A. Political Will
It is especially important for senior government officials to speak out against hate crimes and drive the national discussion on hate crime prevention. The rhetoric of the president and other senior political leaders helps steer law enforcement agencies’ activities.
President Dmitry Medvedev has made several general statements since his election in March 2008 in regards to the problem of racism and xenophobia in Russia. On June 11, 2008, Medvedev pledged to fight xenophobia and extremism using all available legal mechanisms. A month later, President Medvedev approved a new Foreign Policy Concept, which promises to counteract neofascism, all forms of racial discrimination, aggressive nationalism, antisemitism, and xenophobia.
Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, had similarly spoken out on several occasions against extremism, xenophobia, and antisemitism. In a February 2008 meeting with heads of state of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Putin recognized the concern of many of the CIS heads of state that their citizens were increasingly the victim of violent hate crime in Russia. He stated that “we regret this and will do everything so the perpetrators of these crimes are found and punished. We will seek to consistently and continually tackle this phenomenon.” The comments came in light of a wave of attacks against citizens of CIS countries that prompted some embassies in Moscow—such as the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan—to file diplomatic notes urging the authorities to protect their citizens.
In other forums, Putin has recognized that nationalism, xenophobia, and religious and racial hatred not only violate rights of Russian and foreign citizens, but also are a serious threat to stability and safety of the country.
In Saint Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matvienko, who had been on record for downplaying the problem of hate crimes, admitted in January 2008 that the situation with neo-Nazi groups in the city was “absolutely critical” and called on law enforcement bodies to infiltrate such groups. In Moscow, on April 17, 2008, Mayor Luzhkov called for stronger punishments for crimes motivated by nationalism and xenophobia, pointing to a lack of real penalties for hate crimes as one of the reasons for the rise in incidences.
While these calls for a firmer response to the problem are welcome, there is the danger that they will result in indiscriminate and harsh actions that will violate individuals’ rights. For example, in the wake of a wave of attacks in Moscow in early 2008, there were reports that police in some parts of the city were randomly photographing and fingerprinting young men in the metro. An effective reponse to hate crimes must go beyond rhetoric and be part of a broad and comprehensive strategy based on human rights principles that has yet to be articulated and implemented by Russia’s leaders.
Senior political leaders have also made remarks that have promoted division. In October 2006, in the midst of an anti-Georgian campaign, President Putin made a comment about the need to protect “the interests of the native population of Russia.” His words were widely interpreted to mean special protections for ethnic Russians at the expense of foreigners, migrants, and minorities of Russian citizenship.
As previously discussed, despite repeated attempts in the last several years by LGBT groups to organize a peaceful gay pride parade in Moscow, Mayor Luzhkov has been outspoken in his vehement opposition to such events, coming under heavy criticism from European officials and NGOs. In 2008, Luzhkov’s City Hall once again refused authorization for a gay pride parade.
Some statements of public officials have also revealed the extent to which political leaders may be in denial over the incidence of violent hate crimes. The Governor of Saint Petersburg Matvienko proclaimed on August 19, 2008, that “in the first half of this year, there hasn’t been a single [bias] crime.” Not only did the statement run contrary to an earlier concern regarding the threat of neo-Nazi groups, but Matvienko’s assertion also contradicted available data. The Saint Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office reported 16 crimes motivated by ethnic hatred in just the first three months of 2008, while the SOVA Center recorded 42 such attacks, including 13 murders in the first seven months of 2008 in both Saint Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad Oblast.
Some senior law enforcement officials have sought to downplay the extent of the problem of hate crimes, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. For example, in a March 19, 2008, interview with the government daily Rossijskaya Gazeta, Moscow’s chief prosecutor Yury Semin stated in response to a question about the series of recent murders committed by neo-Nazi gangs: “I am sure there is no growing wave of extremism in Russia. … Yes, there have been crimes motivated by religious and ethnic hatred. … But statistics show that year by year the number of such crimes is falling.”
