13 convicted of hate-crime attacks in Russia

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Moscow court on Monday convicted 12 teenage boys and a man of committing a series of vicious ethnic attacks, including the murder of a chess champion who was a member of Russia's Yakut ethnic group.

The attacks, which were videotaped, set to heavy music and widely disseminated on Web sites, prompted widespread outrage among many Russians and again focused attention on the country's increase in race attacks and hate crimes.

The Moscow City Court sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 4 1/2 years to 10 years after convicting them of crimes including ethnically motivated assault, murder and attempted murder, court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva and city prosecutors said.

The group's oldest member, 20-year-old Ivan Kalinichenko, was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment in addition to being imprisoned 10 years. The others were 18 years or younger.

Prosecutors said the group attacked more than 10 people over several months in late 2007. Among the victims was Sergei Nikolayev, a 46-year-old professional chess player from Yakutia who was accosted, beaten and stabbed to death on Oct. 20 on a busy Moscow street. Yakuts are a Siberian ethnic group that have largely East Asian physical features.

Homemade video of Nikolayev's killing was widely broadcast on Russian Web sites and later on Russian newscasts, along with other attacks.

Footage from the court, broadcast Monday by state-run TV, showed the teenagers in a holding cell, posing for the cameras, smiling, joking and dancing. One held a piece of a white paper with a happy face drawn on it.

As bailiffs led the group from the court, one made a straight-armed Nazi salute as others yelled "Glory to Russia!" and "We Will Build a New Russia!"

Defense lawyer Maria Malakhovskaya said in televised comments the group was innocent of any crimes, saying they had been motivated by what they had read on the Internet. She said she would be appealing some of the convictions.

Russia has seen an alarming increase in hate crimes in recent years, with skinheads and nationalist groups targeting dark-skinned, non-Slavic-looking immigrants from the Caucasus and former Soviet Central Asia. Officials have been criticized for downplaying hate crimes and classifying many cases as incidents of hooliganism — a lesser crime.