Russian law-enforcement agencies focus on tracking down bloggers and users of social networks who post “extremist” statements online, rather than making a concerted effort to tackle genuinely “dangerous” ultra-nationalist groups and individuals, a report published this week said.
The report by the Moscow-based Sova center, which monitors racially-motivated attacks in Russia, said that although the number of prosecutions for the promotion of race-hate was rising, the overall effect was misleading.
The Sova report said 113 people had been prosecuted for the online promotion of “extremist” sentiments in 2007-2011, with figures rising sharply from 10 in 2007 to 52 last year. Only one person was jailed, however, the report noted.
“Out law-enforcement system is more and more actively using forums, blogs and social networks to create the illusion of a battle with extremism,” commented Anton Nosik, web pioneer and media director of SUP, the company that owns Live Journal, Russia’s most popular blogging platform.
“It’s easier to catch fools, than criminals,” Nosik also noted, in a blog post.
The Sova report said that the authorities were guilty of the entirely “selective” and “random” targeting of bloggers and social network users in their online “battle against extremism.”
“As a result, society, law-enforcers, and radical groups of different types have no clear understanding of what should be forbidden,” the report said.
Russia has been plagued by right-wing violence in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Last year, at least 37 people of "non-Slavic appearance" were murdered by extremists across Russia, according to statistics complied by Sova,
Natives of Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, as well as labor migrants from impoverished Central Asian states such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are often victims of race-hate attacks in Russia, with perhaps the most horrific example being the beheading of a Tajik national near Moscow in 2008.
But Sova said earlier this year that the number of xenophobic attacks in the Moscow region had declined in 2012, largely due to the disbandment of an ultra-nationalist gang by police.
And this week’s Sova report singled out a notable police success in online efforts to tackle right-wing extremism.
“An example of the effective use of the internet was the November 3-4, 2009 arrest by law-enforcement officers of Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis, who were later jailed for the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova,” the report said.
Sova said the two ultra-nationalist activists were detained after law-enforcement officers “monitored right-wing radical websites and tracked them through a chain of IP addresses.”
“Unfortunately, we know of few similar examples,” the authors of the report said.
The 2009 murders of Markelov and Novaya Gazeta journalist Baburova made international headlines and police came under intense pressure to find their killers.
The Sova report said ultra-nationalist groups continue to use the Internet to coordinate race-hate crimes
“Ultra-nationalists feel both a sense of confidence and that they are beyond the legal system when online,” the report read.
Marketing research company ComScore ranked Russia first in Internet use among 18 European countries surveyed last September, with 51 million users. Germany was second.