Hate Crimes Grew by 13% Last Year

Hate crimes are on the rise in Russia, with a growing number of attacks resulting in fatalities, while authorities often exploit xenophobic sentiments for political purposes, the Sova rights group said Tuesday.

Sova said in its annual report that 67 people were killed in ethnically or racially motivated attacks in 2007, and more than 550 were wounded across the country -- a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

There has been "an obvious steady rise in racially motivated violence," Sova deputy director Galina Kozhevnikova said, adding that the attacks are becoming more brutal.

"Neo-Nazis are out not to beat up [their victims], but to kill," she told reporters.

Kozhevnikova said that in 2007 courts delivered only 24 convictions related to hate crimes, and said authorities turn a blind eye to ultranationalists' actions, such as public marches "as long as they abide by certain rules -- do not criticize authorities, show loyalty and stick to city outskirts."

She also said pro-Kremlin youth groups were beginning to use the methods of nationalist groups. The best-known group, Nashi, has in its marches ahead of the December elections used ethnic and racist slogans such as "We won't let migrants rule [Russia]."

The government did not immediately comment on the report; Maxim Karyakin, a duty officer for the Prosecutor General's Office, said the office had not seen the report, though he said prosecutors had been invited to attend the news conference.

Nashi spokeswoman Kristina Potupchik denied that her organization uses racist slogans, saying that part of Nashi's agenda was to fight xenophobia.