Monday, January 31, 2005
Coppola among Putin's western fans
Francis Ford Coppola won high praise from President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, and delivered a director's verdict on the president: good speaker, looks younger in person.
Coppola, in Moscow to add a Russian award to his pile of prizes, met with Putin in the Kremlin, hours ahead of a ceremony in which he received a Golden Eagle for his contribution to world cinematography.
Putin congratulated him on the honor in a televised portion of the meeting, saying that "I understand you can't be surprised by an award, you have so many."
"In Russia your works are well known and highly valued," Putin told Coppola, adding that he was not just referring to "The Godfather" but also to films "that so accurately tell of the horrors of war." "Apocalypse Now" was shown at a Moscow film festival in 1979.
Coppola, who came to tea with Putin along with his granddaughter and director Nikita Mikhalkov, praised Putin for his speech at commemorations Thursday marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, in which he spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism and said he was ashamed of its existence in his own country.
"I saw your speech in Poland the other day — excellent speech," Coppola said. "But in person you look much younger than you did on TV."
Coppola gave Putin a DVD of "Lost in Translation," which won his daughter Sofia Coppola an Oscar for original screenplay.
He told Putin that both he and Sofia had won their first Oscar at age 32, Itar-Tass reported. "Now your granddaughter must do it," Putin replied.
Coppola pointed out that that would mean four generations of Oscar winners. Coppola has won five of the awards and his father, Carmine Coppola, won for musical score on "The Godfather Part II."
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Central Asian leaders are nervous
Karimov has accused Western aid groups of helping the opposition:
"Examination of some Western aid groups has shown that their activity goes far beyond declared programs and it aims at certain goals," President Islam Karimov said in a speech to the new parliament, which was elected last month in voting that international observers said fell significantly short of democratic standards.
"We have enough power to curb the aid groups that violate our laws, I hope those sitting at the balcony understand that," he said, pointing at the loge where Western diplomats sit.
Kyrgyz activist warns of violence
A leading rights activist has warned of possible violence in the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
"The people will go to streets to protest," Ramazan Dyryldaev, chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, told IRIN from Vienna on Thursday, warning authorities in his homeland could resort to violence.
"Kyrgyz opposition and citizens are moving towards a Georgian or Ukraine-like revolution. I am getting information on that from various sources. At least there is already a move in that direction," he said.
According to Dr Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the IHF, there was widespread interference by the state apparatus and the courts (which were very closely related in Kyrgyzstan) in the campaign.
"The notion that the government should be neutral, promote a level playing field, and allow the citizens to choose their representatives in the legislative branch, seems absent," he told IRIN.
Opposition campaigns were harassed in the form of politically motivated charges by law enforcement officials and the right to peaceful assembly was being violated, the activist charged.
"There is no fair use of national electronic media. There is almost no independent media, most having been shut down by the state," he claimed, noting those that remained faced threats and obstruction.
Meanwhile, crude, heavy-handed entry into the elections by numerous family members of the ruling elite was particularly disturbing when accompanied by financial inducements to voters in some districts in the form of gifts from what were in effect state industries that had been placed under the private control of these ruling family structures, he maintained.
"People are saying that not only has President Akaev taken over the government, now he is trying to take over the parliament and that the authorities will stop at nothing in order to retain political control," Rhodes said.
PORA closing ceremony
On January 29, 2005 at 19.00 PORA will held closing ceremony of PORA Civic Campaign activities. The reception will take place at the reception-hall at hotel “Rus” (Gospitalna, 4, Kyiv, Ukraine )
President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, notable Ukrainian and foreign politicians, well-known civic leaders and artists will participate in the event.
The program of the evening will include the discussion of PORA campaign activity outcomes, campaign’s role in the national civic movement known as Orange Revolution and the further prospectives of the development of PORA.
At the event there will be an awarding ceremony of the outstanding PORA activists as well as of the PORA friends - representatives of political and business elite, who made a great contribution to the PORA civic campaign success and the victory of democratic forces in Ukraine.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Kyrgyz paper may face closure for publishing documents
Zamira Sydykova is chief editor of the newspaper ResPublika in Bishkek that recently published secret documents critical of the government.
The paper is refusing to disclose the source and Ms. Sydykova fears the paper could be forced to close in a few weeks.
"First the prosecutor will open the case against the newspaper and then send a letter to the printing house to stop printing of our newspaper and arrest our accounts," she said. "The TV media is controlled and owned by the family of the president. A lot of newspapers are owned by the government".
Tajikistan: Press freedom worsens
(Adil Soz/IFEX) - The following is a capsule report by the National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), an Adil Soz partner:
In the run-up to parliamentary elections, the state of press freedom in Tajikistan has worsened. NANSMIT's monitoring service has documented 337 violations of journalists' and media outlet's freedom of expression. The most significant problems included denial of access or restricted access to information of public interest as well as obstacles to distributing such information. In 2004, 123 violations of this kind were registered.
Authorities use various means to prevent journalists from accessing information of public interest, despite the fact that the Constitution and other laws guarantee the right to receive and distribute such information. Methods include the denial of accreditation to certain journalists or preferential status given to state-controlled media outlets with respect to access to information. These actions are generally undertaken on the orders of senior officials.
In one such case, Hikmatullo Bahodurov, an editor for "Pravo i obshestvo" newspaper, requested information from the Isfar City Land Committee on the procedure for allocating agricultural land. Committee officials demanded, however, that the editor get permission from both the Sogdyi region Land Use Committee and the Isfar city mayor before they could provide the information.
Media distribution has also suffered in the run up to the parliamentary elections. In one case, the 4 November 2004 edition of the Bishkek-based newspaper "Ruzi nav" was seized by tax police at Dushanbe airport. Authorities have not yet given any explanation for the incident. In another example, on 6 September, Tolibsho Saidov, founder of the new socio-political independent newspaper "Bomdod", based in Halton region, said that all publishing houses in Dushanbe, including the Sharki Ozod publishing company, refused to publish his paper for various reasons. The only exception was the Sanadvora printing house in Dushanbe, which currently publishes the paper.
Journalists have also been subjected to restrictions at court proceedings. On 30 December, Judge Faizali Nozilov, presiding over the trial of the weekly "Neriu Suhan" at the Firdavsi District Court in Dushanbe, barred journalist Valentina Kasymbekova from attending the trial. Kasymbekova then tried to get permission, but her request was rejected.
NANSMIT expresses its concern over these violations of Tajikistan's Constitution and its Law on the Press and other Media and calls on authorities to observe the above laws and to take appropriate measures to improve the freedom of expression situation.
For further information, contact Adil Soz, Zhambyl Street, 25, Office 706, Almaty, 480100, Republic of Kazakhstan, tel/fax: +7 3272 911 670, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: http://www.adilsoz.kz/
Religious crackdown in Belarus
After the deadline for compulsory state re-registration, it is uncertain what will happen to religious communities who are either still in the process of re-registering or who have been refused re-registration, Forum 18 News Service has found. Amongst examples of problems experienced by communities, that Forum 18 knows of, are that a non re-registered Hare Krishna community has been given an official warning, after police saw Krishna devotees praying without state permission. Two warnings are sufficient for the authorities to begin proceedings to liquidate a religious community. A Baptist church has had bank accounts closed, as bank staff told the church that it has to be re-registered to have an account, and a Reformed Baptist Church has been refused permission by the local architecture department to use a private house for worship. Without state re-registration, it is legally impossible for religious communities to meet for worship, or to engage in other religious activities. There are also other ways in which the state monitors, restricts and prevents the activity of religious communities.
Moldova looks West
WHEN Victor Yushchenko won the Ukrainian presidency, many Russians declared that Russia had “lost” Ukraine thanks to western meddling. Yet in Moldova, Russia is proving quite capable of losing an ally without western help. Four years ago, Moldova's Communist Party won election by promising pro-Russian policies, including eventual union with Russia and Belarus. Now they are chasing re-election in March by promising pro-western policies, including integration with the European Union. They changed course because even they could not stomach Russia's strategy of keeping Moldova divided and weak.
But will the new course bring Moldova any closer to building a normal economy and government? This post-Soviet wreck is the poorest country in Europe, heavily reliant on farming and foreign remittances. Yet voters may take a step in the right direction by weakening the Communist Party in the elections. Despite its new pro-western orientation, the party remains a secretive bureaucracy with dubious democratic credentials and a chokehold on the broadcast media. After opposition victories in Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is a “red stain in an orange sea”, says one local politician.
