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Saturday, April 30, 2005

 

Lebedko wants meeting with Bush

From Interfax:

Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko intends to visit Tbilisi on May 10 and try to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush.

In an interview with Georgia's Rustavi-2 television on Friday, Lebedko said he was invited to visit Tbilisi on May 10 by Georgian parliamentary deputies.

"Even complete pessimists are saying a revolution is possible in Belarus, because it happened nearby, in the next yard," Lebedko said.

 

Forced marriages in Kyrgyzstan

The New York Times has a disturbing article on the practice of abducting brides:

When Ainur Tairova realized she was on her way to her wedding, she started choking the driver.

Her marriage was intended to be to a man she had met only the day before, and briefly at that. Several of his friends had duped her into getting into a car; they picked up the would-be groom and then headed for his home.

Once there, she knew, her chances of leaving before nightfall would be slim, and by daybreak, according to local custom, she would have to submit to being his wife or leave as a tainted woman.

Such abductions are common here. More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run." In its most benign form, it is a kind of elopement, in which a man whisks away a willing girlfriend. But often it is something more violent.

Recent surveys suggest that the rate of abductions has steadily grown in the last 50 years and that at least a third of Kyrgyzstan's brides are now taken against their will.

The practice has technically been illegal for years, first under the Soviet Union and more recently under the 1994 Kyrgyz criminal code, but the law rarely has been enforced.

"Most people don't know it's illegal," said Russell Kleinbach, a sociology professor at American University in Bishkek whose studies of the practice have helped spur a national debate.

The few prosecutions that do occur are usually for assault or rape, not for the abductions themselves. There are no national statistics on how many kidnappings go awry, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that some end in tragedy.


Read the rest.

 

Lukashenka tightens security

From The Moscow Times:

President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday ordered security to be tightened in Belarus, citing strong Western criticism of his rule.

"Belarus as before is being exposed to severe outside pressure, and therefore questions of security and strengthening the defense capabilities of our state take on a special significance in the current situation," Lukashenko said during a meeting on defense issues.


Radio Free Europe reports that the Belarusian parliament has passed a statement denouncing international pressure.

Friday, April 29, 2005

 

Turkmenistan bans libraries

From the International Relations and Security Network:

President Saparmurat Niazov has added public libraries to the long list of things banned in Turkmenistan - a bitter blow to many in the Central Asian republic who say their last window on the world has been slammed shut. Turkmen have grown used to living without opera, ballet, cinemas, and even circuses - all forbidden by Niazov - but they say his decision to close all libraries cuts especially deep.

Various NGOs including Human Rights Watch and the International Helsinki Federation have protested the late February decision by Niazov - known as Turkmenbashi, or father of all Turkmen - to shut down the libraries. His explanation at a meeting of cabinet ministers was simple, “No one goes to libraries and reads books anyway.” Also problematic appears to be the fact that most literature in Turkmenistan’s libraries is printed in Cyrillic. Since 1996, schools have been teaching in a Latin-based alphabet. Only the national library appears to have escaped the purge, so, according to Niazov, it can house new Turkmen literature as well as historical texts. The president said any more libraries are unnecessary as most books that Turkmen need - many written by Niazov himself - should already be in homes, workplaces, and schools.

 

Run-up to Kyrgyz election

Reuters AlertNet provides a look at the candidates and issues in Kyrgyzstan's upcoming election.


Ordinary people say the issue of stability remains paramount after the euphoria of the revolution has waned.

"It is good that the corrupt family and clan-based regime has gone. But the new government is facing a severe shortage of time. The initial euphoria is diminishing and people are questioning what has been achieved," Sadyrbay, 64, a local pensioner in the southern city of Osh, told IRIN. "If there is no stability in the coming several months and people do not see tangible results from the regime change, the new authorities will lose all credit."

"Nobody regrets that Akayev is gone, but the new authorities have shown their inability to tackle the challenges lying ahead of them. People need to see that real change is taking place," Almaz, a university student in Bishkek, told IRIN.

But others were less optimistic. "One corrupt government official replaced the outgoing one and that is all," Zakirbek, a 49-year-old teacher, told IRIN, pessimistically.

"The new government turned out to be very soft, while they need to be tough during this difficult period," Alymbai, another teacher from Osh, told IRIN. "As you see, some people have started to illegally occupy land, mobs change one official after another. They need to put an end to that lack of authority, otherwise the country will fall into chaos and civil conflict. We do not want to even imagine the consequences of such a scenario," he warned.

Meanwhile, there is growing interest in emigration and leaving the country altogether, especially among the Russian minority. "First of all, the new authorities have not clearly proclaimed their position towards minorities. This uncertainty makes people want to run away. Secondly, the looting of businesses, shops and companies has led to the unemployment of Russians in the city," Valerii Vishnevskii, chairman of the Slavic Fund, a local civic group to tackle the problems of the Russian minority, told IRIN in Bishkek.


Meanwhile, the acting president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, has called for constitutional reform. Radio Free Europe reports:


"The power of the president elected nationwide has to be greater, because he is elected by the entire Kyrgyzstan nation," Bakiev said. "At the same time, the president...should have his [proper] responsibilities as well. For instance, the existing constitution does not contain [responsibilities for the president]."

Bakiev said that all the branches of power [executive, legislative, and judicial] must be equal. He said it is not good to give too much power to the presidency.

 

U.S. statement on Belarus

From Voice of America:

During a visit to Lithuania for a NATO ministerial meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with a group of Belarusian civil society representatives. The people of Georgia and Ukraine have brought about democratic changes in their countries. But opposition figures in Belarus say they face a tough struggle because Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues brutally to repress dissent and restrict basic freedoms, such as the right to assemble and associate peacefully.

"The government in Belarus is prepared to use force at any moment," said Lyudmila Petina, chairman of the Christian Women's Democracy Movement. Secretary of State Rice discussed with Belarusian dissidents the disappearance of regime opponents.

