Russian beaten by Chechen leader's son is jailed for Koran burning


  • World
  • Wednesday, 28 Feb 2024

Defendant Nikita Zhuravel, who was detained in May 2023 under a law against offending religious believers' feelings after he burned a copy of the Koran outside a mosque in Volgograd city, attends a court hearing in the Chechen capital of Grozny, Russia, February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov

TBILISI (Reuters) -A Russian man who publicly burnt a copy of the Koran was jailed for three and a half years on Tuesday in the Russian region of Chechnya.

The case of Nikita Zhuravel drew international attention last year when Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov published a video in which his son Adam was shown beating and kicking the defendant while he was in prison awaiting trial.

Russian media outlet SOTA Vision published video showing Zhuravel standing in a white-barred courtroom cage to listen to the sentence.

He was then shown being told by a reporter to apologise, to which he responded: "I ask for forgiveness from all Muslims for insulting their religious feelings by my action."

Zhuravel, 20, was detained in May 2023 under a law against offending religious believers' feelings after he burned a copy of the Koran outside a mosque in the Russian city of Volgograd, 800 km (500 miles) from Grozny.

Russian investigators transferred his case to Chechnya. The Investigative Committee, which handles serious crimes, said this was because they received many messages from Chechnya residents asking to be designated injured parties.

Chechnya has an overwhelmingly Muslim population and its pro-Kremlin leader Kadyrov has portrayed himself as Russia's foremost defender of the Islamic faith.

State news agency TASS reported that Zhuravel pleaded guilty to the charges, repeatedly apologised in court, and said he had not thought about the consequences of his actions. The Investigative Committee has said that he was paid to burn the Koran by Ukrainian intelligence.

Last September, Kadyrov published a video in which his teenage son Adam was shown kicking and punching Zhuravel while the latter was being held in pre-trial detention. Kadyrov said he was proud of the boy for defending his Muslim religion.

Kadyrov enjoys wide leeway from Putin to run Chechnya as his personal fiefdom in return for ensuring the stability of the region, which fought two separatist wars with Moscow after the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the beating incident drew criticism even from pro-Kremlin hardliners.

Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of a Russian lawyers' association called Pervy Otdel (First Department), said Zhuravel's sentence might seem lenient, given he had been facing up to 10 years, but he had been subject to beating and public humiliation.

(Reporting by Felix Light and Mark TrevelyanEditing by Alexandra Hudson)

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