If Moldova is to achieve deep and irreversible change, however, the EU must offer it a clear path towards eventual membership. It has done this for the Balkan countries, which are no more European and no less troubled than Moldova. Its reluctance to talk of membership for Ukraine looks short-sighted: when Ukraine joins the queue, geography will dictate giving a place to Moldova too. The sooner the process is started, the less the danger of either country wobbling off-course.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Marinich support page
Maidan: Moldova next?
Anti-Semitism in Armenia
It began in 2004, when ALM, a private pro-government television channel, began broadcasting a phone-in talk show hosted by the station's owner, Tigran Karapetian. For months, Karapetian used the platform to air views that portrayed Jews as an unsavory race bent on dominating Armenia and the wider world.
Karapetian's rhetoric appeared to embolden Armen Avetisian, the openly anti-Semitic leader of the Armenian Aryan Union, a small ultranationalist party. Avetisian in a recent newspaper interview alleged that there are as many as 50,000 "disguised" Jews in Armenia, and promised he would work to have them expelled from the country. He was arrested on 24 January on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.
Yet what shocked the Jewish community most was an interview with Hranush Kharatian, a prominent ethnologist who heads the Armenian government’s department on religious and minority affairs. Speaking to the “Golos Armenii” (Voice of Armenia) Russian-language newspaper a month after the memorial's desecration, Kharatian accused Jewish leaders of preaching extreme intolerance toward all non-Jews.
A ministry spokesperson, however, said last week the issue is not sufficiently serious to warrant government attention.
Varzhapetian and other community leaders sent an open letter to President Robert Kocharian urging an end to the government's "conspicuous failure to see those inciting anti-Semitism." But the only response to date has been a statement by a cabinet minister saying ethnic and religious discrimination does not exist in Armenia.
Campaign to free Azerbaijani journalists
Russia and Kyrgyzstan
In Russian President Vladimir Putin, local observers suggest, Akayev has found a sympathetic ear. After setbacks for Russian foreign policy In Ukraine, Georgia and, with the election of Sergei Bagapsh, in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, Putin has made clear his desire to maintain the status quo in Central Asia. Though few political analysts believe that the Kyrgyzstani opposition possesses the street presence to sustain a mass protest if the parliamentary vote is deemed not free and fair, recent demonstrations in Bishkek, staged by a coalition of opposition forces, have sparked Russian concerns about the stability of the Akayev administration.
Given the strategic shift, Russia is understandably interested in preventing a possible transition of power in Kyrgyzstan.
A recent piece from Russia's state news agency seems to bear this out:
BISHKEK, January 26 (RIA Novosti) - An attempted "velvet revolution" may trigger off civil warfare in Kyrgyzstan, warns Abdil Seghizbayev, press secretary to the country's President Askar Akayev.
"The people who aim to re-enact last year's Ukrainian events in Kyrgyzstan, may make it into a Tajikistan of 1992," he said to newsmen in Bishkek, Kyrgyz capital.
Mr. Seghizbayev was referring to his country's south neighbor, which fell victim to a sanguinary civil war. The United Tajik Opposition, principal adversary to a secular regime, came out under Islamic mottoes.
"People wearing yellow shirts [meaning oppositionaries] are pushing this country into an abyss," added the presidential functionary.
Foreign spin doctors have flooded Kyrgyzstan, and he expects them to sow unrest on "velvet revolution" patterns. They will start quite soon with press publications to throw mud at the country's top. In fact, such materials are already appearing, said Mr. Seghizbayev.
The next move he forecasts will be nominations for a parliamentary poll of February 27. If they win no seats, opposition candidates will arrange public rallies and pickets-and go on to call for mass protest demonstrations.
The opposition made a false start this month as its pickets met no public support. "They bungled even with their colors-yellow stands for treachery with us Kyrgyz," he remarked.
As Abdil Seghizbayev sees it, Western-patterned velvet revolutions have no chance for success unless they have firm prerequisites. Kyrgyzstan, with its stability, cannot offer any, he stressed.
Attempts to stage a velvet revolution may stop national economic development, and even badly reverse it. "CIS countries are making steady progress. If a civil war throws us back, we shall never catch up with them," warned the presidential press secretary.
'An insatiable appetite for control'
Putin's key weakness is an insatiable appetite for political control. He has even replaced his strong first-term chief of staff and prime minister with two individuals famous for their indecision. This leaves all decisions to the president, but he himself is not very decisive. As a result, his administration is all but paralyzed. In addition, all information is manipulated by the security services, and most feedback mechanisms have been dismantled.
On top of everything else, Putin has proven himself extremely stubborn. Once he has finally chosen a course of action, he will not change it even to correct a mistake. His failed policies on Chechnya and Yukos are cases in point. Indeed, all three big developments of the past year illustrate how dysfunctional Putin and his government have become.
The Yukos affair boils down to confiscation by means of arbitrary taxation at the behest of kangaroo courts. In one blow, Putin made a joke of both his radical tax reform and his enlightened judicial reform. He also threw out the successful Anglo-American economic strategy based on competing private resource companies that he had inherited from Boris Yeltsin. And, even as he indulged his desire to humiliate the independent-minded Khodorkovsky, his KGB men were striving to seize assets for themselves through state enterprises.
Ironically, Putin is forcing U.S. policy toward Russia to come full circle, back to where it was in the late Soviet period. Once again, the United States must manage the decline of a mildly authoritarian regime armed with nuclear weapons. It should be possible to do this without causing any great harm, but we should harbor no illusion that this colossus with feet of clay will stand up and fight with us in the war on terror.
Good news, Laughland fans!
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Which mistakes would those be?
The head of Russia's Central Electoral Commission [CEC], Aleksandr Veshnyakov, today promised to study closely the results of the presidential elections in Ukraine, in order to avoid a repetition of the mistakes in Russia.
Irina Krasovskaya's statement
My name is Irina Krasovskaya. I am the mother of two beautiful daughters and the grandmother of a marvelous granddaughter Martha. I am the wife of Anatoly Krasovsky who provided financial assistance to the democratic opposition of Belarus for many years. Last year, it was the 25-year anniversary of our wedding. But I had to celebrate that occasion without my husband.
On September 16, 1999, my husband was kidnapped. That evening I was waiting at home for my husband and his friend, the Vice Speaker of the Belarusian Parliament Victor Gonchar.
Normally on Thursdays, my husband would return home at 11:00 p.m. after visiting a sauna. That evening I started calling him at about midnight but there was no answer. After midnight, when his phone became disconnected and the operator repeated endlessly that the number was unavailable, something broke down inside of me. My husband always informed me of his whereabouts no matter what. With each passing minute, the thought that something had happened to him frightened me more and more. I stood near the window and looked into the darkness of the night. The sound of every passing car gave me a hope…. A few hours later, I finally understood that something was really wrong. I called up all the police stations, hospitals, and morgues. There was no word of my husband.
On September 17, in the morning I received a phone call from the police. When I picked up phone, I was asked, “Your husband disappeared, didn’t he?” I was surprised by how informed the police were. I went to them hoping to receive at least some information, instead I was interrogated. The room was filled with high-ranking police officers, saying shocking things and repeating constantly, “Admit it, you know where husband is.”
The investigators arrived shortly after I returned home. They took pictures of every inch of our apartment. I asked them, “Why are you doing all this?” Their response was, “Maybe you killed your husband yourself.” Other investigators, who came eight days later, in order to obtain information about the car which disappeared along with my husband and his friend Mr. Gonchar, said that we will find out the truth eventually, but not any time soon. After the search, my friends and I went to the place of the kidnapping. There we found only shards of glass, drops of blood and skid marks from the breaking car.
When the initial shock passed, Anatoly’s friends and I began to come up with possible scenarios. We thought of everything from secret imprisonment to forcible hospitalization in a psychiatric institution. Two weeks later, however, my friends told me that I should be a realist and understand the facts: in our country, when people are kidnapped, it is not for the purpose of keeping them alive and hidden somewhere.
According to the investigators working on the case the kidnapping transpired as follows: my husband, together with his friend, left the sauna and got into our car. Immediately after they turned the corner, a car cut them off. My husband, who was driving attempted to back off, but was blocked by a second car. The doors of our car would lock if one hit the brakes abruptly, and that is exactly what happened then. People who jumped out of those two cars broke the side windows and pulled out my husband and his friend. The traces of Victor Gonchar’s blood were found at the scene. Then they were forced into separate cars and taken away. Our jeep was left there, because it was automatically locked. Later on, our car was towed away. That night my husband, Anatoly Krasovsky, and his friend, Victor Gonchar, were shot in a forest.
