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Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

Telegraph: Kyrgyzstan shows the way

From The Daily Telegraph:

And yet little Kyrgyzstan could still be the yeast in the despotic dough of Central Asia. That will require a clean presidential election on June 26, and thereafter a more even distribution of power between the winner and the prime minister than under Mr Akayev. The task of the new leaders will be to continue with the opening of the economy while combating the corruption that so often mars the move from a command to a market model. Kyrgyzstan is a very poor country and the spark of revolt spread from the south because the population saw that Mr Akayev and his cronies had become fat and corrupt. A similar phenomenon can be observed in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Regime change in Bishkek apparently presents the West with a classic choice between acquiescence in despotism for the sake of stability and support for political liberalisation whose outcome is uncertain. Yet, to take Uzbekistan as an example, is the authoritarian rule of Islam Karimov inherently stable? Does his disastrous human rights record not push opponents towards radical organisations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, designated as a terrorist movement by America in 2001, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir?

Washington has bases in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It naturally wants to retain both as instruments against global terrorism. But it should not sacrifice its concomitant commitment to democracy to the likes of Mr Karimov. In Central Asia, however hesitatingly, Kyrgyzstan is showing the way forward.

 

Russian museum fined for 'ridiculing religion'

From The New York Times:

A Russian court on Monday convicted a museum director and a curator of inciting religious hatred with an exhibition of paintings and sculptures that, to many, ridiculed the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a criminal case that tested the boundaries of artistic expression in Russia, the court ruled that the exhibition at the Andrei Sakharov Museum was "openly insulting and blasphemous." It rejected the prosecutor's appeal to sentence the two defendants to prison, however, and instead fined them the equivalent of $3,600 each.

Yuri V. Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum, which is named for the late Soviet dissident and human-rights advocate, said he was relieved by the nature of the punishment, though not by the court's ruling. He said he had gone to court with his prescription medicines, assuming that he would immediately be imprisoned.

Still, he said, the court's verdict asserted the state's power to dictate the limits of artistic expression. "In essence," he said in a telephone interview, "the court declared a certain kind of art unacceptable."

The exhibition had been open only four days before six men from an Orthodox church in Moscow ransacked the museum, damaging or destroying many of the 45 works on display. Criminal charges against four of the men were dropped, while two others were acquitted last year in a trial that led to the new charges against Mr. Samodurov; the museum's curator, Lyudmila V. Vasilovskaya, who was also convicted and fined on Monday; and one of the artists, Anna Mikhalchuk.

Ms. Mikhalchuk, who exhibits under the name Alchuk, was acquitted Monday. She said the verdict in effect erased the separation of church and state in today's Russia. "I am afraid the formulation of the court's ruling will be used as a precedent for the authorities," she said. "It practically crosses out Russia on the list of secular nations."

The works addressed spiritual and political aspects of the Orthodox Church, whose influence over politics, if not society generally, has grown since the Soviet Union collapsed.

One sculpture depicted a church made of vodka bottles, a biting allusion to the tax exemption the church received in the 1990's to sell alcohol. A poster by Aleksandr Kosolapov, a Russian-born American artist whose work often satirizes state symbols, depicted Jesus on a Coca-Cola advertisement. "This is my blood," it said in English. The court refused a request by prosecutors to destroy the artworks, ordering that they be returned to the artists who created them.

The Rev. Aleksandr Shargunov, a priest from the church, St. Nikolai in Pyzhi, whose parishioners attacked the exhibition, derided the fines as too lenient. He described the exhibition as a deliberate and hostile provocation and called for more stringent laws against desecration of icons and other sacred symbols.

"The prophecies say that once God is insulted, expect trouble," he said. "And this is what happened."

 

Statement on Kazakh media

From IFEX:

Country/Topic: Kazakhstan
Date: 30 March 2005
Source: Adil Soz
Person(s):
Target(s): editor(s) , Internet/website(s) , journalist(s) , newspaper(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): fined , legal action
Urgency: Threat
(Adil Soz/IFEX) - In a 9 March 2005 statement, the Public Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, of which Adil Soz president Tamara Kaleyeva is a member, protested against the increasing pressure faced by independent mass media. The statement follows:


ADDRESS OF THE PUBLIC COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN KAZAKHSTAN

After examining numerous court cases against independent publications and journalists, we, the Public Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, have concluded that in the run-up to Kazakhstan's presidential election, the situation of freedom of speech and respect for the constitutional right to receive and disseminate information has become critical.

"Kazakhstan" newspaper was shut down after facing many lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

"Zhas Alash" newspaper has been brought to trial.

The practice of blocking access to websites, such as Navi, Kub, Eurasia, Svobodnaya Asia, and other internet resources continues.

The National Security Committee (NSC) brought charges against "Juma Times-Data Nedeli" newspaper for insulting the honour and dignity of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

As a result of a lawsuit, the NSC ordered "Soz" newspaper's editorial board to cease its activities and halted the paper's publication.

In 2004, "Assandi Times" newspaper was ordered to pay Kazakhstan's Presidential Administration 50 million tenge [approx. US$365,000] in damages.

"Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye" ("Respublika Business Review") newspaper faces charges of insulting an anonymous individual who has filed a lawsuit seeking an exorbitant amount, 900 trillion tenge [approx. US$6,800 billion], in damages.

Finally, the Culture, Information and Sport Ministry has launched a lawsuit demanding the liquidation of one the owners of "Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye" newspaper.

We believe that these cases are part of a deliberate strategy to stifle free speech and close independent media outlets in advance of Kazakhstan's presidential election.

We hereby express our disagreement with the authorities' policy and protest against the vicious methods that are being applied against "undesirable" media outlets through the courts.

We call on all journalists, their professional organisations, and the public, to express solidarity with us and support our initiative to hold a meeting on 20 March 2005 in Almaty, for the purpose of protecting the independent press and freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.

The Public Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech consists of: Bulat Abilov, Ak Zhol party co-chairman, Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech "Adil Soz", Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Oleg Katsiyev, head of the international organisation "Internews-Kazakhstan", Rozlana Taukina, president of the Foundation "Journalists in Danger", heads of independent Kazakhstani publications, and others.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact Adil Soz, Zhambyl Street, 25, Office 706, Almaty, 480100, Republic of Kazakhstan, tel/fax: +7 3272 911 670, e-mail: info@adilsoz.kz, kaleyeva@adilsoz.kz, steblyuk@adilsoz.kz, Internet: http://www.adilsoz.kz

**For further information on the "Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye" case, see IFEX alert of 23 March 2005; for the "Zhas Alash" case, see alert of 18 February 2005; for the "Juma Times-Data Nedeli" case, see alert of 4 February 2005; for the blocking of independent websites, see alert of 11 January 2005; for the "Soz" case, see alert of 30 December 2004; for the harassment of "Assandi Times", see alert of 6 October 2004**

 

Kazakh 'quarantine'

From The Guardian:

KORDAI, Kazakhstan (AP) - A dozen Kyrgyz men and women stood at a border post, badgering guards about why they could no longer enter Kazakhstan.

``The checkpoint is fully closed,'' a Kazakh guard said repeatedly. Asked why, an officer replied: ``I cannot disclose a state secret.''

As Kyrgyzstan shakes with revolutionary fever, officials in oil-rich Kazakhstan are hoping to quarantine their country from political infection. But the opposition in this former Soviet republic says it's time for change and President Nursultan Nazarbayev must accept it.


A top political aide to the president, Ermukhamet Ertysbayev, called speculation that events in Kyrgyzstan might herald an end to Nazarbayev's rule ``nonsense.''

What happened in Kyrgyzstan was ``a mass spontaneous riot'' caused by Akayev's weakness, he told AP. In Kazakhstan, the opposition ``will have to wait for another 10 years,'' he said.

Ertysbayev said Nazarbayev was popular enough to legitimately win another term in elections, citing strong economic growth as a reason. The economy has seen average annual growth of 10 percent in recent years, due to Western investment in the energy sector and market reforms, such as privatization of some industries.

Kazakhstan's busy commercial capital, Almaty, is packed with gleaming shopping malls and expensive restaurants. And construction is booming in the new political capital, Astana.

Ertysbayev said that ``Kazakhstan is a very strong state'' and warned that if mass protests erupt, ``a strong state will quell a mob ... with clubs and tear gas.''

But Petr Svoik, a leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, an opposition party recently disbanded by authorities, said the economic progress mainly benefits the elite in the cities.

``The rest of the country is the same (as) impoverished Kyrgyzstan,'' he said.

Even opposition leaders say an uprising is not a foregone conclusion in Kazakhstan - especially if Nazarbayev agrees to hold talks on democratic reforms.

``We don't want a Kyrgyz scenario,'' said Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, a senior official of the opposition alliance For Fair Kazakhstan.

``The ball is in (Nazarbayev's) court, but most likely he will pretend that no such offer exists,'' Kozhakhmetov said. ``Then there will be only one way out left for the opposition - to turn to people.''

 

Open letter to Lukashenka

Louise Kantrow, the executive director of the International League for Human Rights, writes to The Moscow Times:

Editor,
The International League for Human Rights, an international nongovernmental organization with special consultative status at UN Economic and Social Council, expresses its profound concern about the latest attack on freedom of assembly and expression in Belarus after the arrest and sentencing of peaceful protesters in Minsk.

On March 25, an estimated 2,000 demonstrators gathered on Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad in Minsk, opposite the presidential compound. Despite the peaceful protest, police in riot gear were dispatched. The police dispersed protesters through the use of physical force and many of the protesters were injured. In addition, several dozen demonstrators were arrested. After the initial protesters were dispersed, another group of roughly 100 individuals regrouped and were again pushed back by police forces. On March 28, a court sentenced nearly two dozen protesters to jail terms ranging from three to 15 days for participating in the demonstration. Those responsible for organizing the rally are likely to face extended prison sentences.