The Belarusian government has made no credible efforts to solve the presumed killing of journalist Dmitry Zavadskiy, opposition figures Yuryiy Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky. The Belarusian government, Ms. Rice said, "should know that their behavior is being watched. . . . .This is not a dark corner in which things can go unobserved, uncommented on, as if Belarus was somehow not a part of the European continent."

The 2006 presidential election in Belarus offers an opportunity for other nations to focus on the need for a free and fair vote, said Secretary of State Rice:

"What the United States will always support is the evolution of democratic processes around the world and the desire of people to tap into the aspirations of their populations for freedom. And we will support the idea that elections, when they are held, should be real elections. They should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be prepared and ready to help Belarus to carry out a free and fair election in 2006."

The U.S. will continue to support the Belarusian people in their aspirations for democracy and human rights. As Secretary of State Rice said, "The people of Belarus will have to make determinations about how they move forward. But the key is that people ought to be able to protest, speak their minds, there ought to be free media."

 

RSF on Belarus arrests

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders condemned prison sentences handed down against two Russian journalists simply for covering a demonstration marking the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The worldwide press freedom organisation urged the Belarus interior minister to release them immediately and to drop charges against them.

Alexei Ametov of the weekly Rossisky newsweek and Mikhail Romanov of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, were arrested in Minsk on 26 April while covering an opposition-organised protest on the 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion in neighbouring Ukraine.

Around 500 people had gathered in front of the presidential palace to hand in a petition to President Alexander Lukashenko for children from Belarus to be allowed to travel abroad for treatment. Demonstrators were also protesting against government policy that people should return to live in the contaminated region.

For failing to have Belarus foreign ministry accreditation the two journalists were sentenced behind closed doors on 27 April by the Leninsky and Tsentralny courts in Minsk, to respectively ten and eight days in prison. They were charged with "violation of procedure in connection with demonstrations and strikes (Article 167 of the administrative code). Both journalists are serving their sentences in Okrestina jail in Minsk.

"The state of press freedom is so critical in Belarus that it calls for intervention from democratic countries", Zhanna Litvina, President of the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) told Reporters Without Borders, its partner organisation.

As well as the two Russian journalists, more than 30 other people from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight days to two weeks. "It's the first time that such a large number of foreigners have been arrested and sentenced in Belarus. It's a sign of the regime's fear of the internationalisation of the Belarus question and the help that the opposition can receive from abroad", Vladimir Labkovich, head of the human rights organisation Vesna told AFP.

 

Kasparov sees danger to Russian Jews

From The Jerusalem Post:

As Russian President Vladimir Putin spent his first full day here on Thursday, legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov had a message for Israel: Don't trust him!

In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Russia, Kasparov, who has retired from chess and is now a political rival of the president's, complained that Putin's regime is trampling on democratic principles and poses a serious threat to the rest of the world. He also said that Putin's reliance on support from ultranationalist forces could spell trouble for Russia's Jews, and he skewered Putin for strategic shortcomings that, he said, could imperil Israel.

The Russian president had undermined democratic reforms installed by his predecessors, Kasparov added, citing strict controls on independent media and suggestions that Putin might force an alteration to the constitution that would allow him to remain in office for a third term.

Kasparov also claimed that Putin was not only doing too little to combat the rising ant-Semitism in Russia, but charged that the former KGB officer's government even encouraged and instigated ultranationalist sentiment, with the security apparatus propping up far-right groups.

"The only way to win support from the West is to make sure that everyone is scared of the threat of ultranationalist forces... so Putin presents himself as the only one who can stop them,"

Kasparov said. Parties such as Nashi, a pro-Putin "version of the brown-shirts," he said, create provocations that give the Russian president "a legal chance to use military forces in Russian streets."

Kasparov told The Post he believed that Israel's Russian immigrant population should speak out to draw the West's attention to the dangers that Putin's regime poses.

"Western leaders don't care at all about Putin and [his record on] democracy as long as he can provide them with some sort of stability in Russia," he said, "but Putin is not providing stability at all. The Chechen war is spreading, with Islamists joining what was once a nationalist separatist fight, and increasing terrorism dramatically... so Russia is actually less safe today than it was before" Putin took office.

Leveling such sharp criticism at Putin from within Russia could be dangerous. Indeed, several Yukos partners who have fled to Israel claim that they were targeted for prosecution by Putin because of their vocal political opposition to the government.

Being half-Jewish, Kasparov would be eligible to make aliya should he find himself under similar or even worse threats.

"I don't even want to discuss a situation in which I would be forced to leave my native country," he said. "I doubt I would ever have to leave... but I would consider all possibilities."

 

Khodorkovsky verdict delayed

From The Scotsman:

THE long-awaited verdict in the trial of the Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was postponed yesterday, prompting rumours that the high-profile case had been delayed to save president Vladimir Putin from embarrassment ahead of a visit to Moscow by dozens of world leaders next month.

A sheet of paper stuck to the door of Moscow’s tiny Meshchansky courthouse yesterday morning was the first anyone knew that the verdict on one of Russia’s richest men had been put back to next month.

The delay is likely to undermine confidence in Russia’s judicial system and dampen enthusiasm for investment.

No official explanation was forthcoming for the delay, prompting rumours to begin circulating.

"I think the judge is sick, that is what I heard," said one young official at Khodorkovsky’s press centre. His lawyers had a sterner explanation: they believe that the delay was ordered directly by Mr Putin, nervous that the verdict would leave him facing awkward questions when world leaders gather in Moscow on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of VE Day.

Khodorkovsky’s spokesman, Leonid Nevzlin, said: "By postponing the court’s ruling to a date after 9 May, when President Bush and other world leaders are expected to visit Russia, Putin once again shows the world that he holds his political opponents hostage. Only in a non-democratic country can the president intervene so blatantly in a legal process."

 

Yabloko leader among jailed protesters

From Radio Free Europe:

Moscow, 28 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow police detained Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin and press secretary for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Denis Terekhov on 28 April for participating in an unsanctioned protest outside of the Belarusian Embassy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.


About 20 protestors carried signs reading "Freedom for Political Prisoners," "Lukashism Equals Fascism," and "Hands off
Russians," "Gazeta" reported. Mitrokhin and others organized the action to protest the arrest of 14 Russian citizens in Belarus on 26 April.

