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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Gets Update on Extremism Fight

The justice minister and prosecutor general gave the country's recently approved extremism law high marks at a State Duma forum Wednesday but acknowledged that they remain at a loss on how to distinguish extremism from other crimes.

"Extremism is a new type of crime, and we haven't developed any practical approaches to investigating it," Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov told lawmakers.

"We also have no experts who can determine which activities by suspects constitute extremism," he said. "That is why many cases against them collapse in the courts."

He urged the Justice Ministry to create under its aegis a body of experts to help investigators to define extremism, particularly religious extremism.

Despite difficulties in defining extremism, the new law signed by President Vladimir Putin three months ago is making it easier for the authorities to handle radical groups, Justice Minister Yury Chaika said.

Among the law's provisions, a court can now order the closure of an organization whose members make remarks deemed to be inciting ethnic hatred.

"Under the new law, we can bring even unregistered organizations to court and demand that they be disbanded," Chaika said.

"We also have the power to check that organizations' activities comply with not only their own charters but also the federal law."

Using the extremism law, an Omsk court is currently considering banning the local branch of the ultranationalist Russian Unity Party, he said. Six of the party's 26 branches have been ordered to disband in the past six months, he said.

In Pskov, the Justice Ministry has opened an investigation into the local Freedom Party, which uses a Nazi swastika on its official seal and distributes Hitler's "Mein Kampf" to members.

Before the law was adopted, Nazi symbols were banned only in Moscow under a municipal law.

Chaika said courts have shut down 110 public organizations since the start of last year. Twenty were linked to extremism.

Ustinov said courts only heard 30 cases related to inciting ethnic hatred in the first nine months of 2002, although 292 extremist attacks were registered in 16 regions during the same period.

"This amounts to only 0.02 percent of all crime, but it means tens of dead people, hundreds of maimed and, most important, an atmosphere of terror in the country," he said.

He said statistics on extremism are heavily underestimated because police often refuse to register complaints and, at times, sympathize with skinheads.

However, Ustinov said he believed that many attacks against ethnic minorities were not motivated by hate but by greed. He said many attacks involved robbery.

Speaking about skinheads, to whom a number of recent racist attacks have been attributed, Ustinov said there are 200 groups uniting only about 1,000 teenagers in Moscow alone. Police have put the number as high as 3,000.

"There are only a few of them, but they can easily become a mobilizing force for large-scale violence," Ustinov said.