Skinheads Get Mild Sentences

The St. Petersburg Times/March 12, 2004
By Galina Stolyarova

Three skinheads on trial for the murder of an Azeri man in 2002 received mild sentences from the St. Petersburg City Court on Thursday.

Alexei Lykin, 18, was released, on the grounds that he had already served enough time in detention to cover the crimes for which he was convicted.

Fellow assailants Maxim Firsov, 17 and Vyacheslav Prokofiyev, 17 were sentenced to 4 and 7 years in a prison colony respectively. All three had pleaded not guilty.

Watermelon vendor and father of eight Mamed Mamedov, 53, was beaten to death next to his stand on Ulitsa Aviakonstruktorov in the Primorsky district on Sept. 13, 2002 .

A group of about 20 assailants, some of them armed with metal bars, approached Mamedov about 8:30 p.m.and beat him for about 2 minutes. After making sure he was dead, they fled.

The killers filmed the murder.

Police seized the videotape, which showed the group beating Mamedov to death, within days of the killing. The tape showed that they were armed, had shaved heads, and appeared to be in their teens.

Police detained 120 people in relation to the murder yet only three have been convicted.

Lawyer Zaur Akhadov, who represented Mamedov's family, said the outcome was disappointing.

"Two of the assailants were under the age of 16 when they committed the crime, which limited the sentence to a maximum of 10 years," he said. "It is all the more frustrating if we consider that the film shows Mr. Mamedov being beaten by 20 to 25 people."

Judge Andrei Ponomaryov said Firsov received only a 4-year sentence because Mamedov did not die directly from Firsov's stabs to the vendor's chest.

The judge also ordered that Lykin, who was initially charged with organizing the murder, be released. This was because although convicted of inciting the others to beat Mamedov and of racism - Lykin hadn't directly participated in the beating. He had spent about 18 months in pre-trial detention, the judge said.

Akif Gasymov, executive director of the Azeri National and Cultural Community in St. Petersburg, said the community was outraged by the verdict.

"Just think what they did to the poor man," he said. "They can't get away with such a laughable punishment. We are going to appeal the decision in the arbitration court."

Mamedov's widow lives in Azerbaijan. He is survived by seven daughters and one son.

Mamedov's murder is a rare case because a racial motive has been proven.

Although the criminals denied any ethnic grounds for the crime, arguing they wanted to beat Mamedov for selling rotten watermelons, the video tape and witnesses provided evidence to the contrary.

Several witnesses recalled Lykin and Prokofiyev shouting racist slurs. Lykin was particularly loud. On his way from the metro station to the watermelon vendor he was shouting loudly at any Caucasian-looking man, exclaiming things like "Get out of Russia, you dirty faces!"

Firsov's mother, Olga Firsova, said at a court hearing last month that it was her son's video camera that had recorded the killing.

Her son did not appear in the clip after the murder, she said.

"The witnesses that were standing there said that his friend filmed the killing and he [Firsov] stood near the friend because he was afraid that his camera would be broken," she said.

Boris Pustyntsev, head of the St. Petersburg branch of international human rights group Citizens' Watch, said evidence of racism, which can be crucial to a prosecution, is often very difficult to get.

"There is often a desire to present attacks as hooliganism, and the skinheads themselves describe their actions as hooliganism, if they admit them at all," Pustyntsev said.

The Mamedov case was no exception.

"We weren't going to kill him, we wanted to beat him for selling rotten stuff," Prokofiyev said in his last speech before the verdict Thursday. He described his actions as hooliganism.

Ponomaryov said the killers could have been sentenced for longer terms if there was a proof of a premeditated murder. But all witnesses available to the investigation were saying that the plan to beat the Azeri man was spontaneous.

The judge said the youths had gathered to prepare for a fight with rappers.

"Because the murder was apparently spontaneous, the actions of Firsov and Prokofiyev are qualified as 'excessive use of force leading to death,'" he said.

Attacks on ethnic minorities in St. Petersburg have increased dramatically over the past two years. At least four murders have been reported.

The most recent case was murder of nine-year-old Tajik girl Khursheda Sultanova, who was killed in February. Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered the killers to be found and suggested "a merciless show trial" be organized to demonstrate the will of the city authorities to confront ethnically motivated crimes.

But lawyer Akhadov said the real test of City Hall's will was the Mamedov trial.

"This is the first case to reach the court and the sentence should have set an example," he said. "Merely convicting people is not enough, they must receive an appropriate sentence."

Vladislav Piotrovsky, deputy head of the St. Petersburg police, said the city has 30 informal youth groups with a nationalist bent, with 17 of them being right-wing extremists.

The investigation into Schultz-88 was finished this month, and the case has been passed to the city court.

The group's leader, 24-year-old Dmitry Bobrov and his six fellow members face charges including hooliganism, inciting racial hatred and forming an extremist organization.

Olga Tseitlina, a lawyer with the St. Petersburg office of the Russian Committee of Lawyers in Defense of Human Rights said vast majority of crimes against ethnic minorities in St. Petersburg not only never reach the court, but are not even reported to the police.

"We have to remember that most of the dark-skinned people attacked by skinheads are illegal migrants," she said. "The last thing they want is contact with the police, so even if they are in a serious trouble they are highly unlikely to ask a policeman for help. They would rather try to take care of things by themselves. The police only have to check their documents to deport them."

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