The League expresses grave disapproval of the repression of freedom of assembly and expression in Belarus. The Belarussian government's unrelenting attack on political opposition must come to an end. Belarus has undertaken commitments to uphold international standards of freedom of expression and assembly. These rights are fundamental to democratic civil society in Belarus and should be ensured through the Belarussian judicial system. Belarussian citizens must be given the right to operate freely without fear of threats or reprisals from government authorities.

The League calls on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and his officials to respect the Belarussian citizens' fundamental human rights, and to stop their assault on a democratic civil society in Belarus.


Louise Kantrow, Executive Director
New York

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

 

Belarus: 'Politically suspect' concert banned

From Charter 97:

A popular punk group Neuro Dubel was forced to cancel a concert on April 1 in the club “Reactor” in Minsk. The administration of the club said that the band would not be allowed to perform in the club. According to the soloist of the band Neuro Dubel, Aliaksandr Kullinkovich, this move of the administration of the club was caused by the attitude of the Belarusian authorities to “politically suspect” musicians.

 

Akayev 'may resign'

From BBC News:

Kyrgyzstan's ousted President Askar Akayev says he is prepared to resign if he is given "relevant guarantees".
Speaking to Russian state TV, he said he was willing to step down if Kyrgyz law was "totally respected".

The statement contrasts with earlier comments on Russian radio, when he said he was the "sole legitimate president".

 

Western aid helped Kyrgyz protesters

From The International Herald-Tribune:

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan Shortly before Kyrgyzstan's recent parliamentary elections, an opposition newspaper ran photographs of a palatial home under construction for the country's deeply unpopular president, Askar Akayev, helping set off widespread outrage and a popular revolt in this poor Central Asian country.

The newspaper was the recipient of United States government grants and was printed on an American government-financed printing press operated by Freedom House, an American organization that describes itself as "a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world."

Western-financed programs to develop democracy and civil society in this country played a key role in preparing the ground for the popular uprising that swept opposition politicians to power.

American money helps finance dozens of civil society centers around the country where activists and ordinary citizens can go to meet, receive training, read independent newspapers, and even watch CNN or surf the Internet in some. The National Democratic Institute alone operates 20 centers that provide news summaries in Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek.

Alexander Kim, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper that printed the photos of the president's house ... has been helped by about $70,000 in American government grants, mostly to pay for newsprint.

The problem, though, was finding a press to print his newspaper: They were all government controlled and refused to print newspapers from the opposition.

Then Mike Stone, Freedom House's representative in Kyrgyzstan, arrived.

"When Freedom House opened their printing press, it was the end of our problems," Kim said, smiling behind his white mustache and goatee.

For those Kyrgyz who didn't read Russian or have access to the newspaper, they listened to summaries of its articles on Kyrgyz-language Radio Azattyk, the local United States-government financed franchise of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the pro-democracy broadcaster.

Other independent media carried the opposition's debates: Talk shows, such as "Our Times," produced in part with United States government grants, were broadcast over the country's few independent television stations, including Osh TV in the country's south, where the protests that led to Akayev's ouster began. Osh TV has been able to expand its reach with equipment paid for by the State Department.

Akayev began suggesting that the West was engaged in a conspiracy to destabilize the country. A crudely forged document, made to look like an internal report by the American ambassador, Stephen Young, began circulating among local news organizations. It cast U.S.-financed pro-democracy activities as part of an American conspiracy to topple Akayev.

The American Embassy sent Freedom House two generators the day after the power went out, allowing the press to print nearly all of the 200,000 copies of MSN's special issue. The power was restored on March 8 and Kim's newspaper became one of the primary sources of information for the mobilizing opposition.

 

Belarus 'close to dictatorship'

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

"Belarus is not yet a real dictatorship but it is very close to it," said Adrian Severin, UN special rapporteur for Belarus.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has earned stinging criticism from the West for suppressing media freedoms and political opponents during his 10 years at the helm of the impoverished and isolated republic.

Mr Severin, who was not authorised to visit the country, called on Minsk to carry out "a deep reform of the political system" and to halt "the continuous deterioration of the human rights situation".

The report drew angry criticism from Minsk's representative on the commission, who called Mr Severin's report hostile and demanded an apology.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

 

Zubr member hospitalised

From Charter 97:

Participant of the protest on March 25, an activist of the Zubr movement Andrei Baranau was taken to hospital number 9 from the court of the Tsentralny district of Minsk. According to the lawyer of the human rights center Viasna Valyantsin Stefanovich, who is in the court now, many participants of the protest are arriving in the court with brain injuries.

 

European Forum meeting on civic movements

From the European Forum:

14 MAY 2005

“Wave of Resistance” – OTPOR, KMARA, PORA & ZUBR

On Saturday 14 May, the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity and the Dutch Society for International Affairs, Amsterdam department, organise “Wave of Resistance”, a public meeting about the role of civic movements in political revolutions in DeBalie in Amsterdam.

During the entire afternoon and evening, focus will be on movements like Serbian OTPOR, the Georgian KMARA, the Ukrainian PORA and the Belarusian ZUBR. The first three movements had a major take in the regime change in their country, sticking to the principles of non-violent resistance. The last movement, ZUBR, is hoping to use the same principles to put an end to the authoritarian regime of president Lukashenka.

‘How do these movements operate?’, ‘Who are their partners?’, ‘How does the International Community respond to these developments?’, ‘Can we speak of a wave of resistance?’ and ‘Will similar movements in other countries also be able to topple their authoritarian regimes?’.
During the debate on Saturday evening the participants will try to answer these questions. Members of the movements will discuss them with politicians and experts in the field of democratisation. The optimists, the pessimists and those in doubt; advocates and opponents; academics and people with the field experience; all will be present.

After showing several documentaries about the movements, visitors will have the opportunity to ask filmmakers and movements activists about their personal experiences.

In short, the day will be full of movements, discussions and resistance.

Saturday 14 May
13.00 hours: “Wave of Resistance I” - Documentaries and talks with activists and filmmakers
20.00 hours: “Wave of Resistance II” - Debate

Entrance for both events is free, but please make seats reservations for each event separately at DeBalie, phonenumber: 020 5535100.

 

Asahi Shimbun on Kyrgyzstan

From Asahi Shimbun (Japan):

The United States and Russia both set up military bases in Kyrgyzstan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and have been competing with each other in their influence. To stabilize the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the two countries will have to join hands in supporting the new government.

The Bush administration, in particular, has been criticized for its ``double standard'' by not condemning autocratic rule in Central Asian countries even while it calls for the spread of freedom and democracy around the world to counter international terrorism. Washington should make an earnest effort to push ahead with democratization in the region.

Japan has tried to exert its influence on Central Asian countries through its Silk Road diplomacy. Japan has been the largest aid donor to Kyrgyzstan. Even so, Japan has hardly exerted much effort to push the cause of democracy in that country.

 

Belarus protesters jailed

From The Daily Telegraph:

Authorities in Belarus yesterday jailed about a dozen protesters who called for the resignation of the authoritarian leader of the country, Alexander Lukashenko, at a demonstration last weekend.

The central court in the capital, Minsk, handed down sentences of around 15 days in jail to some of the several hundred-strong crowd which gathered outside the president's office on Friday.

Monday, March 28, 2005

 

More tumult in Bishkek

From BBC News:

The removal of Mr Akayev has left the central Asian country with two rival parliaments that both claim legitimacy.

There are fears that the dispute could further destabilise the country.

Kyrgyzstan's electoral body on Sunday backed the new parliament, elected in the disputed polls that prompted the protests which brought down Mr Akayev.

But earlier in the week, the Supreme Court had annulled the poll results and said the previous parliament had authority.

Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev supports the court ruling, but the new head of security, Felix Kulov, says the term of the old parliament had expired and that legally, the new parliament is legitimate.

In a sign that the old parliament may beginning to give way, members of its lower house suspended work on Monday.

"In order to stabilise the situation and in the interests of the people, and so that the acting president will not face two rival legislatures, the lower chamber has decided to suspend its activity and allow the newly elected deputies to work and carry out their constitutional duties," said Speaker Ishenbai Kadyrbekov.

However, the upper house is continuing to meet.

The head of the OSCE, Jan Kubis, has met Mr Bakiev and Mr Kulov to try to broker a peaceful resolution.

Mr Kubis told a news conference after the meeting on Sunday that he would be holding further consultations over the next few days.

Members of the new government themselves have warned of potential unrest if the situation is not clarified.

But life in Bishkek is returning to normal following a few nights of looting immediately after ex-president Akayev was driven from office, with people returned to work on Monday for the first time.

Mr Bakiev has announced that presidential elections will take place on 26 June.

However, OSCE's envoy to Kyrgyzstan Markus Mueller described the date as unrealistic.

 

Lukashenka may stop Chernobyl victims from visiting West

From CBC News:

People in the town of Hinton will play host again this year to children living with the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. But organizers of the program are concerned about how much longer it can carry on.

The president of Belarus has recently said he is not in favour of these kinds of programs because children are exposed to western ideals and consumerism.

There are concerns he may decide to prevent children from leaving the country in the future.

 

Shaazka Beyerle on Kyrgyzstan

From The Independent:

But Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution could be still-born - marred as it has been by looting, protester aggression and several fatalities. The next days are critical in determining if what originated as a popular, largely non-violent uprising brings forth democratic change or another variant of authoritarian rule. The stakes are high: what happens in Kyrgyzstan could have an impact on democracy movements in nations throughout the region, as well as the behaviour of their respective dictators.

