UFA, Russia -- A court in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan has postponed the trial of a prominent local activist, Fail Alsynov, after a court-appointed Bashkir-Russian interpreter was unable to properly translate the hearing.
The preliminary hearing on November 20 lasted until 10 p.m. because translator Firdausa Gazizova was very slow and, according to the defense, was misinterpreting the judge's questions and the defendant's answers.
The halting hearing and the postponement underscored hurdles and tension in regions where the first language of large portions of the population is their native tongue rather than Russian.
Judge Tatyana Mukhina, an ethnic Russian, rejected the defense request to use its own interpreter. But after the hearing dragged on long after dark, she adjourned the trial until November 22.
Alsynov, the leader of the cultural organization Bashqort, is charged with organizing an unsanctioned public gathering in late September in the village of Temas, where local residents clashed with seasonal workers from the Chechnya region.
Alsynov -- whose organization promotes Bashkir language, culture, and equal rights for Bashkirs -- demanded the trial be held in his native Bashkir language, saying that his Russian was not good enough.
All Alsynov's statements and speeches at the public gathering in question were in Bashkir, not Russian.
Tension over language has increased in the past year or so in Russia's so-called "ethnic" regions, where indigenous groups make up a large portion of the population.
President Vladimir Putin said in July 2017 that children in these regions must not be forced to learn languages that are not their mother tongues, and ordered prosecutors to determine whether that was taking place.
That led to moves by officials to abolish mandatory indigenous-language classes in the regions.
The move caused an outcry in Bashkortostan and other regions where local languages have official status alongside Russian.
About one-third of Bashkortostan's 4 million residents are Bashkir, while 39 percent are ethnic Russians and 25 percent are Tatars.