…My psychotherapist told me that I should start living as if my husband had died. At that time I said to myself that I could not live and think that way. However, some years hence I realized that my husband was dead and that I could not live under illusions, continuing to lie to myself and to my daughters. My mind won over my heart that refused to believe that the person it loved eternally was dead.
Almost five years have passed since the kidnapping of my husband. Now I see him only in my dreams. Many nights I have dreams in which he comes back and I feel a great sense of relief. In the dream, I hug him and say, “I have been waiting for you so long. Finally you’ve come back.”
My husband was an incredibly strong person. I never saw him cry. Many times, when my husband was alive, I would come home from work upset and cry. He would always calm me down and explain to me that there should be a far more important reason for tears. He was always my defender and a real support for me. After a few months had passed after the kidnapping, he appeared in my dream with tears running down his cheeks, saying, “Ira, please save me.” I woke up and understood that I would never forgive those people who made my husband cry.
On September 16, 1999, in one instant, my life was destroyed because of a sick tyrant who is willing to kill people only to maintain his stronghold on power. All that I have done since then is to carry out a fight. This fight is for dignity of my husband, this fight is for the peace of my family, for my children’s happiness; this fight is for my mother who can’t walk after she helped me to live through our family’s tragedy; this fight is for my country and myself. I do not want anybody else to see the nightmares I’ve seen.
Everything that I am telling you takes place in Belarus. At present my country is ruled by the last dictator of Europe. The Lukashenko regime violates the most basic human right, the right to live.
Religious freedom under assault
The authorities are close to obtaining sufficient grounds under Belarusian law, but against international law, to close down the charismatic New Life Church in Minsk, Forum 18 News Service has been told. An official warning against using a cowshed the 600-strong church owns for services was given to the church two days after the authorities fined the church administrator, Vasily Yurevich, about 150 times the monthly minimum wage for organising an "illegal" service at the cowshed. "We think they're trying to rush things through," Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko of the church told Forum 18. Following a second warning, the authorities could under Belarusian law move to close down the church. The church has been refused permission both to rent alternative premises and to convert the cowshed into a church. Forum 18 knows of two other charismatic Full Gospel Association congregations, which have also been refused the re-registration the 2002 Belarusian religion law required religious organisations to apply for.
... Kazakhstan ...
A criminal case against a Baptist who has refused to pay fines for leading unregistered worship, the decision to seize the property of another Baptist who also led unregistered worship, and two simultaneous legal cases against a Hare Krishna commune, are the latest events in a series of incidents which, along with a controversial new law on "extremism", are leading religious believers to tell Forum 18 News Service that they expect mounting restrictions on their rights. The "extremism" bill, which does not define this term, mentions religion 10 times in its wording and would greatly increase state control over religious groups, including a provision to "forbid the activity of religious associations which have broken the Republic of Kazakhstan's laws on countering extremist activity." The draft law, including amendments to ban religious organisations before a court decision, is now with the lower house of the Kazakh parliament.
Criminal and administrative cases against local Baptists for holding unregistered worship services, and court cases that could deprive a Hare Krishna commune of its property, are the latest moves in a series of events which have led some religious believers to expect mounting restrictions on their rights in Kazakhstan.
... and Uzbekistan:
Halima Boltobayeva, a Muslim whose husband is in jail, was told by prison staff when visiting her husband that she dressed like a female Muslim terrorist, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Boltobayeva, who for religious reasons wears the hijab headscarf and a long garment that covers her entire body, retorted that she would dress as she believed was fitting. According to a local human rights activist, prison staff then decided to show her "who is boss here." She is now on trial accused of being a member of the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, even though she has stated that "she hated Hizb-ut-Tahrir as her husband had ended up in prison because of the organisation."
Meanwhile, the BBC reports on Rus Pravoslavnaya's call for Jewish groups to be banned in Russia:
The newspaper claims that the letter was signed by 500 academics and intellectuals and by 19 members of Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma.
It called for Jewish organisations to be investigated and closed down, condemning Judaism as anti-Christian, even linking the religion to ritual murder.
Lukashenka takes over KGB
MINSK, Jan 25 (AFP) - The authoritarian leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has assumed control of the country's intelligence agency, his press service said on Tuesday.
"As head of state... I am capable of controlling the secret services myself," the president said in a statement.
Lukashenko fired the head of the intelligence agency, Leonid Yerin, last November for privately speaking to reporters and opposition members.
Yerin had met with the opposition during an unsanctioned October rally called to protest referendum results that gave Lukashenko the right to indefinitely extend his stay in office.
Lukashenko has come under strong international criticism for restraining media freedoms and cracking down on the opposition during his decade in power.
A former Soviet republic on Russia's western border, Belarus still calls its secret service the State Security Committee or KGB, even though Moscow has since renamed its own security agency because most people associate the name with its bloody past.
And according to The Kyiv Post, Lukashenka made no attempt to hide his motives:
MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko vowed Jan. 25 to retain tight control over the KGB, saying the widely feared security agency should do more to monitor political dissent in comments that caused alarm from rights groups.
Human rights activists warned that the move by Lukashenko signaled plans for a further crackdown against opposition groups in the former Soviet republic.
Lukashenko vowed during a speech to the KGB leadership in the Belarusian capital never to turn the agency over to civilian oversight. He said security agencies would answer to him alone, and that the KGB had responsibilities above and beyond that of normal law enforcement organs.
"You should work where neither the police, nor prosecutors, nor other agencies or enforcement authorities are able to work," Lukashenko said.
One has to wonder how long the Western media can ignore this growing tyranny on their doorstep.
HRW letter on Uzbekistan and Russia
The danger Uzbekistan faces is real. However, the Uzbek government undermines its counter terrorism campaign by using it to justify gross human rights abuses in two distinct ways.
First, the government uses the threat of terrorism to justify the criminalization of “fundamentalist” religious thought, affiliations, beliefs and practices. (The law does not define this term.) In taking this approach, the government fails to distinguish between those who advocate or engage in violence and those who peacefully express their religious beliefs. It has used the 2004 violence to give new validation to this campaign but for years has imprisoned on “fundamentalism” charges individuals whose peaceful Islamic beliefs, practices, and affiliations fell outside of strict government controls. An accumulated total of about 7,000 people are believed to have been imprisoned since the government’s campaign against independent Islam began in the mid-1990s. Those persecuted in this way for their religious beliefs are also systematically subjected to torture and ill-treatment in custody as well as to violations of fair trial protections.
Implicating whole categories of religious believers as connected to “terrorism” produces the sort of discrimination and denial of protection that is inimical to a society that respects human rights. It also alienates whole sectors of the population from the effort to combat terrorist activities, as they see their beliefs stigmatized and used as a rationale for persecution.
Second, the Uzbek government does not respect basic due process and fair trial protections in its trials of terror suspects. The government has already tried approximately one hundred people on terrorism, murder, and other charges relating to the March-April 2004 violence, and trials are on-going. Proceedings monitored by Human Rights Watch and other observers failed to meet international fair trial standards. Many defendants alleged that police had held them incommunicado and used torture, threats, and other pressure to coerce confessions during the investigation. Yet the authorities did not conduct meaningful investigations into these allegations, many of which appear to be substantiated. Unfair trials of terror suspects in Uzbekistan that result from gross abuses produce unreliable convictions and false confessions, undermine the rule of law, and frustrate effective counterterrorism efforts.
The Russian government frames the armed conflict in Chechnya, now in its sixth year, exclusively in the context of fighting terrorism. Its forces in Chechnya have committed acts of enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions on a large scale. The scale of “disappearances” was revealed in early 2005, when Russia’s human rights ombudsman announced that 1700 people had been “abducted” in Chechnya—many of them at the hands of Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces. Most of these people remain missing to this day; in some cases, their corpses were found in unmarked graves. The Russian government has refused to establish a meaningful accountability process for such abuses. As a result, the vast majority of perpetrators of these acts remain unpunished.
The spiral of abusive behavior on both sides of the conflict has ominous implications for all aspects of human rights in Russia. The independent media have steadily succumbed to both state and popular disfavor, civil society organizations are under greater pressure, and discrimination against Chechens outside Chechnya has only worsened.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Public Opinion and Democracy has a report about Kyrgyzstan's ban on former ambassadors running for office. And Radio Free Europe decries the West's lack of interest in Central Asian democracy movements.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
The Economist on Russian protests
Mr Putin’s own popularity, although down from its peak, remains high. But his image as paternalistic guarantor of stability, venerated by just the sort of people who have been protesting, has been tarnished.