Of the 14 arrested in Minsk, 12 were members of the youth movements Yabloko, SPS, and Walking Without Putin, while two were journalists. The Belarusian police also arrested five members of the Ukrainian youth movement Pora. The youths were participating in an unauthorized rally near the presidential-administration building in Minsk on the 19th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear plant disaster.

On 27 April, Belarusian courts sentenced the Russians and Ukrainians to terms varying from five to 15 days, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the website for the Belarusian youth movement Zubr, one of their activists, a 14-year-old, had his arm broken by police for wearing a T-shirt that read: "Freedom for Marynich." Mikhail Marynich is a jailed Belarusian opposition leader.

In Moscow, Mitrokhin, 41, was released the same day that he was arrested, though he was scheduled to reappear at the police station early on 29 April, utro.ru reported. Also detained in Moscow were activists from the youth branches of Yabloko and SPS and Walking Without Putin. According to "Gazeta," the activists had planned to hurl potatoes at the embassy but, at the last minute, the organizers decided to stick to the more conventional method of picketing.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

Chernobyl protesters, journalists jailed

From Reuters AlertNet:

A Belarussian court on Wednesday convicted 30 people for taking part in a rally denouncing President Alexander Lukashenko this week and sentenced them to brief jail terms of up to 15 days.

"My feeling was that all the sentences had been prepared in advance," said protest organiser Marian Bogdanovich of the United Civic Party, who was given a fine of about $1,500.

"In my case, there was not even an attempt to confer on proceedings."


The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that two Russian journalists were among those sentenced.

 

New Amnesty statement on Belarus

From Amnesty International:

Amnesty International is concerned that the Belarusian authorities have become intolerant of any public criticism or dissent. The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are enshrined in various international human rights treaties, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Belarus is a party, and is bound to uphold and observe. Yet it is with growing concern that Amnesty International has observed that action based on peaceful political beliefs has become near to impossible. The Belarusian authorities are increasingly employing harassment, intimidation, excessive force, mass detentions and long-term imprisonment as methods to quash any civil or political dissent.


Please read the whole thing.

 

Turkmenistan drops fee for foreign marriages

From turks.us:

A new law has been issued by Turkmenistan's autocratic President Saparmurat Niyazov that omits the payment by foreigners wishing to marry Turkmens of $50,00 (38,000 Euro). The move is seen as a move designed to protect Turkmen women from unscrupulous foreigners, an official at one of Ashgabat's largest registry offices said.

The original payment was included in the old law so that the money could be used to support the children of the married couple, should the foreigner decide to leave. The new law requires that foreigners wishing to marry a Turkmen should have lived in the country for at least one year.

"The law has been corrected... foreign citizens wanting to marry a Turkmen citizen will no longer have to pay this sum," an official told the press.

The official added that there hadn't actually been any such marriages because of the fee, saying that foreigners preferred to marry Turkmen in neighboring countries.

 

Tajik election candidate jailed

Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, the exiled opposition leader who earlier this month announced his decision to run in the Tajik presidential election, has been arrested and brought back to Tajikistan. Radio Free Europe reports:

The mystery of Mahmudruzi Iskandarov’s whereabouts began early this month when he was freed from jail in Moscow.

He had been in prison since December, when he was arrested on charges of committing terrorist acts and illegal possession of weapons. Those charges were filed by the Tajik prosecutor’s office and Russian authorities acted on the Tajik government’s warrant in detaining him.

But next, to some observers’ surprise, the Russian authorities refused to extradite Iskandarov to Tajikistan. Instead, they freed him on 3 April.

And then, a little over a week later, Iskandarov disappeared.

Just how Iskandarov came to be in Tajikistan late last week remains unclear. Bobokhonov said only that Iskandarov was officially placed under arrest on 22 April.

 

Reporters Without Borders on Petrushova arrest

From CASCFEN:

Reporters Without Borders protested as the repeated harassment of Irina Petrushova, editor of Kazakh opposition weekly Respublika and a Russian national, because of her political stand towards the Kazakh government. She was arrested and held for two days by police in Volokolamsk, 120 kilometres west of Moscow.

"This illegal arrest provides new proof of the Kazakh authorities hounding of one of the rare dissident voices that is still heard in the country," the worldwide press freedom organisation said, adding, "We urge the Russian interior minister to in future take responsibility for the protection of their national to shield her from all harassment whatever form it may take."

 

Fear over Putin's plans

From Haaretz:

When Russian President Vladimir Putin is asked about his plans for the future, he replies that he will operate according to the constitution. The constitution of the Russian Federation specifically states that the president is allowed to serve for two consecutive four-year terms. Therefore, according to the constitution, Putin's second term will end in less than three years - in 2008. But although over two and a half years remain until the end of his term, the hot topic nowadays in Russia is what Putin really intends to do. The discussion of this question is preoccupying not only politicians, businessmen, reporters and commentators in Russia, but rank and file citizens as well. The subject is accompanying the president on his journeys abroad and will also come up, although not in official talks, during his visit to Israel, which began last night.

The only statement by Putin that deviated from his usual mantra was made about three weeks ago, during his visit to the city of Hanover, Germany. During a meeting with senior executives of the German media, he said: "I will not change the constitution, and according to the constitution you cannot run for the presidency three consecutive times." But he added an interesting comment about the fact that the constitution does not prevent him from offering his candidacy again at a later stage. However, he said: "The truth is that I'm not sure if I want to."

Putin's words are providing a fertile field for guesses, estimates, rumors and conspiracy theories. What they all have in common is the feeling that behind the simple explanation hides a deeper meaning. Putin and his associates - who are nicknamed "the tribe" - will not easily surrender power, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that they will find, or at least look for, a way to bypass the limitations of the constitution and make sure they remain at the helm.

