2-3-2012By Fighting Discrimination Program
Today, the Supreme Court of Russia rejected Alexei Voevodin and Artem Prokhorenko’s appeals for clemency. In June 2011, they received life sentences for committing a series of murders. They are members of the Voevodin-Borovikov gang, responsible for some of Russia’s highest-profile hate crimes, including the murder of ethnologist Nikolai Girenko, nine-year-old Tajik girl Khursheda Sultanova, and African student Samba Lampsar.
Russia’s antiracism campaigners welcome today’s verdict—an important victory in their struggle against a horrific problem. Racist violence has claimed 470 lives in Russia since 2004. The most reliable data on hate crimes comes not from state authorities but from the Moscow-based NGO SOVA Center, which is due to release its report for 2011 next month.
The problem persists despite advances in the criminal justice system, which is gradually getting better at addressing racially motivated attacks. Neo-Nazi gangs, the primary perpetrators, are now monitored across the country, and law enforcement authorities have improved their record in investigating cases.
The Voevodin-Borovikov gang was active in 2003-2004. In addition to killing ethnic minorities and civil society activists, like Girenko, the gang also murdered two of its own members suspected of disloyalty.
The verdict upheld today by the Supreme Court was originally handed down by a jury of Voevodin and Prokhorenko’s peers, in a unanimous decision. Jury trials are still a novelty in Russia and there have been several high-profile jury acquittals in recent years. There is, however, a risk of backlash in response to this verdict. Last year, supporters of imprisoned skinheads retaliated against a guilty verdict by firebombing a Moscow synagogue. Nevertheless, this verdict is a clear signal to perpetrators of violent hate crime: this violence will be investigated and punished.