Russian Prosecutors Seek Suspended Sentence for Library Director

Natalia Sharina in court

Natalia Sharina appears in court on October 30. AFP PHOTO / ANTON STEKOV

Russian prosecutors are seeking a 5-year suspended sentence for Natalya Sharina, the former director of Moscow’s Ukrainian Literature Library who stands accused of embezzlement and “inciting racial hatred.”

Russian law prohibits the “‘mass dissemination’ of materials that the government designates ‘extremist'” and the country maintains a list of some 3,000 prohibited books that fall under this designation. Russian authorities raided the Ukranian Literature Library and Sharina’s personal residence in October 2015. Copies of banned books by Ukrainian nationalist Dmitry Korchinsky were allegedly found in the library, but Sharina and library employees maintain that the books were planted. 

Sharina went to trial late last year. She is charged with “inciting ethnic hatred and humiliating human dignity,” as well as embezzling about $54,000 from the library. Sharina also maintains her innocence on the latter charge, which stems from allegations that Sharina used library funds for a legal defense against extremism charges brought against her in 2013 (those charges were dismissed).

Russia and Ukraine have strained relations at best, stemming from Russia’s frequent military incursions into the country and interference with Ukraine’s sovereignty. Sharina and her lawyer argue that the whole situation is a political move based on tensions between the Russian and Ukrainian governments. “I do not understand the charge and so I do not feel any guilt,” Sharina told prosecutors during the trial. “I ask the respected prosecutor to explain what actions I actually took to spread enmity.”

Meanwhile, the city appears to be quietly shutting down the Ukranian Literature Library. The space is open, but it is void of books, which are supposedly being merged into another collection elsewhere in Moscow.  

A suspended sentence would mean that Sharina doesn’t serve jail time (aside from the months of house arrest she has already endured), but successful prosecution certainly wouldn’t bode well for the state of free expression in Russia.

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