Most commentators believe that Putin and his associates, who are running the country from the Kremlin, will not change the article in the constitution that sets two terms for the president. But some people believe that other articles in the constitution will be changed, thus turning Russia from a presidential republic into a parliamentary republic. At present, in Russia, as in the United States and in France, power is concentrated in the executive, with the presidency at the center. If Russia turns into a country in which power is concentrated in the cabinet, Putin and his associates will be able to carry out the following step: De jure, the head of the country will continue to be the president, but he will be a ceremonial president without powers, as in Israel. Therefore, the constitution will ostensibly be preserved, but Putin will be the prime minister. In theory he will be subordinate to the president, and de facto he will continue to be the strong man in the country.

But this possibility still requires a change in the constitution, and therefore there are commentators who believe that in order to maintain his credibility and his commitment not to touch the constitution, Putin will choose another way. This was the assessment of commentator Olga Kryshtanovskaya, an expert on the country's elites. In her opinion, "the tribe" will formulate a plan in which Russia will continue to be a presidential republic, and Putin will be appointed prime minister, without any changes to the constitution. In such a case, "the tribe" will appoint a puppet candidate, who will run in the coming elections, whereas the focus of power will in effect be in the hands of prime minister Putin, the modern czar of Russia.

 

Kazakh ambassador interview

EurasiaNet interviews Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to the UN:

EurasiaNet: How would you characterize current domestic political conditions in Kazakhstan?
Kazykhanov: The political situation is normal. There is a strong executive branch, headed by the president. ... [But] it is obvious that there is a division of power, where each branch of government has its influence, [and] they all work independently. There is constructive political opposition that expresses its opinions and analyses on current political events in the country. ... Of course, we can not really claim that we have achieved a certain level of Western-style democracy. Our government repeats that every country, especially an Asian country such as Kazakhstan, has it own specific traits and traditions. Therefore, just applying the Western experience of the development to Kazakhstan would be completely wrong because we have our own mentality. ... Sometimes Western analysts write that many Central Asian countries have totalitarian regimes, mentioning certain names. This shows an absence of understanding of the situation in Central Asia. ... I think that many of the so-called [Central Asian] specialists in the West, people who can still confuse the names of capitals, cannot know what the people of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are thinking and feeling. ... So, repeating myself, I think that we [in Kazakhstan] are moving in the right direction. A presidential election is going to be held in the near future ... We shall see how events unfold. ... The main thing is that both the opposition and the government know that stability is needed for investment and the continued development of the economy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

 

New factsheets and letters

We now have updated versions of our factsheet and letter for the U.S. and UK. The text is below. The files can also be downloaded in .wps format in British and American versions.

Factsheet:



Speak out for justice in Belarus!


During the last week of December 2004, Mikhail Marinich stood before a court in Belarus, accused of stealing computers. Marinich was not a typical petty thief. A former economics minister and ambassador, he was a prominent figure in the political opposition. The case against him was hardly compelling: The U.S. State Department, who owned the supposedly purloined computers, denied they had been stolen at all.

But Marinich was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The outcome had been certain from the beginning. This is the price Belarusians pay for opposing their president, Alexander Lukashenka.

A recent Amnesty International report observed that 'it is becoming increasingly dangerous to criticize the regime in Belarus. Leading members of the opposition, human rights defenders and journalists who voice criticism risk criminal charges for slandering the President.' Many journalists and activists have been arrested; others have died in mysterious circumstances or simply disappeared. In a speech on 21 April 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice described Belarus as the ‘last true dictatorship’ in Europe.

Marinich, who suffers from high blood pressure, has been kept in harsh conditions without medical treatment. On 7 March, after being denied medication for four days, he suffered a stroke.

Worldwide protests have already led to some improvements in Marinich‘s situation. His sentence has been reduced to three and a half years. International pressure also forced the Belarusian government to let Marinich have medical treatment outside the prison colony after his stroke. However, he is still not permitted to see his lawyer or to appeal against his conviction.

We must keep up pressure on the Belarusian authorities until Marinich -- and all political prisoners in Belarus -- are free. You can help by signing and returning the attached letter to the Belarusian embassy.

The Volodymyr Campaign is a voluntary initiative devoted to informing the public about human-rights issues in the former Soviet Union. To learn more, please visit http://volodymyrcampaign.blogspot.com/ or e-mail us at volodymyrcampaign@btinternet.com.


UK version of the letter:


His Excellency Alyaksei Mazhukhou
Ambassador of Belarus
6 Kensington Court
London W8 5DL

Excellency:

I am writing to you about the opposition politician Mikhail Marinich, who is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the theft of computer equipment.

It is my understanding that the United States government, the owner of the computers in question, denies that they were stolen and has called for Mr Marinich to be set free. There are further reports that Mr Marinich was not given a fair trial and that he was arrested because of his activity with Belarus‘s political opposition. If true, this constitutes a grave violation of his rights to a fair trial, to free expression and to participation in government (Articles 9-11 and 18-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). I understand that Mr Marinich’s health has declined in prison and that he has been denied meetings with his lawyers.

On humanitarian grounds, I appeal to the Belarusian government to do the following:

To release Mr Marinich pending a full and fair review of the charges against him.
To allow him fair legal representation.
To permit him to receive any medical treatment necessary.

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,





U.S. version:


His Excellency Mikhail Khvostov
Ambassador of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue., N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

Excellency:

I am writing to you about the opposition politician Mikhail Marinich, who is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the theft of computer equipment.

It is my understanding that the United States government, the owner of the computers in question, denies that they were stolen and has called for Mr Marinich to be set free. There are further reports that Mr Marinich was not given a fair trial and that he was arrested because of his activity with Belarus‘s political opposition. If true, this constitutes a grave violation of his rights to a fair trial, to free expression and to participation in government (Articles 9-11 and 18-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). I understand that Mr Marinich’s health has declined in prison and that he has been denied meetings with his lawyers.

On humanitarian grounds, I appeal to the Belarusian government to do the following:

To release Mr Marinich pending a full and fair review of the charges against him.
To allow him fair legal representation.
To permit him to receive any medical treatment necessary.