If the Tulip Revolution is successful, the contagion effect of non-violent uprisings in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and possibly Lebanon (2005) will accelerate. It will invigorate fledgling democracy movements in the rest of the "stans", namely Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as Azerbaijan, Belarus, and perhaps Iran, culturally and socially close to Kyrgyzstan's south. Russia's new "activist-citizens", striking and protesting over economic policies and moves to centralise political power, may be further inspired. Last Friday, 1,000 people demonstrated in Belarus against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko. An organiser claimed they were emulating Kyrgyzstan.

Regimes will predictably increase their repression in order to snuff out the sparks of people power. Truncheon-wielding police broke up the protest in Belarus. The opposition and civil society in these countries should anticipate crackdowns, plan survival strategies, and alter their non-violent tactics in order to minimise risks to civilians. Rather than vulnerable street protests, lower-risk activities can be staged, including leafleting, graffiti and mass public actions such as co-ordinated horn honking/headlight flashing, or walking/driving at half speed. The latter was brilliantly used to launch a campaign at the height of Pinochet's brutal regime in Chile.

If the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan flops, it could diminish hope for democratic change in other countries, and there could be a tendency to blame the method rather than flaws in its execution. Unlike Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution, the popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan does not seem to have been well-planned, structured, or strategic in the application of civilian-based power. The political opposition was not unified, and most seriously, non-violent discipline wasn't maintained - hence the present disarray.

The new opposition-based leadership must stop squabbling, coalesce and present a demonstrable political programme for democratic transition and economic recovery. Without these steps, a power vacuum might develop, and the new leaders could be susceptible to a takeover attempt by the former ruler, Askar Akayev, who is already making ominous noises from the sidelines.

People power is more than protests. It consists of large numbers of civilians withdrawing co-operation from an oppressor and refusing to obey. Non-violence is used strategically to erode the loyalty of the opponent's sources of support and control and encourage defections from security forces. If the Kyrgyz authorities fear they will be physically harmed or collectively punished, they may react badly. The strategic ramifications are enormous. Even with Akayev sidelined, unrest could provide the pretext for a military coup or, possibly, Russian intervention.

Ending oppressive rule is only half the battle. Establishing democracy, justice and improved living standards is the other half. This next chapter of the Tulip Revolution is now being written.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

 

Central Asian leaders 'clamp down'

From The Times:

THEY have been accused of abuses ranging from corruption and nepotism to boiling their political opponents in pots. The leaders of the former Soviet republics of central Asia watched with trepidation last week when Askar Akayev was ousted as president of Kyrgyzstan, but look certain to respond in characteristic manner — by clamping down further on their own opponents.

Despite jubilation among the fledgling pro-democracy movements in Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours, their governments seem set to seize on the turmoil as an excuse for more repression.

“These events are going to be an inspiration for opposition groups in the other countries of central Asia,” said Gulnoza Saidazimova, an expert on the region at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “The paradox of this revolution is that it happened in the most liberal country in central Asia.”

Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, which is poised to become one of the world’s top 10 oil producers by 2015, set the tone the day after the coup. Although he said that Akayev’s ousting was largely a result of Kyrgyzstan’s economic problems, he added: “The weakness of the authorities also played its negative role in allowing rioters and thugs to act as they pleased.”

Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan in an increasingly authoritarian manner since 1990, will be looking at ways of securing his own re-election next year. As an insurance policy he has been preparing the way for his daughter Dariga to succeed him.

Events may come to a head earlier in Uzbekistan whose leader, Islam Karimov, was accused in 2003 by Craig Murray, then the British ambassador, of presiding over torture — including the boiling to death of two political opponents.

Karimov, whose daughter Gulnora is a powerful businesswoman, reacted to the Georgian revolution by restricting the activities of foreign non-governmental organisations. A further clampdown is now asssured.

 

Belarus opens inquiry into protestors

From The Guardian:

Prosecutors opened a criminal case Saturday against more than two dozen protesters arrested in a rally demanding the ouster of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Riot police swinging truncheons beat back about 1,000 protesters outside Lukashenko's offices in Minsk on Friday, and 34 of them were arrested for participating in the unsanctioned rally, which came amid the popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan.

Police spokesman Oleg Khlebchenko said prosecutors had opened a criminal cases for mass acts breaching the peace and could charge many of those detained - who would face up to a three-year jail sentence. The criminal case also could end up resulting in charges against people considered to be the organizers of the protest as well as those detained.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

 

Contagious?

From The International Herald-Tribune:

In the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy took root in most of its republics in name only. With the exception of the Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now deeply entwined in Europe - new political systems and new leaders emerged from the post-Soviet chaos promising freedoms, but somehow managing to ensure that freedoms led to continuation of their power.

But in the past year and a half, popular uprisings have claimed the sclerotic leaders of three former republics. In Georgia in November 2003, in Ukraine a year later and now in Kyrgyzstan, simmering discontent accomplished what not long ago seemed improbable: the peaceful overthrow of governments that ceased to represent the will of the people.

What is most surprising is how quickly those governments fell when faced by protesters asserting rights promised when the Soviet yoke was lifted: the rights to express themselves, to elect their representatives, to dream of a better life their leaders promised but too often failed to deliver.

For opposition leaders and even for some of those in power in other republics, the events that began in Georgia with the toppling of Eduard Shevardnadze and continued with the extraordinary challenge to a fraudulent election in Ukraine last fall have come like a contagion, spreading in fast and unpredictable ways.

Nowhere is the fear and anticipation greater than in the largest and most powerful republic, Russia. There, President Vladimir Putin has steadily strengthened state control, even as he has presented himself as a democrat.

Whether the democratic contagion will spread remains to be seen.

Belarus and Turkmenistan have become dictatorships, squelching political opposition and tightening the screws over most parts of society. President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan had his Parliament declare him president for life. President Aleksander Lukashenko of Belarus orchestrated a referendum last fall that would allow him to run for re-election indefinitely.

Andranink Migranyan, a professor and political scientist at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that the success of challenges to power in former Soviet republics depended to a large degree on the willingness of the authorities to use force.

Consistently, he said, the leaders who have at least nominally presented themselves as democrats have proved unable to preserve themselves through democratic means.

"You must either be more adamant in using force and destroying the opposition or let others come to power," Migranyan said in a telephone interview. "The difference between Akayev and Lukashenko is that Akayev is more democratic. And he is the loser."


From The Financial Times:


There is certainly a domino effect at work. Supporters of the US's democracy campaign have been quick to cast Kyrgyzstan as the latest state to join “the global march of freedom led by President Bush”, as the conservative Wall Street Journal said on Friday, praising Washington's policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, of more relevance to Kyrgyzstan have been the peaceful revolts against authoritarian leaders in the former Soviet Union, in Georgia and Ukraine. Television and the internet has spread the message. The common element has been a drive to get rid of self-serving corrupt cliques which have often been in power, as in Kyrgyzstan, since Soviet times. These cliques have generally been supported by Moscow, but the revolts against them have not been principally anti-Russian or pro-western. Domestic issues have mattered most.

On this basis, central Asia's leaders have reason to be afraid. Not for nothing have officials in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan reinforced border controls. Further afield in oil-rich Azerbaijan, Isa Gambar, head of the opposition Musavat party, on Friday praised the Kyrgyz revolt: “This is yet another warning bell for authoritarian regimes.”

If Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are a guide, elections could be the triggers for potential revolts. The next poll will be a parliamentary vote in November in Azerbaijan, followed by presidential contests next year in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and in Uzbekistan in 2007. Eric Rudenshiold, a regional specialist at Ifes, a US-funded pro-democracy agency, says: “They will all be quaking in their boots after Kyrgyzstan.”

As in Georgia, Ukraine and, now, Kyrgyzstan, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which organises election monitors, could play a key role. Its criticisms of polls have given anti-government forces vital ammunition.

For Russia, which has mostly regarded the post-Soviet leaders as personal allies, these are difficult times. The failure to secure the election of its favoured presidential candidate in Ukraine was a bitter blow to its ex-imperial pride. In Kyrgyzstan it kept a low profile, even though Mr Akayev was seen as a loyal friend. On Friday Russian president Vladimir Putin condemned the uprising as “illegitimate” but said Moscow would co-operate with the new team in Bishkek.

Mr Putin's remarks may indicate a new policy with less emphasis attached to treating ex-Soviet leaders as personal clients. But it is early days. Nationalist politicians in Moscow still tend to see popular revolts against the established order as threats, especially if the opposition can be portrayed as pro-west.

Much depends on how events in Kyrgyzstan develop. If the revolt ends with the peaceful establishment of democracy, it will inspire local opposition movements and give comfort to those in Washington and elsewhere campaigning for political freedom. But if Kyrgyzstan sinks into violence, it will be cited by those who would block democratic change, including many in Beijing and more than a few in Moscow.


From Pravda:


Inspired with the quick ouster of a longtime leader in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Uzbek opposition on Friday voiced hope for similar events soon in this tightly-controlled ex-Soviet nation.

At their meeting on Friday, Free Peasants and Erk opposition parties and local rights groups welcomed the ouster of Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when thousands of opposition protesters took over government buildings Thursday.

"We are sure that the process of democratic reforms that started in Kyrgyzstan will highly influence all parts of Central Asia," they said in a joint statement.

Kyrgyzstan became the third former Soviet republic in 18 months, after Georgia and Ukraine, to see popular protests bring down long-entrenched leaders widely accused of corruption.