The Interior Ministry publishes annual figures on crimes in the Russian Federation. Within these figures, however, there is no separate reporting on crimes carried out with a bias or hate motivation. There is also no break down of data on particular crimes in order to distinguish victims from different population groups. The Interior Ministry’s annual report includes data on crimes “of an extremist nature” that to some extent overlaps with the concept of hate crime. In 2007, there were 356 such crimes. By contrast, in 2006 the Interior Ministry reported 263 incidents, up from 152 in 2005.
While the published statistics do not provide a breakdown by specific crimes considered to be of an extremist nature, inter-ministerial guidelines provide a list of the articles of the criminal code that fall within that category. These include common violent crimes, such as muder, assault, and vandalism, when they have been determined to have been aggravated by “ideological, political, racial, national, or religious hatred or hatred and enmity toward some social group.” For the purposes of the statistics, an extremist crime also includes any crime in which enhanced penalties were sought under article 63, according to which the same factors can be considered an aggravating circumstance.
However, the Interior Ministry’s concept of crimes “of an extremist nature” also extends to:
- violent crimes that have little to do with bias-motivated violence (e.g. an attempt on the life of a state official);
- extremist groups (e.g. the organization of an illegal armed formation; creation of an extremist group);
- non-violent, speech-related acts (public calls for engagement in extremist activity; incitement to hatred);
- other crimes with no relation to hate crime (e.g. interference in the carrying out of electoral rights).
Thus, without a further breakdown in their statistical reporting, the Interior Ministry data on crimes of an extremist nature provide only a limited barometer of trends in bias-motivated violence.
While the Interior Ministry reports on crimes nationwide, some local prosecutors have begun to report more publicly on crimes of extremist nature in their jurisdictions. In some of these reports, more details are provided into the nature of these crimes. For example, in June 2007, the Nizhny Novgorod prosecutor announced that there had been 14 crimes motivated by national hatred registered from the beginning of the year, including one already sent to court. Similarly, in July 2007, in the course of reporting on efforts to combat extremism, the General Prosecutor’s office in the Far East Okrug and the prosecutor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast provided information on action taken in the cases of three bias-motivated murders and two acts of vandalism.
These local efforts go some way in helping to fill the serious hate crime data deficit, although a more accurate picture of the situation nationwide will require efforts to disaggregate the data to more clearly bring out statistics on violent hate crimes. Perhaps more importantly, longer-term efforts need to be made to enhance hate crime reporting among victims and training of officers in accurately detecting and recording bias motivations so that statistics better reflect the actual situation.
In 2007, several parallel legislative initiatives resulted in the adoption of new and amended provisions to deal with violent hate crimes. On May 10, 2007, bias motivations were added to article 214 of the criminal code dealing with vandalism. As with other articles of the criminal code dealing with aggravating circumstances, this article was amended to include an enhanced punishment when the act of vandalism is committed “with a motive of ideological, political, racial, national, or religious hatred.” This amendment marked the first time that the notions of “ideological” and “political” had been added to the other forms of hatred (racial, national, religious) as aggravating circumstances stipulated in other articles of the criminal code. Article 244 was also amended so that an act of desecration motivated by bias can be punished by a maximum sentence of five years (up from three years previously).
On August 10, 2007, amendments to anti-extremist legislation were also passed, resulting in a number of changes to provisions addressing bias-motivated violence. These amendments expanded the concept of bias motivations in the terms similar to those of the amended article 214. Whereas Russian law previously addressed bias motivations based on “national, racial and religious hatred,” the amendments expanded this definition to include motivations based on “ideological, political, racial, national, and religious hatred and enmity or hatred and enmity toward some social group.”
Similar changes regarding bias motivations were introduced to article 63 on general aggravating circumstances for all crimes, as well as to six other articles of the criminal code dealing with specific offenses where bias motivations provide for sentence enhancement. Bias motivations as aggravating circumstances in the same terms were also extended to five new articles of the criminal code.