What conclusions will Mr Putin draw? Perhaps that, in the absence of serious opposition and little in the way of independent media, he is more likely to sign flawed laws. In this case, more scrutiny might have led to simple improvements, such as a phased withdrawal of benefits-in-kind, or more generous cash replacements. Perhaps he will note that when he becomes responsible for appointing regional governors—a change that will take effect this year—his scope for buck-passing will shrink. More likely, he will conclude that reform is messy and painful. Creditably, Mr Putin has not surrendered the principle this time. But he may now decide that, given Russia’s big oil revenues, he can do without further mess and pain.
He will also notice that a botched refashioning of a Soviet legacy has excited far more unrest than the war in Chechnya or the erosion of Russian democracy. Grigory Yavlinsky, whose Yabloko party was virtually wiped out in parliament at the last election, says gloomily that the benefit protesters are fundamentally anti-liberal, and that Mr Putin’s government has further discredited the whole idea of liberal reform. There are, sadly, precious few orange flecks in Russia’s grey revolt.
Monday, January 24, 2005
Russia's 'special' democracy
The term "soft authoritarianism" has replaced "managed democracy" in describing Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime. Even Putin's defenders have reservations about calling Russia a democracy anymore. They usually explain that Russia's very special circumstances require a very special kind of democracy. Putin himself reportedly talked about "Russian-style democracy" in responding to President Bush's concerns about recent political developments here (concerns expressed when the two presidents met in Chile in November).
The current Russian-style democracy is very special indeed. Political competition has been eliminated, checks and balances done away with, and the public effectively alienated from its government. In fact, the Kremlin has no longer maintained even the appearance of democracy since Putin canceled gubernatorial elections and switched to a system of governors of his own choice. Today the important question about Putin's regime is whether the "softness" of his style of rule will last or whether things will gradually get harder.
Unfortunately, the author concludes that the latter is more likely.
Report on Kensington demonstration
About half a dozen people signed our letter on behalf of Mikhail Marinich, which we hand-delivered to the embassy on the day. An equal number took factsheets and letters away to read. This is actually a slightly better result than we expected, since most people in Britain have probably not heard of Mr Marinich, and some haven't even heard of Belarus.
Our next step is to leave copies of the factsheet and letter in libraries, businesses and places of worship throughout the UK. You can help us by doing this in your neighbourhood. You can copy and paste the text into a word processor document, or contact us and we will e-mail the documents to you in the format you require. Please ask the building proprietors for permission before leaving them.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Demonstration -- Saturday 22 January
When: Saturday, 22 January, 11:30 am
Where: Outside embassy of Belarus, 6 Kensington Court W8 5DL, London
Bring a homemade placard if possible. We will be distributing a factsheet and a model letter to the Belarusian ambassador.
It would be great if you could let us know if you're planning to come.
Factsheet for 22 January
During the last week of December 2004, Mikhail Marinich stood before a court in Belarus, accused of stealing computers. Marinich was not a typical petty thief. A former economics minister and ambassador, he was a prominent figure in the political opposition. The case against him was hardly compelling: The U.S. State Department, who owned the supposedly purloined computers, denied they had been stolen at all!
But Marinich was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. This outcome had been certain from the beginning. Marinich was jailed for his real offence: opposing Belarus's president, Alexander Lukashenka.
He's not alone. Shortly before his trial began, an Amnesty International report observed that 'it is becoming increasingly dangerous to criticize the regime in Belarus. Leading members of the opposition, human rights defenders and journalists who voice criticism risk criminal charges for slandering the President.' Many journalists and activists have been arrested; others have died in mysterious circumstances or simply disappeared.
In October 2004, Belarus abolished presidential term limits in a referendum that 'fell significantly short of OSCE commitments for democratic elections.' This effectively allows Lukashenka to rule for life. Since Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution,' when citizens rejected the results of a rigged election, Lukashenka has spoken of his determination to fight 'orange spots which have started appearing' in Belarus.
We are asking Londoners to let the Belarusian government know that the world will not tolerate its violations of human rights. Please join us in demanding the immediate release of Mikhail Marinich and all other political prisoners in Belarus. We have attached a letter that you can sign and return to the Belarusian embassy.
The Volodymyr Campaign is a voluntary initiative devoted to informing the public about human-rights issues in the former Soviet Union. To learn more, please visit http://volodymyrcampaign.blogspot.com/ or e-mail us at email@example.com.
Letter to the Belarusian ambassador
His Excellency Alyaksei Mazhukhou
Ambassador of Belarus
6 Kensington Court
London W8 5DL
I am writing to you out of concern for Mikhail Marinich, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for the theft of computer equipment. It is my understanding that the United States government, the owner of the computers in question, denies that they were stolen and has called for Mr Marinich to be set free. There are further reports that Mr Marinich was not given a fair trial and that he was arrested because of his activity with Belarus‘s political opposition. If true, this constitutes a grave violation of his rights to a fair trial, to free expression and to participation in government (Articles 9-11 and 18-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). I therefore appeal to the Belarusian government to release Mr Marinich pending a full and fair review of his case.
Thank you very much.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Uzbekistan: Results of Umarov inquiry
UZBEKISTAN: RESULTS OF SUSPICIOUS DEATH INQUIRY RELEASED
NEW YORK, January 20, 2005 -- Freedom House reported today on the results of an Uzbekistan government investigation into the cause of the death in custody of a prisoner on January 2.
Based on forensic records and information made available by Uzbek authorities, an independent observation team of international forensic and legal experts agreed that the prisoner, Samandar Umarov, 35, died of natural causes.
However, the inability to conduct a second autopsy precluded definitively and independently ruling out any evidence of antecedent trauma. His relatives had earlier reported that his body had showed signs of torture.
Freedom House facilitated the deployment of the team, which included Dr. Ronald Suarez, a forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner of Morris County, New Jersey, Drago Kos, a criminal investigator from Slovenia and chairman of the Anti-corruption Commission of the Council of Europe, and two Uzbek human rights defenders, Mr. Abdusalom Ergashev, a specialist on religious rights, and Mr. Vakhid Karimov, a medical doctor.
The Uzbek government provided the team with access to what was represented as forensic and medical records and to the medical examiners that performed the autopsy on Mr. Umarov. The team also conducted interviews with relevant medical, legal, and prison personnel, prison inmates, and members of Mr. Umarov's family.
"Freedom House welcomes the government of Uzbekistan's cooperation with the international team's investigation of Mr. Umarov's death, especially its willingness to include Uzbek human rights defenders in the process," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor.
According to Dr. Suarez, the autopsy report and medical records provided by Uzbek authorities were consistent with the officially announced cause of death, identified as spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage, or stroke. Medical records indicate Mr. Umarov had two major hospitalizations for heart-related problems, and had in addition, multiple doctor visits for the same problems. Forensic findings from the autopsy of Mr. Umarov's body, including those independently verified by Dr. Suarez, appear consistent with Mr. Umarov's pre-existing medical conditions, which included hypertension.
The findings of the team were based on all available investigative and scientific information. However, Dr. Suarez has cautioned that his findings are not absolutely definitive since the team was not able to independently verify the accuracy of the pathology and autopsy reports through separate scientific tests, or carry out an exhumation and second autopsy of the deceased. Mr. Umarov's family declined to give permission for an exhumation numerous times.
While the autopsy report did not include an exhaustive examination of all possible signs of trauma the report did rule out trauma on the neck and head, and photographs of the body seen by the team showed no obvious signs of abuse. However, the team noted that their findings do not mean that Mr. Umarov was never beaten or physically traumatized during his incarceration. The team's mandate was to look at an individual case at a particular time, not to assess the broader practice of torture in Uzbekistan.
Beatings and torture of prisoners in Uzbekistan is a routine practice according to various international human rights organizations, independent Uzbek human rights defenders, and the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture.
"The government of Uzbekistan must take urgent and effective action to stop torture and beatings in Uzbek prisons," said Ms. Windsor. "An important step is to establish a permanent independent commission for investigating serious human rights abuses, with the full participation of local human rights defenders. The government's decision to allow an independent review of its investigation of the Umarov case is a positive sign, and we hope that they will allow greater access by human rights defenders to both prison and detention centers."
Human Rights Watch letter to Yushchenko
On the eve of your inauguration, allow us to congratulate you on your election as President of Ukraine.
Human Rights Watch believes that your election and the formation of a new government mark an important opportunity to break with past shortcomings in Ukraine’s respect for human rights. We urge you to seize this opportunity, and embark on legislative and policy reform and the promotion of practices that will firmly establish, as a central feature of your administration, the full enjoyment of human rights by all people in Ukraine.
