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15 May, 2008 16:49

Racist bombers sentenced to life for market blast

Eight members of an extremist nationalist group found guilty of causing a deadly explosion at Moscow’s multi-ethnic Cherkizovsky market in 2006 have been jailed. Four of the ringleaders were sentenced to life while the other four were given terms of betwe

Two of the gang were sentenced to 20 and 13 years respectively, while another pair got two years each. The sentences handed out were some of the harshest ever seen for this type of crime in Russia.

Chief Prosecutor Sergey Chemichev said he was happy with the court.

“This is a fair sentence. Despite whatever patriotic slogans they used, the jury decided that what they were actually guilty of was the murder of women and children. The punishment fits the crime,” Chemichev said.

The explosion at the Cherkizovsky market left 14 people, including two children, dead. Another 47 were injured.

The market place is home to thousands of immigrant traders. The majority of the victims were from Asia and the North Caucasus.

An investigation into the blast led police to the ‘Spas’ extreme nationalist group which operated under the cover of a martial-arts club.

The market bombers were charged with premeditated murder committed on the grounds of ethnic and racial hatred.

Prosecutors claim the group also carried out a number of other terrorist acts.

Defence lawyers say the sentences are unfair and plan to take the case to the Supreme Court.

“To lock up such ordinary, young Russian lads, without giving them the chance to have a life. Nikolay Korolev, the leader, is a deeply religious man. He only regrets that people had to die, not the blasts,” Dmitriy Bakharev, said Nikolay Korolev's lawyer.

Sova, a leading independent hate crime watchdog, says the number of hate crimes has been rising sharply year on year. Head of Sova, Aleksandr Verkhovskiy, says the tough sentences could help save lives in the future.

“A severe sentence sends out a signal to those belonging to similar organisations. A lot of them are wavering in what to do about their beliefs. This shows them that such behaviour is risky, whereas in years past they might have thought they'd get away with it. Public perception is sometimes more important than statistics,” Verkhovskiy said.

Russia's hate crimes are attracting greater attention from the media and the authorities. But only the next few years will  tell whether this will be enough to resolve the problem.