"Kyrgyz example has shown everyone how easily and quickly it can be done," Nigora Khidoyatova, a leader of Free Peasants' party, told The Associated Press.

 

Putin opens arms to Akayev

From Bloomberg:

March 25 (Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said ousted Kyrgyzstani President Askar Akayev is welcome to move to Russia and called on leaders of a rebellion to quickly establish control over the Central Asian country.

``If Akayev wants to move to Russia, we won't object. I think it's fully possible,'' Putin said in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, another former Soviet republic. ``We hope the opposition will quickly take the situation under control.''

``This is the result of the authorities' weakness and of social and economic problems that have accumulated,'' Putin said. ``I'm sorry these problems were solved by illegal means and were accompanied by pogroms and losses of human lives.''

Putin said Russia hopes to maintain good relations with Kyrgyzstan, adding that the rebellion leaders are former state officials and ``have done much to develop relations between the two countries.''

 

Kyrgyzstan quietens somewhat

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Kyrgyzstan's new leaders have begun to restore order after widespread looting in the capital, Bishkek.

The situation appears calmer after the fall of the Kyrgyz government.

Volunteer militiamen have stepped in after uniformed police fled from Bishkek.

They are patrolling the Kyrgyz capital on foot and on horseback, hunting down looters and anyone still intent on disorder.

In one incident, the militia fired shots into the air to break-up a crowd of youths who had gathered as evening fell.

The new leaders know it is vital to restore calm and assert their authority as quickly as possible.


Radio Free Europe reports:


Our correspondent has reported scattered gunshots and deserted streets. But he said late yesterday that the city appears to be returning to normal: "Apparently, it seems that police managed to retake control of at least parts of the city. Police patrols of two or three cars are circulating in the city center. So apparently the situation is normalizing."

 

Kubis on way to Bishkek

From The Times :

Jan Kubis, secretary general of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will arrive in Bishkek on Sunday to help restore stability to Kyrgyzstan. He is a fluent Russian speaker and expert on the region and launched a similar diplomatic effort in Ukraine last year. Alojz Peterle, a former Slovenian foreign minister, has already been sent by the OSCE.

Meanwhile, Turkey is sending a plane to Kyrgyzstan today to evacuate its 200 citizens, mostly students as well as Turkish diplomats and the former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

 

Belarus: Authorities sieze newspaper's computers

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the confiscation of four computers and printing equipment from the independent weekly Zhoda yesterday in Minsk by plain-clothes members of the Belarusian KGB and local police. The newspaper, which has a circulation of 5,000, is accused of illegally installing its offices in an apartment.

The KGB agents and police from Minsk's Parizansky district had no warrant and introduced themselves as a "group of investigators" when they arrived at 11 a.m. at the apartment that is used as the newspaper's office. After staying there for about three hours, they ordered the newspaper's editor, Alexei Karol, to report to the local police station.

"The plain-clothes KGB officer in charge, who refused to give his name, said the newspaper was regarded as subversive and against the president, and that he was acting on a complaint that had been brought against Zhoda," Karol said.

"I'm sure he was alluding to interviews with opposition members Alexander Kozuline and Andrei Klimov which we recently published," Karol said. The KGB officer also said the newspaper was "suspected of violating the economic legislation," he added.

The seizure of the four computers means the newspaper may be unable to bring out its next issue. Zhoda was already closed by the information ministry for a month, from 5 February to 5 March, on the grounds that its registered address was different from the one being used to the journalists to produce the newspaper.

 

Minsk police attack demonstrators

From Reuters AlertNet:

MINSK, March 25 (Reuters) - Police in ex-Soviet Belarus armed with truncheons waded into an illegal rally staged by demonstrators demanding President Alexander Lukashenko's resignation and several protesters were slightly injured.

Several hundred protesters massed in October Square opposite Lukashenko's office to mark the anniversary of the founding in 1918 of the Belarussian People's Republic, crushed after little more than a year by Bolshevik troops.

Lukashenko's previous tolerance for protests by small businessmen appeared to snap this month when one trader was jailed after a protest against a new value added tax.

Leaders of protests with overtly political slogans against Lukashenko are routinely sent to prison after their rallies are dispersed.

Prosecutors have launched legal proceedings against one opposition leader, Nikolai Statkevich, who played an active part in last year's protests against the October referendum.

Friday, March 25, 2005

 

'Purim revolution'

From The Jerusalem Post:

Czechoslovakia had a Velvet Revolution, Georgia had a Rose Revolution, Ukraine had an Orange Revolution – and now Kyrgyzstan is having a Purim revolution.

"It certainly is a day of venahafoch hu [topsy-turvy]," Kyrgyzstan's Chief Rabbi Arye Reichman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night. There was considerable irony, he added, in the similarities between the megilla that Kyrgyz Jews had just read and the upheaval in the streets of the capital.

"No one expected what is happening – not the government, not the opposition, not the Jewish community. It has all happened so quickly. That we need to establish order is clear. But who, what, where, how... this is a different question."

Kyrgyzstan's Jewish community numbers only a few thousand, and it shares the country with some 5 million people of more than 80 ethnicities – although the overwhelming majority is Muslim. That may make it reminiscent of the scattered, far-flung Jewish communities of Queen Esther's time, but there are no clear-cut Ahashverosh or Haman figures. Reichman said the country's Jews had enjoyed good relations with their Muslim neighbors, and with both the government and the opposition.

"So far, thank God, it's been quiet for us, and we hope it will continue like that," he said. "The Jewish community is united, but... we are hoping that God will watch over us."

 

No doubt

From Kazinform:

In response to numerous mass-media addresses the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kassymzhomart Tokayev stated that recent events in Kyrgyzstan had aroused anxiety on several reasons.

 

Telegraph leader on Kyrgyzstan

From The Daily Telegraph:

Kyrgyzstan may be a remote Central Asian republic, but it is where American, Chinese and Russian interests cut across each other in the global war on terror.

The strengthening of Kyrgyz democracy will powerfully affect a region characterised by authoritarian leaders, whether Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, Emomali Rakhmonov in Tajikistan, Saparmurad Niyazov in Turkmenistan or Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. They would doubtless have defended their regimes with more determination than Mr Akayev. But his swift departure will rattle both them and Western powers ready to tolerate oppression for the sake of the war on terror. A remote country, maybe, but one that has set the cat among the Central Asian pigeons.

 

Uzbekistan: Jehovah's Witness jailed

From Forum 18:

Freed with a fellow Jehovah's Witness at the end of February after five days in prison on charges of "disruptive behaviour", Oleg Umarov was again summoned by police in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 4 March. Two secret police officers then pressured him to renounce his faith, Jehovah's Witness spokesman Andrei Shirobokov told Forum 18 News Service. They warned they would soon seize other Jehovah's Witnesses and pointed out to Umarov articles of the criminal and administrative codes under which they could be prosecuted. Police and secret police officers have a history of trying to pressure Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and believers of other minority faiths who come from a traditionally Muslim background to convert to their "historic" faith.

 

Associated Press report from Kyrgyzstan

From The San Diego Union-Tribune:

The popular uprising was breathtaking in its speed and resulted in only a few dozen injured. The government was the third in a former Soviet republic – after Georgia and Ukraine – to be brought down by people power over the past year and a half.

"It's not the opposition that has seized power; it's the people who have taken power," Shambetov said after he got up from the chair so other demonstrators could have a turn. "They have been fighting for so long against corruption, against that family," he said.

Akayev, a 60-year-old former physicist, had led Kyrgyzstan since 1990, before it gained independence in the Soviet collapse.

At his headquarters, whooping and whistling protesters threw computers and air conditioners out of windows. Broken glass littered the floors and a drugstore in the building was ransacked. Several hours after the takeover, thick plumes of black smoke rose from two burning cars nearby.

"It's the victory of the people. But now we don't know how to stop these young guys," said Noman Akabayev, an unsuccessful legislative candidate.

Members of the upper House of parliament, who had been voted out in the disputed Februrary election, resumed their seats Thursday and chose a former opposition lawmaker, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, to serve as interim president until new elections, perhaps as early as May or June.

One immediate challenge for the new rulers was rampant looting in government buildings and shops in Bishkek.

The takeover of government buildings and state television in Bishkek followed similar seizures by opposition activists in the impoverished southern region, including the nation's second-largest city, Osh. Those protests began even before the first round of parliamentary elections Feb. 27 and swelled after March 13 run-offs that the opposition said were seriously flawed.

Politics in Kyrgyzstan, a nation of stunning mountainous beauty and 5 million people who mainly speak a Turkic language, depends as much on clan ties as on ideology, and the fractious opposition has unified around calls for more democracy, an end to poverty and corruption, and a desire to oust Akayev.

There was no sign the new leadership would change policy toward the West or Russia. Unlike the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, foreign policy has not been an issue.

Both the United States and Russia have military bases near Bishkek. About 1,000 U.S. troops are stationed at Manas air base outside the capital. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he didn't believe they would be adversely affected by the turmoil.

Kyrgyzstan's role as a conduit for drugs and a potential hotbed of Islamic extremism, particularly in the south, makes it volatile. There is no indication, however, that the opposition would be more amenable to Islamic fundamentalist influence than Akayev's government has been.

"The future of Kyrgyzstan should be decided by the people of Kyrgyzstan, consistent with the principles of peaceful change, of dialogue and respect for the rule of law," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Neighboring regimes in Central Asia studiously ignored Thursday's uprising but their opposition parties were jubilant, hoping the seeds of democratic change had been sown in the region. After the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia in 2003 and the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine last year, authorities have been increasingly nervous about their grip on power.

