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Monday, February 28, 2005

 

A technical note

We've recently had some trouble getting through to Blogger's post editor, so if there are unusual gaps in posting, that's probably the cause. Thank you for your patience.

 

Khodorkovsky support site

A correspondent has recently told us about the Sovest group's site in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the other defendants in the Yukos case. Please do check it out.

The group's petition says:


We are addressing all people for whom the notions of 'justice' and 'fair trial' still retain their primary meaning and have not become the object of political gambling, to all people who want to live in a democratic Russia, a country based on the rule of law, with a developed market economy.

Today, we are witnessing a wide-scale operation staged by Russian law-enforcement agencies and the Prosecutor General’s Office and clearly aimed at the destruction of Russia’s largest private company that has had every opportunity of becoming the fourth major oil company in the world. The attempt to ruin YUKOS will definitely throw Russia far back both in economic and political terms.

Notwithstanding the allegations of those behind the attack against YUKOS that they are investigating the past acts of 'Khodorkovsky’s organized group', the scale of the persecutions goes far beyond the charges brought against the company and its shareholders. In this well-orchestrated campaign, various government bodies and law-enforcement agencies, from the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Department of Justice to the Department of Tax and Inland Revenue and the Department of Natural Resources, are acting in perfect unity and in accord with each other. It is absolutely impossible to believe that all these organizations brought charges against YUKOS at the same moment by pure coincidence.

The persecutions against the company’s managers and shareholders are accompanied by propaganda campaign in certain media on the idea of 'expropriating the oligarchs from their possessions', in other words, the redistribution of private property, which certainly contributes to kindling social conflicts. We view it as extremely dangerous that certain representatives of official authorities and various political associations are trying to provoke and intensify such trends within the public opinion.

Brutal force and pressure, threats and blackmail are the methods used against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other managers of the company. The country as a whole and Russian civil society are still lacking objective and full information about what is going on in the Khodorkovsky trial. If for so many years he has been effectively violating law, evading taxes, etc., as the authorities allege, why are they so frightened of an open court hearing? Why was a court hearing in Basmanny District Court scheduled for Monday 22 December only announced on the Friday evening before – virtually at the last moment, depriving Khodorkovsky’s lawyers of any reasonable opportunity to adequately prepare for it?

The recourse to such methods leaves no doubt that the Prosecutor General’s Office does not possess proper evidence to prove the culpability of the YUKOS former head. We are convinced of the political motivations behind the Khodorkovsky trial. We can assert with all certainty that the formal charges brought against Khodorkovsky result from the intention of the powers that be to exercise rough justice against the independent businessman who refused to bend to the Kremlin’s orders like so many of his counterparts. In our opinion, Khodorkovsky’s trial with all the attending circumstances strongly discredits Russian President Vladimir Putin, undermines the democratic institutions of Russia and the very idea of democracy.

We call for an open and adversary trial of Khodorkovsky’s case and the cases brought against other YUKOS employees, in the presence of the media and representatives of the general public. Only an open jury trial will help restore public trust in the official authorities. Otherwise, the latter will create a dangerous precedent of selective use of law with respect to citizens unwelcome to them or opposition-minded.

We want Russia to be a country where everyone is protected by law, but the brutal force methods used in the Khodorkovsky case have weakened this hope. For this reason, we are addressing all people who value freedom and democracy and want to see that human rights are respected in Russia. Think hard about what is going on; try to understand that the latest developments around YUKOS are closely affecting all of us. Try to find a way to express your protest against the violations of law and the authorities’ disregard of the rights of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and, consequently, of the rights of all Russian citizens.




Also of interest are these related blogs: Observatoire du Proces Khodorovski (French only) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky Society.

 

PORA exports oranges to Moldova

From The Kyiv Post:

Activists with the pro-democracy youth group that played a key role in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" street protests passed out oranges outside the Moldovan Embassy on Feb. 25 in rallies intended to highlight the need for democratic elections.

Some 30 activists from the group "Pora" handed over a huge basket of oranges to Moldovan diplomats, and called on Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to "conduct honest and democratic election" on March 6, according to a statement from the group.

The campaign in Moldova has heated up as Voronin accuses the opposition of planning an "Orange Revolution" after the elections, while the opposition says Voronin's administration is preparing election fraud.

The Pora statement also said activists handed out letters to ambassadors of Russia, Belarus and six other ex-Soviet countries, offering to their help in teaching democracy and sharing the experience of Ukraine's tumultuous, but peaceful turmoil last year

There was no comment on the action by any foreign representatives. Pora also said one of its leaders, Vlad Kaskiv, met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Bratislava on Feb. 24 during Bush's meeting with leaders of democratic movements from 13 eastern European countries.

 

'KGB chic' in Russia

From The Independent:

The democracy-hungry crowds who cheered as the statue of Soviet Communism's most reviled secret policeman was toppled in 1991 could not have imagined it in their most lurid dreams. But they are gradually being forced to accept an unsettling new reality in President Vladimir Putin's Russia: KGB chic is back and it is prikulno (cool) to be a secret agent.

Of an evening, diners in central Moscow's Shield and Sword restaurant (the emblem of the KGB) can be observed sipping Joseph Stalin's favourite red wine in the shadow of a replica of the very statue that was toppled. Felix Dzerzhinsky or Iron Felix, the bloodthirsty Pole who founded the forerunner to the KGB and unleashed the Red Terror against Vladimir Lenin's opponents, stares vigilantly into the middle distance as customers munch on wild game.

From blockbuster films where Russia's answer to James Bond saves the world, to television series glorifying the deeds of Soviet and Russian spooks, the world's most feared intelligence service is back in vogue, carefully nurtured by Mr Putin, a former KGB spymaster. ...

This month a "military-patriotic" TV channel - Zvezda or Star - aired in Moscow for the first time. It will soon be rolled out across the rest of the country with the backing of the Defence Ministry and will devote at least 10 per cent of its output to military matters. Its purpose is to reawaken dormant Russian pride in the armed forces.

Andrei Piontkovsky, a well-known political scientist, says KGB chic and glorification of the armed forces is going down well among Russians. "In Russia's political consciousness, the idea of strong power and order is quite popular ... and this propaganda is quite effective. It's not just about Chekhists [spies] but about the general militarisation of society. If you think you are encircled by enemies and some kind of fifth column then it's quite a natural process."

Mr Piontkovsky adds: "Nobody is going to restore Communism because the Chekhists have become millionaires. The idea of private property has won. But in Nazi Germany totalitarianism existed alongside private property and it had a different name. It was called fascism."

Mr Putin dismisses such talk as paranoid nonsense. In his view, democracy is not under threat but is merely being adapted to Russia's unique needs; unique needs which the West seems to be having increasing difficulty understanding.

 

Kyrgyz and Tajik elections

Although the event was largely ignored by the Western media, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan held elections on Sunday. OSCE has criticised both for failing to meet international standards:

The 27 February Kyrgyz parliamentary elections fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections in a number of important areas.

Despite positive aspects such as competitiveness and a calm and orderly election day, substantial shortcomings remain, concluded the International Election Observation Mission, in its preliminary findings and conclusions today. The Mission consisted of some 175 observers from 28 countries.

"These elections were more competitive than previous ones, but sadly this was undermined by vote buying, de-registration of candidates, interference with media and a worryingly low confidence in judicial and electoral institutions on the part of voters and candidates," said Kimmo Kiljunen, Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation and appointed by the OSCE Chairman in Office as the Special Co-ordinator of the short-term observers.

The Mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament.

Francesco Enrico Speroni, Head of the delegation of the European Parliament, said: "The voting and counting was peaceful and orderly and we welcome in particular the publication of polling station result protocols on the website of the Central Election Commission. It is a sign of increased transparency."

Observers visited over 650 polling stations on election day. Although the election was conducted in an overall orderly manner, there were a few cases of crowding and long queues. Observers assessed the voting and counting as poor or very poor in a notable 11 per cent of polling stations. The main problems were inaccurate voter lists, unauthorized persons in polling stations and family voting. There were also incidents of vote buying, pressure on voters and multiple voting.

Several shortcomings during the pre-election campaign affected the overall conduct of the elections. Repeated warnings by high officials of the dangers of potential civil war as well as associating the opposition with extremism had a negative effect on the election campaign. Interpretation of the Election Code was at times unduly restrictive and de-registration of candidates was inconsistent, causing significant public protests.

The legal framework was partially improved and the Central Election Commission took steps to increase transparency in its work and organise popular voters meetings. However, voter lists were inaccurate and at times inaccessible for voters and observers. In spite of genuine competitiveness in many constituencies and possibilities for candidates to convey their messages on State media, there were cases of freedom of expression and assembly being infringed upon.

Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj, who heads the OSCE/ODIHR long-term mission, urged Kyrgyz authorities to rectify some of the shortcomings in time for the second round of the elections. "We call on them to halt de-registration of candidates on minor technical grounds, to refrain from interference with media and not to make further inflammatory statements, accusing their opponents of extremism. These are steps that can be taken immediately and would greatly improve the second round."

