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Protests flare up in Russia’s Bashkortostan over 4-year “hate speech” sentence handed to local activist

The Baimak District Court of Bashkortostan has sentenced local activist Fayil Alsynov to four years in a penal colony for inciting hatred or enmity (Part 1 of Article 282 of Russia's Criminal Code), as reported by Ostorozhno Novosti and Verstka.

In the oral argument, the state prosecution demanded that Alsynov be sentenced to four years in a penal settlement – a minimum security penitentiary facility in the Russian criminal justice system.

During the penultimate court session in Alsynov’s case, up to 5,000 locals gathered outside the courthouse to support the activist, according to the estimates of local media and Telegram channels. They chanted: “Free Fayil Alsynov!” “Azatlyk!” (the Bashkir for “Freedom!”) “Fayil, we’re with you!” “Bez kara halyk” (“We are the common people!”) and “More will come!”

Anticipating the announcement of the verdict, another several thousand people came to the courthouse. The road leading to the building has been blocked, and mobile Internet is being jammed in the city. Local chats are reporting police brutality and arrests at the rally. Several dozen people appear to have been arrested.

According to witness footage, the riot police have been using truncheons, smoke grenades, and tear gas. The protesters retaliated by tossing gloves, hats, and chunks of snow.

Another local activist, Salavat Idelbayev, was subpoenaed as a witness and taken to the FSB.

Russia's Investigative Committee initiated criminal proceedings against Fayil Alsynov in August 2023 at the request of the head of the republic Radiy Khabirov. The incident that caught his attention was Alsynov's statement at a public meeting in the village of Ishmurzino on April 28, 2023.

According to the investigators, Alsynov's address, which was delivered in Bashkir, “featured statements containing a negative assessment of the following groups: residents of the Caucasus, residents of Central Asia, and Armenians – and humiliating their dignity.”

For one, speaking about the consequences of gold mining for the region, Alsynov said that “Armenians will return to their motherland, kara halyk to theirs, Russians will go back to Ryazan, Tatars to Tatarstan,” and Bashkirs will stay in their land because they only have one home.

The expression kara halyk literally translates as “black people” and is used in modern Turkic languages as a synonym of “common folk,” according to Idel.Realii. However, Aynur Khuzhakhmetov, a researcher from the Ufa University of Science and Technology who carried out the expert linguistic examination, interpreted it as a synonym of derogatory terms typically used in reference to people of Central Asian descent or natives of the Caucasus.

Alsynov made a name for himself by protecting the Kushtau Shihan, a large chalk hill in Bashkortostan, from industrial mining. He was among the leaders of the activist group that prevented the start of work. Up to 2019, Alsynov headed the unregistered civil society group Bashkort. In 2020, the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan labeled Bashkort an “extremist organization” and banned its operation.

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