The number of violent hate crimes against individuals in Russia continues to grow steadily, with 2008 on track to be another record-setting year. According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, the leading nongovernmental monitor of hate crimes, in 2007 there were at least 667 victims of racially motivated violence, including 86 murders. In comparison, there were 568 victims of violent hate crimes, including 63 murders, registered in 2006. The beginning of 2008 has shown an increase in the most serious violent hate crimes. Already in the first eight months of 2008, 65 people were killed and 318 injured as a result of suspected racial and other bias-motivated assaults.
Skinhead violence is directed against all non-Slavic members of the Russian society, as well as defenders of hate crime victims. Among foreign nationals, immigrants from Africa and Asia are the likely targets of neo-Nazi violence. In recent years there has also been a sharp increase in violence against migrants from the so-called “near abroad,” which refers to the countries of the former Soviet Union. Migrant workers from Central Asian countries are extremely vulnerable to attacks—since many of them arrive in Russia without proper documents, they risk deportation if they report crimes commited against them to the police. Finally, the threat of hate violence hangs over non-Slavic Russians from the Caucasus and Siberia. Anti-Roma racism and human rights abuse of Roma and other people referred to as “Gypsies” remains particularly problematic in Russia. Roma victims of hate crimes, similarly to migrants without proper legal documents, are extremely reluctant to report any violence against them due to real and perceived police prejudice against them, evident from analyses by various Roma and human rights groups.
While the violence is attributed to a sizable and rapidly growing decentralized neo-Nazi movement—numbering as many as 70,000 individuals according to some estimates—public opinion polls have shown that intolerance is prevalent in Russia even among the general population. For example, according to Levada Center surveys, 55 percent of the Russian population to some extent approves the slogan “Russia for (ethnic) Russians.” According to another poll conducted in Saint Petersburg, 25 percent of Saint Petersburg’s inhabitants were ready to approve a violent hate crime; 10 percent of school children shared the ideology of neo-Nazi groups or were prepared to join the movement, and 16 percent sympathized with skinhead ideology.
There have been over one hundred cases in the past 18 months in which individuals have been murdered in incidents where there has been a suspected bias motivation. Examples from 2007 and through mid-2008 include the following:
- On May 6, 2008, two Uzbek workers were killed in Moscow. According to the witnesses, 47-year-old Uhtom Rofeev, who died at the crime scene, and 41-year-old Matloda Ahlyadova were attacked by three youths. The police confirmed that the perpetrators could have been skinheads, and that the murders were potentially motivated by racial hatred. A week earlier, the police discovered mutilated bodies of three Uzbek immigrants, but neglected to announce a motive in the cases.
- On March 28, 2008, in a small rural village in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, two youths carried out a brutal murder of a man whom they perceived was a homosexual. Two persons were arrested in connection with the murder and the prosecutors recognized the bias motivation. However, while Russian law allows for enhanced penalties for bias motivations, the provisions do not extend to cases in which the bias was motivated by sexual orientation.
- On March 12, 2008, Justin Adjei Ashi died in a hospital of thirty knife wounds in Saint Petersburg. A sophomore at the Financial Academy, Ashi came to Russia from Ghana. Three unidentified killers attacked the 20-year-old in the center of the city. The incident was apparently being treated as a priority by the Saint Petersburg Procuracy’s special investigative unit.
On October 20, 2007, a group of skinheads, armed with baseball bats and knives, attacked passersby in Southwestern Moscow, targeting people of non-Slavic appearance. Sergei Nikolaev, a well-known 46-year-old chess player and businessmen, native of the Sakha Republic, was severely beaten and stabbed repeatedly, dying on the scene.
- More attacks followed on the same day: Galidzhan Gulyashov, a 37-year-old street cleaner from Uzbekistan, and Salimzhan Rakhmonov, a 28-year-old Tadjik citizen, were hospitalized with serious wounds. Sixty-three fans of the Football Club Spartak were detained in the area, and half of them were held in connection to the attacks. The police recognized the racist motivation of these attacks and confirmed 27 similar incidents occurring on the same day. On July 1, 2008, the district attorney’s office passed the case to the Moscow City Court. The suspects—13 youths, including 3 minors—face a variety of charges related to the murder of Nikolaev and nine other attacks. Among the charges are murder as a hate crime, attempted murder as a hate crime, and incitement to violence.
