Russia’s State-Sponsored Violence against Activists

Cathy Young published this opinion piece about the attack on Lev Ponomarev last week, and today it is being carried by the International Herald Tribune.

Ponomarev, 67, was assaulted by three men outside his apartment building in Moscow and suffered head and chest injuries. In a ghoulish twist, according to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Ponomarev’s biographical page on Wikipedia was altered to include April 2, 2009, as the date of death – 10 minutes before the first news reports of the attack.

Ponomarev’sfamily and colleagues are certain he was targeted for his activism -which includes protests against the new trial of former oil tycoonMikhail Khodorkovsky, participation in the Solidarity oppositionmovement, and general vocal criticism of authoritarianism and humanrights abuses.

This doesnot necessarily mean that the Kremlin is directly implicated in thecrime. However, some Russian bloggers believe that Nashi (“Our Guys”),the pro-government youth group known for its thuggish tactics, may havebeen involved: The ominous Wikipedia alteration has been traced to thecity of Ryazan, a major center of Nashi activism.

Whoeverthe perpetrators may be, the government bears a major share ofculpability for at least two reasons. First, over the past decade,high-level Russian officials and the state-controlled media havesystematically whipped up hatred and contempt toward rights activistsand dissenters, portraying them as treacherous hirelings of the West.Second, the Kremlin’s reaction to earlier acts of violence against itscritics – including high-profile murders – has been indifferent at best.