Russia hands down criminal charges following rare large protest

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Activists in Bashkortostan face 15 years in prison on charges of organising ‘mass riots’, assaulting public officials.

Russian authorities have laid serious criminal charges against four people following a large protest in the central region of Bashkortosan.

Security forces in the city of Ufa, in the Urals mountains, arrested the fourth suspect on Sunday evening, local media reported. The charges follow protests by thousands last week over the jailing of an Indigenous rights activist. Police were swift to crack down on what was a rare large showing of dissent in Russia since Moscow’s war against Ukraine started.

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Dim Davletkildin was detained after being summoned by police in the town of Baymak, the scene of the rally, which was sparked by the sentencing on Wednesday of Fail Alsynov to four years in a penal colony.

Among the charges faced by Alsynov’s fellow activists are organisation of “mass riots” and assault of public officials, reported the OVN-Info monitoring group. The charges carry a potential sentence of 15 years.

OVD-Info added that authorities have already opened dozens of lesser administrative cases, accusing demonstrators of joining unsanctioned rallies.

The same court in Baymak, 1,400km (870 miles) east of Moscow, that last week sentenced Alsynov for inciting ethnic hatred has jailed several people for eight to 15 days for taking part in the protest, which saw police pelted with snowballs. The authorities responded with tear gas.

The charges against Alsynov followed a speech he delivered last year as locals opposed plans for the development of a gold mine.

The regional governor said the activist had made racist comments about people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Alsynov claims that his words were mistranslated from the Bashkir language.

The protesters said the verdict was delayed revenge for his role in protests years prior, when activists successfully blocked plans to mine for soda on a hill considered sacred by locals.

Large protests are rare in Russia due to the risks of arrests. Thousands of people have been detained in the past two years for opposing the war.

Often coming from regions with few economic prospects, Indigenous peoples from across Russia have been actively courted by recruitment officials and heavily represented in the ranks that Russia has sent to the front line in Ukraine.

Alsynov was fined last year for criticising the invasion online, saying the war was not in Bashkortostan’s interests.

He heads Bashkort, a grassroots movement working to preserve the culture, language and ethnic identity of the region’s people that was banned as an “extremist organisation” in 2020.

Bashkortostan is an oil-producing region of 4.1 million people and is one of more than 80 entities that make up the Russian Federation.

The Bashkir ethnic minority are among Russia’s 260,000 people who are recognised as Indigenous to Russia.

Indigenous peoples living in Russia have long fought for their rights and to protect their traditional territory, which is often located in areas that are used for natural resource extraction, such as mining.

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