- On September 20, 2007, Akhmad Reza Khorrami, the 19-year-old son of an Iranian diplomat, suffered multiple knife wounds to his heart and died on the way to the hospital in Moscow. A special investigative unit was formed to work on the case; incidentally, the incident was recorded by an outdoor surveillance camera.
- On September 18, 2007, the body of Sargis Sargsyan, an ethnic Armenian, was discovered in a Saint Petersburg city park. In the course of the investigation, police found extremist literature and other materials in the apartments of the suspects. Eleven individuals were detained for involvement in the murder of Sargsyan, as well as attacks on three other individuals, including a racially-motivated attack on Sayana Mongush, a journalist from the Tyva Republic. In December 2007, six of the eleven were charged with premeditated murder motivated by hooliganism in the case of Sargsyan.
- In August 2007, video-taped murders were circulated of two men allegedly of Dagestani and Tajik origin. Widely-circulated video footage of the execution-style killings showed the beheading of one and the shooting of the other, with a Nazi flag in the background. The video was posted on the Internet in the name of a previously unknown neo-Nazi group with a demand for the expulsion from the Russian Federation of all Asians and people from the Caucasus. Investigators of the Interior Ministry initially stated that the video was not authentic, so no real investigation was undertaken. On August 15, 2007, Victor Milkov, who posted the video on the Internet, was arrested and sentenced to one year of compulsory labor for violation of the article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred). In January 2008, Artur Umadanov from Dagestan recognized his brother Shamil Umadanov on the video. Shamil had left for Moscow in summer 2007 and stopped calling his relatives in the middle of August. Relatives reported this fact to the police, but it was not until June 2008 that the Investigative Committee of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office admitted that the double murder on the video distributed in August 2007 really took place. Four young men, members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Society, were subsequently detained in connection with the murder.
- On July 30, 2007, an ethnic Korean citizen of Uzbekistan was murdered in Saint Petersburg. Yakov Pak died of multiple knife wounds, and the perpetrators drew a swastika on the windshield of his car.
- On April 16, 2007, in Moscow, a 46-year-old ethnic Armenian, Karen Abramyan, was attacked by two young people shouting neo-Nazi slogans. Abramyan was hospitalized with twenty knife wounds and died in the hospital. Two suspects with blood spots on their clothes were arrested immediately after the crime. One of them, 18-year-old Arthur Ryno confessed to participation in as many as 37 fatal attacks committed out of racial hatred, though he later retracted his words. The subsequent investigation resulted in nine arrests of people 16 to 22 years old, who were charged with 32 attacks, including 20 fatalities, on people from the Caucasus and the Central Asia. On July 1, 2008, the district attorney’s office passed the case to the Moscow City Court. Among the charges are murder as a hate crime, attempted murder as a hate crime, incitement to violence, and hooliganism.
On February 23, 2007, the police discovered bodies of two Turkish citizens in Samara. Both suffered multiple knife wounds. A murder investigation was opened and police are reportedly considering the possibility that the murder was a hate crime.
- In early January 2007, two neo-Nazi skinheads attacked an Azerbaijani national in Moscow. 53-year-old Nadir Bairam died from injuries suffered in the assault.
As with the incidence of murders, the number of assaults with a suspected bias-motivation recorded by the SOVA Center has set new records every year since 2004. Some examples from 2007 and early 2008 include the following:
- On April 14, 2008, an employee of the Omani Embassy was assaulted in Moscow. Hassan Mahlul was severely beaten by a group of five and received a concussion. The investigators believed that Mahlul was likely a victim of skinhead violence.
- On April 6, 2008, an unidentified skinhead gang assaulted three Azerbaijani minors in Moscow. A 13-year-old student was hospitalized, and two of his friends received medical attention at the crime scene. Just a month earlier, the bodies of two Azerbaijanis were discovered in Saint Petersburg.
- On June 21, 2007, a priest from the Finnish Lutheran Church of Saint Petersburg was hospitalized with serious head trauma. The 54-year-old was beaten by a group of youths in the city center.
- On June 11, 2007, members of a Jewish congregation in Ivanovo, Moscow Oblast, were attacked by a group of skinheads. The victims included 69-year-old Rabbi Tsvi Hershovich, the head of Ivanovo’s Jewish community Ervin Kirstein, and a regular parishioner Valery Makushev. The attacker—Sergei Novikov—was found guilty of charges of hooliganism and incitement to religious hatred and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
- A Baptist family in Derbent, Republic of Dagestan, has reportedly been harassed many times over the past years. In a recent incident, on May 5, 2007, Aidyn Kadyrov’s house was attacked by three men. The attackers shouted racial slurs and physically assaulted a Baptist man. The police arrived only four days after the attack. In the past, vandals have painted satanic graffiti on Kadyrov’s house.