***


The parliamentary election process in Tajikistan failed to meet many OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.

A number of important improvements to the electoral process were undercut by poor implementation and widespread irregularities on election day, concluded the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR Mission) in Tajikistan for the 27 February parliamentary elections.

The Mission consisted of over 150 observers from some 30 OSCE participating States, who were deployed throughout the country.

"The overall process was a disappointment", said Peter Eicher, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Mission. "We had great hopes for the election because of improvements in the legal framework and the participation of six parties and many candidates. Regrettably, however, there was too much official control over the political campaign, too many government officials directing election commissions and a pattern of government interference with the independent press. Although a great many election officials worked hard and did their jobs well, election day procedures in a disturbingly high number of areas were not conducted honestly," he added.

The Mission noted some improvements in the election law, but regretted that many of these were undermined by inadequate implementation. For example, the law's stipulations on the independence of election commissions and prohibition on interference in their work were undercut by the appointment of a great many local officials as election commissioners, bringing into question the independence of the election administration. Moreover, election commissions across the board lacked political balance.

In general, the candidate registration process was reasonably administered, but at least two prominent political leaders were denied registration on grounds contrary to international standards. The high deposit for candidate registration greatly limited the number of candidates who could run, especially women. The effective closure of several newspapers curtailed freedom of expression.

On the positive side, election day was calm and peaceful. The variety of political parties and candidates offered voters a choice and state media was reasonably balanced in its news coverage.

Voting and counting procedures should have been substantially improved by the introduction of important safeguards such as transparent ballot boxes, ballot security features, the use of ink to complete protocols, and requirements to provide protocols to observers, as well as a good programme of training for election officials. In practice, however, legal procedures were often disregarded. Proxy voting was a serious and widespread problem. Observers witnessed numerous instances of manipulation during the vote counting and the tabulation of votes at District Election Commissions. In many instances, observers were obstructed in their work.

The Mission focused on the legal framework for elections, election administration, the political campaign, and the role of the media. It met extensively with candidates and representatives of political parties, government officials, electoral authorities, the media and civil society.

The OSCE/ODIHR will continue to follow the election process, and will issue a Final Report, including recommendations, approximately six weeks after its completion.


The Independent speaks of hopes for a 'tulip revolution' in Kyrgyzstan.

 

More on Kazakh 'anti-extremism' law

Forum 18 carries a report on Kazahstan's new 'anti-extremism' law:

"I'm very concerned that the president signed these laws despite the fierce criticism of the drafts by both foreign and domestic human rights activists," the president of the Almaty Helsinki Committee Ninel Fokina told Forum 18 News Service on 23 February in Almaty. Legal specialist Roman Podoprigora was equally concerned, complaining of numerous "imperfections" in the laws. While Muslim and Russian Orthodox representatives expressed no concern, Kazakhstan's Hare Krishna leader Vidiya Volkova told Forum 18 the new laws against extremism "undoubtedly present a serious danger to us".

The law on countering extremist activity fails to give a clear definition of extremism. According to article 1, extremism is defined as "the organisation and/or the carrying out of actions by a person, group of people or organisation in the name of organisations that are formally recognised as extremist". Thus the term extremism, defined with the help of the adjective derived from the same root, can be understood from the law only subjectively. Since the definition of extremism is vague, in theory the state could use it against any religious association.

According to article 6 of the law, "the state agency for relations with religious associations will
- study and analyse the activity of religious associations that have been established on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan and of foreign citizens engaged in preaching and/or disseminating any form of religious belief;
- the agency will also implement information and propaganda measures on issues that are within its competence
- will consider issues relating to breaking the law on freedom of conscience by religious associations,
- and will make representations to forbid the activity of religious associations which have broken the Republic of Kazakhstan's laws on countering extremism."

It is clear that article 6 significantly strengthens state control over the life of religious communities.

 

Der Spiegel on Bush and Putin

Der Spiegel raises a shocking question:

Could Bush Be Right?

The European media has been fond of taking Putin to task for his waywardness. The silence from European leaders, particularly from Schroeder, has been deafening.

To be fair, Schroeder has a defense at the ready. He feels that the best way to ensure that Putin continues (or resumes) his careful approach to the West is to be gentle. There are also a number of German business interests at stake in Russia -- centering primarily on Russia's enormous oil and gas deposits -- that Schroeder is midwifing.

But Bush, for all his diplomatic bumbling prior to and even since the Iraq war (and including his faux pas on Wednesday night when he neglected to take off his gloves when greeting his Slovakian hosts), is not shy about confronting Putin when he sees a problem. Furthermore, he does so publicly, making it much more difficult for Putin to return to business as usual. Indeed, the cheery press conference -- while to be expected -- was all the more interesting for the clear disagreements separating the two leaders and the direct way Bush addressed those differences. Diplomacy, Bush seemed to be saying, can -- and perhaps should -- work like a friendship. Tell your friend when you think he or she is straying. But at the same time, show your commitment to the foundation of the relationship.

Chancellor Schroeder should take the lesson to heart.


Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists welcome Bush's support.

Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Stand up to Putin

From a commentary by Taras Chaban in The Independent:

Even before the meeting at Bratislava Castle, the US President had expressed, in his most outspoken language yet on Russia, Washington's concerns about the reversal of democratic reforms and the rule of law. During a speech in Brussels he also urged European Union governments to place democracy at the heart of their dialogue with the Putin government.

Putin was quick to offer reassurance yesterday about these fears being "unfounded". But Bush is right to be alarmed about the safety of democratic institutions and the behaviour of the Putin government towards Russia's neighbouring states. Bush is also right to lecture the EU's most powerful states that they need to adopt as strong a tone as Washington seems to be doing in their dealings with Moscow.

Vladimir Putin came to power on the promise of resolving the conflict in the southern republic of Chechnya. Although we no longer see the conflict on our television screens, it is far from resolved and should be a cause of grave concern for all of us.

Putin's government may have justified concerns about the rapid privatisation of the economy that began under Boris Yeltsin and the scale of tax evasion that continues today. However, his government's corrective actions are increasingly directed against those who support democratic opposition. Putin seems to focus on individuals who oppose him politically as opposed to adopting policies that would clamp down on tax evasion while at the same time reassuring investors. Boris Berezovsky managed to escape to London. The Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not so lucky.

Nor has the Putin government been shy about meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbours. Moscow encouraged and supported a corrupt government in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, keeping independent Georgia divided. Putin openly supported Viktor Yanukovych, the original, pro-government winner of the discredited Ukrainian presidential elections. Moscow's favoured candidate came from a government that stood accused of corruption, media harassment and even the killings of journalists. Putin congratulated Mr Yanukovych on his win before the official results were announced, disregarding the concerns of international observers or the due process of law represented by the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

Western governments should not be fooled by the pro-democratic rhetoric of the Russian government. We heard more of that yesterday when the President insisted: "Russia has made its choice in favour of democracy."

What we need to see are clear actions that support the words, and we must see these actions now. There must at least be a small chance for Russian democratic parties to develop and strengthen before the next presidential elections. Yet surprisingly we have heard little from the heads of government of the biggest EU states on this subject.

One would expect them to neither hesitate nor tire of stressing to Putin the importance of upholding democratic values in Russia. But the European Union has yet to establish or follow a consistent policy towards the Russian Federation. Clearly it is difficult for the all 25 EU leaders to reach a complete consensus. But a coherent line should be possible since we all agree on the basic principles: free elections, free press and human rights.

And there are practical steps that can be taken. Russia's democratic institutions and parties must be encouraged and supported. Aid should be made available to support independent newspapers, TV and radio channels. There should be a firm indication from the EU of the consequences that the Russian government faces should it fail to grant the minimum freedoms expected of a democratic society. These consequences could include higher trade tariffs, blocking Russian membership in the World Trade Organisation and exclusion from the G8 group of industrialised nations.

 

New youth groups in Russia

From The Moscow
Times
:

Two liberal youth movements joined forces on Thursday in their fight against President Vladimir Putin's policies and claimed the time was right for a mass pro-democracy movement in Russia similar to those in Ukraine and Serbia.

The Yabloko party's youth wing and the fledging youth movement Idushchiye Bez Putina, or Moving Without Putin, signed a pact to work together to fight against what they saw as Putin's increasingly authoritarian policies.

At a news conference in Yabloko's Moscow headquarters, the party's youth leader Ilya Yashin and Moving Without Putin's Moscow organizer Roman Dobrokhotov predicted Russia would soon have a student movement similar to those that organized successful street protests leading to changes of government in Ukraine and Serbia.

Pointing to a map of Russia on the wall behind them, Yashin and Dobrokhotov said a host of clenched fist signs, the symbol of Serbia's Otpor movement, showed the places across the country where other student opposition movements operated. They said they hoped to join forces with these groups that currently were scattered and lack proper organization.

"Our values are liberal democracy, civil rights and freedom, our methods are street protests to influence mass consciousness. We want to teach people how to fight for their rights," said Dobrokhotov, who was wearing an orange shirt.

