Rights activist condemned to prison in Russia

The detention sparked clashes between the police and rioters in Bashkortostan

Violent clashes erupted in Bashkortostan on Wednesday, as riot police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters who rallied in support of a rights activist sentenced to four years in a penal colony.

The activist, Fail Alsynov, was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred, a charge he denies. Video footage showed his supporters throwing snowballs and scuffling with police near the court in Baymak, a town in southern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.

One protester suffered a “smashed head”, and dozens more were injured and detained, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests in Russia.

The protests, which lasted for several days in freezing temperatures of around -20C, drew thousands of people, some reports said. They chanted slogans in favour of Alsynov, and some reportedly tried to block the court’s entrance after the verdict was announced.

Russian authorities said they had opened a criminal investigation into some of the protesters for “mass rioting”, which could lead to up to 15 years in prison.

Bashkortostan’s Interior Minister Rafail Divayev urged the protesters to “come to their senses and not ruin their lives”. Russian investigators said some of the protesters used “objects as weapons” and injured law enforcement officers. Police fired tear gas and wielded riot shields to push back the protesters, who threw snowballs at them.

Alsynov was taken away from the court amid applause from his supporters, who then began to disperse, OVD-Info said.

Alsynov was accused of insulting migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, who form the majority of Russia’s migrant population, by calling them “black people”, a pejorative term in Russian. He claimed that he used the word in the Bashkir language, which means “poor people”, and that it was mistranslated into Russian.

He said he would appeal against the verdict. He spoke to journalists as he was escorted out of the court: “I do not accept guilt. I have always fought for justice, for my people, for my republic, so we will see each other again… The people came to support me, and I do not know what is going to happen. We did not want this. A huge thank you to all who came to support me.”

Alsynov was also a leader of Bashkort, a grassroots movement that aimed to protect the ethnic identity of the Bashkirs, a Turkic people related to the Tatars who live in the southern Ural mountains.

He had previously criticised the military mobilisation in the region as “genocide” of the Bashkir people.He had also opposed plans to mine for gold and soda in the area, which he considered sacred.

Bashkort was banned as an extremist organisation in 2020.

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