Some demonstrators were injured during a clash with a group of truncheon-wielding men in civilian clothes and blue armbands – the color of Akayev's party. One protester had a serious head injury and a broken leg, and another had broken ribs, said Iskander Shamshiyev, leader of the opposition Youth Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

Vincent Lusser, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, said its staff saw "a few dozen wounded" in Bishkek hospitals – most with injuries from falls or fist-fights.

Hundreds of police watched from outside the fence, where thousands more protesters remained. Neither side visibly carried firearms.

Officials left through a side door, protected by Interior Ministry troops. Some camouflage-clad troops also left peacefully.

Dozens of youths rampaged inside the building, some smashing furniture and looting supplies, ignoring protest organizers who urged them to stop.

After nightfall, thousands milled peacefully in Ala-Too Square outside the presidential headquarters, occasionally breaking into cheers. A large store on a main street was looted, with mostly young men carting out crates of food, juice and cookies, as well as mattresses, mirrors and coat hangers.

"You have to understand, people are living in poverty," said Kulov, a former vice president, interior minister and Bishkek mayor who was serving 10 years for embezzlement and abuse of power – charges he says were fabricated by the Akayev regime.

"I am very happy because for 15 years we've been seeing the same ugly face that has been shamelessly smiling at us," said Abdikasim Kamalov, holding a red Kyrgyz flag outside the presidential building. "We could no longer tolerate this. We want changes."

On Thursday night, thousands stayed on the main square outside the presidential headquarters. An elderly man and woman in a clearing in the crowd danced to imaginary music as a man pretended to beat drums.

 

The Economist on Kyrgyzstan

From economist.com:

DOES three make a trend? Kirgizstan has become the third post-Soviet republic in which disgruntled voters, unwilling to accept a fraudulent election, have taken matters into their own hands. On Thursday March 24th, Askar Akaev, president of the Central Asian republic for 15 years, was forced to flee the capital, Bishkek, after protesters took the government headquarters. And according to Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency, the recent parliamentary elections have been annulled. Now Kirgizstan’s “tulip revolution” joins Georgia’s “rose revolution” and Ukraine’s orange one. But Kirgizstan’s uprising has been more violent than those other two, and unlike them it has no single leader. The future for the remote republic is clouded.

After several bloody clashes, and looting and vandalism of the White House, opposition leaders appealed for calm and dialogue on Thursday evening. The best-known among them are Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister, Kurmanbek Bakiev, a former prime minister, and Felix Kulov, a former vice-president, who was freed from prison by the protesters. They and other leaders have formed a “co-ordinating council for national unity”, which they say will serve as a temporary government, led by Mr Bakiev. The existing parliament declared Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, a relatively unknown opposition member, temporary head of state, perhaps indicating disunity among the better-known figures. It is not yet clear that they can stop the looting, or potential score-settling between pro- and anti-Akaev groups.

Though the country is small and remote, and lacks the energy reserves of some of the other Central Asian republics, events there are being watched with interest. Both America and Russia have military bases near Bishkek. America moved heavily into Central Asia for the war in Afghanistan, and the two big powers have eyed each other warily in the region ever since. Many have criticised America for tolerating brutal regimes that help it in the war on terror, notably that of Kirgizstan’s neighbour, Uzbekistan. But America’s ambassador in Bishkek, Stephen Young, has been admirably frank with both the press and Mr Akaev’s government about concerns over deteriorating democracy in Kirgizstan.

Kirgizstan’s neighbours are also watching closely. It has a tricky relationship with Uzbekistan, whose dictator, Islam Karimov, has cracked down heavily on Islamic militants. Uzbekistan even mined the border with Kirgizstan to prevent militants from escaping, to Mr Akaev’s deep annoyance. A new Kirgiz government might show more consideration for ethnic Uzbeks in the south, which could perhaps improve relations with its bigger neighbour.

Events in Kirgizstan are unlikely to have much effect in Turkmenistan, a North Korea-style dictatorship in the region. But Kirgizstan’s other neighbours, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, may feel tremors. In Kazakhstan to the north, the president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has doled out money and favours (from the country’s mineral wealth) to keep himself in power. But there is a visible and lively, if so far unsuccessful, opposition. Tajikistan, which is poorer and endured a civil war in the 1990s, could be shakier. Recent elections, criticised by international observers, strengthened the party of the president, Imomali Rakhmonov. Might he be the next to succumb to Central Asia's new-found people power?

 

So where is Akayev?

A UPI report suggests he's in Russia:

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, March 24 : Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev reportedly fled the capital, Bishkek, to Russia Thursday after protesters took control of government buildings.

Sources told the Russia's Interfax news agency Akayev flew to an undisclosed Russian city, while members of his family had left Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan on board a presidential helicopter.

Bishkek was in a state of anarchy Thursday after thousands of protesters stormed the government buildings and seized the state television facility.They had battled with military and police officers wielding batons and shields, but security crumbled and protesters could be seen ransacking government offices and waving flags from second-floor windows.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of Akayev based on allegations of vote-rigging in the March 13 parliamentary elections.

Earlier this week, Akayev ordered an investigation into allegations of vote-rigging and blamed foreign powers for the unrest threatening his 14-year rule.


Xinhua claims he's in Kazakhstan:


MOSCOW, March 24 (Xinhuanet) -- The plane carrying Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev landed in Kazakhstan amid deteriorating situation in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax news agency reported.

Akayev's plane landed near Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. However, Russian military officials at the airbase in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, declined to comment on reports that President Akayev has left the country by air.

Akayev's family are already in Almaty as private individuals, Interfax reported.

Akayev's plane was reportedly bound for Russia, but changed course shortly after take-off and headed for Kazakhstan. Enditem


The BBC, however, says Akayev's whereabouts 'remain a mystery.'

 

Kazakhstan: Lawsuit against anti-Russian paper

From IFEX:

Country/Topic: Kazakhstan
Date: 24 March 2005
Source: Adil Soz
Person(s):
Target(s): newspaper(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): legal action
Urgency: Threat
(Adil Soz/IFEX) - The Culture, Information and Sport Ministry has launched a lawsuit against the Bastau company, which owns the newly established "Respublika Analiticheskiy Yezhenedelnik" ("Respublika Analytical Weekly") newspaper, demanding that the company be liquidated. The suit was launched after the newspaper published transcripts of an interview given by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian parliament's (Duma) vice-speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), to Radio Echo Moscvy (Radio Echo of Moscow). The transcripts of the interview were published on 20 January 2005, in the newspaper's first issue. In the interview, Zhirinovsky was highly critical of the way Kazakhstan's statehood and the nation's cultural and historical values are developing.


In a preface to the published interview, the newspaper's editorial staff wrote that Zhirinovsky's statements are reason to rethink the future relationship between Russia and Kazakhstan. According to the Culture, Information and Sport Ministry, the newspaper published material promoting the superiority of one nation over another and inciting national enmity, harming the unity of the Kazakhstani peoples and insulting the honour and dignity of the Kazakh nation.

Bastau owns "Respublika Analiticheskiy Yezhenedelnik" and another well-known opposition newspaper, "Respublika Delovoye Obzreniye" ("Respublika Business Review"). If Bastau is liquidated, its newspapers will also be shut down.

Concurrently, a private citizen, Boris Godunov, filed another lawsuit against Bastau for publishing a photograph of him in "Respublika" newspaper. The photo was published on 17 September 2004, with the caption, "Opposition did the most important thing - it showed the true face of Kazakhstan's authorities". The article was entitled, "Scene before the battle".

In his lawsuit, Godunov said the photo might cause readers to think of him as an opposition supporter, when he is actually an active proponent of the president's political direction. Godunov cited the photo's publication as a violation of Article 145 of Kazakhstan's Civil Code, which covers a person's "right to image" and stipulates that photos of a person should only be published with that person's consent. Godunov is seeking 150 billion tenge (approx. US$1,153 million) in compensation.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact Adil Soz, Zhambyl Street, 25, Office 706, Almaty, 480100, Republic of Kazakhstan, tel/fax: +7 3272 911 670, e-mail: info@adilsoz.kz, kaleyeva@adilsoz.kz, steblyuk@adilsoz.kz, Internet: http://www.adilsoz.kz


 

Kyrgyzstan another blow to Putin

From The Guardian:

The revolutions rolling through Russia's backyard shifted thousands of miles yesterday from the borders of the European Union to the Chinese frontier as Kyrgyzstan fell to the daffodil-clutching opponents of the former communist apparatchik and Leningrad physicist Askar Akayev, whose early promise degenerated into nepotism, sleaze, rigged elections and the jailing of rivals.
The daffodils of Bishkek suggested a springtime of hope in the dictatorial "stans" of central Asia. But the Kyrgyz capital was so suffused with menace and volatility that its uprising could quickly turn ugly and violent, setting it apart from the Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions of the past 18 months.

But with luck the momentum of people power will usher in a period of fairer and cleaner government that will ring alarm bells in the neighbouring post-Soviet dictatorships.

Now, with Akayev and his family fleeing the country, the result will be hailed as another gain in the global march of freedom which the White House has proclaimed as its second-term mission - another "outpost of tyranny" falling.

And in Russia, where such dramas are invariably seen as a zero sum game in an imperial contest for regional clout, the White House's gain will certainly be taken as the Kremlin's loss.

In Kyrgyzstan the Kremlin has not committed the blunders and experienced the humiliation it did in Ukraine. None the less, the turn of events in Bishkek demonstrates Vladmir Putin's weakness.

He has managed to manoeuvre himself into the unenviable position of being identified as a not very effective supporter and protecter of unsavoury regimes throughout the post-Soviet space.

Even where incumbents have survived at the ballot box, as recently happened in Moldova, they have done so by standing on an anti-Russian platform.

