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Monday, March 26, 2007

Neo-Soviet Russia Seeks to Ban Reporting on Race Crimes

Yusuf Sultonov, whose 9-year-old daughter
was beaten and stabbed to death in
St. Petersburg on February 9, 2004 (TASS)

Remember the bad old days when the USSR, instead of actually trying to solve a problem, simply prohibited anyone from mentioning it (killing or imprisoning or exiling those who broke the rule)? Remember how that crazed policy destroyed the country utterly? Remember how certain even more crazed idiots in the West said it could never happen again?
Radio Free Europe reports:

A bill under consideration in Russia's parliament would forbid the media from revealing the race or ethnicity of both suspected criminals and crime victims. The bill's supporters say such legislation is necessary to fight racism, but journalists and human rights activists say it will have the opposite effect.

Each year in Russia, hundreds of ethnic minorities are attacked and scores are killed in what human rights activists describe as hate crimes. Proposed amendments to the media law would also forbid the publication or broadcast of the religion of crime suspects and victims.

Fears Of Increased Attacks

Journalists and human rights activists say the changes -- if enacted -- will actually do little to reduce racially motivated attacks -- and could actually make the situation worse.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, says, "If this law really comes into force, then people will not know about the victims of skinheads, nationalists, and fascists." Police and prosecutors in Russia have long been reluctant to recognize racially motivated hate crimes as such. When such crimes are prosecuted at all, they tend to be treated as simple cases of "hooliganism." Analysts say legislation effectively banning the media from reporting on racial attacks would just push the problem deeper and deeper into the shadows.

Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the Sova Center, a Moscow-based organization that tracks hate crimes, says her group has already witnessed a tendency to hide this kind of crime. "Even without any laws, newspapers are reporting less and less about these types of crimes when in reality they are happening more and more. This partially comes from the law enforcement bodies who are trying to hide the magnitude of the problem," Kozhevnikova says.


Analysts also say that those who wish to spread ethnic intolerance through the media would still be able to do so. "We have seen hostile language in the press. And we are also witnessing the manipulation of neutral rhetoric that can also be interpreted as ethnic," Kozhevnikova says. "The word migrant, which is social rhetoric, is today used in Russia exclusively to mean non-Russians" Arlene Morgan, associate dean of the Columbia University Journalism School in New York, says U.S. and Western media organizations are careful not to perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes in their reporting. Such practices, she says, are voluntary and are the subject of professional ethics. "You really need to think very carefully about why you are including the race or ethnicity or religion of a person. It has to really be meaningful to the telling of the story," Morgan says. "And I think those guidelines serve us pretty well because you don't want to perpetuate stereotypes and you don't want to perpetuate racial hatred. But you also need to be pretty clear when that [a person's race or ethnicity] is germane [to the story]," she adds.

But Morgan, who specializes in issues of race and ethnicity in media, said she sees no benefit in an outright legislative ban like the one proposed in Russia. Moreover, Morgan says identifying a victim's race, ethnicity, or religion is absolutely necessary when reporting on hate crimes. "It [the proposed ban] doesn't make any sense to me because if it is a hate crime there has to be a reason for the hatred. Usually it is because of somebody's race or ethnic or religious background. I mean that's what the whole thing is about," Morgan says. "So to basically ban reporters from delving into those issues, I mean, you're just tying their hands and their voice obviously, [and preventing them] from telling the real story. You might as well not do the story. Which, it seems to me is what they are trying to do. To try to curb any kind of storytelling around these issues."

Silencing Journalists

And many analysts say this is exactly the point of the legislation -- preventing troublesome journalists from reporting on a troubling issue. Panfilov from the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations says the law, if approved, will be used selectively. "If this law comes into force it will be used only against independent journalists and against those journalists that criticize the authorities," he says. The Moscow city legislature has submitted the legislation to the Russian State Duma. Moscow City Duma Speaker Vladimir Platonov was unavailable for comment. As a result of the growing concern about the legislation, the Russian Public Chamber, which oversees and evaluates the work of parliament, has announced plans to hold hearings on the bill's possible effects.

Recall RFE's August 2005 report on the horrifyingly deep roots of Russian racism:

More than half of Russians have xenophobic views -- that is the charge coming from Russian human rights campaigners today. In a new report, rights groups say that -- despite progress in some areas -- racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism remain rife in Russia. But what worries watchdogs most are recent moves by nationalist-patriotic movements to form paramilitary groups.

Russian human-rights advocates gathered in Moscow today to assess the level of racism, ethnic discrimination, and anti-Semitism in the country for the first half of 2005. The results, they told reporters, are not encouraging. Semyon Charny is an expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and the author of the new report. He said xenophobic feelings remain widespread in Russia. In a recent nationwide poll, Charny said over half of the respondents espoused nationalist views. "The level of xenophobia remains stable and high," he said. "Between 50 and 60 percent of the population sympathize, to various degrees, with nationalist slogans such as 'Russia for Russians'. The first people to inspire irritation are the Caucasians, Central Asians, and Chinese. Jewish people rank third or fourth."

According to the report, Chechens continue to top the list of the most-hated people in Russia. It is a hostility human rights advocates largely attribute to the war in Chechnya that has been claiming lives daily on both sides for most of the past decade. But there was also encouraging news. The report said the number of racially motivated murders has dwindled in the first half of this year, with 10 foreigners killed. That number was three times higher during the same period in 2004. The number of such attacks and killings, however, still remains much higher than in European countries.

The report comes just days after two Polish diplomatic personnel and a Polish journalist were beaten up and hospitalized in Moscow, sparking a diplomatic row. Human rights groups say some progress has also been made in recognizing racially motivated attacks and punishing assailants on charges of incitement of ethnic and religious hatred. Russian law-enforcement agencies have long angered watchdogs by dismissing racial attacks as mere hooliganism.

In the first half of 2005, however, five people have been sentenced for inciting ethnic and religious hatred. Only one person was sentenced on the charge for the same period last year.
Despite these positive trends, rights advocates expressed strong concerns over recent moves by Russian nationalist-patriotic groups to form their own armed groups. Alla Gerber, who heads Russia's Holocaust Foundation, said these political organizations are rapidly trading propaganda speeches for weapons. "The most deadly for me is the transition of national patriotic parties and movements from propaganda to calls for terror," she said. "This is the latest and most important development. Before, there were words, propaganda, but now there are calls for an open, organized terror."

Charny said Russia's numerous nationalist-patriotic movements are beginning to openly state their plans to form armed paramilitary groups and seize power by force. Some of these groups, Charny added, organize forums during which they explain to their members how to get hold of weapons. Slavyansky Soyuz (Slavic Union) is one of these groups. It is known to have called for an armed uprising and broken into the websites of Russian human-rights organizations. Slavyansky Soyuz's own website features the group's insignia, a symbol approximating the Nazi swastika. It offers links to a prominent skinhead website. It also displays pictures of youths with their right hand raised in the air in imitation of the Nazi salute, and a series of articles disparaging various ethnic and religious groups.

In parallel, Charny says skinhead groups are also on the rise and are now active in all Russian regions: "Concerning skinheads, their numbers are definitely growing, they are spreading to more and more cities. Now, we can say there is not a single region that does not have a band of skinheads." According to official figures, there are 10,000 skinheads in Russia. But human rights groups and experts contend the real figure is more than five times higher. According to the report, skinheads were responsible for most of the racially motivated attacks and killings this year.

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