Asked whether the shirt was in honor of the Orange Revolution street protests in Kiev, Dobrokhotov said it was a color that "unites those who fight for freedom."

"This is a color that is not linked to extremism or nationalism," he said.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

 

Bush meets with Putin

Watch this space .

 

Only independent Kyrgyz press shut down

From Freedom House:

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Michael Goldfarb
212-514-8040 x12

KYRGYZSTAN: RESTORE INDEPENDENT PRINTING PRESS

NEW YORK, February 23, 2005 - Freedom House today protested the shut-down of the only independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan, coming just four days before scheduled national elections.

In the early morning hours of February 22, electrical power was cut off to a printing house operated by the Media Support Center Foundation, a Kyrgyz non-governmental organization. The press, which provides professional printing services to over sixty local and regional newspapers, was shut down shortly after Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev reacted publicly to media reports alleging that he and his family were tainted by corruption.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place February 27. According to Anthony Lake, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Media Support Center Foundation, the Foundation provides Kyrgyz citizens with a diverse array of publications and is strictly non-partisan in its operations, printing a range of commercial products and newspapers from the region. "This is an attack not only on a legitimate business operation, but also on democracy. The Foundation is operating in full compliance with the Kyrgyz laws. The press has an obligation to its customers, and it is not in the best interests of the Kyrgyz government to arbitrarily suspend legitimate business operations," said Mr. Lake.

Freedom House noted that the decision to shut down the press just before the elections was a political act. "This action raises concerns that the Kyrgyz government seeks to deny opposition newspapers and candidates a voice in the crucial pre-election period," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Shutting off the electrical power to the only independent printing press in the country is, in effect, an act of censorship."

President Akaev has accused the Kyrgyz media of "systematic information terror" and has declared his intention to file a criminal libel suit against the independent newspaper MSN, which is printed by the independent press.

"President Akaev, as an elected leader who should be protecting the rights of his own citizens, must be the first one to strengthen democratic values, including freedom of speech. We are concerned that these recent anti-democratic steps throw into question the Kyrgyz authorities' pledge to hold elections that meet international standards and that give the Kyrgyz people a genuine opportunity to express their will," said Ms. Windsor.

 

Apathy in Tajikistan

From Reuters AlertNet:

Tajikistan, the poorest ex- Soviet state, votes on Sunday in a parliamentary election touted officially as a triumph of democracy but seen by the West and opposition as an unfair race favouring the president's party.

In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, which elects a new legislature on Feb. 27, a small and disparate opposition has held protest rallies, unnerving authorities with calls for a Ukraine-style "velvet" revolution.

But apathy reigns in Tajikistan, a mountainous Central Asian nation of 7 million where many voters and opposition leaders see the election as a pre-scripted victory for supporters of veteran President Imomali Rakhmonov.

In 2003 Rakhmonov oversaw a referendum on constitutional change which allows him two more seven-year terms after his current, and last, one expires next year.

The free press is muzzled, several independent journalists have been beaten by unidentified assailants and two opposition leaders have been jailed in the run-up to the election on what Rakhmonov's opponents say are trumped up charges.

"This year's election is likely to be held with numerous violations," Rakhmatullo Valiyev, deputy head of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, told Reuters.

"Widespread fraud, stronger (state) interference in the election -- all this will be present," Rakhmatillo Zoyirov, head of the liberal Social Democratic Party, echoed him.

Four of the six parties running are opposition ones. But their prospects are low, because election commissions in the vastly rural nation are often controlled by pro-Rakhmonov local bosses.

 

IHT on Belarus and Moldova

From The International Herald Tribune:

The popular uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine have raised the morale of the small opposition movements in Belarus and Moldova, and they said Wednesday that they were more determined than ever to continue the struggle for democracy.

Civil society groups attending a conference in Bratislava on Wednesday, the day before President George W. Bush was to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, said they had learned a huge amount from the movements that had peacefully overthrown authoritarian regimes in Slovakia, Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

A crucial lesson, they said, was in using the Internet as a powerful tool to defeat state-controlled media.

"If it can happen in Georgia and Ukraine, then it can happen in Belarus," said Irina Krasovskaya, president of We Remember Foundation, which she established in Belarus in 1999 after her husband, Anatoly Krasovsky, and the vice president of Parliament, Victor Gonchar, disappeared. They have never been found.

Bush, on the last leg of his five-day trip to Europe, is expected to urged Putin on Thursday to cease his support for authoritarian governments in Belarus and Moldova and to stop meddling in Georgia. More than 16 months ago, the nonviolent "Rose Revolution" in Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze from power. Nevertheless, Russian troops remain in the country and continue to support separate movements that undermine Georgia's territorial integrity and stability.

"Putin is becoming isolated and even paranoid," said Carl Gershman, president of the U.S National Endowment for Democracy. "The lessons of Ukraine have not been learned. Russia's reaction is to dig in."

This response by Russia gives the U.S. a crucial role, not only in terms of financial support but political as well, according to these civil society groups. For them, Bush's State of the Union address last month in which he spelled out his vision for spreading democracy was a psychologically important signal to them.

"Bush is a big supporter of democracy and in our part of the world as well," said Andrei Sannikov, a former Belarusian deputy foreign minister who is the co-founder of the civil initiative Charter '97 and a staunch critic of President Alexander Lukashenka, who has intensified his crackdown on opposition and independent media.

Yet many of those interviewed also said that financial support and political backing by the U.S. or the EU had not been sufficient to oust the authoritarian regimes in Slovakia and Serbia, and in future, Belarus and Moldova.

Instead, the participants said there were common threads running through the civil society movements that helped them overthrow authoritarian rulers.

When the Slovak opposition ousted President Vladimir Meciar from power in 1998, they had two things working in their favor.

One was the immense lure of joining the EU and NATO. The other was the Internet as a powerful tool used by opposition groups to coordinate, inform and organize.

 

Youth involvement in Kyrgyzstan

From Radio Free Europe:

"The wave has risen. The thunder has awoken. The time has come, a time for celebration of the victory of good over evil...."

That’s the campaign song of KelKel, a youthful political movement that is making waves in Kyrgyzstan. Loosely translated, KelKel means “new epoch” in Kyrgyz and the group -- using adapted lyrics to a popular movie tune -- is appealing to youth across the country to vote on 27 February against a government it accuses of corruption and authoritarian practices.

KelKel is one of many youth groups and parties that have sprung up recently in Kyrgyzstan, representing the full political spectrum from pro-government to neutral, to resolutely antigovernment.

It should be no surprise that the youth factor is playing an important role in the poll. Kyrgyzstan’s population, like that of many of its neighbors, is young. Some 55 percent of its inhabitants are under the age of 35. But up until now, democracy advocates say young people have been too passive and let themselves be manipulated by the government.

This time, they are hoping things will be different, although they admit it is an uphill battle.

KelKel’s leader, Alisher Mamasaliev, faces a court case over an allegedly unsanctioned rally. He has been accused by officials of trying to import revolution from Ukraine and Georgia -- a charge he resolutely denies. Mamasaliev told RFE/RL that KelKel was founded after numerous complaints by university students over rights violations. He stressed that it is a homegrown movement responding to local needs.

"After they told us about the pressures they faced during voting, about how university rectors force students living in dormitories to vote for a particular candidate or face expulsion from university, we decided to create an independent youth organization to defend the rights of students and also give them information about their voting rights," Mamasaliev said.

RFE/RL contacted the Kyiv offices of the Ukrainian youth movement Pora, to ask them to comment on the Kyrgyz government’s accusations of foreign interference in the elections. Pora coordinator Vladyslav Kaskiv said his group is working to establish contacts with youth organizations throughout the region and has found partners in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, for example. But he stresses that everything is transparent. And as of now, he emphasized, Pora has had no contacts with Kyrgyz youth groups.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 

Charismatic pastor charged in Belarus

From Forum 18:


Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko of the Minsk-based charismatic New Life Church is again facing prosecution for organising religious meetings without state permission, he told Forum 18 News Service from the Belarusian capital on 16 February. Following their inspection of Sunday worship on 23 January, local police announced the charges on 25 January, and an initial district court hearing took place on 10 February. A second hearing is set for 1 March.

Identical charges brought against the pastor in late 2004 no longer stand because the legal time limit for their pursuit has elapsed, Goncharenko explained to Forum 18. The latest charges are feared to be part of official moves to close down the church under Belarusian law (see F18News 25 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=498).


While members of New Life's 600-strong congregation argue that no one can be considered the organiser of their meetings since "each person attends of their own initiative and free will," the procuracy maintains that there are "no grounds" to doubt the testimonies of three police officers that resulted in Yurevich's prosecution.

As a last resort, New Life Church has been worshipping at a disused cowshed in Minsk's Moscow district ever since being barred from renting a public "house of culture" in September 2004. As Yurevich told procuracy officials in December, the church was earlier refused requests to rent public facilities by district administrations throughout Minsk. The 2002 religion law requires state permission for religious gatherings in premises not specially designed for worship.

