VORONEZH - A court in southern Russia sentenced three young men to long prison terms on Thursday for the racist killing of an African student, a day after President Vladimir Putin called for more tolerance in society. Footage shown on Russian television showed the court in Voronezh convicting two men aged 20 and 22 and a student of 16 on charges of murder and fomenting racial hatred.
The older defendants, both manual workers – one of whom was described as the main "ideologist", were given sentences of 10 and 17 years each. The student was given nine years in jail. A prosecutor was shown setting out testimony that the three had repeatedly struck a medical student from Guinea-Bissau in February and then stabbed him after he had fallen to the ground.
Books promoting racial supremacy and demographic policies of Nazi Germany were found at the homes of the trio, former members of the far right-wing Russian National Unity group. In remarks on Wednesday, Putin urged Russians not to give in to hatred he said extremists were trying to encourage to thwart the Kremlin's drive against terrorism – intensified after recent attacks blamed on Chechen separatists.
Those attacks have been accompanied by incidents reflecting a rise in brutality and mistrust against people clearly identified as non-Russians. Much of it has been directed at Muslims from southern Russia and nearby ex-Soviet states. The accounts of the Voronezh trial said the defendants only partially admitted guilt. All denied espousing racial hatred.
Roman Ledenyov, sentenced to 10 years as an accomplice, told the dead student's relatives he understood the seriousness of the charges. "But please believe us that long sentences will be just as difficult for our families as this is for you," he said from the metal cage used for those accused of serious crimes.