Head of Moscow's Ukrainian library convicted of incitement against Russians

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of Russia’s only state-run Ukrainian library was convicted on Monday of inciting hatred against Russians in a case that she compared to a Stalin-era political show trial.

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Armed, masked police arrested Natalya Sharina in October 2015, confiscating books that the authorities called illegal anti-Russian propaganda.

The raid followed Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and an uprising by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and came at a time when pro-Kremlin politicians were regularly calling Ukraine’s leaders fascists.

Sharina, 59, has been held under house arrest and has always denied wrongdoing. Library staff testified in court that they had seen police officers planting the books, an allegation that investigators rejected.

A Moscow judge on Monday dismissed Sharina’s arguments and found her guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and of a separate charge of misappropriating funds.

She handed Sharina a four-year suspended prison sentence, against which Sharina said she would appeal. Ivan Pavlov, her lawyer, said she would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if the appeal was unsuccessful.

Sharina, wearing a white blouse, said she was upset and surprised by the verdict, for which she said there was no evidence.

“The state prosecutor admitted herself during the proceedings that this was a political case,” Sharina told reporters after the ruling.

“Not one single book featuring on the current list of extremist literature today was present. People will probably recall this in a couple of decades ... in the same way as we remember 1937 (the height of the Stalin-era show trials).”

The British-based human rights group Amnesty International said Sharina’s conviction showed “utter contempt for the rule of law” and reflected “the highly charged anti-Ukrainian atmosphere that is prevalent in Russia at the moment”.

Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature, which housed a collection of 52,000 books and periodicals, is formally still open, but its shelves have been emptied and its volumes packed up, ready to be merged into another library’s collection.

It traces its history back to 1918, reflecting centuries of close cultural ties between Russians and Ukrainians, and has, in various incarnations, weathered a Stalin-era clampdown on Ukrainian literature and the political turmoil of World War Two.

“The library that was founded has in essence been destroyed,” Sharina said.