A Russian Court will today consider whether the Voice of Beslan – an organisation led by grieving Russian mothers who lost their children in the 2004 Beslan seige – should be outlawed as an extremist organisation.
Their extremist crime? To accuse President Putin of being complicit in the deaths of their children.
The Moscow Times provides some background on the open letter that triggered this prosecution:
The 2005 letter, addressed to “Everyone sympathetic to Beslan’s tragedy” and posted on the group’s web site, says “none of the acts of terrorism that occurred during Putin’s presidency has been investigated properly” and that Putin has become “the guarantor for the terrorists” by not punishing senior officials for the botched Beslan rescue operation.
I cannot think of a more graphic demonstration of the weakness of the current regime, and its over-sensitivity to criticism than this prosecution.
True, under Russian law, such criticism of the President is technically illegal – the law was amended in 2006 to bring public slander of a government official within the legal definition of extremism,
But has anyone considered whether this prosecution is actually in the public interest? How will the Russian public be served by prosecuting a protest group led by greiving mothers?
Surely (and assuming that Putin isn’t complicit), the most sensible way forward for the Russian authorities is to accept that grief causes mothers who have lost their children to lash out, and accept this as a natural expression of their anguish?
Instead, by prosecuting these mothers as extremists all Russia does is trivialise its, and the world’s, ongoing struggle against real terrorists.