Some observers have argued that these provisions will now allow prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties in cases of neo-Nazi violence against anti-fascists and other youth subcultures (which might now be prosecuted as “ideological” hate crimes). Others have also argued, however, that the new range of “hatred” is too broad and opens the way to arbitrary application of the law, especially given the fact that what constitutes a “social group” is not currently defined in Russian criminal law.
Another related legislative initiative discussed in 2007 was a bill to amend article 4 of the Federal Law on Mass Media to prohibit any mention of ethnicity in crime reports published by the media. It was introduced in the State Duma in March 2007 and raised a wave of protests from various NGOs, who were concerned that the prohibition of mentioning the ethnicity of victims and perpetrators would lead to an inability to independently monitor hate crimes. Some critics have argued that the bill would also place further restrictions on freedom of speech. The first reading of the draft was postponed several times and had not by mid-2008 been reviewed.
Although there had been a steady increase between 2004—2006 in the extent to which hate crimes had been recognized and prosecuted as such, 2007 marked a step back in that respect. According to the SOVA Center, there were nine guilty verdicts in hate crime charges in 2004, 17 in 2005, and 33 (involving 109 defendants) in 2006. In 2007, however, there were only 24 guilty verdicts (involving 68 defendants) even though the number of incidents had increased dramatically. The situation looked to be improving slightly again in early 2008, with 14 convictions in the first seven months of the year. There is no official data that tracks the response of police to crimes with a suspected bias motivation or the disposition of hate crime cases prosecuted in the courts. Nor is there much data on this from NGO monitors, with the exception, noted above, that the SOVA Center has sought to monitor the number of guilty verdicts in violent hate crime cases.
There have been no recent attempts to use article 63 of the Criminal Code—one of the tools available for handing down enhanced penalties in hate crime cases. The article is a general sentencing provision that identifies aggravating circumstances that give rise to more serious penalties, including—under part (1)(f)—“a motive of ideological, political, national, racial, religious hate or enmity” in the commission of crimes. There is no evidence that prosecutors regularly seek or that courts hand down enhanced penalties under this part of article 63.
Prosecutors appeared to be taking some steps to more vigorously respond to hate crimes in early 2008. In March 2008, a new department of the Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s office was created. The special department is mandated to collect and analize information on criminal cases of an extremist nature. This new body was welcomed by independent experts. However, its effectiveness in addressing hate crimes was put in doubt when Alexander Bastrykin, the chief of this committee, in introducing the new body, drew attention to people from the Caucasus as a source of extremism in Russia. While not denying the existence of neo-Nazi groups, he stated that: “first of all, we should look at the criminality of the people from the Caucasus.”
In June 2008, the Interior Ministry reported that the authorities had arrested 53 suspects in 2008 for violent attacks across four regions. The suspects included members from 11 separate gangs and were allegedly being detained in connection with 38 attacks, including 17 murders in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast, Saint Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast.
In 2007 and 2008, several defendants suspected of racially-motivated violence stood trial. While there have been a number of convictions in these cases, observers reported that the racist and other bias motives of violent hate crimes are often not pursued by prosecutors or are disregarded by the courts, especially in less serious cases of violent crimes. More frequently, charges under provisions on hooliganism or other common offenses are brought, even in cases where there appears to be evidence of a racial or other bias motive.
In the abovementioned case of the September 2007 murder of Sargis Sargsyan, prosecutors brought charges of murder motivated by hooliganism in spite of evidence supporting the fact that the crime may have been motivatef by racial hatred.
In another case in May 2008, prosecutors in the city of Bryansk dropped hate crimes charges against four youths who had attacked the Or Avner Jewish School five times, on some occasions threatening and screaming antisemitic epithets at the students in the school. Although investigators had established that the attacks were motivated by ethnic hatred, the youths were charged instead with vandalism and hooliganism.
