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Fail Alsynov (center) during the January 15 protest

Hundreds of protesters in Russia’s Bashkortostan demand activist’s release and governor’s dismissal

Source: Meduza
Fail Alsynov (center) during the January 15 protest
Fail Alsynov (center) during the January 15 protest

Residents of Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan held a major protest on Monday in support of Fail Alsynov, an activist facing charges of “inciting ethnic hatred.” The rally took place in the city of Baymak, where a local court was hearing closing arguments in Alsynov’s case.

Protesters began gathering outside of the court building at about 8:30 a.m. local time, the opposition Telegram channel Kushtau Bayram reported. According to the channel, “all available” law enforcement units were sent to Baymak ahead of the protest, and authorities checked individuals’ documents as they drove into the city.

Meduza estimates based on video footage from the scene that about 1,000 people came to protest at the court building. Kushtau Bayram reported that about 5,000 people took part in the event, and that about half of them remained in their cars. According to the independent outlet Agentstvo, the protest was one of the largest Russia has seen since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. As of this article’s publication, the Russian Interior Ministry’s Bashkortostan branch has not given an official figure for the number of protesters at the rally.

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In a speech to the protesters, an unnamed activist called for Bashkortostan to be put under external rule and for the republic’s governor, Radiy Khabirov, to be dismissed. (According to the RFE/RL affiliate Idel.Realii, the case against Alsynov was opened at Khabirov’s request.)

“We’re not extremists, we’re not Nazis — we’re the people!” the activist told the crowd. “We’re people who want our constitutional rights to be respected. We want the law to be observed. The law shouldn’t only be followed when it benefits leader Khabirov. We demand the dismissal of the leader of the Republic of Bashkortostan [Radiy] Khabirov, and we ask for external rule to be imposed, because we should be able to live in peace — especially when the situation in the country is so tense. We’re not extremists, we’re the multiethnic people of the Republic of Bashkortostan. We support justice!”

The protest in Baymak, Bashkortostan

The protesters responded enthusiastically to the speech, chanting, “Khabirov — out! Khabirov — out!” When Fail Alsynov arrived for his hearing, the crowd welcomed him and began chanting his name. According to Idel.Realii, other chants heard at the rally included “Freedom for Fail Alsynov,” “Azatlyk” (the Bashkir word for “freedom”), “We’re with you, Fail,” and “There will be more of us!”

Amid the protests, the Baimak District Court postponed Alsynov’s sentencing until Wednesday. Monday’s hearing, which was closed to the public and the media, included oral arguments from both sides as well as the defendant’s closing statement. After the proceedings, Alsynov said he was surprised by the number of people who came out to support him.

On January 11, state prosecutors asked the court to sentence Alsynov to four years in prison. The request sparked a wave of protests in his defense as well as video statements from local cultural figures expressing their support for him.

Fail Alsynov is one of Bashkortostan’s most well-known public figures. He’s taken part in numerous protests in the republic, including one in support of the Kushtau shihan, a hill considered sacred by many Bashkirs, when a company was granted a license to mine the limestone inside it. He also served as the leader of Bashkort, a political organization advocating for the sovereignty of Bashkortostan that was declared extremist by the Russian authorities and dissolved in 2020.

Alsynov was arrested in October 2023 in Bashkortostan’s capital city, Ufa, and charged with a felony for a speech he gave in opposition to a gold mining project. In the speech, he referred to migrant workers using a Bashkir-language term that the Russian authorities have characterized as a racial slur but that, according to Agentstvo, carries a meaning closer to “simple folk” in modern Bashkir.

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