Russian authorities declare war on racist gangs

Russian authorities declare war on racist gangs

Following a week which has seen one gang of extremists receive long prison terms - including life sentences - and another skinhead gang arrested and charged with racist killings, it seems there might be light at the end of the tunnel as the forces of law and order get to grips with the scourge of racist violence on the streets of Moscow, RT reported.

Eight young men and one woman are due to stand trial accused of 19 murders and 13 attempted murders. The Moscow Prosecutor's Office brought the charges after an investigation into more than three dozen racial attacks around the city between August 2006 and April 2007.

Currently eight of the nine so-called 'skinheads' are in custody. One has been released on condition he remains in the city.

Last April two Moscow students, Artur Ryno and his friend Pavel Skachevsky were arrested on suspicion of killing an Armenian businessman.

Later Ryno confessed to 37 racially-motivated crimes, and more arrests followed. A total of nine people aged from 16 to 22 are now charged with murder or attempted murder.

Investigators say the members of the gang kept in touch via mobile phones and the Internet. Then they would get together for what they called 'actions'. Their attacks were always sudden and had one purpose only - to kill. The gang went out on manhunts in the evenings, attacking men they considered non-Slavic.

Fifty-three people have been killed in hate crimes this year, which is three times as many as over the same period in 2007. These figures have motivated authorities to take a tougher stance. Now more crimes are being investigated as racial attacks - and, crucially, more are coming to court.

Earlier this week eight extremists were found guilty of a 2006 explosion in the Cherkizovo market that left 14 dead and 47 injured, most of whom were immigrants from the North Caucasus and East Asia.

"The fact that this case found its way to court, and the example of people sentenced to life for the Cherkizovo market blast shows that we are moving in the right direction - but there's still a lot to do," Semyon Charny from the Moscow Human Rights Bureau believes.

Russia's hate crimes are attracting greater attention from society, media and the authorities. Last spring, a billboard campaign in the streets of Moscow promoted racial tolerance. However, only the next few years will show whether this will be enough to resolve the problem.

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