Even in cases where hate crime convictions are obtained, the Russian judicial system continues the trend of showing leniency toward the defendants. According to the SOVA Center’s statistics, at least 20 of 96 violent hate crime offenders received probationary sentences in 2006. In 2007, 19 out of 67 perpetrators were sentenced conditionally, without having to serve actual jail time.
In the many cases in which charges are never even brought, an expectation of impunity may act to further encourage such violence. On the night of January 6, 2007, for example, young people stormed the headquarters of a Mormon church in Samara, smashing windows and throwing smoke bombs. The SOVA Center cited the incident as evidence that extremist groups were confident they could act with impunity: a statement of the extreme nationalist Eurasian Union of Youths (ESM) took credit for that attack, as well as for an assault on the office of the Russian Family Planning Association in Orenburg. The statement declared that ESM would continue to bring pressure against the “sectarians,” and that “acts of vandalism are extremely important for the building of a sovereign democracy and a healthy civil society in Russia.” No investigation into the organization’s role in the incidents was reported by law enforcement agencies.
Nonetheless, there has been some progress in the prosecution of some violent hate crimes. In addition to those mentioned above, some examples where investigations and prosecutions progressed in prominent hate crime cases include the following:
- In May 2008, Moscow prosecutors charged nine neo-Nazis with 32 attacks on ethnic minorities, including 19 murders and 13 attempted murders. The suspects stand accused of having committed their crimes between August 2006 and April 2007, usually late at night. They would pick one solitary member of an ethnic minority as a victim, beat and stab him, then flee. Prosecutors charge that ethnic hatred motivated all the attacks. All of them face hate crimes murder (Article 105 of the Criminal Code) charges and ethnic incitement (Article 282) charges. Among the victims were Azerbaijanis, Chinese, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks.
- The case involving a neo-Nazi gang from Saint Petersburg, suspected of murdering ethnologist and extremism expert Nikolai Girenko and Senegalese student Samba Lampsar, was one of the most prominent investigations of 2007. In February 2008, the Saint Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office charged 14 young men belonging to the Military Terrorist Organization (BTO), also known as the “Kisly Gang,” headed by Dmitry Borovikov and Alexei Voevodin, with six murders, one attempted murder, and one robbery, including the high profile murders of Girenko and Lampsar. The trial was scheduled to start in late 2008. The gang’s leader, 18-year-old Dmitry “Kisly” Borovikov, was shot to death in the course of being arrested in May 2006. It remains unclear whether hate crime charges will be brought against other gang members under investigation.
- In September, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of right-wing activists Mikhail Klevachov and Vladimir Vlasov in the case of the Grozny-Moscow train bombing of June 12, 2005. The first jury acquitted the two of all charges in November 2006. On April 10, 2007, in a retrial, the pair was found guilty of attempted murder motivated by ethnic hatred, terrorism, and illegal purchasing and keeping of explosives. Klevachev and Vlasov were subsequently sentenced to 18 and 19 years in prison respectively.
- Another landmark event was the trial of seven offenders charged with murdering anti-fascist activist Timur Kacharava and assaulting Maxim Zgibay in November 2005 in Saint Petersburg. On July 31, 2007, all defendants were announced guilty on all counts. One of the defendants was convicted of murder while the other six were charged with hooliganism. Additionally, all seven were found guilty of incitement—in this case of inciting hatred against anti-fascists as a social group. The murderer was sentenced to twelve years in jail, while those found guilty of hooliganism received much more lenient sentences: three were sentenced to prison terms of between two and three years, while three others received probationary sentences.
- On June 19, 2007, in Saint Petersburg the jury convicted a group of youths in the murder of Roland Epassak, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was stabbed to death in September 2005. This was the second trial in connection with Epassak’s murder. On July 25, 2006, the four suspects were acquitted of all charges and released from custody. In the retrial following the filing of the Prosecution’s appeal, four people were convicted of murder with a racist motive and sentenced to seven to fourteen years in prison.