Mr Putin came to power with a promise to restore Russian greatness and prestige, particularly in the "near abroad" that Moscow used to rule.

Instead, he has presided over the greatest erosion of Russian influence in the region.

This week he appointed a new official to spearhead a "counter-revolutionary" campaign aimed at shoring up Russia's clout around its vast rim.

Meanwhile the Kremlin is blaming the Kyrgyz tumult on the OSCE, which declared the parliamentary elections deeply flawed. All but six of the 75 seats fell to the Akayev camp. Moscow applauded. The Kyrgyz revolted.

Mr Putin has a problem of his own making - everywhere he looks in the post-Soviet world, democracy's gains are perceived as Russia's losses.

 

Russia blames OSCE for Kyrgyz revolution

From Radio Free Europe:

24 March 2005 -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is partly responsible for the unrest in Kyrgyzstan.


Lavrov's remarks come a day after Russia's envoy to the OSCE, Aleksei Borodavkin, said the OSCE's reports on Kyrgyzstan's recent parliamentary elections were sometimes politicized assessments rather than a measured report of the elections.

 

Marinich supporters jailed

From The Moscow Times:

MINSK -- A Belarussian court handed down 10-day prison sentences to two opposition activists accused of staging an unsanctioned rally.

Dmitry Bondarenko and Nikita Sasima were accused of having organized a rally in support of an opposition leader, Mikhail Marinich, who was sentenced to prison in December.

"Belarussian authorities are scared by the events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and they are trying to sideline all politically active people," Bondarenko said after Wednesday's verdict. (AP)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

Revolution in Kyrgyzstan

Events have moved on swiftly since we posted this morning, and the story has exploded into the mainstream media. At the moment, it's not entirely clear what is happening in Bishkek. Good sources of breaking news include BBC News Online, KelKel, EurasiaNet and Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan.

 

Visit to Marinich

From Charter 97:

The British Ambassador, Brian Bennett, acting in his capacity as local president of the European Union and Ambassador Heyken, Head of the OSCE Office in Minsk, visited Mikhail Marinich in First Colony prison hospital on 23 March.

According to Ambassador Bennett, Mr Marinich appeared frail. His medical condition had clearly deteriorated while he had been in prison. He had had a mild stroke as a result of medicine for his high blood pressure not being administered during his transfer to Orsha prison. Mr Marinich said he was now receiving the medication he needed including a drug to thin his blood (Warfarin) which he had just received but which had not yet been administered.

Ambassador Bennett thanked the prison administration and the Committee for the Execution of Punishments for their cooperation in arranging the visit, expressed his concern for Mr Marinich’s condition and called on the authorities to ensure that he received full and active treatment in the future. He emphasised that the European Union had followed Mr Marinich’s arrest, trial, imprisonment and medical condition closely and would continue to be concerned about his well being and call for his release.


Another story on the site reports:


Today the head of the OSCE office in Minsk Eberhard Heiken and Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Great Britain to Belarus Brian Bennett, who represents the EU, have visited the Belarusian political prisoner Mikhail Marynich. Lawyer Vera Stramkouskaya could visit the former minister and diplomat together with the diplomats. It was the first visit to Mikhail Marynich after the politician had a stroke in prison.

As said by the lawyer, the state of health of Mikhail Marynich is still grave, and he needs more qualified assistance than the one he could be provided in the prison hospital. During the medical check-up of M. Marynich in the cardiology unit of the hospital number 4 in Minsk it had been established that he had had a myocardial infarction about half a year ago. Besides, according to Marynich’s son Igor Marynich, the leader of the civil initiative “Freedom to Political Prisoners!”, his father is suffering from an inflammatory process which nature cannot be explained by doctors still.

“It is not comprehensible why the doctors have not started from a cardiologic check-up, but from a neurologic one, as the experts say that first of all father needs intensive care, which is impossible in the conditions of a prison hospital. Consultations of qualified neuropathologist, a head computed tomography, a control of blood coagulability and so on are needed,” Igor Marynich told.

As said by Vera Stramkouskaya, during the meeting with diplomats Mikhail Marynich confirmed that the administration of the colony in Vorsha had been denying him necessary medical assistance for 5 days. It had become the reason of the ischemic stroke of the 65-year-old politician on March 7.

The sons of Mikhail Marynich are set to press for expert medical assistance to the imprisoned politician. They are making arrangements for a team of experienced doctors to arrive to Belarus, who according to international agreements have a right to visit prisons and check inmates. “We hope that a team of cardiologists of world-wide reputation would arrive. They are to examine the health of our father in a competent and objective manner,” Igor told.

The representatives of the European Union, the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and a number of foreign states demand immediate release of Mikhail Marynich. For ten days already the protests have been staged in the center of Minsk with a demand to release political prisoners in Belarus.

As said by the lawyer, today Mikhail Marynich has expressed gratitude to all who struggle for his discharge.

 

Belarus: New Life Church fined

From Forum 18:

Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko of the embattled Minsk-based charismatic New Life Church has been fined the equivalent of 30 times the minimum monthly wage in Belarus for organising religious services without state permission. Describing the brief court session to Forum 18 News Service, church administrator Vasily Yurevich complained that there was no opportunity to prepare or present a defence, since Pastor Goncharenko was summoned only the evening before the midday hearing and members of the congregation were not permitted to enter the courtroom. New Life was issued an official warning in December 2004 after Yurevich was himself fined on similar charges, and the church faces closure under Belarusian law should it receive a second such warning. While state officials have repeatedly denied to Forum 18 that they are waging a campaign against the 600-strong congregation, a 2000 state analysis of a sister charismatic congregation warns that it poses "a significant threat" to Belarusian society.

 

Kyrgyz protests turn violent

From Radio Free Europe:

Kyrgyzstan may have lost its claim to the next "velvet" revolution after violence erupted in the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh.

In Jalal-Abad, on 20 March, protesters demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev threw Molotov cocktails into a crowd. They set fire to a local administration building.

In Osh, the following day, a crowd chanting "Akaev must go" set fire to a billboard with Akaev's picture on it.

The violence ended relatively quickly, but several people were injured.

This is just one of the differences between what is happening in Kyrgyzstan and the peaceful revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.

The Kyrgyz opposition says they are now in control of the situation in areas where they have power. One of the opposition leaders, Emil Aliev of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, told RFE/RL by telephone today that their priority is to maintain order.

"We are in control of this process," he said. "And as soon as we began receiving reports, not even facts, of the possibility of [looting and violence], we sent orders to every region. We talked to our activists and called on the people to refrain from looting and violence."

This is disputed by the presidential administration. A spokesman, Abdil Segizbaev, today said the opposition is not in control of the protests. He said they amount to "a putsch and a coup."

One problem is that the Kyrgyz opposition so far lacks a charismatic national leader like Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko or Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili to give the movement unity and coherence.

A journalist, Alisher Saipov, who witnessed the events in Osh, says there was little coordination among opposition groups as they took over an administrative building there.

 

UN report on Uzbekistan

From the UN Human Rights Committee press release:

Experts had pressed yesterday for explanations about why the Government had ignored the Committee’s prior requests for stays of execution in 15 death penalty cases, which was a serious breach under the Covenant’s Optional Protocol, and why, pending a decision on whether or not to abolish the death penalty, prisoners and relatives were not routinely informed of the date and time of the executions.



On the first point, a delegate discussed one case in which the individual had been condemned to death, but ultimately had his sentence reduced to six years in prison. Uzbekistan had never been in a situation requiring the timely adoption of measures in response to a complaint made to the Committee, and, today, it was developing a mechanism to implement the Committee’s recommendations and to adopt the necessary timely measures of protection. Hopefully, with the full abolition of the death penalty, such measures would no longer be necessary in the future.



As to why prisoners condemned to death and their relatives were not made aware of the execution dates, a delegate explained that clear instructions had been developed to inform the next of kin, but until the death penalty was banned, that would remain an issue. Meanwhile, a recent study had shown that nearly 80 per cent of the population opposed such a ban, so the first step was to prepare public opinion for the penalty’s abolition. Efforts were under way to improve conditions for long-term prisoners, but that was not done overnight, he said.



Before concluding the Committee’s consideration of the country’s second periodic report, expert from France and Chairperson, Christine Chanet, said that the question of the 15 people condemned to death was one of the most serious issues brought up during the discussion. The Committee would express its concern at that particularly serious condition, as well as its concern that nothing of that nature should ever be repeated. Noting that 800 people were detained for being “extremists”, she said that extremism was not a crime. She did not know the exact charges against those people -- were those blood crimes or crimes of opinion?



To the many questions related to violence against women and the suppression of homosexuality, she said that the delegation had announced many changes, but she had not had the impression that efforts or legal reforms were actually under way to change those situations. The debate on torture and police violence had been long, as had discussion of the 72-hour custody of detainees, which the delegation knew was excessively long and which only opened prospects for violence against detainees. On the question of exit visas, article 12 of Covenant said that everybody had the right to leave all countries, even their own. She cautioned the delegation against confusing entry visas with exit visas.

 

Kyrgyz uprising: Central Asia reacts

From Reuters AlertNet:

Opposition leaders in Tajikistan say they support the people's protests in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, but condemn acts of violence.

"Violation of the law by the Kyrgyz government and the Central Elections Commission made the people in Kyrgyzstan go to the streets. They simply did not have any other choice," Rakhmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), one of the major opposition parties in the country, told IRIN in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Wednesday. "Protesters both in [the southern Kyrgyz cities of] Osh and Jalal-Abad saw that they couldn't achieve their demands through legal means."

