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Russia: Controversy Grows Around Beheading Video

The video has sparked intense debate in Russia (ITAR-TASS) August 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Interior Ministry says it is investigating --> an Internet video purporting to show the brutal killings of two men -- a Tajik and a Daghestani -- by Russian ultranationalists. One suspect has so far been detained.

The grisly footage continues to fuel intense debate in Russia and has raised a number of questions. Who is behind it? Is it authentic? And should such videos be permitted on the Internet?

According to the Russian search engine Yandex, the video is currently the most discussed topic on Russian-language Internet blogs.

Footage Withdrawn

The footage was first posted on August 12 by a user of the LiveJournal blog. It was rapidly pulled from most websites on which it had subsequently appeared.

The graphic scenes were also withdrawn from LiveJournal. But Anton Nosik, a representative of Sup, the company that oversees the Russian section of LiveJournal, says the site has taken no action against the blogger who first posted the video.

"It is necessary to control the Internet in order to bar the spread of such films. But this is impossible in a country where authorities exert a strong control over ideology. Authorities would ban everything linked to opposition activities." -- Oleg Panfilov

"Preliminary censorship is, of course, impossible on the Internet," Nosik says. "People post what they feel must be posted, and write what they feel must be written. There is a list of things that LiveJournal users agree not to do, but posting pictures of an execution is not on the list. There is a clause forbidding comments that incite ethnic hatred, but whether it applies to this particular video is an open question."

The video shows two men kneeling on the ground in a forest, their arms and legs bound. Behind them hangs a large flag with a Nazi swastika.

A third man beheads one of the captives with a knife, a disturbing scene that lasts a full 90 seconds. The second captive is shot in the head and drops forward into a freshly dug grave.

Two masked men then raise their arms in a Nazi salute.

Unknown Group May Not Exist

The video is accompanied by a note from an organization calling itself the National Socialist Party of Rus. The note declares the start of the party's "armed struggle against colored colonists and the Russian bureaucrats who support them." It also calls for the resignation for President Vladimir Putin and the establishment of a government run by Dmitry Rumantsev, the leader of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Society.

Russia has seen a surge in racially motivated attacks in recent years, and videos purporting to show Russian skinheads killing dark-skinned foreigners appear on the Internet with alarming regularity.

But Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA center, a private organization that monitors hate crimes in Russia, says this is the most graphic footage to date. He says the video seems authentic, although the name of the organization behind it is likely an invention.

"Nobody knows about this group, so one can assume such a group doesn't exist," Verkhovsky says. "I think they are neo-Nazis who did that firstly to show what they are capable of, and secondly to undermine their rivals in neo-Nazi circles. They hinted that they are linked to the Moscow organization called the National Socialist Society. It is obvious that no organization is ready to take responsibility for such crimes."

Many Internet bloggers identifying themselves as ultranationalists have condemned the film.

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration's leader, Aleksandr Belov, branded it a "provocation" intended to discredit Russian nationalists.

The Interior Ministry has reportedly opened a probe into the video's content. Russian media reports quoted an Interior Ministry spokeswoman as saying investigators claim the servers on which the video was published are hosted by "foreign states."

Authorities in the southern republic of Adygea announced today they have detained a man for his alleged role in distributing the video.

"The prosecutor's office of the city of Maikop is carrying out an investigation into the statement of a citizen who says that on August 13 he posted information on the Internet about the murder of two people received by him via e-mail," Vasily Guk, Adygea's deputy prosecutor-general, said.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, however, has yet to comment on the case.

Should Content Be Screened?

A number of media outlets have chosen not to cover the video's publication on the grounds that this would give neo-Nazis publicity.

The disturbing scenes have also raised questions of whether Russian internet providers should do more to screen content.

But Oleg Panfilov, who heads the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, says Russia is not yet ready for new laws that would regulate what goes on the Internet.

"It is necessary to control the Internet in order to bar the spread of such films," Panfilov says. "But this is impossible in a country where authorities exert a strong control over ideology. Authorities would ban everything linked to opposition activities."

But Panfilov does not exclude the possibility that Russian secret services themselves posted the video on the Internet.

A number of political analysts say the video could have been shot by neo-Nazis but used by secret services to justify tough antiextremism legislation due to come into force within days.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Putin to veto the new package of laws, which it says intends to "silence critics" in the run-up to key parliamentary and presidential elections.

(RFE/RL's Russian and North Caucasus services contributed to this report.)

From RFE/RL's Russian Service

From RFE/RL's Russian Service
By Danila Galperovich

The appearance on Russian websites of a video recording showing the apparent murder of two men alleged to be Tajik and Daghestani has sparked a firestorm among Russia's Internet users -- and a fairly modest response from its law-enforcement organs. The official sites of the Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, and the Prosecutor-General's Office offer no information about investigations into the murders and a search for the perpetrators.

Links to the video first appeared on the afternoon of Sunday, August 12. Twenty-four hours later, the links no longer worked. By then, however, the recording had become one of the 30 most-viewed recordings on the blogosphere, according to the Russian Internet portal and search engine Yandex. Internet chat sites were dominated by discussion of the video -- among nationalists and ordinary users alike.

Internet users calling themselves defenders of the white race or Russian nationalists are continuing to discuss who and what's behind the video. The members of one fascist Internet community have expressed the opinion that the recording is a provocation, posted in order to give the state a pretext to put pressure on nationalist groups. Internet users less inclined toward analytical efforts said simply they hoped to see more such films soon.

Still another group, the National Socialist Society, opined: "From the moment Vladimir Putin called supporters of the 'Russia for Russians' slogan idiots and provocateurs, to the moment when the same Vladimir Putin said -- mumbling and with stipulations, but still -- something about the role of Russians in forming the state, not much time had passed."

It seems many of these web-savvy Nazi supporters are confident that many in law enforcement and the special forces already secretly share their point of view -- and that there's no point in provoking their anger now by criticizing them on the web.

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