MINELRES: Russia: Two high-profile trials on violent racist crimes

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sun Apr 2 12:05:32 2006

Original sender: SOVA Center <mail@sova-center.ru>

Hate Motivation in Cases of Koptsev and Others 

This week marked the end of two high-profile trials, both involving
violent racist crimes. Once again, they emphasized the importance of
correct legal qualification of racist offences.

On 27 March 2006, the Moscow City Court convicted Alexander Koptsev who,
on 11 January 2006, attacked worshippers in a Hassid synagogue in
Moscow, stabbing nine of them with a hunter’s knife. Alexander Koptsev
was found guilty under art. 30 (“preparation for crime and attempted
crime”), and pars. ‘a’ and ‘l’ of part 2, art. 105 of the Criminal Code
(“attempted murder of two or more persons, motivated by ethnic, racial
or religious hatred), and sentenced to 13 years to be served in a strict
regime prison colony, and to compulsory psychiatric treatment while in
prison. However, the court did not find Koptsev guilty under par. ‘a’
part 2, art. 282 (incitation of ethnic and religious hatred involving
the use of violence). 

On the following day, 28 March, in Novosibirsk, a nearly three-year-long
trial of White Brotherhood skinhead group ended in convictions. The
group had nine members, all charged with a series of attacks against
immigrants from Central Asia in 2002. In early 2006, the group leader,
Mikhail Rodoshkevich, was found mentally incompetent, so his case was to
be tried separately from the rest. Therefore, the trial ended in eight
convictions under pars. ‘a’, ‘c’ part 3 of art. 162 of the Criminal Code
(“armed robbery by an organized group, involving the use of weapons, and
resulting in serious bodily injuries"), with sentences between 6 and 10
years. Like in Koptsev’s case, the trial found that there was not enough
evidence to support charges under art. 282. Besides, in the course of
the trial, defendants (apparently due to expiration of the statute of
limitations) were relived of charges under “participation in an
extremist community.” 

Both judgments provoked a strong reaction in the Russian society, with
criticism of the judicial reluctance to recognize this type of crimes as
racist offences. However, we believe that such criticism is often laden
with emotion and unfounded. 

The problem is that the public tends to misunderstand the real meaning
of art. 282 of the Criminal Code. After many years of complaints that
this article is underused, many civil society activists in Russia
started to see it as virtually the sole provision in Russia’s criminal
law applicable to crimes driven by racial and religious hatred. But it
is not true. Art. 282 of the CC punishes for public actions explicitly
intended to incite hatred against certain people as members of racial,
ethnic or other groups. In other words, this provision criminalizes
"racist propaganda." Par. ‘a’, part. 2 of this article punishes for this
type of public propaganda combined with violence or threats of violence.
But hate-motivated violence, which is not accompanied by public
agitation, does not fall under this criminal provision.

On the other hand, racist crime is still racist crime, even if skinheads
do not shout racist slogans while attacking their victims. Even if they
do yell racist slogans, but do so in a dark lane in the middle of the
night - it can hardly qualify as "propaganda." The Russian Criminal Code
provides for a few other instruments enabling courts to qualify crimes
as racially motivated. 

Firstly, some criminal articles mention the hate motive, which then can
be invoked, alongside other specific circumstances explicitly mentioned
in the text of the article, as a "qualifying [aggravating] circumstance”
calling for a harsher punishment. In Koptsev’s case, the hate motive
mentioned in the criminal article on murder as aggravating circumstance
was invoked by the court that found the defendant guilty of attempted
murder motivated by racial hatred. The anti-Semitist slogans that he
shouted in the process proved his motivation but did not qualify as
propaganda (his ‘audience’ consisted of believers and clergy in a
synagogue; we can hardly assume that he attempted to promote
anti-Semitism to them). Therefore, the court passed a totally adequate

The situation of Novosibirsk skinheads is more complicated. The article
under which they were charged (“armed robbery”) does not mention hatred
as an aggravating circumstance. Similarly, the court failed to find any
public propaganda, so the defendants were not found guilty under art.
282. As a result, the court formally did not find the skinheads to be
racists. However, the criticism should be addressed to the prosecutor,
rather than the judge. The prosecutor failed to invoke another
instrument available in the Criminal Code, i.e. art. 63, containing a
list of aggravating circumstances, which includes, under par. ’e’, the
motive of ethnic hatred. This criminal article can be applied in
conjunction with any other charges. Russian prosecutors, however, tend
to forget about this provision of domestic criminal legislation – we
know of only one case where it was invoked: the murder of a Peruvian
student in Voronezh this year - and opt for art. 282, which is difficult
to prove in this type of offences, and is sometimes inapplicable. Should
the prosecutor in Novosibirsk invoke art. 63, rather than art. 282, they
would have avoided the problem by enabling the court to use adequate
legal qualification of the crime, and saving themselves the trouble of
trying to prove publicity and propaganda in the skinheads’ attacks.

Unfortunately, prosecutors repeated the same mistake in the trial for
the murder of a 9-year old Tajik girl, Hursheda Sultonova, in St.
Petersburg. On 22 March 2006, jurors passed a non-guilty verdict to the
only attacker charged with the murder; he was also the only one whose
charges included racist motives. The others were charged under art. 213
(“hooliganism,” i.e. assault using weapons or similar objects, but this
article does not mention ethnic hatred as potential aggravating
circumstance, and prosecutors forgot about par. 'e' of art. 63. All
defendants are likely to be convicted - none of them has denied their
involvement in the attack - but they will be convicted as “hooligans,”
rather than racist, which does not match the nature of their crime. 

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Moscow 


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