"One should have expected such moves from some political groups in Kyrgyzstan as parliamentary elections were held there with violations of election rules. The population is protesting against that and thus expressing its disagreement," Shokirjon Khakimov, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, another opposition group, told IRIN.


Another Reuters article describes the mood in Uzbekistan:


Fearing the spread of ethnic discord in the region, the Uzbek government has voiced concern over political unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan, where a large Uzbek minority lives.

At the same time, the country's fragmented opposition backed their counterparts in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, who have been protesting about flawed parliamentary polls since 27 February. But they were fearful that an official crackdown in Kyrgyzstan might give Tashkent an excuse to further tighten the screws on opposition parties, rights groups and NGOs at home.

Uzbek authorities are keeping a close eye on the densely populated Uzbek city of Andijan, just across the border from Osh and Jalal-Abad. Since last year, Andijan has been the scene of angry demonstrations by women traders upset about new laws that restrict their trade.

The heavily censored media in Uzbekistan kept silent on the events unfolding in southern Kyrgyzstan until the foreign office released a statement on Tuesday night.

Due to lack of information, even Uzbeks contacted by IRIN who are living near the border with Kyrgyzstan in the north of the Ferghana Valley on the Uzbek side had no idea that in the cities a few kilometres away the authorities were no longer in charge.


Meanwhile, EurasiaNet reports on Central Asian leaders' reaction to the uprising:


The leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have all taken steps in recent days and weeks – as the Kyrgyz protests have played out – to protect their regimes against the spread of the "Kyrgyz contagion," which is fueled by popular frustration with corrupt and non-responsive government.

Following the violent clashes on March 20 in Jalal-Abad and Osh, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan’s direct neighbors, tightened border controls, restricting movement across the frontier. On March 22, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement stating that President Islam Karimov’s administration "could not help but experience anxiety concerning ongoing developments in Kyrgyzstan." The statement appealed to Akayev and his opponents to resolve the political crisis in "a peaceful way, without any outside interference."

With the revolutionary mood taking root in southern Kyrgyzstan, political observers expect Central Asian leaders, in particular Uzbek President Islam Karimov, to intensify efforts aimed at stifling individuals and institutions that could encourage the spread of people’s power. Nozima Kamalova, the director of the Legal Aid Society in Tashkent, said she expects Uzbek authorities to tighten their clampdown on non-governmental organization (NGO) activity in the country. Officials have already closed down several NGOs, including the Tashkent office of the Open Society Institute.

The Central Asian leader feeling most vulnerable to the people’s power threat may be Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is slated to face re-election in December of 2006. Though Kazakhstan’s political system has become more authoritarian in recent years, the country has an active opposition movement. Kazakhstan’s spreading prosperity, fueled by the country’s abundant reserves of natural energy, has created a business class that increasingly is interested in political power as a means of protecting its economic interests.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

 

Peaceful coup in Kyrgyzstan?

The crisis in Kyrgyzstan has made it to the main page of BBC News Online:

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has said protests sweeping the south of the country amount to a coup planned by his opponents with foreign support.
"Opposition forces, financed from the outside, are seeking to bring about the collapse of our society," he said.

The unrest was sparked by parliamentary elections this year which the opposition said were rigged.

President Akayev, who insists the elections were fair, ruled out the use of force against protesters.


Other coverage includes an article in The Daily Telegraph:


The state "can't show weakness when faced with colour revolutions", Mr Akayev added, a reference to the upheavals in Ukraine and the 2003 "Rose Revolution" in Georgia.

"This action of home-grown revolutionaries is a direct challenge to the people and the government," he said, complaining that he was facing a coup d'état.

Kyrgyzstan, which was once thought to be the most liberal of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, has been rocked by a series of protests since two rounds of parliamentary elections left opposition parties with just a handful of seats.

They allege that the voting was rigged and that Mr Akayev intends to change the law so that he can extend his term of office.

But Mr Akayev hit back yesterday, ridiculing the failure of the opposition to present a united front.

"The opposition leaders can't formulate acceptable conditions for negotiations," he said.

"They insist on annulling the elections and the resignation of the president.

"Each one of them has his own demands. You don't know with whom to hold talks."

Observers agree that the failure of a single, widely recognised opposition leader to emerge is one major difference with Georgia and Ukraine.

Nor is it clear that any of the opposition leaders have much control over events in the south of the country, where protesters have taken over the second city, Osh, and the city of Jalalabad nearby.


Radio Free Europe carries an analysis of the protests:


By the evening of 21 March, a new reality prevailed in Kyrgyzstan. The central authorities of President Askar Akaev had made their bid to reassert control over the rebellious southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh, and they had failed. The opposition, held together more by its opposition to Akaev and assertions of fraud in 27 February and 13 March parliamentary elections than by a coordinated program or unifying figure, now controlled, however tenuously, the strongholds of the traditionally restive south. For a moment, the great cliche of Kyrgyz politics -- the north-south divide, with northerner Askar Akaev facing a primarily southern opposition -- became a tangible thing, with the rivals glaring at each other across the mountains that bisect the country.

But actual political life has a way of upending cliches even as it seemingly validates them, and the situation on 21 March suggested more than a stark standoff. Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 21 March that "the president is ready [for negotiations], the prime minister is ready...." And while Januzakov insisted that talks cannot begin while "people are breaking things [and] setting fires," he suggested that if and when those actions are stopped, "it will be possible to hold talks." Meanwhile, two of the most prominent opposition figures -- former Prime Minster Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, and former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the bloc Ata-Jurt -- allowed the possibility of talks, albeit only with Akaev, even as they continued to insist on the president's eventual resignation, Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

For his part, the president, who had hitherto dismissed opposition complaints of widespread fraud in recent parliamentary elections, altered his tone. At a meeting with the heads of the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the Supreme Court on 21 March, Akaev insisted that while elections had gone off in full accordance with the law in the majority of districts, the CEC and the Supreme Court must review the situation in districts where results elicited sharp responses, akipress.org reported citing the presidential press office. "A separate explanation must be given for each controversial case," Akaev said.

Both the government and the opposition face paradoxes as a new day dawns in Kyrgyzstan on 22 March. As the willingness to engage in dialogue and perhaps review election results suggests, the authorities are conscious that the failed police actions in Jalal-Abad and Osh necessitate certain concessions. Russia's "Vremya novostei" even suggested, in line with various rumors circulating among the Kyrgyz opposition, that Akaev made a quick trip on 20 March to Moscow, where he received instructions to soften his hard line against the opposition. Kyrgyz officials, it should be noted, strenuously denied all rumors that Akaev was anywhere but in the country and in control.

For the opposition, the prospect of negotiations and a review of certain election results is a double-edged sword. Given that official election results put opposition representation in the new parliament at no more than 10 percent, a few reversals in high-profile races would not change the overall balance of power. Moreover, negotiations with Akaev with an eye to a compromise result would likely end up diluting the opposition's demand for the president's resignation. But if the opposition is unable to extend protests beyond the south to the capital, the resulting stalemate will surely increase pressure, both domestic and international, for a negotiated settlement.


Meanwhile, the U.S. has appealed for a peaceful end to the crisis.

 

Belarus opposition leader charged

From Interfax:

MINSK. March 22 (Interfax-West) - A criminal case has been opened against Belarussian opposition leader Nikolai Statkevich, who has been charged with participation in an unsanctioned protest in Minsk on October 19, 2004, a Belarussian law enforcement source told Interfax on Tuesday.

"Statkevich has been made to sign a pledge not to leave town, and he has been summoned to law enforcement agencies to provide testimony," the source said.

Under Article 342 of the Belarussian Criminal Code ("the organization of group actions violating public order or active participation in them"), Statkevich faces a fine, 6 months in jail, or a prison term up to 3 years, the source said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

Marinich's sons catch glimpse of him

Mikhail Marinich's sons have finally had a chance to see the ailing political prisoner -- from a distance, as he was transferred from prison to hospital for a checkup. Charter 97 reports:

Belarusian political prisoner Mikhail Marynich was transported to cardiology unit of Minsk clinical hospital number 4 for medical examination. The political prisoner was brought under a guard of six persons: three interior troops’ officers, a policeman and two people in mufti. The building of the hospital was cordoned off by people in mufti as well. Mikhail Marynich’s sons were barred out of the hospital. However, they managed to see their father when he was taken out of the police car. “I could hardly recognize him. He had a prison clothes, his head was shaved. His state of health is awful. It is hard to move to him. He has a drag in his walk. He is very pale, he has lost weight,” told Pavel Marynich in the interview to the press center of the Charter’97.

There is no information about the results of medical check-up of Mikhail Marynich, who had a stroke in the medium-security colony in Vorsha. The relatives of the political prisoner are not allowed to see him, as before. On March 18 the lawyer was not allowed to visit him too.

It is worth mentioning that police had not give permission to make a picture of Mikhail Marynich. A policeman in plainclothes rudely hit a representative of the press center of the Charter’97 who tried to snapshot Marynich in the moment when he was put to the police car, and try to seize a camera.


At least we know now that Marinich is well enough to walk. We will keep campaigning for his freedom until the day he can come home to his family. Please help us.

 

Azerbaijan pardons editor

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

New York, March 21, 2005—Facing international pressure, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned the imprisoned editor of an opposition newspaper yesterday as part of a decree ordering the release of dozens of political prisoners, according to local and international press reports.

Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of Yeni Musavat, had been jailed for 17 months after his arrest during the unrest that followed Aliyev's disputed 2003 election. Aliyev has come under sustained criticism from human rights and press freedom groups, which charged that the government has used widespread imprisonment to silence its critics.

