These days Russian courts have a pretty bad rep, partly because of notorious cases like Magnitsky and Pussy Riot. But, as if it wasn't bad enough already, sometimes it seems that Russian judges are actively working to sabotage their own credibility. After all, how can one not react with outrage upon learning that Alexandra Lotkova, a pretty, twenty-one year old college student, got three years in prison for using a non-lethal gun [ru] to protect herself from knife-wielding thugs, who had already stabbed one of her friends! Not only that, but the thugs were never even charged with anything! Even though Lotkova's non-lethal gun-shot did in fact penetrate the lung of one of her alleged victims, he survived, and anyway, surely he had it coming?
Outrage was precisely how people reacted when blogger Vlad Naganoff, a colleague of Alexey Navalny and gun rights activist, represented the news in this fashion [ru], citing security camera footage of the incident (it occurred at a subway station) and adding a flattering photo of Lotkova. His post was picked up by Navalny and quickly spread through tweets and reposts, as did the outrage at the corrupt court system, the Putin regime, and Russian law enforcement's views on use of force for self-defense. As it turned out, what seemed like a clear cut case of judicial incompetence and/or corruption, was a bit more complex. As often is the case with RuNet, bloggers were quick to jump to conclusions, preferring emotions to facts.
For example, one group particularly outraged by the verdict were RuNet nationalists. These bloggers latched on to the Tatar name of one of the people involved in the fight — Ibragim Kurbanov. Kurbanov was part of a group of three young men involved in a physical altercation with Lotkova's friends, and was shot in the stomach by Lotkova in the process. She later alleged he had a knife, which he was using to stab her friends. This was apparently all that was needed for nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom [ru] to fashion Lotkova into some form of racial hero defending Moscow from Muslim foreigners and other “darkies”:
Сашенька поступила как русская. […] без травмата Сашеньки страшно пьяный погром чурбанов точно бы кого-нибудь зарезал, и Саша сделала все правильно, остановив порыв души прекрасного гостя столицы.
Sashenka [Alexandra] did as a Russian would. […] without Sashenka's air-gun the horribly drunk darkie pogrom would have stabbed someone to death, and Sasha did everything correctly, stopping the impulse of the lovely guest of the capital [regular nationalist euphemism for migrant].
That the chief investigator and the prosecutor in the case also had Tatar names also means that conspiracy is in the works [ru]:
Разве могут быть у Дианы Гайнуллиной претензии к Ибрагиму Курбанову?
Can a Diana Gainullina have any complaints about Ibragim Kurbanov?
Others, like journalist Sokolov-Mitrich, made the comparison [ru] of Lotkova's case to that of Rasul Mirzoev, the Dagestani MMA fighter accused of manslaughter who was released last year with a very mild probationary sentence. Sokolov-Mitrich insinuated that Mirzoev was let off easy on some affirmative action or corrupt basis, while Lotkova got the full brunt of the law because she is Russian and one of her victims is “ethnic”. Nationalist blogger Natalia Holmogorova also made a list [ru] of comparative cases where the ethnic Russians seem to have gotten the short end of the stick.
Beyond the irony that Kurbanov was with his two ethnic Russian friends (one of whom got the punctured lung) during the fight, there is also the fact that apparently all those involved, on both sides [ru], were antifa [ru]. Antifa, or afa, is short hand for anti-fascist — an anti-racist, often left-wing sub-category of the skinhead movement that has gained traction in Russia over the years. Contemptuously called “curs” (shavka, from shAFka, шАФка) by rival nationalist skinheads (fa, bones, boneheads, боны), antifa use street tactics to combat racism and Nazism and, like many skinheads, are no strangers to a fight. Indeed, at first some people assumed [ru] that if Lotkova's friends got into a disagreement with Kurbanov, who is apparently a well known antifa [ru], then Lotkova's group had to be fa, or nationalist skinheads.
If Lotkova indeed identifies herself as a member of either group, she is hardly the “modest, and even shy person” as described [ru] on Facebook by the provost of her school, the prestigious Plekhanov Economic University, Sergey Markov. The fight wasn't at all defenseless university students pitted against a group of street thugs (one of whom apparently happens to work at a bank). Upon close examination, the rest of what happened also becomes less outrageous. Some people went back to the source footage, and started to have second thoughts about the whole story. In the words [ru] of journalist and activist Arkady Babchenko:
Что-то при более детальном рассмотрении записи у меня сомнения появились. Как-то здесь не все так гладко, как она описывает, по-моему.
So after a more detailed view of the recording I've started to have doubts. It seems that it's not all as smooth as she describes.
Not only do the two groups appear to be evenly matched, apparently there was no knife involved in the fight. This observation was made by people [ru] who have reviewed [ru] the full eight-minute video [ru], particularly internet media-baron and EdRoss Duma deputy Konstantin Rykov on his Twitter account (a collection of his tweets on the subject was collated by the LiveJournal user politcreative [ru]). The fact that Rykov and other pro-government bloggers are picking apart this incident is, of course, suspicious — there is certainly an incentive for them to mitigate the scandal. However, they do seem to have a point, especially when taking into consideration the first hand account of one of the participants of the fight, Ivan Belousov, found on a public VKontakte discussion [ru]:
Все это выдумка про ноживые ранения хворостова про мифический нож которым якобы Ибрагим махал и кричал что всех убьет. В ходе следствия были дапрошены не только та и другая сторона, но и полицеский, стажер кторый был рядом сним, девушка с парнем которые оказывали первую помощ белоусову, дежурный по эскалатору и не кто из них некокого ножа не видел!
It's all made up about Khvorostov's knife wounds about the mythical knife Ibragim supposedly waved around and threatened to kill everyone. In the course of the investigation both sides were interrogated, as was the policeman in training who was near by, a guy and girl who gave first aid to Belousov, the escalator operator and none of them saw any knife!
No knife was found after the fight. The wounds allegedly inflicted on Lotkova's friend turned out to be merely a scratch [ru] — one that hardly looks like it was inflicted with a blade. In fact, none of Lotkova's friends reported their injuries to the police. Furthermore, Lotkova's claims of self-defense are weak at best, since most of the shots were fired while she herself was not being attacked physically.
Meanwhile, the buzz and indignation spreading through RuNet seem to have had an effect. People are gearing up for a rally [ru] to free Lotkova on March 23, and the President's Human Rights Council is taking her case under review. Hopefully it helps — whether Lotkova is actually guilty or not, and whether or not her case is getting exploited by nationalists, she probably did not deserve as harsh a sentence as she got. Russian prisons are no joke, even for a skinhead.