Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tutov: Update

From RFE/RL:
Although Tutov claimed his assailants had shouted: "Russia for Russians, get out of here!" a Moscow prosecutor declared on April 2 that there was no evidence the attack was racially motivated.

Today, however, Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office ordered local prosecutors to modify the charge to "infliction of serious bodily injuries motivated by ethnic, racial, and religious enmity."

The decision came as a pleasant surprise to both Tutov and rights groups, since even blatantly racist attacks are often treated as 'hooliganism' instead of being prosecuted as racial crimes, which carry severe penalties.

Despite Tutov's claim that his assailants shouted: "Russia for Russians, get out of here!" a Moscow prosecutor determined there was no evidence to consider the attack racially motivated. The press service of the Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL that its response had been delayed because it first needed to corroborate part of Tutov's testimony, which, the press service said, was difficult immediately after the attack.

But why is the Prosecutor-General's Office suddenly overruling local authorities by insisting that Tutov's beating be investigated as a racially motivated attack, after displaying so much reluctance to use this charge in the past?

Lev Ponomaryov, a veteran human rights activist, heads the All-Russian Movement For Human Rights. He says the prosecutors' decision suggests Russian authorities are finally awaking to the danger of the surge of nationalist feelings across the country.

"It is definitely a good sign," Ponomaryov said. "I see how United Russia is now saying things absolutely in favor of human rights. Let this problem, the 'fascization' of the country, become mainstream, let officials talk more about this. It is a serious problem. Before, the Kremlin used to flirt with these national extremists. But at some point they understood that they may be losing control over this process, that nationalists are becoming uncontrollable. This is exactly what rights campaigners were saying."

The attack on Tutov comes amid public anger over three lenient verdicts recently handed down to young men accused of assaulting ethnic minorities.
Now, however, gazeta.ru is reporting that three of the four attackers who were arrested have been released by police authorities with a warning. The attackers are said to be Spartak football fans. And in spite of the request by the Prosecutor General's office that the attack be considered racially motivated, the local prosecutors are still treating it as an act of "hooliganism".

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