 

Voters' doubt in Kyrgyzstan

From Reuters AlertNet:

Voter turnout is expected to be higher than in previous elections for a number of reasons, including the unique and decisive political moment, events in Ukraine and Georgia which have inspired many voters hoping for change, as well as numerous voter rights awareness raising campaigns, supported by international donors. Moreover, the candidates themselves have matured since 2000 and improved their outreach techniques. Never before have voters been so inundated with so much political advertising reaching out to them from billboards, loudspeakers, television and radio.

Despite all that, most voters in the mountainous state are unconvinced that the elections will be fair and free. "Elections have never been fair before and they will not be fair now," Nikolai Sidorenko, a resident of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, told IRIN. "I will go and vote, but not because I believe that it will change anything... I don't have anything interesting to do on Sunday and these elections will be a good reason to take a walk."

The NGO Interbilim, which supports the development of civil society in Kyrgyzstan, reports numerous violations observed by their staff. "We have seen many cases of illegal campaigning. The methods are very simple. Candidates' representatives distribute coal, vodka or potatoes to the people, paint their doorways or simply invite the whole house for a free meal," Elena Voronina of Interbilim told IRIN. "Most of those who live below the poverty line are ready to vote for such a benevolent person. Our trainers teach these people that they should vote according to their beliefs and are not obliged to return the favour."

According to the NGO, the population remains passive and poorly informed about the elections. "Many people do not even know the date when the elections will take place. Surprisingly, many of them think we are electing a new president this Sunday. Retired persons remain the most active and best informed group of all," Elena Lamygina, a trainer for Interbilim, told IRIN.

The university authorities use a combination of methods to influence the voting decisions of their students. The passports of university students who come from outside Bishkek are confiscated and then returned with a registration stamp which makes them residents in one of the hostels and forces them to vote in that particular constituency. "I have received this registration stamp and the university people threaten to kick me out if I do not vote for Akaeva," another student told IRIN.

"The university authorities told our classmates that before the elections we will receive ballots already marked for Bermet Akaeva. We will have to put this ballot in and return the clean one to our deans," he added.

Bermet Akaeva is reportedly the only candidate allowed to conduct meetings freely with students. "We would like to meet other candidates but they are not allowed on campus. Their political advertisements are instantly removed... During our meetings with Akaeva we were warned not to ask any provocative questions. Once I asked her about her family's property and was called out of the auditorium immediately and warned not to ask such questions again," one student told IRIN.

Bolotbek Maripov, who is running against Akaeva in the constituency, confirmed that he too had been prohibited from conducting any meetings with students. "Those who eventually dared to talk to me were put on a list of candidates to be expelled from the university. During a special raid the administration confiscated all alternative campaigning material in the dormitories... Students are not allowed to have their own political preferences," Maripov maintained in an interview with the local Analitika newspaper.

Maripov suggested that students try to resist the authorities by any means possible. "Take the ballot marked for Akaeva and put a second mark against another candidate. This way you will make the ballot invalid."

According to Khalida Rakisheva, director of Bishkek's centre for social initiatives, which works to protect the rights of internal migrants, 77 percent of people arriving to Bishkek come from rural areas in search of employment, with many of them working in the capital's Osh bazaar or other markets.

"Nobody ever counted these people. There could be from 80,000 to 500,000 of them, mostly 14-34 years old. They are a special kind of voters who do not have registration in the capital. According to the law they should go back home to vote, but most of them do not have the money to pay for the fare. So, they are not voting," Rakisheva told IRIN.

People living in new housing blocks built without the state's permission are not registered anywhere and will not vote either. "After the elections many of these people, dissatisfied with the results, will come out onto the streets to protest, but it will be too late. We are informing them about their rights now, telling them to use their voice. If they don't, they should keep their mouth shut for the next five years," Rakisheva continued.

Another problematic group are some 100,000 voters, comprised of those citizens who failed to have their passports renewed or exchanged due to a recent passport reform crisis.

Additionally, the Central Elections Commission made a decision not to organise polling stations for Kyrgyz citizens abroad, something Tursunbai Bakir uulu calls a violation of their civil rights. "What about those 700,000 Kyrgyz citizens who live and work in Russia? Who will vote for them?" he asked.

 

A very special brand

Putin says Russia has its own brand of democracy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

Arrests of Muslims in Uzbekistan

From Muslim Uzbekistan:

Numerous reports sent to "Muslim Uzbekistan" from the Uzbek capital confirm the fact of arrest of 12 Muslims by the Ministry of Internal Affairs during 18-19 February operations in Tashkent. According to a source in the MIA 120 Muslims are planned to be detained during current deliberate arrests.

The list of newly arrested people includes some amnestied former prisoners. Therefore many people in Tashkent have a dread of becoming another victim of the regime. According to reports secret shadowing and searches from the direction of security services and police are noticeably especially in the areas where inhabitants are mostly Muslims. Some people are reportedly forced to leave their places. The reason of such harsh measures of Uzbek government remains unknown. None of arrested were told of having connection to one or another Islamic groups.

 

Putin wants tougher policy in Caucasus

From Reuters AlertNet:


Russia should be tougher in its battle against Islamic radicals in the North Caucasus, President Vladimir Putin said on Monday, suggesting there would be no change in tactics in a 10-year war Russia has yet to win.

He was responding to a briefing from his interior minister about a weekend siege in the town of Nalchik, some 120 km (75 miles) from Chechnya, which was the latest sign of how radicalism is spreading across Russia's south.

"We need to continue working in the same way, and to get tougher with them," Itar-Tass quoted him as telling Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev.

Putin's comments appeared to run contrary to the views of some analysts who believe advisers were putting pressure on the president to end the war against the rebels because the no-surrender policy was not working.

 

3,000 Russian draftees die each year

More grim news about the Russian military from mosnews.com:

Every year, about 3,000 draftees die in the Russian Army, Right of Mother charity reported.

The foundation accused the Defense Ministry of “slyness” when publishing the information that 1,100 people had died in the Russian Army in 2004. “According to our data, this quantity is three times higher,” the charity head, Veronika Marchenko, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

In 2004, 28 percent of draftees’ deaths took place in Moscow military district, 14 percent in the North Caucasus district, 10 percent in Leningrad district. 35 percent of parents who had addressed the foundation, received notifications that their sons had committed suicide, Marchenko said. 15-16 percent of draftees are killed by their colleagues or die after being heavily beaten. 17 percent of deaths take place during military operations.

Marchenko added that parents often do not believe official statements on their sons’ deaths because the officials do not want to answer their questions in detail “and wave aside in a rude form.” For instance, parents were told that their son had jumped out of the window after having hanged decoration on a New Year Tree. In another case, an official said there is no surprise the draftee had to take his own life because he was reading Chekhov.

“In a hundred cases we were able to prove in the court that the reason of a soldier’s death was not suicide but driving to suicide or pure murder,” the charity’s lawyer, Lyudmila Golikova, said. The parents of dead draftees have now lost some benefits after the law on benefit cancellation, she said.

 

Roza Otunbaeva interview

From PM, an Australian radio programme:

This Sunday parliamentary polls will be held in two strategically crucial countries in Central Asia – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Both are key to the war against terror and the drug trade.

Analysts say of the two, Kyrgyzstan is most likely to embrace its pro-Western opposition. Leader, Roza Otunbaeva, has already picked the colour for Kyrgyzstan's hoped for revolution – yellow, the colour of the national flower.

ROZA OTUNBAEVA: Opposition in our country is learning very fast. For example we united together before the election.

We started protests. My political movement started pickets and demonstration in front of our parliament. We give the signal to people, don't have fear, go and fight for your rights and since that time people are going to demonstrations. They are going to meetings.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Kyrgyzstan's Opposition leader, Roza Otunbaeva, has herself been banned from this weekend's parliamentary poll on a technicality. But she says her exclusion has only added momentum to the Opposition's cause.

ROZA OTUNBAEVA: People think 15 years after Soviet time, this year's been very difficult. People, nation, given to their President a lot of credit of trust that they will implement a lot of reforms, they will bring democracy and so on. After 15 years they're tired, life didn't change.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Kyrgyzstan's President, Askar Akayev, has faced increasing criticism for human rights abuses. His term could be coming to an end. By law he can't run for re-election in the next presidential poll due this October. But there's talk he may simply change the law. Others believe he's grooming his daughter to replace him.

Kyrgyzstan's Opposition knows October's presidential election will be the real opportunity for change.

ROZA OTUNBAEVA: We want to live in democracy, we demand democracy, and we feel that our President, he plays with democracy, with this word. When people in my country they hear the word of democracy they just want to leave this place.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Other Central Asian states are facing similar political ferment.

In oil-rich Kazakhstan the President has moved to crush any uprising, extending his own rule and shutting down the main opposition party. It had sent a delegation to Ukraine to monitor the Orange Revolution.

And in neighbouring Uzbekistan, the President has openly warned he would react with force.

