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Example with a context:

Mr. Yashin told the BBC that Mr. Nemtsov had not been a prominent critic of radical Islam and had concentrated his attacks on President Putin and his government.

My understanding is that if he was speaking to the BBC at the present moment, the sentence would sound as follows:

Mr. Yashin tells the BBC that Mr. Nemtsov has not been a prominent critic of radical Islam and has concentrated his attacks on President Putin and his government.

But since we shift the whole shebang to the past, the verb tense sequence must shift accordingly. Am I correct with this? That's my first question.

On the other hand, if I changed the verbs to simple past tenses, do you think the sentence would still sound equally fine? That's my second question.

Mr. Yashin told the BBC that Mr. Nemtsov was not a prominent critic of radical Islam and mostly concentrated his attacks on President Putin and his government.

2

In these particular circumstances your rewrite is not possible.

Use of the simple past in the backshifted version implies that at the time of the original statement a simple present was in order. For instance, it would be quite acceptable for the BBC to have written

Mr. Yashin told the BBC that the theory suited the Kremlin and took President Putin out of the firing line.

representing a present-tense report that

Mr. Yashin tells the BBC that the theory suits the Kremlin and takes [President] Putin out of the firing line.

based on Yashin's actual statement

"The investigators' nonsensical theory about Islamist motives in the killing suits the Kremlin and takes [President] Putin out of the firing line."

And it would be equally acceptable here if the BBC reported it with present tenses in the reported statement, since presumably Yashin's characterization of the theory still holds at press time:

Mr. Yashin told the BBC that the theory suits the Kremlin and takes President Putin out of the firing line.

However, the statement about Nemtsov cannot be handled this way. As in my example, your simple-past rewrite implies a present-tense version

Mr Yashin tells the BBC that Mr. Nemtsov is not a prominent critic of radical Islam.

But at the time of the original statement Mr. Nemtsov was dead, and it is inconceivable that Yashin actually said

"Nemtsov is not a prominent critic of radical Islam."

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