The Serious Crimes Court in Baku sentenced Arifoglu to five years in prison in October 2004 for allegedly organizing anti-government riots that followed the fraud-marred election of October 15, 2003, according to local and international press reports.

Arifoglu, who was arrested in October 2003 and held since that time, is the deputy director of the Musavat opposition party, but his primary duties entailed editing the party's newspaper, Yeni Musavat. A presidential adviser told local media in December 2003 that the editor was being detained to prevent him from returning to his journalistic activities. The prosecution also introduced articles from Yeni Musavat as evidence in his trial, according to the independent news agency Turan.

 

Uzbek leaders tighten security

From EurasiaNet:

Navruz, the festival of spring, is a traditional time of merriment for Central Asia’s Muslims. This year, however, Navruz is a time of worry for President Islam Karimov’s administration in Uzbekistan.

During the run up to the holiday, Uzbek authorities tightened security in the capital Tashkent. Police closely monitored the movement of people heading in and out of the capital, closing public areas, and limiting attendance at official celebrations.

Several factors were contributing to the heightened sense of precaution maintained by Karimov’s administration. Officials, for one, were well aware that the first anniversary of a four-day uprising by Islamic radical forces is approaching. More importantly, however, Uzbek leaders worried about the fallout from the political upheaval in Georgia and Ukraine, where mass protests pushed incumbent authorities from power.

 

Annan statement on Kyrgyzstan

From Radio Free Europe:

United Nations, 21 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed concern at the escalation of tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan, where protesters have seized government offices.


Annan's office released a statement today saying he is opposed to the use of violence and intimidation to resolve electoral and political disputes. He called on all parties to apply restraint and said dialogue is the only viable means for addressing the current tensions.

 

Polish journalists detained in Belarus

From Radio Free Europe:

21 March 2005 -- Belarusian authorities have released three Polish journalists who were briefly detained for lacking proper media credentials.


One of the reporters, Marcin Smialowski of the Polsat private TV channel, said he and two colleagues were detained yesterday at a polling station in the city of Grodno, about 280 kilometers west of the capital Minsk. They were covering an election for a district seat in parliament.

Smialowski said the incident is proof of the overall state of media freedom in Belarus. He accused Belarusian security services of keeping the three under constant surveillance during their time in Belarus.

He said they were held for three hours until the Polish consul intervened.

The West has accused Belarus of stifling political opposition and independent media and carrying out human rights abuses.


Monday, March 21, 2005

 

Azerbaijan frees 50 political prisoners

From BBC News Online:

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has announced pardons for 114 people, including more than 50 who were considered to be political prisoners.
Seven opposition leaders are among those freed.

Europe's top human rights body, the Council of Europe, had demanded the release of political prisoners before elections due in November.

Opposition parties had complained of widespread fraud in Azerbaijan's 2003 presidential election.

The seven freed leaders had been convicted for taking part in mass protests at the time, and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years.

President Aliyev took over the presidency from his father after the vote, which was criticised by international observers.

 

HRW press release on Chechnya

From Human Rights Watch:

(Geneva, March 21, 2005)—With “disappearances” continuing on a wide scale in Chechnya, the practice has now reached the level of a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

‘Disappearances’ are a signature abuse in the six-year conflict in Chechnya. The Commission on Human Rights must adopt a strong resolution to send the message that Russia’s continuing practice of ‘disappearances’ will have consequences.

The European Union, which had in previous years introduced a resolution on Chechnya at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, has declined to do so at this year’s Commission, which is now in session.

“It is astounding that the European Union has decided to take no action on Chechnya at the Commission,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “To look the other way while crimes against humanity are being committed is unconscionable.”

Under international law, a widespread and systematic pattern of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity—an act that outrages the conscience of humankind. Any state may prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes, including responsible government officials and heads of states.

“Thousands of people have ‘disappeared’ in Chechnya since 1999, with the full knowledge of the Russian authorities,” Denber said. “Witnesses now tell us that the atmosphere of utter arbitrariness and intimidation is ‘worse than a war.’”

The 57-page briefing paper documents several dozen new cases of “disappearances” based on Human Rights Watch’s recent research mission to Chechnya. Most occurred in the past months, as the Russian government claimed to the international community that the situation in Chechnya was steadily normalizing.

“‘Disappearances’ are a signature abuse in the six-year conflict in Chechnya,” said Denber. “The Commission on Human Rights must adopt a strong resolution to send the message that Russia’s continuing practice of ‘disappearances’ will have consequences.”

Local human rights groups estimate that between 3,000 and 5,000 people have “disappeared” since the beginning of the conflict in 1999. Russian governmental statistics put the figure at 2,090 persons. All of these people are either civilians or otherwise unarmed when taken into custody. Russian authorities deny all responsibility for their fate or whereabouts.

Human Rights Watch said that the vast majority of the “disappearances” are perpetrated by government agents—either Russian federal forces or, increasingly, local Chechen security forces who are ultimately subordinate to Russian authorities. In the last five years law enforcement agencies have opened more than 1,800 criminal investigations into the “disappearances,” but not a single case has resulted in a conviction.

“The Russian government is fully aware of the scale of the problem,” said Denber. “It simply isn’t committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice. And this perpetuates the cycle of abuse.”

Among the victims whose cases are detailed in the briefing paper are:
Twenty-two-year-old student Adam Demelkhanov and forty-four-year-old carpenter Badrudin Kantaev, both detained by federal forces in the village of Starye Atagi on the night of November 7, 2004. Holding the families at gunpoint, the soldiers drove both men away in armored personnel carriers. The two men have not been seen or heard from since then, despite their families’ tireless efforts to find them.
Thirty-seven-year-old Khalimat Sadulaeva, mother of four, who was detained by a large group of armed men on the early morning of September 12, 2004, in her house in the town of Argun. Since then, the family has heard that Sadulaeva was seen by an employee at the Khankala military base near Grozny, but has not received any official information on her fate or whereabouts.
Eight relatives of Aslan Maskhadov, the leader of rebel forces killed in March 2005. Maskhadov’s three siblings and five other relatives were detained in December 2004 by forces under the command of vice prime minister of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. All but one remain missing to date. The operation was part of an unwritten policy of “counter-hostage taking” employed in Chechnya by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces to compel rebel leaders and fighters to surrender.
Human Rights Watch said that in all of these cases the criminal investigation opened into the “disappearances” yielded no results.

“The relatives of the ‘disappeared’ have no redress and no hope of finding their loved ones,” said Denber. “They are also increasingly reluctant to even report the ‘disappearances’ to the authorities, fearing for the safety of their remaining family members.”

Human Rights Watch urged Russia to invite key U.N. thematic mechanisms, particularly the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Chechnya. Human Rights Watch also urged U.N. member states to press Russia to issue the invitations.

The conflict in Chechnya, now in its sixth year, has brought untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of civilians, who have fallen victim to abuses perpetrated by both Russian forces and Chechen rebels. Chechen fighters have committed unspeakable acts of terrorism in Chechnya and in other parts of Russia. In addition to enforced disappearances, Russia’s federal forces, together with pro-Moscow Chechen forces, have also committed numerous other crimes against civilians, including extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary detention and looting. The overwhelming majority of these crimes remained uninvestigated and unpunished.

In both 2000 and 2001, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed resolutions calling on the Russian government to stop abuses, establish a meaningful accountability process and invite the U.N. monitoring mechanisms to the region. Human Rights Watch said that Russia has defied the resolutions and failed to comply with the majority of their recommendations.


Testimonies from the Human Rights Watch briefing paper “Worse Than a War: “Disappearances” in Chechnya Constitute a Crime Against Humanity.”

We were sleeping. They broke down the doors, burst in, yelling, and pointed their submachine guns at us, [shouting], “Everyone get down! We’ll shoot!”…I leaped up, started showing them our papers, asking whom they wanted, and why, and who they were—they were all in masks. I was begging them, “Why are you [doing this]?”…They did not explain anything, just handcuffed [Rasul], put a T-shirt over his head, and drove him away… An investigator [then] came and questioned us, and looked for footprints in and outside the house, but we still do not know where [Rasul] is.
—A relative of Rasul Mukaev (b. 1982), “disappeared” from the village of Duba-Yurt on December 3, 2004.

I thought they were taking my son away. I ran out and shouted, “Where are you taking him?” I couldn’t really see--they just clustered around her. But the children started crying, “They are taking mommy away!”…I ran up with her passport, but they did not take it. As they were leading her away, I rushed [toward them], but they threw me off. [One of them] pointed his gun at me, and I told him, “Go ahead, shoot me if you are that kind of a man.” He did not shoot, they just dragged her away… We went to the local administration, to the Federal Security Service, to the military commandant’s office—but they also say they don’t have her and do not know where she is.
—Mother of Khalimat Sadulaeva (b. 1967), “disappeared” from the town of Argun on September 12, 2004.

They burst in and just asked, “Where are your men?” They pushed all women and children into a corner here, and went to the bedroom, and started beating [the men] mercilessly. Everything was [covered] with blood in that room, their beds, and the curtains. They did not even ask for their names or documents…They took the money and jewelry, and a spare tire and a car battery the found in the yard. Then [the soldiers] walked all four of them out of the house and drove them away in the APCs [armored personnel carriers]… The deputy minister of interior [of Chechnya] told us in October [2004], “The APCs were identified, we know who took [the men away], we know [who they are]. I’ll call and the [detainees] will be released.” But we still do not know where they are.
—A relative of Adlan Ilaev (b. 1987), Inver Ilaev (b. 1982), Rustam Ilaev (b. 1974), and Kazbek Bataev (b. 1983), “disappeared” from the village of Assinovskaia on July 3, 2004.


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