Tatar Man Who Claimed Language Discrimination Faces Hate Charges

A man in Tatarstan who complained that regional tax authorities and a bank did not provide services in the Tatar language has been charged with inciting ethnic hatred.

Andrei Sheptitsky of the Investigative Committee's Tatarstan branch told RFE/RL on April 23 that the charge against Almaz Imamov stemmed from his social-media posts.

Imamov said that in his posts, written in 2017-18, he criticized the federal authorities for "discrimination of the Tatar language and culture in Tatarstan," but never intended "to incite hatred."

In late March, prosecutors in the city of Nizhnekamsk rejected a complaint by Imamov, who claimed that his rights were being violated because he was unable to receive services in his native language, Tatar, which is an official language in Tatarstan.

The prosecutor's office said at the time that although both Russian and Tatar are official languages in the region, state bodies are not obliged to have their websites in Tatar.

"If citizens do not [understand] Russian, they have a right to [communicate with] official bodies in Tatar," it said.

But Imamov says his complaint was about general services provided by Sberbank and the tax authorities, and was not related any special case.

In recent months, the language issue has been a subject of controversy in Russia's so-called "ethnic" regions, where indigenous, non-Russian ethnic groups are well represented.

President Vladimir Putin said in July that children in these regions must not be forced to learn languages that are not their mother tongues, and ordered prosecutors to determine whether that was taking place.

That led to abolishing mandatory indigenous-language classes in the regions.

The move caused an outcry in Tatarstan and other regions where local languages have official status alongside Russian.