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,



 

Baltic ambassadors visit Marinich

From Charter 97:

The ambassadors of Latvia and Lithuania to Belarus, Maira Mora and Jonas Paslauskas, respectively, on April 25 visited imprisoned opposition politician Mikhail Marinich. Mr. Marinich, who resigned as Belarus` Riga-based ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland in the summer of 2001 to run against Aleksandr Lukashenko in that fall`s presidential race, is currently treated in a prison hospital in Minsk. He was transferred there from a correctional facility in Orsha on March 15, after he was reportedly diagnosed as having a transient ischemic attack.

As Mr. Paslauskas said at a news conference in the Belarusian capital, they learned that the 65-year-old Marinich was receiving the necessary medical aid in accordance with the diagnosis.
According to the Latvian embassy, Ms. Mora told Mr. Marinich that people in Latvia "remember the former ambassador and are carefully following the developments in his criminal case and the condition of his health during his imprisonment." She reportedly said that while in the position of ambassador, Mr. Marinich contributed to the development of friendly relations between Belarus and Latvia and actively promoted an open dialogue between the governments and people in the two countries.

The ambassadors informed Mr. Marinich that the Danish European Movement had declared him "Person of the Year."

For his turn, Mr. Marinich thanked the diplomats for their visit and care and asked them to convey his gratitude to "all colleagues who felt concerned for him and expressed sympathy and solidarity."

 

A year in prison

It's now been a year since Mikhail Marinich was arrested. Charter 97 looks back on events.

 

Kazakh editor released

From Radio Free Europe:

Russian authorities have released Irina Petrusheva, an opposition journalist who was detained in Russia at the request of the Kazakh police.


Russian authorities released Petrusheva on the grounds that she is a Russian citizen, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.

Petrusheva is the editor in chief of the Kazakh opposition weekly "Respublika." Kazakh authorities have sought her detention on charges of tax evasion and breaking Kazakh citizenship laws since 2002.

 

Demonstrators arrested at Chernobyl anniversary

From Charter 97:

Protest action in Minsk on the anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear power station accident ended in mass arrests. About 40 people were detained. Among them were representatives of right-wing organizations from Russia – Yabloko’s youth branch, the youth branch of Union of Right Forces, movement “Marching Without Putin”, “Oborona” (Deefense) organization, Ukrainian organization “National Alliance”, as well as activists of the Belarusian youth organization “Young Front”. There are journalists among the detainees.

Activists of Belarusian opposition have planned to deliver a petition to the office of Belarusian president. They demand to resettle people from strongly polluted areas, to provide people affected by Chernobyl with medicines and treatment, to stop production of foodstuffs in contaminated areas; to cancel the new regulations that make it more difficult for children from the contaminated zones to travel abroad; to cancel limitations for humanitarian aid delivery; to stop forcible job allocation in “Chernobyl-affected” areas for graduates. About 30 activists of youth organizations from Ukraine and Russia have arrived to take part in the protest.

It was planned to deliver the petition at 6 p.m. However an hour and a half before policemen and riot policemen encircled the building of the presidential Administration and blocked the passage in Engels Street.

After several fruitless attempts to approach the Administration building, youth activists unfurled an orange streamer “For Yours and Our Freedom”, banners “Today Ukraine, Tomorrow Belarus”. They formed a column and marched towards the Administration. The column was preceded by the priests with crosses.

However, Belarusian riot police was not stopped by the crosses, and the attempt to bring the petitions into the administration of Lukashenka ended by brutal dispersal.


Meanwhile, a small demonstration in Moscow expressed solidarity with the Belarusian opposition:


On completion of the demonstration, participants reportedly handed an embassy official a sack of potatoes and asked him to pass it to President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

 

Former Tajik minister gets 15 years

From The Moscow Times:

A former Tajik interior minister and prominent government critic was sentenced to 15 years in prison for state treason, banditry and abuse of office, while an opposition leader was detained and charged with terrorism and abuse of office, the prosecutor general said Tuesday.

The former minister, Yakub Salimov, was arrested in Russia last year at Tajikistan's request and extradited in February.

Salimov was a former leader of the Popular Front movement that brought President Emomali Rakhmonov to power and fought against the Islamic opposition in the country's 1992-97 civil war. A former ambassador to Turkey, he is accused of sponsoring an anti-Rakhmonov uprising staged in late 1996 by Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev, another Popular Front leader.

The Democratic Party leader, Makhmadruzi Iskandarov, had also taken refuge in Russia. He went missing in Moscow last week after being freed by Russian authorities, who had detained him on a Tajik request four months earlier. He has been charged with terrorism, illegal possession of arms, attempted murder, abuse of office and theft of state funds, Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov said.

Bobokhonov did not say how or where Iskandarov, who had said he would run for the Tajik presidency next year, had been arrested.

Mirzoyev was detained in August after police seized more than 3,000 weapons from him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

 

New student movement for Belarus

Via David McDuff, we have learned of Students for Global Democracy's Belarus campaign:


While there exist no shortage of worthy causes for promoting self-determination and the right to freedom throughout the world, Students For Global Democracy, or SGD, has found the current need in Belarus to be of the most pressing concern. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the people of Belarus have seen their oppressor switch from a foreign empire ruled from Moscow, to a domestic tyrant in Minsk. The iron fist of Aleksandr Lukashenka, current “president” of Belarus, continues to rule Belarus to this very day.

In essence, only international funding of groups such as Zubr is possible. Yet, since 2001 such funding has essentially dried up. After the 2001 Belarussian election, Lukashenka began to crack down on those who had run against him in the election to punish them for daring to oppose his rule. Instead of increasing their aid to respond to the worsening situation, most large international donor organizations pulled the majority of their funding. Such organizations also usually demand that aid recipients be officially registered with the Belarussian government—a ridiculous demand considering that Minsk would never officially recognize an organization that seriously threatens its dictatorial status.

SGD aims to play a different role than these larger organizations by effectively using its donated funds to achieve the best result possible for the people of Belarus. We listen to those on the ground—the democrats—to determine what is actually needed and how to best change the situation there. We simply want to bring democracy to Belarus, not serve the interests of a bureauratic aid organization with inefficient policies.


You can donate to the campaign via the web site to buy independent newspapers for Belarus. We also encourage students in America to get involved with their local chapter of SGD.

