A human rights organization has described a St. Petersburg court verdict on March 22 in the murder of a nine- year-old Tajik girl as "a moral catastrophe." The judgment -- eight of the defendants were found guilty of "hooliganism" and the other defendant was found not guilty -- shocked members of the victim's family and the Tajik Embassy in Moscow.PRAGUE, March 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Muhammad Egamzod, a representative of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow, today expressed "extreme disappointment" with the court ruling but said he hopes those responsible for the murder will still be brought to justice.
"We still believe that the killing was a xenophobic and racist act," Egamzod said. "The Tajik Embassy in Russia hopes that the murderers of the Tajik citizen will be brought to justice and punished according to the law."
Khursheda Sultanova was killed in 2003 as she was taking a walk with her father and 11-year-old cousin, who were also wounded in the incident. Natella Ponomareva, the lawyer for the victims, announced the court ruling.
"There will be no verdict of murder, because the only one who was accused of murder was acquitted. The jury decided that he is not guilty," Ponomareva said.
The verdict was a blow not only to family members seeking justice but also to the many in Russia and elsewhere who wanted to see Russian authorities take steps to halt racial hate crimes. Such crimes are one the rise and are mainly directed against those of African and Asian descent. Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of Russia's Civic Assistance human rights organization, expressed surprise at the ruling.
"This is a catastrophe," she said. "This is a moral catastrophe for Russia that in the multinational society of a huge country could bring nothing less than the collapse of the state."
On the night of February 9, 2004, Yunus Sultanov, a migrant worker from Tajikistan, was walking the streets of St. Petersburg with his daughter and nephew when a group of some 12 young men armed with baseball bats, chains, and knives attacked them. Khursheda was stabbed and bled to death before medical help arrived. The assailants fled the scene and police launched a search for them.
Nazar Mirzoda of the Tajik diaspora in St. Petersburg credits St. Petersburg police with investigating the crime but questions the court decision.
"[Some] 150 young people were interrogated," Mirzoda said. "People in the neighborhood also told the entire story of how it happened. All eight youngsters confessed that they took part in the beating. They told the court that Roman Kazakov stabbed the girl."
Shock And Disbelief
Yusuf Sultanov was not only shocked by the verdict, he said he was not even told about today's trial.
"No one told me that there will be a trial today," he said. "I did not received any written notice. And it is strange that they confessed earlier and now say they are not guilty. I could not understand. I am completely shattered as to why they do not want to punish murderers."
In the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, Khursheda's Aunt Oim said she believes the lenient verdict was due to the connections of some defendants to Russian officials.
"What can I say? There are the sons of some high-ranking official involved in the killing," she said. "That is why they will be acquitted."
St. Petersburg prosecutors report there were 23 deaths in 2004 listed as racial crimes, and 34 in 2005. In Moscow, the Prosecutor's Office reports that 38 Tajik migrant workers have been killed just this year. St. Petersburg police estimate there are some 20,000 skinheads, often the perpetrators of such acts, in the St. Petersburg region alone.