Analysts are divided about when and where a new pro-democracy revolution could take place. Central Asia specialist, Alexei Malashenko, says the reverse is more likely, toward an authoritarian regime.

ALEXEI MALASHENKO: From the point of view of the victory, victory of the revolutions, Ukraine and Georgia are exceptions, because the main trends on the post-Soviet space proves that the revolutions have no chance.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But he says opposition actions in the region at least represent the beginnings of civil society, perhaps a foundation for change in coming years.

Monday, February 21, 2005

 

Moldova expels Russian 'spies'

From The Moscow Times:


Moldova's secret service said Sunday that 21 Russians expelled or detained by police this month had traveled to Moldova to spy on the president and other politicians ahead of March 6 general elections.

The Russians had been falsely posing as human rights activists, consultants and political observers, said a statement from the Intelligence and Security Service.

Five Russians were expelled on Feb. 11 for meddling in the electoral process. On Friday, 20 foreigners, including 16 Russians, were detained on suspicion of illegally working for a Moldovan political party, the authorities said.

The statement accused them of "fabricating documents to show that Moldovan authorities were preparing to persecute the opposition, carrying out surveillance of Communist candidates ... creating networks specialized in corrupting and bribing" electoral officials.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

 

Craig Murray interview

Craig Murray, who was sacked as Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan after exposing human-rights abuses, has spoken to Radio Free Europe about his experiences in the country.


I think the brutality in Tashkent was so extreme and so all-pervasive that it was necessary to expose it. I did speak out very strongly, but for example [former U.S. Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright had made a speech in 2000 which was just as strong as anything I ever said about the regime in Tashkent. Sadly, of course, with the coming of the [George W.] Bush administration, America decided it was again going to start backing some nasty dictators who they viewed as on their side, and the American position changed, and the rest of the West was only too eager to fall in behind that noncritical support of [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov. But that was in violation of every international agreement on human rights, and I was only speaking along the lines of accepted British policy. ...

When I first arrived in Uzbekistan, as a new ambassador you make courtesy calls on other ambassadors. When I called on other European Union ambassadors and said to them, 'Goodness the human rights situation here is terrible, this is a really nasty dictatorship,' two of them said to me absolutely directly, 'Yes we know, but we don't mention that because they're [Uzbekistan] close allies of the United States.' And there was an understanding among ambassadors in Tashkent that they just pretended not to notice what was going on. ...

The U.S. sometimes tries to pretend there are bits and pieces of reform. For example, two years ago the U.S. ambassador was loudly proclaiming the abolition of censorship. [the U.S. ambassador said in 2002 he welcomed the move to end official media censorship, but added it was only a first step leading Uzbekistan to an open society.] In fact no such thing has happened, Uzbekistan is still 100 percent censored in its media. And when the State Department cut $12 million of aid last year because of Uzbekistan's appalling human rights record, the Pentagon immediately gave an increase in military aid of more than twice that to make it up. ...

There is certainly no more freedom in Uzbekistan than there is in Belarus, and the regime in Tashkent is still more vicious and violent than the regime of [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka. And Lukashenka we're quite happy to ostracize and bring sanctions against while we court Karimov. If you take Zimbabwe, which was named as one of [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice's evil dictatorships, I have no time for President [Robert] Mugabe, but there is an opposition in Zimbabwe, and people can, at some risk, go to the polls and vote for an opposition candidate, and they do so. There is an independent judiciary in Zimbabwe whereas there is no such thing in Tashkent. Uzbekistan is certainly in the 'Top 10' for dictatorial regimes in the world and we should treat it as such. We don't have any difficulty treating Mugabe and Lukashenka as pariahs, so why should we not treat Karimov in the same way?

 

U.S. urges fair election in Moldova

From SignOnSanDiego.com:


The United States urged Moldova on Friday to take immediate steps to ensure a fair parliamentary election next month after opposition complaints that Communist authorities are trying to rig the vote.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, in a statement issued by the U.S. embassy, said Washington wanted Moldova to uphold its good record in staging elections but noted "disturbing" trends.

"Reports of biased coverage in the public media, harassment of the opposition by police, intimidation of independent civil society groups and use of public resources for campaign purposes are cause for particular concern and could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election," Boucher said.

"We appeal to Moldova's leadership to take immediate decisive action to remove any doubts about the fairness of the campaign and election."

Opposition parties, led by the Christian Democrats who stand for closer ties with Romania, have accused authorities of intimidation and warned of widespread fraud in the country of four million. They have planned protests after the vote.

Voronin, the only elected Communist leading an ex-Soviet state, last week dismissed talk of a street revolution like that which swept Ukraine late last year as a "stupidity" and rejected any notion of organised fraud.

 

Azerbaijan: Protestor dies in custody

From Reuters AlertNet:


The Azerbaijani government must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the death in custody of a prisoner convicted for his participation in the October 2003 post-election disturbances, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 17, 20-year-old Algait Magaramov died in prison No.17, where he had been serving a three-year sentence. He was one of 125 people brought to trial on charges relating to violent clashes that erupted between security forces and demonstrators protesting fraud during the presidential election in October 2003.

"This is a tragic ending for a man caught up in a very unfortunate chapter in Azerbaijan's history," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. "It is the duty of the Azerbaijani authorities to find out what happened to this young man."

Magaramov's relatives told Human Rights Watch that when they last saw him on February 8 he had been in good health. They said that the authorities had provided no explanation for his death, but had promised the results of an autopsy carried out before his burial today in a week to ten days. One doctor with whom they spoke suggested that he died of a heart attack. His relatives, however, emphasized that he had always been fit and healthy. They saw no signs of injuries on his body.

According to the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, "[a] death in any type of custody should be regarded as prima facie a summary or arbitrary execution, and appropriate investigation should immediately be made to confirm or rebut the presumption. The results of investigations should be made public."

In the October 2003 presidential election, the government carried out a well-organized campaign of fraud to ensure victory for Ilham Aliev. Massive street demonstrations protesting the fraud erupted in violence. The government responded with brutal and excessive force, unleashing its security forces to beat hundreds of demonstrators, some to the point of losing consciousness, and killing at least one protester.

Magaramov's relatives told Human Rights Watch that police brutally beat him after his arrest in October 2003 and tried to force him to give evidence against opposition party leaders. Magaramov gave evidence in court about his torture, but the judge rejected it, finding that the medical report he presented did not confirm injuries on his body. According to his relatives, the medical examination was carried out several months after the beating.

 

Belarusian paper must pay damages

From IFEX:


(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned the use of "spurious pretexts" by Belarusian authorities with the intent of closing down the national sports daily "Pressbol", one of the few remaining independent newspapers in the country, with a circulation of 25,000 copies.


On 16 February 2005, the Supreme Court upheld a second Information Ministry warning to the newspaper that would allow the authorities to order its closure within three months. Meanwhile, on 10 February, the Minsk Municipal Court confirmed that "Pressbol" must pay 16,000 euros (approx. US$20,900) in libel damages to Finance Minister Nikolai Korbut. The decision will effectively ruin the paper, even without the closure order, RSF noted.

"The use of spurious pretexts allows the authorities to progressively reduce the space for expressing views that do not conform to the thinking of President Alexander Lukashenko," RSF said. "President Lukashenko would do well to respect press freedom in Belarus instead of accusing the international press, both western and Russian, of waging a campaign against him."

On 4 January, a Minsk court ordered "Pressbol" to pay Korbut 16,000 euros in damages as a result of a libel action the minister had brought over an October 2004 article headlined, "Belarusian finance minister wanted by Interpol and implicated in organising a criminal gang". The article claimed Korbut had links with shady Russian businessman Andrei Imanali.

On 5 January, "Pressbol" received a second warning from the Information Ministry after printing a statement by Korbut in its 21 December issue, in which the minister explained his reasons for suing "Pressbol". According to the ministry's warning, the newspaper failed to obtain judicial authorisation before publishing the statement.

For further information, contact Pascale Bonnamour at RSF, 5, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 67, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: europe@rsf.org, Internet: http://www.rsf.org


Friday, February 18, 2005

 

Religious repression in Uzbekistan

Forum 18 brings us two reports from Uzbekistan:


Registration denial leads to prosecution risk

Protestant sources told Forum 18 that, on 7 January 2005, the Tashkent regional Justice Department refused to register the Peace Church, a Protestant congregation in Chirchik. In its response to the church justifying the refusal, which Forum 18 has seen, the Justice Department wrote that:
"- 1. In the Uzbek text of the religious organisation's statutes there are many grammatical and spelling mistakes.
- 2. In the church's statutes there is no information as to when and by what church body the church statutes were approved.
- 3. Earlier, in 1998-2002, this church carried out its activities under the name 'United Church of Evangelical Christians' and was not part of any church association….
- On the basis of the above and following the requirements of the 'Rules regarding the assessment of applications for state registration of religious organisations in the republic of Uzbekistan'….your application for state registration of your Statutes has been left unassessed…"

Article 10 of Uzbekistan's religion law, which specifies what the statutes of religious organisations need to contain, does not state that any of the requirements of the regional justice department are necessary. Ironically, the Justice Department's reply to the Peace Church also contains a number of grammatical errors.

