Russia files criminal charges after rare large protest News of the Russian-Ukrainian war

Activists in Bashkortostan face a 15-year prison sentence on charges of organizing “mass riots” and assaulting public officials.

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

Local media reported that security forces in the city of Ufa in the Ural Mountains arrested the fourth suspect on Sunday evening. These charges come in the wake of protests in which thousands participated last week due to the imprisonment of an indigenous rights activist. The police were quick to suppress what was considered a rare major display of opposition in Russia since the start of Moscow's war against Ukraine.

Dem Davletkildin was arrested after he was summoned by police in the town of Baymak, the scene of the demonstration, which broke out after Vel Alsenov was sentenced on Wednesday to four years in a penal colony.

Among the charges facing Alsenov's fellow activists are organizing “mass riots” and assaulting public officials, the monitoring group OVN-Info reported. The charges carry a potential penalty of 15 years in prison.

OVD-Info added that the authorities have already opened dozens of less serious administrative cases, accusing the demonstrators of joining unauthorized marches.

The same court in Baymak, 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) east of Moscow, that last week sentenced Alsenov on charges of inciting ethnic hatred, sentenced several people to eight to 15 days in prison for participating in the protest, which saw police pelted with snowballs. . The authorities responded by firing tear gas.

The accusations against Alsenov follow a speech he made last year when local residents opposed plans to develop a gold mine.

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

Protesters said the ruling was delayed in retaliation for his role in protests years ago, when activists successfully blocked plans to dig for soda on a hill considered sacred by locals.

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

Often hailing from regions with few economic prospects, indigenous people from all over Russia have been actively courted by recruiters and overrepresented in the ranks Russia has sent to the front lines in Ukraine.

Alsenov was fined last year for criticizing the invasion online, saying war was not in Bashkortostan's interest.

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

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

The Bashkir ethnic minority is among Russia's population of 260,000 people recognized as indigenous people of Russia.

Indigenous peoples living in Russia have long fought for their rights and the protection of their traditional lands, which are often located in areas used for natural resource extraction, such as mining.

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