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"War of experts" breaks out at trial of Pomor man accused of inciting racial hatred towards Russians

25 January 2013 

Source: Open News Agency 

Ivan Moseyev. Photo: Ivan Moseyev for Open News Agency.

On 25 January in the Oktyabrsky district court in Archangelsk, where a trial into a case of inciting hatred towards the ethnic group Russians is taking place, two linguists from the Northern (Arctic) Federal University and its Severodvinsk campus were questioned. 

Expert Natalya Oskolkova found that the comment "What are you doing to us? You are millions of cattle while there are only 2,000 of us," for which Pomor man Ivan Moseyev is being prosecuted, "contained information designed to insult the dignity of Russians." Linguist Tatyana Sidorova said in court that the questions put to Oskolkova "were not formulated correctly, and the expert's conclusion is without basis and does not take into account all the linguistic facts." The lawyer representing Ivan Moseyev, legal analyst for the Agora Human Rights Association Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, and lawyer Veniamin Belov asked for Oskolkova's expert testimony to be removed from the case materials and for her evidence to be declared inadmissible.

"The questions put to Oskolkova and the answers she gave do not comply with the requirements of the Plenum of the Supreme Court on judicial practice in cases involving extremism," said Akhmetgaliyev. "The Plenum resolution states that investigators have no right to ask questions, and experts have no right to answer and draw conclusions, about whether there was or wasn't incitement to hatred or hostility towards any particular group. The expert Oskolkova to all intents and purposes usurped the powers of the court in drawing a conclusion about the existence of linguistic extremism. Any question about whether this was or was not a case of extremism should be decided by the court alone and no one else. Linguists evaluate words, phrases and sentences. The expert Sidorova pointed out the existence of such a resolution by the Plenum of the Supreme Court, and linguists should be guided by it. Today there was a real war of experts in court. A war of linguists with different approaches and positions. In the end the expert Sidorova explained how her colleague overstepped her jurisdiction in responding to legal questions."

Specialist/expert at the Laboratory of Linguistic Marketing at the Linguistic faculty of the Humanitarian Institute of a branch of the Northern (Arctic) Federal University, Associate Professor Natalya Oskolkova, who holds a PhD in Linguistics, at the request of the regional Investigative Committee conducted a linguistic analysis. Criminal Investigator, Senior Lieutenant of Justice Petrov asked her to answer the following questions:

1. Is the information posted on the site by the user POMORY... intended to incite hatred or hostility, and insult the dignity of a person or group of people on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin, religious faith or membership of a particular social group, completely publicly or through the use of the media?
2. Is the material posted on the site... evidence of extremist views on the part of its author?

The expert Oskolkova came to the conclusion that the comments being analysed contained information intended to incite public hatred based on ethnicity and intended to insult the dignity of Russians specifically. She said that the comments "were put into the public domain.. so that .. the information contained in them was publicly available." And finally the expert witness Oskolkova drew the conclusion that "the comments being analysed could be regarded as verbal extremism, insofar as they contributed to inciting inter-ethnic hatred and were publicly available," says a correspondent for the Open News Agency.

Specialist in the field of Russian language, text linguistics, verbal conflict resolution studies and legal linguistics, who holds a PhD in linguistics, Professor at the faculty of Russian language and verbal culture at the Institute of Linguistics and Intercultural Communication at the Northern (Arctic) Federal University named after Lomonosov Tatyana Sidorova, who has over 40 years' experience, including 20 as an expert, today appeared in court as an expert witness.

"The analysis of the materials on the site, the conclusion of the expert witness Oskolkova and the decision to conduct a judicial linguistic analysis show that the questions posed to the expert were not formulated correctly and the conclusion of the expert is unsubstantiated and does not take into account all the linguistic facts," was the conclusion of the expert Sidorova.

She said that the controversial phrase contained "no indication of any well-known nationalities or races," and that "the millions could be any people." She stressed that "it was the opponents of the user POMORY who were setting the Russians against the Pomors..., the user POMORY was not creating any such opposition, even equating Pomors and Russians ("Are there really any non-Russian Pomors?")

Secondly, the expert Sidorova concluded that the humiliating nature of the word "cattle" in this context is not using the dictionary definition but is evoking an image of an "inarticulate crowd."

"Thirdly, the form of expression is an opinion-stroke-forecast," said Sidorova. "On the whole, the expression under analysis is using the field of speech as a form of self- promotion (the linguistic field to contrast an inarticulate crowd with specific individuals who are fighting for their rights) in response to a threat."

A decision on Ivan Moseyev's defence team's request to remove Natalya Oskolkova's analysis from the case materials and declare her evidence inadmissible will be made when the court delivers its judgment. The next court session in this trial will take place on 30 January 2013. It is due to start at 10:00 am.

Ivan Moseyev, the 47-year-old director of the Pomor Institute of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities research and education centre at the Northern (Arctic) Federal University named after M.V. Lomonosov is accused of inciting hatred and hostility towards the ethnic group "Russians" (Part 1 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The prosecution of Moseyev is being brought by the Federal Security Service.

According to investigators, Moseyev published comments on the internet "containing degrading descriptions and a clearly expressed negative and unfavourable emotional evaluation of the ethnic group "Russians," inciting public hatred towards this ethnic group on the basis of ethnicity." The civil activist is pleading not guilty.