- On April 30, 2008, the Moscow city court passed a guilty verdict in the Cherkizovo Market explosion case. Nikolai Korolev, a member of the Slavonic Union and the leader of the military-patriotic club “Spas,” was accused of forming and leading a criminal group for committing serious crimes, which carried out nine terrorist acts. Nikolai Korolev, Sergei Klimuk, Oleg Kostarev, and Valeri Zhukovtsov were found guilty of committing a terrorist act, murdering 14 and attempting to murder 61 people at the Cherkizovo Market in August 2006. Additionally, Nikolai Seniukov was proven guilty of the 2006 murder of Vighen Abramiants, Armenian student. Four defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, while others received sentences ranging from two to twenty years in prison. The murder charges and sentences included recognition of the bias motivations of the acts.
Anti-extremist legislation—of which aggravating circumstance provisions are a subset—and in particular Article 282 dealing with incitement to hatred has been misused to target human rights activists and others who are critical of the government.
One of the most prominent cases is that of Savva Terentyev, who made a critical—though aggressive and obscene—comment in his online blog, protesting police brutality and corruption. He was subsequently charged with incitement to hatred (article 282 of the Criminal Code) against the entire police force as a social group. Despite lacking a credible case and in the face of strong public protest, prosecutors took the case to court at the end of March 2008. On July 7, 2008, the City Court of Syktyvkar (Komi Republic) sentenced Terentyev to a one-year suspended sentence.
The decision to bring incitement charges against Yury Samodurov, the Director of the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, has similarly had significant public resonance and has been criticized as a misuse of anti-extremism legislation. On May 13, 2008, Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev, a recently fired curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, were charged on the basis of Article 282(2) of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement to national and religious hatred), for the 2006 Forbidden Art exhibition. The works displayed had been refused by other museums, and the purpose of the exhibition was thus to study “the nature and tendencies of institutional censorship in the area of culture.” The case against the organizers of the exhibition began in June 2007, and originated in the publicly manifested outrage of the Orthodox Community who had deemed the works exhibited as provocations of an anti-Christian, anti-Orthodox, and anti-Russian nature. In 2005, in a similar case that was criticized by domestic and international human rights groups, Samodurov was found guilty of incitement to hatred charges for organizing Caution, religion!, an exhibition which included paintings and other art examining—and parodying—the intersection of religion with commercial interests, politics, and popular culture.
While there are no institutions in Russia that perform the functions of an official anti-discrimination body, as outlined in Council of Europe policy recommendations, Russia’s Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has addressed matters of human rights, including hate crimes. Most recently, in May 2008, Vladimir Lukin took part in the OSCE supplementary meeting discussing the role of national institutions against discrimination in combating racism and xenophobia. The ombudsman underscored the important function that his institution and nongovernmental human rights organizations play in combatting national, racial, and religious intolerance in Russian society.
In the 2008 annual report, the Ombudsman noted that “[in 2007], problems of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional intolerance, religiously motivated violence and vandalism remained acute,” pointing to a lack of diligence on the part of the law enforcers: “there are still very few cases where investigation is properly completed to establish the culprits and hold them accountable.” This, however, was the only reference to hate crimes in the entire report.
This marks a departure from pervious reports when Ombudsman Lukin took a stronger and more public stance against hate crimes, accusing law enforcement officials and certain regional leaders of ignoring or covering up racially-motivated violence. The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2006 included an entire section dedicated to the problem of hate crimes in Russia.
The Presidential Council for Developing Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights examines human rights violations in Russia, reporting directly to the head of state. Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova has discussed problems of racism and xenophobia in Russia with high-ranking Russian officials and representatives of international institutions, although these issues are on the periphery of the council’s agenda.
In 2008, the Council released a preliminary draft of its report on activities since 2002. According to the document, the Council has prepared forty one draft laws, amendments, and expert opinion notes for the President and the Government of Russia. However, none of these documents addressed the issue of hate crimes. Similarly, none of the six special working groups at the Council look at the issue of racism, xenophobia, or bias violence.