Russian police have cracked down on a large protest in the far eastern region of Bashkortostan after an activist was jailed.
The protest broke out after a court in the town of Baymak sentenced Indigenous rights activist Fail Alsynov to four years in a penal colony on Wednesday. His supporters, estimated by some to number up to 3,000, gathered in protest, which would make it one of the largest demonstrations in Russia since the start of its war against Ukraine.
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Alsynov was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred during a speech delivered in April at a protest opposing plans for the development of a gold mine in the region about 1,380km (860 miles) east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.
The regional governor said the activist had made racist comments about people from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Following the sentencing, Alsynov’s supporters clashed with police, who fired tear gas and detained dozens, local media reports said.
The protesters said the verdict was delayed revenge for his role in protests years prior when activists successfully blocked plans to mine for soda on a hill considered sacred by locals.
“Huge thanks to everyone who came to support me. I will never forget this. I don’t admit my guilt. I always fought for justice, for my people, for my republic,” Alsynov told a reporter from the online media outlet RusNews.
The activist claims that his words during the speech last year were mistranslated from the Bashkir language.
Videos on social media showed a large crowd gathered in Baymak in temperatures hovering around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). Some reports said several thousand people were present, making it the biggest protest since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Large protests are rare in Russia due to the risks of arrests. Thousands of people have been detained in the past two years for opposing the war.
Alsynov was fined last year for criticising the invasion online, saying it was not in Bashkortostan’s interests.
The activist is the leader of Bashkort, a grassroots movement working to preserve the culture, language and ethnic identity of the region’s people. It was banned as an “extremist organisation” in 2020.
Bashkortostan is an oil-producing region of 4.1 million people and is one of more than 80 entities that make up the Russian Federation.
The Bashkir ethnic minority are among Russia’s 260,000 people who are recognised as indigenous to Russia.
Indigenous peoples living in Russia have long fought for their rights and to protect their traditional territory, which is often located in areas that are used for natural resource extraction, such as mining.