Read the rest here.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
More protests in Bishkek
Bishkek, 19 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Around 400 people gathered in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek today to protest yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that upholds a decision to bar former ambassadors from running in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Members from all of Kyrgyzstan's opposition blocs participated in today's rally. Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the Erkindik (Freedom) Party, led protesters in a call for President Askar Akaev's resignation:
"After assessing the current situation, we decided to start collecting signatures on 1 February, from the whole of Kyrgyzstan, from both the south and north, from villages and towns, demanding that Akaev resign from power immediately! Is that right, fellow countrymen?" Turgunaliev asked. Protesters answered: "Yes, that is right! Akaev, go away!"
Protesters also want to see the sacking of top electoral officials.
PINR article on Kyrgyzstan
Lukashenka to 'fight orange spots'
Already, leaders throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States are taking steps to make sure they are not faced with a similar show of people power. Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to fight "orange spots which have started appearing" and has ordered crackdowns on opposition activists.
U.S.: Belarus 'outpost of tyranny'
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Asylum for woman who claimed bomb plot
A woman who claims that the Russian security service orchestrated a deadly bombing campaign against its own people has been granted political asylum in the United States.
Alena Morozova, 28, argued that her life was not safe in Russia because of her role in an investigation into a series of mysterious apartment bombings that claimed the lives of almost 300 people in three Russian cities in 1999.
The authorities have insisted that the bombings, among the worst terror acts in modern Russian history, were the work of Chechen separatists.
But Ms Morozova, who lost her mother and boyfriend in the blasts, has repeatedly claimed the opposite and along with her sister, Tatyana, took part in a film - Disbelief - that questions the official version of events.
People who have tried to investigate the bombings have ended up dead or behind bars. In April 2003, Sergei Yushenkov, deputy chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, was shot dead in a contract killing. Another MP, Yuri Shekochikhin, who had also been looking into the matter, died later that year in a mysterious food poisoning incident.
Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB agent, who claimed to have evidence of security service involvement, was sentenced to four years in prison last year on apparently unrelated charges of disclosing state secrets and illegally possessing ammunition.
Kyrgyz candidate to fight ban
A leading Kyrgyz opposition leader is vowing to continue efforts to overturn a ruling prohibiting her from running in the country's upcoming parliamentary elections.
Roza Otunbaeva, co-leader of the Kyrgyz opposition movement Ata Jurt (Fatherland), had appealed to the Supreme Court after an earlier rejection of her candidacy to run in the 27 February elections by a Bishkek district court.
She told RFE/RL after the court upheld the ban today that she will continue to fight her exclusion and will appeal to the Kyrgyz Constitutional Court.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Two new press freedom campaigns
From the International Press Institute:
AJK and IPI Launch International Campaign to Defend Azerbaijani Media
The Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation (AJK), a coalition of 15 different journalist organisations dedicated to the defence and promotion of freedom of the media and expression in Azerbaijan, and the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in 120 countries, are launching an international campaign to defend media freedom in Azerbaijan.
The campaign's aim is to focus the attention of the world community on the deteriorating situation for the Azerbaijani independent and opposition mass media in 2004. In this year, several opposition publications have been closed down, journalists have been imprisoned and bank accounts of newspapers critical of the government have been frozen, destroying press distribution in the country.
Commenting on the situation, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "There is a growing need to focus on Azerbaijan because, based on the harassment of the independent media, it appears that the government might be trying to silence opposition media throughout the country. Indeed, the politicised attacks against independent media outlets show that Azerbaijan is failing to respect its international commitments."
"Finally, I would remind the Azerbaijani authorities that mass media play an essential role in disseminating information and scrutinising the work of governments." Fritz said. "Governments need to uphold the right of journalists to practice their profession free of restraints and in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
"We hope that by drawing the attention of the international community to the problems of Azerbaijani mass media it will be possible to have greater success in the struggle for media freedoms in Azerbaijan," emphasized Azer H. Hasret, secretary general of the Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation.
For further information please contact: Azer H. Hasret,
Secretary General, the Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation
Address: 33 Khagani, Baku, Azerbaijan AZ1000
Phone: (+994 12) 493 2261; 493 4678 Mob: (+994 50) 335 2795
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, URL: www.ajkib.org
From Reuters AlertNet:
A new Uzbek media watchdog has urged international organisations promoting journalist's rights to pay more attention to the situation in this Central Asian republic where there is no independent press and freedom of speech is severely curtailed.
Uzbekistan is becoming a dangerous place for journalists who dare to challenge the government," Yusuf Rasulov, head of the Association for the Protection of Journalist's Rights and Freedoms (APJRF), told IRIN in the capital, Tashkent.
Rasulov, a former Voice of America (VOA) correspondent, said the aim of the NGO was to protect the handful of independent journalists working in Uzbekistan who are often victims of harassment, attack and threats from security forces.
We highly recommend reading the whole article.
Moldova: Opposition claims police harassment
The secretary-general of Europe's top human rights body says he has received complaints from a top Moldovan opposition leader who contends he and his supporters are being harassed by police.
Terry Davis, who heads the Council of Europe, is on a visit to Moldova as the country prepares for parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 March.
Davis said from Chisinau today that Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean has accused authorities of persecuting him. Urechean leads the opposition alliance Democratic Moldova.
Moldovan authorities have denied the charge.
How Ukraine avoided bloodshed
Monday, January 17, 2005
Human Rights Watch report
Among the findings:
Although the international community has looked favorably upon Armenia for its economic reforms in 2004, the government has failed to improve its human rights record. The legacy of the 2003 presidential elections, which were marred by widespread fraud, dominates political life. ... Repeating a cycle of repressive tactics from the 2003 election, the authorities arrested opposition leaders and supporters, violently dispersed demonstrators, raided political party headquarters, attacked journalists, and restricted travel to prevent people from participating in demonstrations. ... Torture and ill-treatment in police custody remain widespread in Armenia.
The Azerbaijani government has a long-standing record of pressuring civil society groups and arbitrarily limiting critical expression and political activism. It has done so with a new intensity following the October 2003 presidential elections, which international and domestic observers said were marred by widespread fraud. ... Trials of opposition supporters, accused of the 2003 post-election violence, did not comply with fair trail standards and showed once again how the authorities use the criminal justice system to discourage government critics. ... Torture, police abuse, and excessive use of force by security forces are widespread in Azerbaijan.
The government of Belarus failed to ensure free and fair election in 2004, in large part by attacking the independent media and undermining freedom of association. The situation worsened in the months leading up to October 2004 parliamentary elections and a simultaneous referendum to remove presidential term limits. Several independent newspapers were closed, and journalists jailed on libel charges. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent trade unions were given warnings or closed. Many opposition politicians were prevented from registering as election candidates. Some were arrested on trumped-up charges. ... The government continued to use presidential decrees to suppress human rights activities. ... All national television stations, and most radio stations, in Belarus are controlled by the state. Independent radio broadcasts are limited to non-political music and advertising. Citizens do not receive objective information from the state-controlled media. Re-broadcasted Russian television programs are often manipulated through the insertion of Belarusian footage presented as part of the Russian program. ... Journalists who criticize the government face prosecution.
Torture in detention and due process violations remain widespread in Georgia. There are continuing reports of the practice of isolating detainees in circumstances that amount to incommunicado detention, and restricting access to defence counsel. Judges sometimes ignore torture allegations.
Kazakh television, the main source of news for the country’s population, remains dominated either by government or pro-government media. The government’s fierce intolerance for critical media reached new heights in the run-up to parliamentary elections. On July 22, 2004, the president ordered foreign media to include praise of the government and its policies along with any criticism, and reportedly said that his lawyers were prepared to sue foreign media who “discredit the country.” ... The government harasses members and supporters of Kazakhstan’s opposition political parties, including through arbitrary criminal and misdemeanor charges and threats of job dismissal, often aimed at preventing the individuals from running for public office.
Kyrgyzstan moved further from its reformist past and ever closer to joining the ranks of the more authoritarian states of Central Asia. ... Almost all of Kyrgyzstan’s national television stations, the source of news for most people in the country, are run by the government, the president’s relatives, or supporters of the president. ... The November 2003 opening of a U.S.-funded independent printing press has helped to bolster the independent print media, but the government uses heavy-handed lawsuits to intimidate and silence these outlets. ... Recent years have seen a pattern of physical attacks by unknown assailants on the children of independent journalists and human rights activists. ... Fear spread throughout the Kyrgyz human rights community after rights defender and political activist Tursunbek Akunov went missing. As of November 22, 2004 his whereabouts remained unknown. ... Police torture is widespread in Kyrgyzstan.