The Tashkent community of the Jehovah's Witnesses has long been denied registration, despite renewed attempts to register since March 2004. "The Tashkent Justice Department simply refuses to accept our application documents," Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Andrei Shirobokov, told Forum 18 in Tashkent on 8 February.

He points out the impact of such decisions on his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses. "It results in a never-ending cycle: the police periodically fine our believers because of the activities of unregistered religious congregations, while the justice authorities simply ignore our attempts to register those religious congregations."

***


Prisoner's wife freed – but why was she jailed?

On 11 February Halima Boltobayeva, from Margelan in the Uzbek part of the Fergana [Farghona] valley, was given a one year suspended prison sentence the Navoi [Nawoli] city court in central Uzbekistan. She had already spent two months in jail before the trial, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Judge Zainuddin Begmatov, who presided at all three sessions of the trial, imposed this sentence for Boltobayeva's alleged breaching of both came under article 25 of the Criminal Code (preparation for a crime or attempt to commit a crime) and article 159 (undermining the constitutional order). The Prosecutor had called for Boltobayeva to be sentenced to three years in jail under article 25.

Boltobayeva, a Muslim whose husband is in jail, insists that she is innocent of any offence and that the real reason for her trial was that she annoyed prison staff when visiting her husband. She states that she was told by prison staff that she dressed like a female Muslim terrorist, as she wears the hijab headscarf and a long garment that covers her entire body. She retorted that she would dress as she believed was fitting which, according to a local human rights activist, led to prison staff arresting her to, as they put it, show "who is boss here." As a reason for their actions, prison staff claimed to have found leaflets on her from the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Boltova has insisted that these leaflets were planted.

 

RSF statement on Kyrgyzstan

President manipulates media in runup to legislative elections


In the runup to legislative elections on 27 February, President Askar Akayev is using his control of Kyrgyzstan's news media to smear or neutralize the opposition and eliminate any danger of a revolution through the polls akin to what has taken place in the past 15 months in Georgia and Ukraine, Reporters Without Borders said today.
The press freedom organization said it called on President Akayev to respect the principle of press diversity as an essential guarantor of democratic elections.
"We alert the members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observation mission currently in Kyrgyzstan to the danger of the media being manipulated by the authorities during this crucial election period," Reporters Without Borders said.
The website of the student opposition movement Kel-Kel (http://www.kelkel.kg) has been blocked by the ISP Asiainfo. The name of this organization - comparable to the "Pora" movement in Ukraine, "Kmara" in Georgia and "Otpor" in Serbia - has been usurped by a clone group that is claiming the "kelkel.kg" domain name. The name was reportedly registered in record time with the justice ministry - in one day instead of the month usually needed.
On 8 January, messages designed to discredit several opposition political figures were somehow sent from e-mail addresses belonging to the opposition websites gazeta.kg and centrasia.ru without the knowledge of those in charge.
The other pillar of Akayev's media strategy is strict censorship and control of who talks on the media. Aside from the 25 candidates who are the associates of Akayev and his family, no candidates were able to express themselves in the media before 2 February, the end of the candidate registration period.
All the media, whether pro-government or independent, have been given detailed instructions on how the legislative elections are to be covered. In particular, they have been told to concentrate on covering the ruling party candidates.
Most of the media are now controlled by associates of Akayev. This has allowed him to talk at length in an aggressive fashion about "a foreign contamination that would attack the traditions of the Kyrgyz people." The leading TV station, KTR, is controlled by the government. Akayev's son-in-law owns Koort TV and Love Radio. The independent television station, Piramida-TV, has been taken over by the pro-government Areopag group.
The weekly MSN, which is one of the country's leading independent newspapers, is once again in the government's sights. A libel action has been brought against it by the daily Vetchernii Bichkek, which is demanding 120,000 euros in damages because of a report alleging that it is controlled financially by Akayev's son-in-law, Adil Toigonbaev. A verdict is due on 16 March.

 

Dick Morris on Moldova

From Front Page magazine:


Beginning in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, the orange tide spread to Ukraine, where it engulfed the former nomenklatura and apparatchiks of the Soviet era and forced them from power. Now the revolution spreads, on its own as they all do, to tiny, oppressed Moldova.

Born in infamy by a provision in the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, Moldova was split off from Romania and given to the Soviet Union, where it languished as a “people’s republic” until 1991. But this battered and oppressed land of 4 million mistook the democratic promises of former communists who turned out to be controlled by the Russian mafia. Their leader became the richest person in the nation through unfathomable corruption.

The stench became so pervasive that, in 2001, a desperate electorate turned the mobsters out and put the unreconstructed communists back in charge. The repression that followed was predictable. Free media was snuffed out, opposition politicians were “investigated” and, in local elections, opposition parties had no access to the media and were denied permits for their meetings and rallies.

But the birth of freedom in Ukraine has inspired the tiny Christian Democratic Party, under the charismatic and tireless Iurie Rosca, to aspire to create a genuinely free Moldova. Symbolically backed by the Ukrainian democrat Viktor Yushchenko, Rosca is battling to make the voice of democracy heard despite the state-controlled media that won’t cover his party except to defame it.

Unfortunately, he gets no support or even sympathy from the diplomatic dunderheads in our own State Department who profess, and unfortunately practice, a neutrality that removes the United States from the side of those fighting for freedom. They pretend any election in which opposition parties are denied access to the media is somehow fair and free.

There seems to be a disjuncture between the Bush Freedom Doctrine and the policies and activities of his own State Department. There, officials seem not to have read the second Bush inaugural address or internalized its commitment to freedom.

In Moldova, the communists, for once refreshingly candid, still go by the name of “communist.” But they find themselves locked in a close three-way battle against the Russian mafia party — the so-called Moldova Democratic Alliance — and Rosca’s Christian Democrats (with the small but growing Social Democratic Party, a pro-democracy leftist party, as a potential surprise). With the election scheduled for March 6, the possibility that the orange momentum will sweep all before it has the power structure terrified. Only our own State Department seems to be, at best, ignoring the developments and, at worst, rooting for the wrong side.

The Moldovan communists, now cut off from Russia by a democratic Ukraine, say they have broken with Putin, but their Titoesque independent communism may be falling in the face of the Orange tide.

Meanwhile, Putin backs the party controlled by the Russian mafia, which ruled the country in the ’90s. His troops occupy Transniestria, the easternmost part of Moldova, which they “encouraged” to break away from Moldova, and have set up a mafia-dominated regime.

Moldova bleeds under its repression. One-third of the population has left. Human trafficking in body parts and in prostitutes of both sexes is ubiquitous, and university professors earn $30 per month.

But this tiny nation has assumed a geo-strategic importance that only our State Department seems to ignore. If the Orange Revolution can capture a third former communist state, the wave will be strengthened, perhaps enough to topple repressive regimes in Belarus and even to kindle the fires of freedom in Russia.

 

Jehovah's Witnesses in Turkmenistan

As Turkmenistan prepares for Saparmurat Niyazov's 65th birthday, the government is observing the occasion by locking up more Jehovah's Witnesses. From Forum 18:


Turkmenistan has increased the number of religious prisoners of conscience it has jailed, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, by imprisoning two further Jehovah's Witnesses, Atamurat Suvkhanov and Begench Shakhmuradov, for refusing on religious grounds to serve in the armed forces. There are now five known religious prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan, four of them Jehovah's Witnesses and one Muslim, the former chief mufti. In addition, some imams are believed to be in internal exile. Religious prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan have been harshly treated, being regularly beaten, threatened with homosexual rape, and in one case apparently treated with psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs. Suvkhanov, who is now 18, is currently being held in the women's labour camp in the eastern town of Seydi, and the whereabouts of Shakhmuradov, who is 26, are unknown. Commenting on the fact that Shakhmuradov is older than most military conscripts, Jehovah's Witness sources told Forum 18 that "we still don't know why someone that age was called up."

 

Kerim Yildiz

From Kurdish Media:


Diplomatic intervention safeguards KHRP Executive Director

Prominent human rights defender and author Kerim Yildiz has been safely returned to the UK following his 13-hour unlawful detention by Azerbaijani officials on 9 February 2005. The Azerbaijan Government has banned him from returning to the country, effectively preventing him from continuing his activities to protect human rights and promote the rule of law within the country.

Yildiz was detained upon arrival at Baku airport at approximately 22.30 (18.30 GMT) on 9 February 2005. He had been travelling to Azerbaijan on behalf of the London-based NGO Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) in order to take statements from applicants in cases to the European Court of Human Rights and to deliver human rights training to indigenous human rights lawyers, defenders and NGOs. KHRP has worked to enhance the capacity of these groups in Azerbaijan since 2000 through the provision of training, advice and publication of materials. Yildiz was released from detention at approximately 11.30 (07.30 GMT) on 10 February 2005.

