Anastasia Denisova: Serving Victims of Hate Crime Violence in Russia
By Human Rights First
In 2011, Moscow’s premier hate crime monitoring group SOVA Center and leading direct service provider Civic Assistance Committee formed a groundbreaking project offering legal assistance to victims of violent racist attacks in Russia. They recruited Anastasia Denisova, a young activist working with Youth Human Rights Movement(YHRM), to lead it.
Direct service providers are a rare commodity for Russia’s many victims of hate crime, who usually have to rely on community or charity groups for help. Anastasia defends people like Anwar Yusupov, a Tajik migrant who was assaulted by Russian neo-Nazis only to later find himself facing a two-year prison sentence for “scaring off” the attackers.
Her work on behalf of hate crime victims in Moscow represents a second stage in her career. Persecution forced her to flee from her native Krasnodar, where she had established the organization “ETHnICS” to raise awareness about tolerance and nondiscrimination. In 2007, the authorities filed bogus tax charges against her. After she successfully contested these claims, police conducted a raid and confiscated three computers from an office they claimed was occupied by ETHnICS—accusing the group of using pirated software. It wasn’t their office and the software was legal. As a result, the organization lost staff while Anastasia had to flee the city for the first time.
Anastasia returned home in January 2010, and within hours the police carried out another raid. This time seizing computer items. Soon after, she was facing criminal prosecution, severe fines, and up to six years in jail for the purported use of unlicensed Microsoft software, which was in violation of Russia’s antipiracy laws.
Appeals to Microsoft’s U.S. headquarters on Anastasia’s behalf went unheeded, and Microsoft’s agent in Krasnodar also declined to help. Microsoft’s agent instead worked with Russian authorities and the prosecution to build a case against her. By the time the criminal charges were dropped in April 2010 for lack of evidence, ETHnICS was no longer a functioning organization.
Her case was not isolated, as this New York Times story and this Human Rights First report showed. In September 2010, thanks to the publicity surrounding her case, Microsoft announced a new policy aimed at ending selective enforcement of antipiracy laws against activists and journalists in 12 countries, including Russia.
Unable to use antipiracy laws against Anastasia, the authorities in Krasnodar accused her of “extremism” and blamed her for inciting racial tension. She realized that they would never let her work in the city and that it would be best to move to Moscow to start anew.
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