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Aleksandr Verkhovsky: The Prosecution of Historians in Bashkiria is an Example of "Anti-Extremism" in Practice

Source: (Author), 31/03/10

· Bashkiria

· Racism and xenophobia

The SOVA Centre has published its annual report entitled “Illegitimate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation”. A considerable part of the report is dedicated to the situation in the Republic of Bashkiria. In particular, the report considers “paradoxical” the reason given for the criminal prosecution of a group of historians and journalists who came together around the internet site "Ufa Province”, critical of the authorities in the Republic of Bashkiria.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the Sova Centre, in an interview with Regnum news agency talked about the situation surrounding this high-profile criminal case against historians and journalists:

“The anti-extremism legislation was adopted in 2002 and immediately aroused suspicions about its potential for being used in a repressive manner. Just a couple of years later we were obliged to carry out a special monitoring of the excessive and at times completely illegitimate limitations on rights and freedoms in the framework of the fight against extremism. It was in the course of this monitoring that we came across the case of the “Ufa Province” website. We believe that no matter what the specific situation in any particular Republic of the Russian Federation, there must be no abuse of the law. In the given case, even the vague wordings of our anti-extremism legislation were broadly interpreted.

I have not read all texts on the site, but from what I have read, including those examined during a targeted search for xenophobic material which we conducted when we found out about this case, we did not find anything that would merit, in our opinion, a criminal prosecution under the “extremism” articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Art. 280, 282, 212). I have in mind the website’s articles themselves, and not the comments posted there. But the writers of the articles cannot be held responsible for comments posted by its readers.

The controversy began with the publication on the website of fragments from a brochure by the Bashkir nationalist Dilmukhametov, Warriors Against Bastards. It is my understanding that the site published that text as an example of the views of its opponents, an example obviously unpalatable not only to the editors, but also to the readers. It was a step that may be controversial, but was by no means criminal.

It is my assessment of the situation in the Republic of Bashkiria that, apart from the conflicts among clans that are common in many regions, what can be seen in addition is an acute conflict among ethnic nationalisms - Bashkir, Tartar and Russian. This places on the authorities a special responsibility to keep the peace in the Republic. Judging by the content of a considerable number of comments on the Ufa Province website, the authorities could well have seen the site as a focus of radical opposition against themselves and against Bashkir nationalism. This opposition has often been crude, xenophobic and even inflammatory. Here it has often been possible to see the ideas of Russian or Tartar ethnic nationalism, that is in the readers’ commentaries (I must emphasize that I am referring to the readers’ comments and not to the website’s articles), that could not help but give grounds for concern to the authorities. However, clearly illegitimate criminal prosecutions are not the right means to resolve the situation.

On the whole, the anti-extremism legislation has been designed, to a large extent, as a means to counteract ethnic and religious xenophobia, but a means that is clearly excessive, and therefore repressive. The case against the authors of the Ufa Province website is a clear example of this. Of course, it is far from being the only case of its kind in Russia; we have been writing about cases of this kind for three years now in our reports on the 'misuse of anti-extremism'. But all the same, to bring a criminal case under several articles at once against a group of people who are not only clearly not participants in violence, but are also are not involved in incitement to violence, this is exceptional even by the standards of currently existing abuses.”
Rights in Russia,
16 May 2010, 10:42