 

Belarus and Ukraine youths sign accord

From Charter 97:

The leaders of Belarus’ pro-democracy youth movement and Ukraine’s National Alliance have signed a cooperation accord. While signing the agreement, Belarusian activist Dmitry Dashkevich noted that the country’s youth opposition movement and the Ukrainian association have maintained close contacts after some 200 Belarusian youths took part in last year’s “orange revolution,” a series of street protests in Kyiv that brought the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.

The Ukrainian activist noted that the Ukrainian organization is not afraid of any accusations that may be leveled by the Belarusian authorities. “Such assistance is absolutely normal. Belarusians came to Ukraine during the 2001 election and taught us how to manage an election campaign, monitor polls and count votes. This is done not at the level of the Ukrainian government and president but at the level of non-governmental organizations, and the Ukrainian authorities have nothing to do with this,” he said.

According to the activist, if the Belarusian authorities persecute National Alliance members, it will only help draw more attention from Ukraine to the situation in Belarus.

 

Yakubov update

From Radio Free Europe:

25 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Friction between journalists and Uzbekistan's authorities is nothing new. But the recent arrest of Sobirjon Yoqubov (spelled "Yakubov" in many reports), a correspondent for the newspaper "Hurriyat," has sparked a reaction that goes beyond expressions of concern from international organizations. This time, some of the jailed journalist's colleagues in Uzbekistan have mobilized in his support.

Deputy Interior Minister Alisher Sharafuddinov held an unusual public meeting with the journalists in question on 15 April, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. While Sharafuddinov insisted that no crackdown was in the offing, he confirmed the arrest of a correspondent for the newspaper "Hurriyat."

According to a transcript of the meeting published by tribune.uz, Sharafuddinov said in response to a question from an RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent, "[Sobirjon Yoqubov] was arrested on 11 April, and on 14 April he was charged under Article 159." Article 159 of Uzbekistan's criminal code involves attempts to "overthrow the constitutional order." It is a staple of reports on the government's controversial fight against religious extremism, which critics have described as a campaign of repression that inflames, rather than contains, radicalism. The most common suspects in cases involving article 159 are alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses the establishment of an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia even as it officially eschews violence.

In an 18 April press release, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted a March article Yoqubov wrote about the murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Yoqubov argued that Gongadze's slaying "became a driving force [for Ukrainians] to realize the necessity of democratic reforms and freedom."

Pascale Bonnamour, head of the Europe desk for Reports Without Borders, told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) on 20 April that Yakubov's arrest should be viewed in the context of recent events in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. "The fact that Yakubov is in prison serves as a warning to other journalists to monitor what they say," she said.

 

Police threats in Uzbekistan

From The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader:

NAMANGAN, Uzbekistan - Abdurahman Aliyev had just walked into his home when he heard a loud knock on the door. A policeman shoved a piece of paper and pen at him and ordered him to confess to belonging to a banned Muslim group, vow to break ties with it and pledge never to get involved in politics.

"So I asked, 'Why? Is there any reason why I should write this?' He said only that his boss had told him to have me write this letter," said the 59-year-old Aliyev, director of a farmers' cooperative that replaced the Soviet-era collective farm system.

"I didn't sign the paper," he said. "It would be like putting a noose around my neck."

Reports of similar police warnings and threats have mushroomed throughout the Uzbek sections of the Fergana Valley in recent weeks, usually delivered to political activists, human rights workers, farmers, journalists and families or friends of some 6,000 prisoners in jail on charges of belonging to outlawed religious organizations.

 

Hare Krishna festival banned in Turkmenistan

From Forum 18:

Banned since the spring from meeting in the house it rented for use as a temple in the wake of February and March police and secret police raids, the Hare Krishna community in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] was warned by officials not to hold celebrations on 17 and 18 April for Rama Navami, one of the most important Hare Krishna festivals of the year. "Our community can't meet at all now," Hare Krishna sources complained to Forum 18 News Service, "neither in the house, nor at the legal address. This is critical as religious communities can't meet in private homes and local authorities are afraid of renting property they own to religious communities as they don't want problems. So what can the community do?"

 

Attacks on foreigners in Russia increase

From Mosnews.com:

With attacks on foreign nationals on the rise across the country, Russian racists are planning to use firearms against them, targeting mainly illegal migrants, human rights activists said Monday.

A network of clandestine cells and mobile combat groups with well-organized communication systems is being created, the Sova human rights center told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Russia has a growing, occasionally violent far-right nationalist movement, whose members normally target dark-skinned people from the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union, Asia and Africa.

Earlier this month fresh attacks on foreigners in St. Petersburg forced 15 students from Arab countries to drop out of local universities and go home. Foreign students are leaving Russia fearing for their safety and it is no longer a safe place to live, the foreign students complained.

 

Kazakh editor arrested in Russia

From Radio Free Europe:

Almaty, 25 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A group of Kazakh opposition and media figures today appealed to Russian authorities to release a Kazakh journalist detained in Russia.


Irina Petrusheva, the editor in chief of the opposition weekly newspaper "Respublika," was detained in Russia on 23 April at the request of the Kazakh police.

Kazakh authorities have accused Petrusheva of alleged tax evasion and breaking Kazakh citizenship laws.

Petrusheva has been living in self-imposed exile in Russia since 2002, when threats against her life and her newspaper led her to flee Kazakhstan.

Kazakh opposition and media figures today submitted an appeal for her release to officials at the Russian Embassy in Almaty.

The appeal states that Petrusheva's arrest is politically motivated and that her detention represents a fresh clampdown on freedom of the press in Kazakhstan.

 

Putin: Soviet break-up 'disaster'

From The Daily Telegraph:

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has described the break-up of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century".

In a nod to Russians' lingering nostalgia for Communist times, Mr Putin, a former KGB spy, used his state of the nation address to deplore the disintegration of old ideals and the hardships of the new capitalist era.

