Russia is afraid of books

On June 5 Natalya Sharina was sentenced by a Moscow court to four years in prison, with suspended sentence. She was found guilty of keeping in the public library she directed books banned by Russian law.

That’s Russia who is afraid of books. The same Russia that three years ago staged scenes from the Third Reich: it was March 14, 2014 when some Russian ultranationalists made abonfire in Sinferopol with a pile of Ukrainian history books.

The same Russia that charges the director of a library charged with inciting hatred because the police - as in a Fahrenheit 451 scene - finds books on her shelves. "Extremist" works of "anti-Russian propaganda".

Natalya Sharina, 59, head of Moscow's Library of Ukrainian Literature since 2011, was already at home arrest for more than a year during the trial. Now it comes the four-year sentence, suspended by the Meshchansky district court in Moscow. The prosecutor had asked a five years sentence.

A court decision that highlights the (Ukrainian) witch-huntthat is predominant not in occupied Crimea but in the whole Russia.

Dangerous books

"This highly politicized case runs totally counter to justice and highlights serious flaws in the independence of Russia’s judiciary. Natalya Sharina should not have been prosecuted, still less convicted," Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said following the verdict.

Amnesty started an international campaign to end all allegations against Natalya.

"The prosecution has exploited the highly charged anti-Ukrainian atmosphere that is prevalent in Russia at the moment, while the court simply dismissed key evidence for the defense, including testimonies that police officers were seen planting the banned books at the library," an Amnesty statementreads.

Books like illegal objects, like drug used to frame a political activist, as explosive found in anterrorist's home. But the problemis not who put those books on the shelves, whether the police or Natalya. The point is that nobody should be sentenced to jail for “illegal holding of books”.

Extreme extremism

The incriminated books are by Dmytro Korchynsky. Someone who is an euphemism to call an extremist. Someone who founded an ultra-nationalist and fundamentalist organization, "Bratstvo", that himself calls "Orthodox Taliban" or "Christian Hezbollah." Someone who was expelled from the extreme right organization Untso (now merged into Pravy sektor) with the accusation of extremism. Someone who professes a Christian jihad against Russia. Someone who should read books - and many others - instead of writing them.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to allow the logical leap from the intellectual condemnation of Korchynsky's ideas, to the criminal conviction of anyone who owns, reads or sells his books. Because the next step is something we have already seen happening in Europe of the twentieth-century totalitarianism. And we hoped we already left it behind.


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