For Immediate Release: February 3, 2012
New York City – Human Rights First calls on the Russian government to promptly investigate the recent attack on Philip Kostenko, an activist who works at the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” in Saint Petersburg. This morning, Kostenko was beaten by two men who followed him through a park, where they pushed him to the ground and started to beat him. One of the attackers called the victim by name before the assault. Kostenko waited for an ambulance at the scene before proceeding to a local hospital.
“We call on the authorities in Saint Petersburg to thoroughly investigate this case, including the extent to which it was in retaliation for his activism. They should also hold the perpetrators accountable. The fact that this incident took place one day before the scheduled opposition demonstrations across Russia suggests that the attackers may have wanted to prevent Kostenko’s participation in tomorrow’s protest actions,” said Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre.
Kostenko has also been subject to persecution and monitoring by the authorities—including by the police unit responsible for combating extremism and hate crime— for his legitimate opposition and human rights activities.
In mid-December 2011, Kostenko was singled out by police during nonviolent post-parliamentary election protests, arrested, and given the maximum 15-day administrative sentence for public disorder. On December 22, his sentence was extended another 15 days—the maximum allowable—at a hearing heavily influenced by a representative from the police’s antiextremism unit. The judge in that hearing refused to allow Kostenko to defend himself before extending the sentence.
Kostenko still faces administrative charges and is due to appear in court in mid-February. His colleagues and lawyers maintain the activist is innocent of these charges and is being persecuted because of his opposition activism and human rights work.
Racism- and nationalism-related issues remain a hot topic in Russia. Just this week, a major court battle ended positively when the Supreme Court upheld the verdict against the members of the Borovikov-Voevodin gang from Saint Petersburg that was responsible for dozens of murders, including the ethnographer Nikolai Girenko, a nine-year-old Tajik girl, and an African student.
“The court case against Philip Kostenko is an example where police monitor and go after peaceful activists, instead of concentrating their full attention on the real ‘extremists’—the violent neo-Nazi gangs who until recently have operated with relative impunity in murderous racist attacks on those perceived to be ‘foreigners,’” concluded LeGendre. “The police must recognize and affirm that violent hate crime is the problem, and not activists like Kostenko who, in fact, work to confront racism in Russia.”