The end of the Soviet system was "a real drama" which stranded millions of Russians beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, he said. Mr Putin has previously lamented the loss of the USSR as a "tragedy". But, mindful of international criticism of the country's growing authoritarianism, he emphasised Russia's commitment to democracy.

"Democratic values are no less important for modern Russia than the striving toward economic success and social wellbeing," he told hundreds of senior state functionaries gathered in the Kremlin for the televised speech, which he described as a blueprint for the next decade.

He also stressed that Russia "will decide for itself the pace, terms and conditions of moving towards democracy", an apparent reference to recent upheavals in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, believed by some Russians to have been inspired by the West.

Russia was moving to define and cement in law which areas of the economy were strategically vital for its future, Mr Putin said.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

 

Turkmenistan lets more churches register

From Forum 18:

Amid continuing international pressure, five Protestant Churches are being granted registration, though no Armenian Apostolic, Lutheran, Jewish, Yezidi or Jehovah's Witness activity is yet allowed (all unregistered religious activity remains illegal). Pastor Viktor Makrousov of the Full Gospel Church told Forum 18 News Service he still has to go to 20 offices to complete the registration process. He will work to regain his confiscated church. He hopes harassment – such as threats to Pentecostals in early April – will come to an end. Meanwhile all four imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors were freed by presidential decree in mid-April, but not former chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, serving a 22-year sentence.

 

The Independent on Niyazov

From The Independent:

His golden statue rotates to face the sun. He has renamed January after himself. And under his rule, his country has become as wealthy as Dubai and as paranoid as North Korea. Stephen Castle reports on President Niyazov of Turkmenistan

With almost absolute power over the lives of his subjects, Mr Niyazov has unleashed a series of bizarre and arbitrary policies, closing operas, ballets, circuses, and orchestras. Libraries in rural areas are being shut down, education is being ravaged.

Thanks to his grip on his country's vast oil and gas reserves, President Niyazov has turned Turkmenistan into one of the most closed countries in the world, creating a personality cult to rival that of Kim Jong-Il. Under his rule the former Soviet republic has become an unsettling mixture, with all the showy wealth of a country such as Dubai and the rampant paranoia of North Korea.

 

Reactions to Rice's comments

From Radio Free Europe:

Arriving in Moscow today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenka offered a sarcastic analysis of Rice's remarks on Belarus.

"It is good that she knows that there is such a country as Belarus and maybe even has an idea where it is situated. Maybe she even noticed she was flying over that country yesterday or some time before," Lukashenka said. "I don't think there are any terrorists or anything like that [in Belarus], everything seems to be fine."

Lukashenka, notorious for maintaining an iron grip on his increasingly impoverished and isolated country, was responding to Rice's comments yesterday, when she said, "We talked [with opposition politicians] about the desire for democratic development in Belarus and what could be done to support those who are trying to make a difference in that very difficult circumstance."

Other angry voices were also heard in Belarus. Senior lawmaker Mikalay Cherhinets said Rice's comments were a call to overthrow the country's legally elected officials. Belarusian state TV went even further, referring to Rice as a "black panther."

But others in Belarus welcomed Rice's remarks. Aleh Manayeu directs the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies, a Minsk-based polling agency. He said her comments are great encouragement not only for the opposition but also for the silent majority of Belarusians who oppose the regime.

"It is a very strong message for this democratic part of the Belarusian electorate," Manayeu said. "It says, 'We remember you, we appreciate you, we are ready to support you, we will not forget you, you can count on our help.'"

Such help may be forthcoming. This week the U.S. Senate approved an extra $5 million to support democracy programs in Belarus. U.S. officials say $2 million of that will be spend on what they call the "consolidation" of the country's pro-democracy parties.

Another reason for Rice to act quickly, Karbalevich suggests, is that Minsk will be quick to use her statements yesterday as an opportunity to bolster its anti-Western propaganda.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting with Rice, Harri Poganyailo, the deputy director of the Belarus Helsinki Committee, announced plans to hold mass demonstrations in the country this autumn. The rallies will protest the disappearance of some 30 people during the past several years, including several independent journalists and opposition politicians.

 

Opposition leader Klimov detained in Minsk

From Mosnews.com:

Belarusian opposition activist Andrey Klimov, who is going to run for president in 2006, was detained in Minsk on Friday for holding a mass protest rally in the country’s capital on March 25, RIA Novosti reports.

The rally of several thousand protestors was called a rehearsal for a “velvet revolution” by those who held it.

A criminal case against Klimov has been launched under the “Organizing mass riots” Article of Belarusian Criminal Code.

He has already served a sentence in a correctional facility after he was found guilty of committing economic crimes.

Friday, April 22, 2005

 

Putin's Game - Radio 4

If you missed the first installment of BBC Radio 4's documentary series Putin's Game, you can listen to it using the link in the alphabetical list on this page.

 

Rice meets Belarus opposition

From CNN:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lent political support Thursday to Belarus opposition members aiming to oust President Alexander Lukashenko.

During her three-day trip to Moscow and Lithuania, Rice took aim at the leadership of Belarus, a former Soviet republic that is now an independent country.

On Thursday, Rice met with members of the opposition on the sideline of a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Vilnius.

"We know that our elections have not been elections for some time," said Aleksander Dovrovolskiy, deputy chair of the United Civil Party and one of the opposition members who met with Rice.

He added that the opposition would "initiate a mass pressure" for a change in leadership.

"We can't win except taking to the streets," said Dimitri Brodko, a youth activist in the meeting with Rice.

 

My Sunny Uzbekistan

From Radio Free Europe:

Nigora Hidoyatova says Uzbekistan has two choices: "revolution or radical liberalization."

"We need to get over this cataclysm and crisis, but our country is so weak at present that revolution will have a rather devastating effect. Therefore, we need to implement reforms and cardinal changes. Otherwise, civil war is likely to start," Hidoyatova says.

Hidoyatova is the leader of the unregistered opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party and one of the founders of the new Coalition of Democratic Forces.

Hidoyatova says the coalition -- also called "Serquyosh Uzbekistonim" (My Sunny Uzbekistan) -- is the opposition' s first attempt to unite and put together a common platform.