The government once again failed to take on Russia’s numerous entrenched human rights problems, including widespread police torture and violent hazing in the armed forces. ... Russia’s political institutions may have been flawed and dysfunctional when Putin came to power in 1999, but public debate of policy issues, one of the great achievements of glasnost and a basic element of any democracy, was vigorous. ... Four years on, this picture is dramatically different. ... After a two-year long assault on the independent electronic media, all television stations are firmly under Kremlin control, as are most radio stations. ... After convincing regional governors to give up their seats in Russia’s senate as a concession to Putin early in his presidency, the Kremlin gradually destroyed them as an independent political force. ... The Kremlin’s use of selective criminal prosecutions against perceived opponents, like Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and scientists working with foreigners on sensitive topics, has put considerable pressure on the courts. Indeed, in several of these cases, like that of arms researcher Igor Sutiagin, the courts have recently found defendants guilty on highly dubious charges.
The human rights situation in Tajikistan is fragile. Despite reforms on paper—including a new election law and a moratorium on capital punishment—the government continues to put pressure on political opposition, independent media, and independent religious groups. ... Rakhmonov’s opponents are vulnerable to prosecution on politically-motivated charges. ... While independent newspapers and magazines are technically legal, state-run publishing houses refuse to print them, making production difficult or impossible. ... Independent religious groups considered extremist or politicized—including the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation—face government scrutiny and harassment.
The regime of president-for-life Saparmurat Niazov is one of the most repressive in the world. It crushes independent thought, controls virtually all aspects of civic life, and actively isolates the country from the outside world. The perverse cult of personality around President Niazov dominates public life and the education system. Civil society, already on the brink of extinction, this year took another blow with a new law criminalizing involvement in unregistered nongovernmental or religious groups. Although 2004 saw the abolition of exit visas and a slight mitigation of the laws on religious freedom and nongovernmental organizations (NGOS), in practice the rights to freedom of movement and conscience are severely restricted. Indeed, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan today is noticeably worse than it was a few years ago.
A November presidential election that was neither free nor fair plummeted Ukraine into its deepest political crisis since gaining independence in 1991. ... The crisis, however, was entirely preventable. Its roots lay in the government’s persistent violations of basic human rights norms, and political freedoms in particular.
Uzbekistan’s disastrous human rights record is long-standing and changed little in 2004, with major violations of the rights to freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly. Uzbekistan has no independent judiciary and torture is widespread in its pre-trial and post-conviction facilities. ... Uzbekistan is a key ally of the United States in the global campaign against terrorism, but undermines that campaign by using it to justify gross human rights abuses. ... For years, the government has imprisoned on “fundamentalism” charges individuals whose peaceful Islamic beliefs, practices, and affiliations fell outside of strict government controls. ... According to testimony by relatives, prisoners are forced to sign statements begging President Islam Karimov for forgiveness, renouncing their faith, and incriminating themselves as terrorists. ... The government has made no visible progress on ending the use of torture in practice and only minimal progress on implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteur on Torture after his visit to Uzbekistan in 2002. ... Uzbek authorities continue to harass, detain, and hold under effective house arrest activists who attempted to stage demonstrations. ... There are no genuine opposition parties registered in Uzbekistan.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Election protests in Kyrgyzstan
It may not be a Rose or Orange Revolution, but Kyrgyzstan’s opposition activists say their four-day protest in defense of former diplomats’ right to run for parliament is a sign that voters will hold the government to its promise of a free and fair vote in next month’s parliamentary poll.
The protests have certainly made an impression on Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, who plainly is concerned that the approaching election could spur the type of burgeoning protests that toppled the established political orders in Georgia and Ukraine.
Beginning January 7, about 150 people, wearing yellow and pink protest scarves, and carrying posters calling on Akayev’s administration to observe voting rights, picketed parliament, and later, government buildings in downtown Bishkek. They were protesting authorities’ refusal to register ex-ambassadors as candidates in the country’s February 27 elections. Spurring the protests was a Bishkek electoral district committee’s January 6 refusal to register Roza Otunbaeva, a onetime foreign minister, and leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) movement, one of Kyrgyzstan’s five main opposition groupings.
On January 10, opposition members called off their protests to await a parliamentary hearing on the election law that could conceivably lead to Otunbaeva’s candidacy being reinstated. Candidates have until January 17 to register for the elections.
Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov stated that Kyrgyzstan would not be able to avoid violence if the opposition continues with public demonstrations or embarks on a civil disobedience initiative.
Protests test Putin's popularity
The protests were localised and mostly good-natured. But a pollster said they were significant because public opinion was blaming Putin for a crisis for the first time in his nearly five-year tenure.
Central Europe's concern
"The situation in Belarus is a matter of concern to the entire European Union, and Poland in particular," said Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld. Poland, now a member of both the EU and NATO, shares a border with Belarus.
"We cannot accept violation of norms and basic principles to which Belarus is committed as a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),", said Rotfeld.
"We are talking among other things about respect for civil rights and press freedom," he told journalists after a session linking foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers of former Soviet bloc states Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, together with Austria and Slovenia.
EU condemns Marinich conviction
"The European Union also believes the proceedings against Mr. Marinich once again call into question Belarus' oft-stated desire to respect the fundamental principles of civil rights," it said.
"It remains concerned that such convictions can serve only to further limit the development of Belarus-European Union relations.
"The European Union therefore calls for the sentence to be reconsidered taking into account the nature of the charges against Mr. Marinich. The European Union will follow closely the appeal."
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Jackson Diehl on Belarus
Some of the most excited young people camping in Kiev's Independence Square during Ukraine's democratic revolution were not even Ukrainian. They were leaders of the youth group Zubr, of neighboring Belarus. In Minsk in October, Zubr's street protests against the fraudulent elections of a Russian-backed dictatorship were brutally crushed by security forces, and appeared almost quixotic. Then Ukrainians showed them that such a movement could triumph -- and that the wave of autocracy rolling from Moscow across the former republics of the Soviet Union could be turned back.
The euphoria didn't last long. On the return trip from Kiev, four of the Zubr leaders were pulled off a train by the Belarusan secret police, savagely beaten and tossed into a local jail. Only quick intervention by Western diplomats may have saved them from a worse fate: Opponents of the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko have disappeared permanently in the past.
Even as the political crisis in Ukraine has wound down, democratic leaders from Kiev to Washington have begun to think about how Belarus might be transformed. Lukashenko, for his part, has launched a preemptive offensive against the opposition -- one seemingly calculated to test the West's intentions.
The strongman's gambit was to dispose of the most likely Belarusan counterpart to Ukrainian president-elect Viktor Yushchenko: a former presidential candidate, ambassador and government minister named Mikhail Marinich. The 64-year-old Marinich, who like Yushchenko defected from the government in the hope of leading a democratic movement, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison on the patently ludicrous charge of stealing U.S. government property. In fact, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk supplied computers to Marinich's "Business Initiative" movement, designating them a loan so they could not be easily confiscated. Marinich's sentence came in the teeth of American protests that the "stolen" property was not stolen.
Lukashenko has reason to fear Marinich -- and the Bush administration to support him -- because, like Putin, the president has adopted the practice of legitimizing his rule with one-sided elections. The next one is due in 2006, and Lukashenko knows he can't win fairly: In October, a Western-sponsored exit poll showed that a referendum he staged on eliminating presidential term limits received only 48 percent support. Ignoring reports of massive fraud by international observers, the regime duly announced that the referendum had passed with 77 percent, making it possible for Lukashenko to stay in office indefinitely. But he still must avoid the election-linked popular uprisings that in the past four years have ousted autocrats in Serbia, Georgia and now Ukraine.
Lukashenko's answer to that threat appeared three weeks ago in the sinister form of Viktor Sheiman, who was abruptly named head of his presidential administration. Two Belarusan prosecutors who fled the country fingered Sheiman as the architect of a death squad that between 1999 and 2001 murdered four of Lukashenko's most prominent political adversaries.
New torture allegations in Uzbekistan
The body of Samandar Umarov was delivered to his relatives in Tashkent on 3 January, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Found guilty of membership in the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2000, Umarov had been serving a 17-year prison sentence in Navoiy. Tabassum Umarova, Samandar's elder sister, said that family members learned of her brother's death on 2 January. They received the body at 4 a.m. on 3 January from officials who demanded immediate burial.
