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Hate crimes and counteraction to them in Russia

This small review was distributed on the OSCE conference about anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, which took place June 8-9, 2005 in Cordoba.

The lack of criminal prosecution of even the most radical ethnic, racial, religious or other hate propaganda remains one of the biggest problems in Russian society. This problem to a great extent predetermines two other growing problems: first, the extent to which xenophobic prejudices have spread throughout society and the extent to which people have adjusted to them, and secondly, hate crimes.

Both the authorities and society realize the correlation of these problems. In summer 2002 a law About counteraction to extremist activities was passed (together with a multitude of amendments and other laws), to suppress any manifestations of extremism. In this comprehension the law includes a wide range of activities from terrorism to propaganda for ethnic, racial or religious intolerance. While the limits of extremism as unlawful activities were carelessly defined, tough penalties were imposed, for example prison sentence for appeals to any extremist activity, easy closing down of organizations and editions, the possibility to stop an organizations work without court order etc. Now, after nearly three years, we can evaluate the results of the application of the legislation.

The extent of organized racist violence rise every year. The main source of this violence is the skinhead movement, a movement little organized, but large in number (tens of thousand of people), that keeps spreading to new cities, and constantly becoming crueler. According to our, undoubtedly incomplete, data, in2004 about twice as many people were killed in skinhead attacks alone as compared to 2003 (not less than 45 compared to about 20). The number of wounded comes to hundreds of people. Admittedly, skinheads do not organize as many major pogroms as they did in the years 2001 and 2002. Yet in 2004 threats of ultra-nationalists against their opponents increased, and on June 19, 2004 the scientist and antifascist Nikolai Girenko was killed in St. Petersburg.

The effective investigation of these crimes is very rare, as delays of investigations often amount to a year or even more. At the same time, more and more often the motive of hate openly expressed is considered a prerequisite for violent crimes. The Russian legislation allows this in various ways. In 2003 article 282 of the criminal code (excitation of hostility) was adjusted as complementary to a basic article (murder, assault and battery etc.; three cases), and in 2004 there were three sentences of this kind. In five sentences a more accurate form was applied: the motive of hate was considered a qualifying characteristic for the basic crime, which leads to a more serious punishment.

Thus the quantitative and qualitative improvement of the law-enforcements response happens more or less at the same pace that the hate crimes increase. Of course, this is good, but it is not enough.

Hate propaganda remains unpunished. Many notorious propagandists, both individuals and editions, are not held liable in any way. Cases of criminal prosecution of hate propaganda (according to article 282 of the criminal code) are rare and almost never lead to real punishment. In 2004 three out of four convicts were practically freed from punishment (only one was sentenced to pay a fine), in 2003 the same picture (but yet one was sentenced to two years in prison).

Sanctions not against the authors, but against the editions and publishers could become an important instrument against hate propaganda. Probably the most effective instrument would be a fine, but such sanctions against editions are just not intended. They can only be closed down or given a warning about a possible closing down. Earlier, this happened some times. But only one edition was closed down by the norms of the new legislation. And even the number of editions receiving warnings fell from 30 in 2003 to three or four in 2004.

Matters do not stand much better with sanctions against organizations whose activities are connected to hate crime or hate propaganda. Even if these organizations are deprived of their registration, it is because of formal violations (non-accordance with the information deadline in the Ministry of Justice etc.), without any connection to the anti-constitutional gist of their activities. This method creates only insignificant difficulties for the ultra-nationalist groups and discredits the counteraction to ultra-nationalists in the eyes of the public. Also the method of depriving those using Nazi symbols of registration (as arranged in the law of 2002) is ineffective. Many organizations were closed down in 2003 and 2004 using this method but nearly all of them continued their activities. The article 282-2 of the criminal code (introduced in 2002) that intends to punish this has only been applied in relation to members of the radical Islamic group Khizb ut-Takhrir (this group was declared terrorist and prohibited by the Supreme Court, although it is well-known that Khizb ut-Takhrir does not practice terror).

Obviously, the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Public Prosecutor do not have enough resources to present the court convincing proof of the unlawful activities of such organizations based on texts and public statements, although such information is often widely accessible.

On May 31st, 2005 the first sentence based on the article 282-1 of the criminal code (introduced in 2002) was handed down. This article holds individuals liable for the organization of extremist associations (that means groups that aim to commit offenses included in the definition of extremism) or for taking part in such associations. After all, this article has the potential to be very effective, particularly against skinhead groups.

Thus the law About counteraction on extremist activities only worsened the counteraction to hate propaganda and hardly improved the policy of restrictions for ultra-nationalist organisations.

But then, Law-enforcement organs step by step learn how to use instruments against violent hate crime that existed in criminal code before the new laws were passed in 2002. Practical experience shows that these instruments are fully sufficient. They just have to be more actively used.

Institute Collective Action


Source: IA MiK


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