February 26, 2024

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Russia protest: Crowds clash with riot police with activist jailed

Russia protest: Crowds clash with riot police with activist jailed
  • Written by Robert Greenall
  • BBC News

Video explanation,

Watch: Crowds throw snowballs at riot police during clashes outside the courthouse

Russian riot police fired tear gas and beat protesters with batons in Bashkortostan on Wednesday after a human rights activist was sentenced to four years in prison in a penal colony.

Video footage showed clashes between Phil Alsenov's supporters and police – some of whom threw snowballs – near the court.

Alsenov was imprisoned on charges of inciting ethnic hatred, which he denies.

Monitoring group OVD-Info said one protester suffered a “smashed head,” and dozens were arrested and injured.

The trial and protests took place in Baymak in southern Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

The authorities opened an investigation against some of the demonstrators on charges of “mass riot,” which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Bashkortostan Interior Minister Rafail Devayev warned the demonstrators, saying: “I advise you to come to your senses and not ruin your lives.”

Local journalist Artur Asafiev told BBC Russia that the authorities were trying to make an example of the protesters and Alsenov. The sentence imposed on the accused was more severe than the sentence requested by the public prosecutor.

He added: “They knew that a harsh sentence would anger people.”

Some reports say that several thousand people participated in the demonstration, which lasted for several days in temperatures reaching around minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Mr. Asafiev added that people in Bashkortostan are already accustomed to protests over environmental issues and have come from miles around this remote city.

“People were not afraid of arrest and came out even though Baymak was five hours away by car [regional capital] Ufa,” he said.

Protesters were seen chanting in support of Alsinoff, and there are reports that some tried to block the entrance to the courtroom after the verdict was announced.

Russian investigators said law enforcement officials were among those injured in the protests, and claimed that protesters used “objects as weapons.”

Comment on the photo,

Large demonstrations are rare in Russia

Tear gas was reportedly fired and protesters were seen throwing snowballs at police lines behind riot shields.

OVD-Info said the activist was now chased away from the court amid applause from his supporters who began to disperse.

Alsenov is accused of insulting immigrants during a demonstration against gold mining plans, but his supporters said it was delayed in retaliation for his activity in preventing soda extraction in an area that locals consider a sacred place.

He is said to have called Central Asians and Caucasians, who make up most of Russia's immigrant population, “blacks,” a term considered derogatory in the Russian language.

But he insists that the words he used in Bashkir meant “poor people” and were mistranslated into Russian. He intends to appeal the ruling.

“I do not accept guilt,” he told reporters as he was led away. “I have always fought for justice, for my people, for my republic, so we will see each other again…

“People came to support me, and I don't know what's going to happen. We didn't want that. Thank you so much to everyone who came to support me.”

Alsenov has also criticized the military mobilization in the region in the past as a “genocide” of the Bashkir people, a Turkic ethnicity closely related to the Tatars who inhabit the Southern Ural Mountains.

There have been long-standing allegations that a disproportionately large number of Russia's ethnic minorities are being sent to fight in Ukraine.

Alsenov was the leader of the Bashkort Movement, a grassroots movement founded to preserve the ethnic identity of the Bashkirs, which was banned as extremist in 2020.

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