A stroke was listed as the official cause of death. But Umarov's relatives said that the body bore signs of torture, including missing fingernails and toenails, bruises, and a shattered jawbone. Uzbek human rights organizations took up the case, and Ezgulik and the Initiative Group of Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan quickly issued press releases describing the details of the case and calling for an independent investigation. Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Svetlana Ortiqova told AP that a preliminary autopsy had shown that Umarov died from a stroke. She added that an "additional" investigation was under way, but provided no further details.
On 5 January, Freedom House issued a press release urging the Uzbek government to allow an independent inquiry. In a reference to the precedent of the Shelkovenko investigation, the appeal quoted Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor as saying: "We encourage the government of Uzbekistan to follow its own positive example...and to conduct an immediate, open, and transparent investigation according to international standards. Uzbek society needs to know the truth about Umarov's death."
The Freedom House press release can be found here.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
We urge our readers to write to the Embassy of Belarus demanding Mr Marinich's immediate release. The address is:
6 Kensington Court
Fax: 0207 361 0005
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Kasparov on Putin
To Kasparov, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "fascist", dismantling Russian democracy with the support of a supine West, which is interested only in stability in the East.
"The democracies are conceding to a brutal dictator. He has abolished the nature of democratic institutions. He will go further."
The West must stop its overt and tacit support for Mr Putin, Kasparov said.
"What is required from the West is a simple message: 'Leave us alone.'
Kasparov helped set up Committee 2008, a group dedicated to bringing down Mr Putin and stopping the constitution being changed so that he can run for a third term, in January last year.
He takes heart from what has happened in Ukraine, and believes Mr Putin will have to leave office, perhaps even before his second term comes to and end in 2008.
"There could be popular unrest. The stability [of Russia] exists only in the mind of Bush and Blair.
"It lives through high oil prices and censorship."
Russia's other humiliation
Vladimir Putin’s defeat in Ukraine may have been much more significant, but there can be little more humiliating for Russia than its failure to win the vote in Abkhazia, tiny, weak, and already in effect a protectorate. The debacle in Abkhazia was a chronic failure of Russian intelligence, probably in both senses, and a colossal error of judgment that can only have heartened the Ukrainian opposition. It was, of course, also a defeat for a foreign policy that seems to view Russia’s “near-abroad”--places like Ukraine and Abkhazia--as something akin to Russian republics such as Tatarstan and Sakha: ethnically different maybe, but irrevocably tied to Russia historically, geographically, politically, and economically.
Putin has just tripped up in Ukraine and lost face in Abkhazia. He could soon suffer a further reverse in Moldova, which goes to the polls in February. Though the political landscape in Moldova is changing fast and unpredictably (with the once pro-Moscow president leaning to the West and the formerly pro-Western opposition looking to Moscow), Moldova’s elections and Yushchenko’s victory could also have some impact on the frozen conflict in Transdniester, a sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. In short, the tide has been running against Putin and it could continue to run against him. In the meantime, Saakashvili and his team will use their unusually good access to decision makers in Washington to try and lift the issue of the unresolved conflicts in Russia’s back yard up the geopolitical agenda.
Monday, January 10, 2005
New PORA newsletter
Issue #14, 10 January 2005
Pre-election Developments and Results of the Presidential Elections
On December 26, the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine was repeated. The contenders in the run-off remained opposition leader and candidate Viktor Yushchenko and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Prior to the re-run, both candidates traveled extensively across the regions of Ukraine to meet with voters. On December 18, Viktor Yanukovych visited Odesa. During his visit, separatist propaganda was displayed on bill boards in the city; see pictures at http://www.nesam.net.ua/page.php?id=86.
On December 20, a live TV debate between the candidates Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko was broadcast on the first national channel. Unlike previous debates, the discussion was framed by open questions and answers that addressed the candidates’ election programs. A full-text version of the debate is available at http://www3.pravda.com.ua/archive/2004/december/20/debaty.shtml; a video of the debates can be found at http://www.5tv.com.ua/video.
On December 23, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine started court proceedings on an appeal filed by 46 Ukrainian MPs that is aimed at declaring recent amendments to the electoral law as unconstitutional. The MPs from a pro-governmental faction consider the decreased number of absentee ballots and the possibility to vote at home to be in breach with the constitutional right to vote of several groups of citizens, including senior citizens and physically disabled people. Experts view this move to be an attempt by supporters of Viktor Yanukovych to render invalid those legal amendments that make impossible similar schemes of manipulation used during the October 31 and November 21 ballots; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/110012/ and http://orange.media.kiev.ua/?q=node/47.
On December 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that the amendments to the electoral law were in violation of the constitution, infringing upon the right to vote disabled and housebound people; see more at http://www.unian.net/index.php?url=novina&id=13101.
On election day, a national exit poll was conducted by the Fond “Democratic Initiatives”, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, and the Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Research. The results indicated that 65.3 percent of voters supported Viktor Yushchenko, while 41.3 percent cast their vote for former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych; see details at http://www.exitpoll.org.ua/.
According to the official results announced by the Central Elections Commission, 51.99 percent of voters supported Viktor Yushchenko and 44.19 percent backed Viktor Yanukovych. The final official results are expected to be announced within the next days; see http://www.cvk.gov.ua/wp0011.
The inauguration of the newly elected President of Ukraine is preliminarily scheduled for January 13-14. Two ceremonies are foreseen, one in the parliament of Ukraine, and a second, public one at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square); read more detail about the planned inauguration ceremonies at http://www.monitor.org.ua/?do=4&cat=3&scat=&id=8468&PHPSESSID=cb14a10c5e065223a4facb8118b2b24d.
Issues of Recent Social Interest
On January 5, President Leonid Kuchma signed the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Vice Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was appointed acting Prime Minister; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/111010.
Among the candidates for the post of Prime Minister, President-elect Viktor Yushchenko named Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko and Anatoliy Kinakh; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/111057.
On January 5, Nestor Shufrych, head of the Viktor Yanukovych election office, announced that the results of the December 26 ballot in all 225 electoral districts will be protested before the Supreme Court; see more detail at http://www.korrespondent.net/main/111044, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-3-1427312,00.html.
On January 5, President-elect Viktor Yushchenko and the President of Georgia, Michail Saakashvili, signed a “Carpathian” declaration about close friendly relations between the two nations; see more detail at http://www.obkom.net.ua/news/2005-01-05/1803.shtml.
On December 30, one of the leaders of the orange revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, visited Donetsk and participated in a live talk show on the TRK Ukraina TV channel that is known to back Viktor Yanukovych; see http://www.politikan.com.ua/web/1.php?rej=1&idm=6232&idr1=1&idr2=0&idr3=0&kv_m2=0&kreg=&aleng=1.
On December 28, Georgiy Kyrpa, Minister of Transport of Ukraine, was found dead in his Bortnychy summer house near Kyiv. The office of the Prosecutor General opened an investigation. The office initiated a criminal proceeding according to Article 120 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which covers suicides. Yet other observers claim that this is a murder case involving a political background; see http://www2.pravda.com.ua/cgi-bin/print_en.cgi, http://pora.org.ua/content/view/1949/2/, http://ua.proua.com/analitic/2004/12/28/142005.html, and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4129619.stm.
On December 23, Ukraine celebrated the month of the orange revolution. The opposition held a rally at Maidan Nezalezhosti (Independent Square) in Kyiv, during which opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko called upon his supporters to gather again at Maidan in Kyiv on December 26, after the elections are over and to be ready to protect their choice again; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/109987/.
On December 23, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the 2005 budget. 339 of 410 MPs present voted for the budget bill; see http://www.proua.com/news/2004/12/23/155540.html. President Leonid Kuchma announced to be ready to sign the bill; see http://www.proua.com/news/2004/12/23/175843.html
The issue of the September poisoning of Yushchenko continues to be one of the main issues of social interest. On December 14, Volodymyr Syvkovych, MP and head of the parliamentary committee to investigate Yushchenko’s illness declared that the manifest poisoning does not indicate an attack on Yushchenko’s life; see http://news.org.ua/news/?eid=2964.
According to a secret document displayed by the internet site Maidan, the Yanukovych campaign is preparing to disturb the elections in Central and Western Ukraine; see http://www.maidan.org.ua/static/news/1103825787.html
The former head of the Viktor Yanukovych election team, Stepan Gavrysh, was appointed constitutional judge by President Leonid Kuchma; see http://radio.org.ua/reports/?id_numb=21472.