Yildiz is a British citizen and Executive Director of KHRP, the only independent non-political human rights organisation of its type. KHRP has maintained a reputation for independence and neutrality by pioneering the use of individual petition at the European Court of Human Rights and was most recently short-listed for the Liberty/ Justice/ Law Society Human Rights Awards in 2004. Yildiz himself has received an award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights for his services to protect human rights and promote the rule of law, and is a board member of other human rights and environmental organisations.

KHRP strongly condemns the decision to ban Yildiz’s entry to the country, believing it to send a dangerous signal to all other human rights defenders and organisations. KHRP, together with other concerned individuals and organisations, will be conducting further enquiries into the Azerbaijan Government’s decision.

KHRP would like to extend its sincere gratitude to the British FCO and Embassy in Baku and the many others whose tireless diplomatic and consular interventions safeguarded Yildiz against the threat of human rights abuse.

For further information please contact

Rochelle Harris, Public Relations Officer, tel: +44 (0) 207 287-2772

Kurdish Human Rights Project
2 New Burlington Place
London W1S 2HP
UK

Tel: +44 (0) 207 287-2772
Fax: +44 (0) 207 734-4927
khrp@khrp.demon.co.uk
http://www.khrp.org


 

Gypsies in Belarus

The Romano Vod'i interviews Mikalay Kalinin, a Romany (Gypsy)-rights activist, on the situation in Belarus:


-- Mikalay, what is the difference between the situation of the Romany in Belarus and in other countries of the Eastern Europe and CIS?

-- There’s a huge difference. In Belarus the officials pretend that there’s no such people (there are 70 000 of us) and that the Romany have no problems. In Belarus the authorities simply ignore these problems.

Almost in all countries of Eastern Europe the organs of state power have the structural units for solution of Romany problems. At present the state program on the Romany in Zakarpattya region is working in the Ukraine. Even in Russia the state committee on rights of the Romany has worked since 2003.

-- May be, the officials don’t know about these problems?

-- It is very difficult not to notice it. The Romany are discriminated all over Europe. This problem exists even in Germany, Norway and the UK. The Romany are persecuted. Their human rights are often violated. In addition, they are discriminated because of their nationality. The countries that border on Belarus openly confess it and try to do something. I have filed letters to the Committee of Religious and National Affairs, but received answers to none of them.

-- May be, the problem lies in the work of separate state organs

-- No, I don’t think so. I am sure that the authorities, ministries and departments have the complete information about the situation of the Romany in Belarus. The question is why they do nothing to improve the situation. At present there’s no program for integration of national minorities, though Belarus has ratified all international conventions on protection of the rights of national minorities.


-- What are the relations of the Romany with the representatives of the title nation? Are there any threats?

-- Belarusians are very peaceful and tolerant. The Romany have lived side by side with them for many centuries and there haven’t been any open conflicts. We respect Belarusians, their language and culture. At present the situation of Belarusian culture and language reminds of the situation of the Romany culture. Belarusians have difficulties with education in mother-tongue, whereas the Romany don’t have such possibility at all.

-- Are there Romany organizations in Belarus?

-- At present such organizations really exist, but aren’t publicly or politically active, because they are controlled by the authorities and only a few of their members are highly educated. It is a great problem for the leaders of these organizations to simply formulate their public position on concrete issues. The leaders only declare themselves Romany barons despite of the fact that none of them really possess this title. Doubtlessly, it contributes to the negative attitude to the Romany. The Romany organizations only worsen the life of the Romany with their inaction. Their work on Holocaust Foundation also leaves much to be desires.

-- Is anything done for the improvement of the situation of the Romany?

-- Belarusian authorities do nothing at all. Romany public organizations don’t show any initiative either. Some work is done by human rights organizations. In principle, there exists the informational vacuum with the approval of the local authorities.

-- Explain, please.

-- All initiatives, aimed at the investigation and solution of the Romany problems face with severe counteraction of the authorities. The absence of the statistic data about the illiteracy and unemployment of the Romany pretty well characterizes the general attitude of the authorities to the Romany.

 

PORA to help 'orange revolution' in other countries

From Radio Free Europe:


Vladyslav Kaskiv is one of the leaders of the Pora movement, whose demonstrations -- often laced with biting humor -- became a memorable feature of those exuberant winter days. Pora drew its inspiration from pro-democracy youth movements in Serbia and Georgia that also helped topple authoritarian regimes.

Kaskiv told RFE/RL he and his colleagues planned to institutionalize their experience by setting up an international center in Kyiv to offer assistance and practical advice to democracy advocates throughout the region.

"We are now in a very active phase of establishing this center," Kaskiv said. "Unfortunately, we have not yet come up with its official name, but the idea is that this center will function as an international organization, with its central office in Kyiv. The center's priority activities will be to support democratic movements in the countries of the region -- above all, in the countries of the former Soviet Union."

Kaskiv said Pora activists had made contact with pro-democracy youth groups in several CIS countries and that he hoped a more formal relationship -- through the center -- could be established.

"Representative offices will be opened in all countries that are interested in having such a center -- Moldova, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, perhaps Kyrgyzstan if we find good partners there, etc.," Kaskiv said.

Mindful of accusations by government officials in those countries that Pora and other NGOs are part of a Western plot to destabilize the post-Soviet region, Kaskiv said he and his colleagues were consulting with legal experts to ensure the center's activities were transparent and conformed to international standards.

 

Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan

Reuters AlertNet has an interview with Rozimuhammed Abdulbakiev, head of the national society of Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan.


QUESTION: What are the main goals of your organisation?

ANSWER: Ittipak has several main goals, including support for an open society in Kyrgyzstan, the protection of human rights and, of course, the preservation and development of Uyghur culture and language. We want peace and ethnic harmony in Kyrgyzstan and we try to contribute to this integration process.

Q: What sort of discrimination do Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan suffer from?

A: One of the main problems Uyghurs face is that some mass media and government officials wrongly label us as criminals and terrorists. It is bad, because crime and good deeds do not have a nationality. If an article showing Uyghurs in a negative light is published in a newspaper, immediately problems occur in everyday life and many ordinary Uyghurs feel it.

Another issue is the Uyghur language. During Soviet times Uyghurs here did not have the chance to learn their own language. Therefore, the majority of Uyghurs in the north of Kyrgyzstan studied in Russian schools and some of them do not speak Uyghur at all, while in the south of the country, the majority of Uyghurs studied in Uzbek schools, and view Uzbek as their native language. Concerning Uyghurs in Isyk-kul and Naryn oblasts [regions], Uyghurs studied in Kyrgyz schools and now they speak in Kyrgyz.

 

Czech hopes for Putin-Bush summit

From The Prague Post:


When U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet 350 kilometers (220 miles) from Prague later this month, Czech officials will be hoping Bush takes a hard line on democracy and human rights.

The presidents are expected to discuss international security and terrorism Feb. 24 in Bratislava. While no formal agenda has been set for the summit, many Czech leaders said they are hoping Bush will press Putin to respect democratic norms — both inside Russia and on the world stage.

"I hope, for example, when they talk about terrorism, Bush makes a distinction between Iraq and Chechnya," said Josef Jarab, head of the Senate's foreign affairs committee.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

Steady deterioration in Belarus

From Radio Free Europe:


Summing up the three-day trip, Fred Ponsonby of Great Britain told journalists in Minsk on 3 February that the situation in Belarus over the last two years can be considered "stagnant or stable," Belapan reported. Which means, Ponsonby added, that many aspects of life in Belarus have not improved. In fact, many aspects of life in Belarus have actually deteriorated over the past two years, even if their deterioration was not conspicuously fast but had a "stable and stagnant" character.

Since the 2001 presidential election, the Belarusian opposition seems to have remained in protracted disarray. Sadly, there are no signs that the opposition is able to muster up any significant support for its candidate, provided it would agree on such a candidate, to challenge Lukashenka in the presidential election expected in 2006.

To demoralize the Belarusian opposition even further, a court in Minsk on 30 December 2004 sentenced Belarusian opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, 64, to five years in a high-security prison and confiscation of property. The court found him guilty of misappropriating several computers that the Dzelavaya Initsyyatyva (Business Initiative) association, of which he was chairman, had received for temporary use from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.

The bizarre case against Marynich and the harsh sentence he received were of a plainly political character. To compare, on 8 February the Belarusian Supreme Court sentenced Halina Zhuraukova, former head of the presidential administration's Property Management Department, to four years in prison, finding her guilty of embezzling $3.4 million under the same article of the Criminal Code as applied to Marynich.

The 17 October 2004 referendum and the Marynich case have received a fair amount of media coverage both at home and abroad. On a daily basis, however, there are many depressing and gloomy developments that do not make the headlines. Like the aforementioned issues, these developments, too, testify to the growing consolidation of the Belarusian authoritarian regime, which has tasked itself with not only uprooting any political dissent but also curbing any other unwanted or suspicious behavior.

For example, on 11 February police charged activist Aksana Novikava with beggary after she attempted in the subway to raise private donations for what she called an "orange revolution" in Belarus. "Some gave money, some refused to, and some just laughed," Novikava told Belapan. But the police proved to be less amused; Novikava is facing a fine.