- On April 24, 2007, two youths attacked an imam and his pregnant wife in Kostroma. The attackers told victims to “go back to their Muslim country” before beating Imam Mirza-hazrat Abdullaev and pushing his wife Nadira.
- On January 4, 2007, five Malaysian students suffered an attack in Nizhny Novgorod after being surrounded by a group of fifteen youths. The victims were subsequently treated for minor injuries.
Human rights defenders and those who speak out against hate crimes or support the rights of minority communities have in some cases themselves been the victims of hate violence.
- On June 1, 2008, Alexei Davydov, an LGBT activist affiliated with several prominent organizations, was assaulted while addressing reporters at the Moscow Gay Pride event. Davydov was pushed to the ground and severely beaten by members of the National Slavonic Union. The police managed to arrest the attackers, although Davydov was also detained and sent to the same police station along with the attackers. There were reportedly no charges filed against the perpetrators.
- In March 2008, radical right websites circulated a “death list” with home addresses and personal information on public figures, human rights defenders, and academics working on the problem of xenophobia in Russia. Also included on the list were the names and addresses of Supreme Court justices, procuracy officials, and the interior ministry—a total of 50 individuals. A number of radical right websites posted the link to the list, accompanied by direct threats of violence and even murder.
- On April 24, 2008, Tatyana Chernyshova, the interim head of the department of media relations of the General Prosecutor’s Office, announced that an investigation had begun.
In the early morning of July 21, 2007, neo-Nazi skinheads launched an assault on an anti-nuclear protest camp in Angarsk, Siberia. The activists were violently attacked with iron rods, knives, and air pressure guns. The attackers were shouting extremist slogans, such as “Right-wing!” and “Anti-Antifa!” Twenty-one-year-old Ilya Borodaenko, an antifascist advocate from Nakhodka, suffered a skull fracture during the attack and died in the hospital. At least nine other campers were reported to have been seriously injured. Up to 28 people were detained by the police in connection to the attack, 14 of them were arrested and charged with hooliganism under article 213 of the Criminal Code. One person was additionally charged with deliberate infliction of grievous bodily harm leading to death (under article 111, part 4).
- On June 19, 2007, Dr. Valentina Uzunova, an ethnologist and expert on extremism and racist incitement in Russia, was attacked and beaten by an unknown woman in Saint Petersburg. The 59-year-old victim was hospitalized with a concussion. The attack took place a day before Uzunova was to speak at the trial of Vladislav Nikolsky, charged with incitement of hatred. Various documents and an expert examination for the case were stolen from Uzunova’s purse.
Efforts to organize a gay pride parade have been marred since 2006 by official bans, hostility from the city authorities, violent protestors, and poor police protection.
Most recently, in 2008, a pride parade ban was upheld by the Tverskoi District Court of Moscow. The march was originally scheduled for May 31 from the Moscow Central Post Office to Lubyanka Square, although was banned by the authorities.
Similarly, in 2007, LGBT activists in Moscow were also denied the right to assemble for a peaceful demonstration. Days before the intended date of the gathering, parade organizers had submitted plans for a Moscow Gay Pride march to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who banned the march, calling it “satanic.”
On May 26, 2007, the evening before the march to City Hall, roughly 40 people staged a demonstration protesting against homophobia. About 15 police officers were present. Two large nationalist organizations staged a counter demonstration against Moscow Pride and gathered over 300 people. They were shouting violent threats, such as, “our ‘scouts’ will be in the center tomorrow. Faggots won’t get through!” in reference to the next day’s events. On May 27, police secured Tverskaya Square around City Hall. Skinheads and nationalist extremists had begun occupying the square, yelling “Moscow is not Sodom! No to pederasts!” as 30 parade participants gathered. The parade leaders were immediately arrested upon entering the square. Police did not intervene to stop the violent protestors who continued the physical attacks on others as the parade organizers were arrested.
At least eleven women and two men among the participants were arrested and held for several hours in police vehicles before being taken to a police station. They were left in the heat, denied medical attention, and verbally harassed by police officers. One officer said, “no one needs lesbians, no one will ever get you out of here.” When a group of participants was released from police custody after several hours, protestors pelted eggs and shouted hateful epithets at them.