Taras Chornovil, current head of the Yanukovych election team, said recently that “members of PORA – real gangsters (former members of special military units) have not yet appeared. They are waiting for their moment. They are armed. Among them are snipers, experts for explosives, instructors to teach how to seize buildings”; read more at http://www.for-ua.com/news/2004/12/22/135200.html.
Taras Chornovil also blamed the Russian political engineer Gleb Pavlovsky to be responsible for the “separatist issues” brought up during the campaign, and for the anti-Yushchenko propaganda that was created and promoted by Pavlovsky. “Now we do not need any Russian support”, said Chornovil; see http://www.obkom.net.ua/news/2004-12-23/1635.shtml.
Groups of armed Yanukovych supporters were formed in Donetsk to depart for Kyiv after the December 26 re-run, claimed the deputy head of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee, Hryhoriy Omelchenko; see http://news.org.ua/reports/?id_numb=1568.
President Leonid Kuchma called upon law enforcement authorities and the cabinet of ministers to secure a free and fair ballot; see http://uv.ukranews.com/p4/news/article.html?id=18817.
See http://www.obozrevatel.com/index.php?r=photorep&id=172861 for pictures from recent events in Ukraine.
See recent news from Ukraine at http://www.rferl.org/newsline/3-cee.asp
Reactions from the International Community Before…
The High Representative of the European Union for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, stated on December 23 that the course of elections in Ukraine will greatly influence future relations with the European Union; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/110110.
The European Union will develop a new strategy towards Ukraine after the elections of December 26. “It will be more than a neighbour-status and more than the new action plan”, announced Jan Marinus Wiersma, member of the European Parliament; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/109611.
More than 7,000 Ukrainians living in Prague and more than 2,000 Ukrainians living in Brno, Czech Republic, will take part in the presidential elections and cast their ballots in those cities; see http://www.obozrevatel.com/index.php?r=news&t=36&id=172986
The French Embassy contributed to the OSCE observation mission 98 election monitors from France. Among them are 87 short-term and 11 long-term observers to be deployed in all regions of Ukraine; see http://www.for-ua.com/news/2004/12/23/193311.html.
American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski considers a next “orange” revolution to be possible in Russia. “The democratization process is changing the entire post-Soviet camp”, he said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera; see http://www.for-ua.com/news/2004/12/23/143951.html.
U.S. congresswoman Dana Rohrbacher considers obsolete her bill, which stipulates sanctions against Ukraine and a number of its officials and politicians in case undemocratic 2004 presidential elections. Such was announced by the congresswoman on December 18 in Kyiv, after a meeting with the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn; see http://www2.pravda.com.ua/cgi-bin/print_en.cgi.
The Ambassador of the French Republic, Philippe de Suremain, is optimistic that EU enlargement will be favourable for Ukraine; see an interview with the French diplomat at http://www.glavred.info/eng/?art=107752711.
Bernard R. Bot, Dutch Foreign Minister believes that, in the cse of his victory, Viktor Yuschenko ought to appoint representatives of political groups that supported Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych should do the same in the case of his victory; see http://www2.pravda.com.ua/cgi-bin/print_en.cgi.
The international organization Human Right Watch published the most recent results of monitoring freedom of speech in Ukraine. “Despite the recent change in atmosphere, persecution of journalists continues,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. “The Ukrainian government has loosened its iron grip over media – but only slightly”; see more details at http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/12/24/ukrain9931.htm.
…And After the Elections
In the first official reaction from a European leader, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski congratulated Yushchenko, saying he was "satisfied to see Ukraine emerge successfully from its political crisis;" see http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_1640443,00.html.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell hailed Ukraine’s December 26 repeat run-off presidential election as “an historic moment for democracy in Ukraine” and said that “[t]he Ukrainian people can truly be proud of this achievement;” see http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/Archive/2004/Dec/28-34646.html.
In the words of NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the election was "relevant to NATO's political relationship with Ukraine" and its aim of promoting regional stability; see http://reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=645170.
The head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission, Bruce George, declared that "Ukrainian elections have moved substantially closer to meet OSCE standards"; see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4127203.stm.
Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said that “[t]he will of the Ukrainian people has been clearly shown. […] The people of Ukraine showed democratic maturity in resolving the situation peacefully”, see http://www.coe.int/T/E/Com/press/News/2004/20041227_CP_SG.asp.
EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner welcomed the outcome of the repeat ballot that "opens the way towards strengthened cooperation between the EU and Ukraine"; see http://www.delukr.cec.eu.int/site/page32774.html.
Former First Lady and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton called for continued U.S. and European support for Ukraine’s democratic development. “As the ballots are being counted in Ukraine, the US and Europe need to continue to deliver a consistent message to all parties and candidates in Ukraine, and to the people of Ukraine, that respect for democracy and the rule of law is a central factor in determining the future relationship with the west;” see http://foreignpolicy.org.ua/eng/topic/index.shtml?id=3976.
Russian responses to the repeat presidential elections have been scarce. President Putin, who remained silent so far, as well as Russia’s political class, are seen by observers to be digesting the Yushchenko victory; see http://www.jamestown.org/publications_details.php?volume_id=407&issue_id=3181&article_id=2369030
Recent Activities of NGOs
The “train of friendship”, co-organized by the civic campaign PORA, was prevented from entering Donetsk during its trip across Eastern regions of Ukraine; see http://news.org.ua/news/?eid=2969&lid=1 and http://www.ostro.org/shownews_ks.php?id=9485; see photos of the “train of friendship” convoy at http://pora.org.ua/index.php?option=com_zoom&Itemid=123&catid=54
An interview with a PORA activist who took part in the “It’s time to love” action in Donetsk, which was disrupted by local Yanukovych supporters, can be found at http://www.ostro.org/shownews_tema.php?id=449&lang=ru.
On December 19, an all-Ukrainian forum of regional PORA members took place in Kyiv. The discussion focused on possibilities of PORA to continue its activities after the elections. Several scenarios were elaborated and principles of further activity were adopted; see http://pora.org.ua/en/content/view/748/2/.
The Center “Social Monitoring” conducted an exit poll on December 26. It monitored 350 polling stations and surveyed about 12,500 voters; see http://radio.org.ua/news/?eid=25331.
Viktor Yushchenko was nominated politician of the year. About 40 percent of people supported his candidacy. Other Ukrainian politicians received significantly less support: Viktor Yanukovych (26.7 percent), Volodymyr Lytvyn (7.8 percent), Oleksandr Moroz (3.1 percent), Yulia Tymoshenko (2.5 percent), Leonid Kuchma (1.9 percent). The survey was conducted by the Razumkov Centre for Economic and Political Research; see http://www.korrespondent.net/main/110068.
A call was made by the Maidan internet site for the creation of mobile groups to observe the legitimacy of the elections; see http://www.maidan.org.ua/static/viol/1103742279.html.
The PORA action “500 District Electoral Commissions” observed the legitimacy of the elections at the 500 most problematic polling stations, based on the results of the second round of the presidential elections; see http://pora.org.ua/content/view/1790/2/.
The Civic Initiative Znayu (I know), the civic campaigns PORA and Chysta Ukraina (Clean Ukraine), and the internet resource Maidan launched the online system “direct action” that aimed to gather centralized information on the violations of the electoral law. Citizens were requested to report violations through a telephone hotline at 8-800 50 22 500; see http://www.znayu.org.ua/index.php?lang=ukr&loc=front&get=1&id=757.
Four national TV channels – UT-1, 1+1, Channel 5, and ICTV – carried out TV marathons, aimed at covering the electoral process during the presidential re-run. The marathons were be modeled on the format used by Channel 5 during the orange revolution; see http://www.for-ua.com/news/2004/12/23/105805.html.
A new website “Orange news in English” was created that presents recent news on the Ukrainian elections in English; see http://orange.media.kiev.ua/
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine announced the preliminary results of its monitoring of electoral law violations during the December 26 presidential elections, see more detail at http://www.cvu.org.ua/?menu=fp&po=doc&lang=eng&date_end=&date_beg=&id=718.
The Committee of Voters also conducted a parallel vote counting during the December 26 elections. Its results gave Viktor Yushchenko a majority of 51.9 percent of the votes, while Viktor Yanukovych received 44.4 percent; see http://www.cvu.org.ua/?menu=fp&po=doc&lang=ukr&date_end=&date_beg=&id=720.
We hope that you find this newsletter interesting. With any questions, comments and suggestions, please contact us at email@example.com Latest news about the PORA campaign can be found at www.pora.org.ua
Anastasia Bezverkha, Representative of the informational-educational PORA campaign