On 5 February, police detained opposition activist Syarhey Antonchyk and some 20 people that gathered at his private apartment. Police have accused Antonchyk of organizing an unsanctioned rally and drawing up a protocol. If the case goes to court, Antonchyk has the chance of becoming the first person punished in Belarus for inviting friends to dinner.

In January, the authorities fired Rehina Ventsel, a rector of Baranavichy State University, and her deputy Ivan Kitsun. A group of students from their university had cracked a joke about President Lukashenka's salary at a forum of students in Minsk. "Alyaksandr Ryhoravich, how big is your salary?" a student from Baranavichy asked another student who was impersonating the Belarusian leader. "Let me count. As president of the country I get 300 bucks per month. As president of the National Olympic Committee I get another 300 bucks. And I get an extra sum as supreme commander. Generally speaking, not so bad," the other wag from Baranavichy responded. Now all jokes from Baranavichy State University intended for the public reportedly have to be approved by the university's ideological supervisors.

 

Saints' relics banned in Uzbekistan

From Forum 18:


Uzbek authorities have banned the relics of two saints, recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church, from entering the country. The two saints, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and a lay-sister Varvara, were both nuns martyred by Communists in 1918, by being thrown alive down a mine shaft. The Russian Orthodox diocese of Central Asia told Forum 18 News Service that "we cannot understand why the Uzbek authorities have deprived [Orthodox believers] of the opportunity of venerating the holy relics." The relics have already been brought to eight other former Soviet republics. Shoazim Minovarov, chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, whose committee was asked to allow the relics to enter, categorically refused to comment to Forum 18 on the ban, saying "You can think what you want! I don't wish to express my opinion on this question. After all, you don't need to receive a comment at a ministerial level every time!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

 

HRW letter to Akaev

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/02/11/kyrgyz10167.htm


Dear President Akaev,

We are writing to express concern about several developments surrounding Kyrgyzstan’s forthcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for February 27.

The election will be an important test of the government’s commitment to democracy and respect for basic human rights. We note that your government has made clear, through statements and action, its opposition to any repeat of the ‘Ukraine scenario’ in your country. We would urge you to look closely at what is at the core of the two recent manifestations of politics through “people power” in the CIS region: the demand for responsive government and fair elections. Your most positive response to concerns about a ‘Ukraine scenario’ in Kyrgyzstan would be to guarantee an electoral process on February 27 that truly meets internationally recognized democratic standards, and enjoys the confidence of the electorate.

Regrettably, a series of troubling statements made by you and other government leaders seems designed to intimidate and impugn civil society activists and members of the political opposition. Government statements have treated the opposition as “extremists” and accused independent and opposition-affiliated media of subversion. Your government has also suggested that mass popular movements are merely creations of the West and has dismissed the concerns of these movements. These statements reject the ‘Ukraine scenario’ and at the same time degrade the idea of human rights. In Georgia and Ukraine popular movements used peaceful and democratic means to reverse the outcome of illegitimate and unfair elections and to ensure that the will of the people determined the make-up of the government.

In addition, a number of statements about mass protests seem aimed at undercutting the legitimacy of freedom of assembly and at intimidating critics of your government. Especially disturbing are reports of statements that you made claiming that human rights are internal affairs and questioning the legitimacy of election observers.

We have appended to this letter examples of such statements, which have created an atmosphere hostile to the exercise of people’s rights in advance of the election.

New legislation on demonstrations and recent, undue government interference in peaceful protests restrict freedom of assembly. The government’s refusal to register several opposition candidates appears to be politically motivated. Voices critical of the government have been silenced or marginalized in the media. Law enforcement and other government officials appear to be intimidating opposition political activists and civil society actors through petty harassment.

The above calls into question the government of Kyrgyzstan’s willingness to fulfill its human rights obligations under article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR; acceded to by Kyrgyzstan in 1994). That provision enshrines each citizen’s rights “To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;” and “To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electorate.” Government actions and pronouncements have also provided reason to regard the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, articles 19, 21, and 22 of the ICCPR respectively, to be at risk in Kyrgyzstan.

This letter details these concerns and offers concrete recommendations for steps your government can take to improve the situation.

 

The EU and Belarus

From Slate:


So what can Westerners do to help Belarusians achieve their own revolution—the kind of bloodless, bottom-up sea change that swept Serbia, and then Georgia, and then, of course, Ukraine?

To begin, the European Union could take off its kid gloves.

As things stand now, the only money the European Union spends on Belarus is money that has been approved by the Lukashenko regime. These so-called Tacis (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States) funds, first appropriated in 1991, aim to foster democratic reform and economic modernization from within—that is, by working in tandem with government officials.

The problem, as anyone at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (or the U.S. National Security Council or, in a rare unguarded moment, the European Union) will point out, is that Lukashenko has no interest in working with the European Union. Why should he? As the Belarusian well understands, engaging with the West means becoming more Western. And that is exactly what he opposes. Sure, he's happy to get help cleaning up the Chernobyl zone or to send a few engineering students to France for the summer. But anything vaguely threatening (read: liberalizing) is verboten.

This is why, a few years back, Lukashenko expelled the U.S.-taxpayer-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute from Minsk. Why? Because unlike the more humanitarian-minded Europeans, these groups foster real reform—you might call it revolution in slow motion—by building democratic parties, running polls for the opposition, and helping identify future leaders (as in the case of Ukraine's Viktor Yuschenko). Now NDI's Belarus desk is in Kiev, and IRI's is in Vilnius, where Belarusian reformers go when they need a conference room free of listening devices. European officials say this is evidence the American model doesn't work; Americans counter this proves they're doing something right.

While the European Union has spent plenty of money in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union—developing "civil society" and organizing educational trips, among other things, according to the EU Web site—it's unlikely that a single euro has been spent directly on the democratic opposition.

An internal EU document on assistance to Belarus shows that the authorities in Minsk watch carefully how money is spent. The document notes that "international assistance projects must undergo a registration procedure [in Belarus] and be scrutinized by a ministerial level Committee for tax exemption and a formal approval before they can be started." While the document further notes that Belarus will be eligible for additional funds under the new "Neighborhood Programs," those funds—assuming they are sanctioned by the regime—won't be available until 2007, after the presidential election.

The critical point is that the United States and Lithuania, which joined the European Union last year and is trying to change its foreign-aid policy, believe that Belarusians want to govern themselves and that it is their government that is preventing them from doing so. The only way to achieve democracy is to circumvent Lukashenko.

The Western Europeans tend to believe that circumventing Lukashenko and aiding opposition leaders—say, giving them conference-room facilities in Vilnius and paying for their room and board—is tantamount to shoving democracy down the Belarusians' collective throat. Change must be "evolutionary, not revolutionary," as some put it.

Many Belarusian activists are perplexed by the European Union. Lukashenko's is a regime that has killed off democratic reformers, indiscriminately jailed demonstrators, and cultivated farmland in the still-radioactive Chernobyl zone despite skyrocketing cancer rates.

Janna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and an attendee at the Vilnius gathering, said democracy would come only after Belarusians transcend their isolation and fear, a fear that has been sown into the national psyche by a century of war, murder, and authoritarianism. "People believe they are absolutely helpless in the face of the government machine," Litvina said.

This is not a machine that can be reformed. It must be dismantled. Perhaps the new EU commissioner of external affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, will help her colleagues in Brussels see through the fog of "dialogues" and "cultural exchanges" to the real Belarus, the Belarus that can't be helped along but must be unleashed from its Soviet past.

 

IFEX press release on Tajikistan


Report on free expression in Tajikistan shows situation worsened for media in 2004

In 2004, the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan's (NANSMIT) monitoring service documented 312 violations of journalists' and media outlets' rights in that country. Monitoring showed that authorities were more tolerant of independent mass media at the beginning of 2004, but that state bodies tightened their grip on free speech in the second half of the year.

The monitoring service registered 189 direct violations of journalists' and media outlets' rights. Thirty-six of these cases involved criminal offences intending to threaten journalists and obstruct them from carrying out their professional activities. To date, law enforcement agencies have not brought a single action against the alleged offenders. Journalists have also been reluctant to press charges.

Tajikistan's legislation, namely Article 30 of the Constitution, Article 2 and 36 of the Law on Print and other Mass Media, and Article 3 of the Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting, guarantees and protects freedom of the press and expression. Prevention of journalists from carrying out their professional activities is a criminal offence under Article 162 of Tajikistan's Criminal Code.

Access to information, which is also guaranteed under Tajik law, is not protected in practice. In fact, the most common infringement of journalists' rights is the restriction of access to information. Violations may take the form of direct denial of access to information or barring journalists from events. In 75 cases, journalists were denied information of public interest.

In the final months of 2004, there were fewer threats against journalists as a result of the suspension of private newspapers "Ruzi Nav", "Odamu Olam" and "Adolat". The last threat against a journalist was registered in August.


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