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8 Oct, 2009 18:30

Russian race crime role reversal – ethnic group sentenced

A Moscow court has delivered its verdict in the case of two Russian students attacked by a gang of ethnic minorities. Six defendants were sentenced to 4-7 years in prison for being part of the Black Hawks gang.

The longest sentence – seven years – was handed to Dilgam Gusinov, while Ramil Sadykhov and Shahin Khudiev got just four years each.

Grant Arutyunov got a six-year sentence, Chingiz Arifullin was handed a 4.5-year sentence, while underage Rashad Mamedov got five years in a juvenile correctional facility.

“The court has fully agreed with the prosecution, both on the suspects’ actions and on how they should be punished for what they've done,” said state prosecutor Kira Gudin.

The verdict can be appealed within 10 days.

The group stabbed and shot two Russian students while filming the attack on a mobile phone. Shouts such as “Allah Akhbar” and “Russian swines” can be heard on the recording. Both students needed medical attention after the attack and one of them was hospitalized.

The attack took place in the Moscow Metro – in a carriage full of people too scared to intervene. The video was subsequently posted on the internet – leading to seven men being charged with the crime.

The case, in which members of ethnic minorities stood accused of launching a near-fatal attack on two white young men on a Metro train, gripped Moscow for months.

Some said the attack was organized, and that the accused belong to a gang called the Black Hawks.

Race-hate crime is no stranger to Russia. In the first half of 2009, thirty-eight people were killed and 106 injured in xenophobic attacks. Victims are often nationals from former Soviet republics, Asians and Africans.

But this case was unprecedented in involving a gang attack by members of ethnic minorities, who are usually the victims of such violence. A defense lawyer alleged the two men who were attacked came to the Metro after being invited on the Internet by someone posing as a victim of abuse by ethnic minorities.

“Although the prosecution comes under [the crime of] ‘hooliganism’, it really isn’t about that. The two sides met after keeping in touch on the Internet. The meeting resulted in the attack. It’s just that this time it wasn’t in favor of the skinheads. I know for sure the victims were connected to skinhead organizations – although they deny it,” said another defense lawyer, Aga Manafov.

Combating racial hate crime has become a state priority, and a lawyer for one of the victims warns of a backlash if it’s not controlled.

“Those two young men were not the only victims of such gangs. If the authorities don’t protect the population, it’s no surprise the population will take matters into their own hands. This is absolutely legal and within the law, giving the right to citizens of self-defense,” Sergey Stashevsky says.

Meanwhile, the defendants' lawyer insisted her clients did arrange the meeting but they were not part of an organized gang.

“These boys barely knew each other at the time of the incident. They were not organized and did not plan this attack in advance,” said Tatyana Prilipko.

It didn’t take long before the police found all the suspects. Two were arrested and five others were banned from leaving Moscow.

The case became more complicated after one of the accused was killed in September.

Rasul Khalilov was shot dead while awaiting trial, and a Russian nationalist organization took responsibility for the crime.

“The appearance of the Black Hawks or similar gangs was widely expected. We monitored the situation for two years and even issued warnings that with the number of skinheads growing, ethnic minorities could also unite in gangs to counter them,” said Public Chamber member Kamilzhan Kalandarov.

The case was delayed several times, and various far-right groups have been following it closely – as well as friends of the attackers. Many believe the outcome of this process may become a touchstone for society.