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MOSCOW, November 28 (Itar-Tass) — The sentence passed on Caucasus-born martial arts athlete, who was found guilty of negligent murder of a Russian student, cannot but cause social tensions to soar, experts say. However, they agree that any other verdict would anger this or that part of society. The people’s response to this high-profile trial has proved fresh evidence of the Russian society’s diagnosis – it is gravely ill with nationalism.
On August 13, 2011 after a verbal quarrel in front of a Moscow night club mixed martial arts world champion, Dagestan-born Rasul Mirzayev, punched Russian student Ivan Agafonov, who had to be rushed to hospital only to die several days afterwards. Mirzayev soon came to the investigators of his own accord and was detained after questioning. As the court has found out Agafonov had insulted Mirzayev’s girlfriend. Also, the student was drunk.
The affair caused a great stir in Russian society. There have been five forensic examinations. None of them established a direct link between the athlete’s punch and the student’s death.
As the trial proceeded, the charges against Mirzayev were eased. Originally he was accused of “premeditated infliction of grave harm to health eventually leading to negligent death” and faced a maximum prison term of fifteen years. Later the charges were changed to “negligent homicide.” This angered the Russian nationalists, who suspected that the investigators had been bribed by the Dagestani community.
The sentence was passed on Tuesday. Mirzayev was found guilty of causing negligent death, which is punishable with a maximum jail term of two years. This is precisely what the prosecutors had insisted on. The accused has already spent in custody more than a year, and the prosecutor asked the court to count one day under arrest as two. Mirzayev was set free in the court room.
The judge ruled that the athlete’s freedom of movement should be restricted for two years. He is obliged to stay in the Kizlyar district of Dagestan and avoid showing up at crowded events.
Many of those present in the court room were yelling “Shame” and “A Russian man’s life isn’t worth anything!” and some threats and insults addressed to Mirzayev. Ivan Agafonov’s relatives blamed the “very mild” verdict on the authorities’ reluctance to spoil relations with the Dagestani community.
Judge Andrei Fedin told the media that Mirzayev’s actions were re-interpreted under a milder article in connection with the stance taken by the prosecutor’s office. Besides, the court found some mitigating circumstances, such as Mirzayev’s small child, his decision to give himself up to the authorities, and the assistance he rendered to the injured student. The judge said that he had not experienced any pressures and passed the sentence after scrupulously studying all circumstances.
Public Chamber member, chairman of the club Multi-Ethnic Russia Alexander Sokolov is quoted by the RBC Daily as saying that there had been pressures on the court – from nationalist organizations, and this is the reason, he says, why the case took so long to consider. “The nationalists are using this situation for scoring political points. But I believe that we are to make a choice and either to act in accordance with the law, or agree to cater to the public opinion, which is obviously spoiled with the virus of nationalism,” Sokolov said.
Political scientist Alexei Makarkin agrees that of the two evils the authorities have selected the smaller one in order to avoid unrest in Dagestan. “Obviously, the authorities have far less fears of nationalist rioting in Moscow,” he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “The court had procrastinated with pronouncing a sentence as long as it could.”
The leader of the movement The Russians, Dmitry Dyomushkin, is certain: Mirzayev’s release will worsen ethnic tensions in the capital and spark street conflicts. One of the leaders of the National-Democratic Party, Vladimir Tor, has said that the nationalists are plotting “asymmetric retaliation.”
“The authorities do not want to turn an attentive ear to the voice of Russians – may they hear the voice of the street then,” he said.
Throughout last Tuesday the social networks and blogs were brimming with nationalists’ calls for staging a protest action.
Several days to come may see harsh protests by the nationalists against the court sentence, says Sova center expert Natalya Yudina. The task of the police is to stay mobilized to the maximum extent, she said.
On Tuesday, as the sentence was being read out, ten nationalists were detained in front of the Zamoskvoretsky court. Toward the evening the police cordoned off Manezh Square in order to prevent clashes between youth groups.
In was in Manezh Square, at the foot of the Kremlin wall, that mass unrest and clashes with police took place on December 11, 2010. Some 5,000 gathered for a rally to remember football fan Yegor Sviridov, who died in a clash between a group of football fans and group of Caucasus-born men. Society interpreted the police’s response to the murder and the way the case was investigated as connivance with the suspects, which caused protests.
The Rasul Mirzayev case will not end with the passing of the sentence, it is fraught with entering into a new phase, says Ekho Moskvy radio station commentator Anton Orekh.
“This case is such a high-profile one for the sole reason Mirzayev is Caucasus-born. Besides, his punch entailed the death of a Russian guy. Any sentence would be bad. The court was at a loss. The original idea of sending Mirzayev behind bars for fifteen years gave way to another idea – freeing him in the court room. On the one hand, the court was under pressures from influential figures of Caucasus descent, and on the other, from the nationalists and the public opinion, which was by no means interested in forensic examinations, circumstances and other such matters. For the public opinion only one fact was of importance – a man from the Caucasus killed a Russian.”
Some important people at some important places must have considered all the pros and cons to have arrived at the conclusion that setting Mirzayev free would be more feasible than anything else. This decision is creating an ideal situation for repeating in Moscow something of the sort that took place in Manezh Square after Yegor Sviridov’s death.
The journalist recalled a similar affair in Samara, where Russian boxer punched to death another Russian by dealing nine blows. He is about to be tried for causing a negligent death.
“The sole reason is one Russian killed another Russian. So the public just does not care,” he said. “Courts make decisions not on the basis of justice, but on the basis of feasibility. Russians hate guests from the Caucasus. The authorities keep pretending all is calm and bright. In the meantime, gasoline is being poured onto a spark, bunches of firewood are being thrown in and a piece of cardboard is being waved to fan the little flame into a raging blaze.”