “I am not surprised Uzunova did not get protection after that dangerous threat,” he said and brought his own first-hand experience in to strengthen his point.
Several years ago, when Rybakov was a deputy in the State Duma, he learnt that two extremist groups had been planning to assassinate him. The lawmaker contacted the police and, providing all evidence available to him, asked for police protection, or at the very least, for his phone calls to be monitored and recorded. His request was turned down. “I then went public about the threats, and made a speech at the Duma about it to protect myself,” Rybakov said. “In most cases, the prosecutors openly show their contempt to anti-fascists and democrats, sometimes with outright insults.” His worries are shared by many of his counterparts. Human rights lawyer Olga Tseitlina, who represents the Kacharava family in the case of student anti-fascist campaigner Timur Kacharava, who was stabbed to death in 2005, is bewildered by what she calls “the attemps to present anti-fascists as a radical youth group of extremist character. The defendants’ lawyers [in the Kacharava case] almost make it sound as if Timur got what was coming to him and the judge and prosecutors just turn a blind eye,” Tseitlina said. Kacharava was stabbed to death outside the Bookvoyed book shop near the Oktyabrskaya Hotel early on a November evening in 2005 by assailants described as “skinheads.” The student’s activism also included delivering food aid to the homeless.
Natalya Yevdokimova, an advisor to Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the Council of Federation, urged the authorities to commission an in-depth analysis and assessment of the scope of extremism and nationalism in the city and for the results to be widely publicized. “It does not help that only human rights groups are aware of the issues; ordinary people do not get the picture at all,” she said. “The circumstances of and around these crimes — which are often classified as robberies, hooliganism or homicide [without a hate motive] — remain obscure to them.”Race Murderers Get 39 Years . . But Only After Retrial
A 20-month jury trial rocked by judicial flaws that initially led to acquittals, prompting public condemnation and a retrial, ended Tuesday with the St. Petersburg City Court sentencing four white supremacists a total of 39 years in jail for murder. The court sentenced Andrei Gerasimov to 14 years in a high security prison for masterminding and taking part in the killing of 29-year-old Congolese student Roland Epassak in September 2005. Viktor Orlov, the youngest culprit in the group aged between 19 and 26, was sentenced to 7 years in jail, while Andrei Olenov and Yury Gromov will each serve a 9-year term. The group’s defense lawyers said they will file an appeal against the verdict with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if an appeal lodged in the Russian Supreme Court is rejected. After sentencing was passed a small picket of discontented nationalists, and friends and relatives of the convicted men gathered outside the court building on the Moika embankment waving placards “Shame to Fascist Prosecutors!” and “It Could be You in Their Place!” The 20-strong crowd was led by Yury Belyayev, leader of the extreme nationalist Freedom Party which was outlawed in 2004, who is currently serving an 18-month suspended sentence for promoting hate. “They [nationalists] have been dealt with a serious blow today,” said Ruslan Linkov, head of the Democratic Russia human rights movement. “But in the meantime anything should be expected of the wounded wild animals they are.” Linkov reminded people of non-Slavic appearance and their Russian sympathizers to the watchful of nationalist reaction to the case.
Tuesday’s sentencing followed a guilty verdict issued last Thursday by a panel of a dozen jurors who voted 10/2, a week after the prosecution and the defense had delivered final statements. It was the end of a retrial that had been ongoing since February, following the original trial in July in which the suspects were acquitted by a jury that was branded “inefficient” by human rights advocates and high profile politicians. “I took the case under my own patronage, followed it closely and the prosecutors did an excellent job proving guilt beyond any doubt; yet a bunch of inefficient, semi-literate jurors let the criminals go!” Governor, Valentina Matviyenko said in response to the public outcry against the acquittal last year. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling and ordered a retrial. “Such verdicts are counter-productive in relation to the war on xenophobia and extremism,” said Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, condemning courts acquittals in all three jury trials for hate murders in St. Petersburg last year. Gryzlov was referring to the trial of suspects in the murder of 9-year-old Tajik girl Khursheda Sultanova in February 2004 under the charge of “hooliganism” which resulted in suspended sentences for those accused of the slaying. A day after that killing, Neo-Nazis stabbed 9-year-old African-Russian girl Lillian Sisoko in the throat on the doorstep of her apartment building in downtown St. Petersburg. Gryzlov was also referring to the dropping of hate crime charges against the killers of Vietnamese student Vu An-Tuan in October 2004 resulting in a conviction on lesser charges and light sentences. The retrial in the Epassak case had a new jury and also heard fresh evidence and new witnesses. They included witness testimonies by two of Epassak’s compatriots who were with him minutes before the assault and the Russian girlfriend he was going to meet when he was attacked in the courtyard of a building on 8 Prospekt Nauki. The evidence also included video footage of the attack from a closed circuit camera on a nearby building.
The retrial was not without its hitches, however. The new jury had one of its members disqualified for allegedly having a criminal record. Epassak’s murder was the first in what would become a wave of violent hate crimes to hit St. Petersburg in which nine people were killed and several others hospitalized within the space of a year. Although most of the victims were members of the African community, the city’s smallest minority group, others in the spree included a Russian anti-fascist activist Timur Kachareva, a student at the St. Petersburg State University, Indian medical student Nitesh Kumar Singh and two women from the Caucuses and Central Asia.