She tells RFE/RL that the initiative will have a positive effect because it unites fragmented opposition forces.

Outspoken opponents of the current Uzbek regime such as Dadakhon Hasanov, a famous Uzbek poet and singer and Talib Yakubov, a prominent human rights activist, and several entrepreneurs have come out in support of the coalition.

But some oppositionists are not convinced.

Muhammad Salih is a leader of the opposition Erk party living in exile in Europe. He tells RFE/RL that he welcomes any move aimed at uniting Uzbekistan' s democratic forces. However, he is very skeptical about "Serquyosh Uzbekistonim" as he says the coalition is based on individual ambitions.

Nigora Hidoyatova says at the moment the coalition is against a revolution, as seen recently in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

She says the coalition will try to work with the Uzbek authorities to implement the suggested reforms. She adds that the authorities should also get over their ambitions or prejudices against the opposition and look at the coalition' s proposals.

As of yet, there has been no official reaction to the creation of the coalition or its economic proposals.

Nadira Hidoyatova says the Uzbek government has no other options. It must open a dialogue with the coalition:

"I want to have a discussion [with Uzbek authorities] about working conditions, or the state policy on small- and medium-size businesses. I want an open dialogue on what the problem is about and why businesspeople leave Uzbekistan. If they don' t want to discuss it, they will face horrible consequences tomorrow. Today' s situation has led to the total impoverishment and unemployment of [our] people. These are the explosive ingredients of revolution. People' s deepening despair will inevitably lead to a social explosion. Dialogue could ease social tension," Hidoyatova says.

Whether or not the Uzbek authorities recognize the coalition might be the least of "My Sunny Uzbekistan's" worries.

The bigger problem the coalition faces is the fragmented opposition.

 

Rice: U.S. won't ignore oppression in Russia

From Reuters AlertNet:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has put Russia on guard that the United States will not ignore any retreat by Moscow from democratic reforms.

During a visit that sent a chill through relations Rice declared that Putin had too much power and she spoke out over the absence of independent television channels.

"Rice showed her teeth during talks in Moscow," read a caption in a Russian daily newspaper Thursday, beneath a photograph of a beaming Rice meeting President Vladimir Putin.

With plain speaking that left Russia's establishment aghast, she warned Wednesday that Washington was watching closely the fraud trial of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"Up to now no American official has ever made such bold statements about the future of the Russian presidency," said the daily Kommersant, referring to her comment that Putin should not try to stay on in power for a third term.

The Kremlin kept silent at the sudden criticism, possibly since it fell at an awkward time for Putin.

The Kremlin leader is scheduled to make his annual State of the Nation speech next Monday, a moment when he sometimes seeks to define Russia's relations with the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov equally failed to win a sympathetic ear from Rice when he called for the United States to recognize Russia's national interests on ex-Soviet territory.

Ignoring his call, Rice declared it was time for change in ex-Soviet Belarus -- seen by some analysts as the next ex-Soviet state after Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan where the old regime could fall to a popular revolution.

She said Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko ran "the last true dictatorship in the center of Europe." The row continued on Thursday in Lithuania where Lavrov said that Russia would not "advocate what some people call 'regime change' anywhere."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

Council of Europe lambastes Russia

From Reuters AlertNet:

Europe's top human rights watchdog urged Russia on Wednesday to do more to protect press freedoms, punish soldiers who commit serious crimes in Chechnya, and halt a rise in anti-Semitism and racist attacks.

A report released by the Council of Europe did not mention President Vladimir Putin, but faulted Russia's record on human rights and democracy on the same day as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said e had accumulated too much power.

A number of television companies, radio channels and newspapers have been closed down since Putin took power and other media have been brought under the control of the state or firms in which the state is the main shareholder, it said.

Gil-Robles said the situation in Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been fighting Russian troops for six years, had begun to improve over the past year but people continued to disappear there.

While criminal groups and Chechen fighters were behind some of the disappearances, Russian forces and the Chechen police also appeared to be implicated, the report said.

It also said there had been a disturbing a rise in Russia of anti-Semitic attacks, homophobia, and discrimination against people from the Caucasus.

 

Huseinov investigators 'overlook leads'

From EurasiaNet:

The investigation into the murder of a leading opposition journalist in Azerbaijan is generating an increasing amount of skepticism in Baku. Family members of the slain journalist, Elmar Huseinov, say that authorities are denying them access to information concerning the case. Meanwhile, a local watchdog group claims that investigators are overlooking key witnesses.

Huseinov, the 38-year-old editor-in-chief of the pro-opposition Monitor magazine was shot and killed in the stairwell of his apartment building on March 2. One of Azerbaijan’s best known dissident journalists, Huseinov had frequently tangled with authorities, prompting some critics of President Ilham Aliyev’s administration to wonder whether the killing was politically motivated.

Six individuals, all taxi drivers working in Huseinov’s neighborhood, are believed to have been arrested by police in connection with the murder investigation. As of April 18, all but one, Tugay Bairamov, had been released, sources tell EurasiaNet. Bairamov’s lawyer, Namizad Safarov, reports that he has not been allowed to meet with his client. Under Azerbaijani law, suspects can only be held for 48 hours without being charged. Local media have also not been able to speak with any of the suspects since their release.

Government officials have repeatedly expressed an interest in cracking the case, yet, at the same time, they have often seemed reluctant to discuss the investigation. Some decisions concerning the investigation have generated controversy, especially a move on April 8 to designate the murder as an act of terrorism. That designation enabled the Ministry of National Security to take over the investigation.

Questions about the investigation’s scope also persist, according to Alevsat Aliyev, a member of the Public Investigation Group (PIG), a watchdog organization made up of former police officers, lawyers and media professionals. The six suspects who were arrested could only be used as witnesses, he said. At the same time, investigators have not yet questioned either police officers in the district where Huseinov’s murder occurred, or the editor’s friends and employees, he charged. "They have to question all these people. This is how an investigation should go," Aliyev said. "If they have no questions for them, it means one of two things: either they already know who killed [Huseinov] and [want to] keep it a secret, or they are not interested in the solution of the case."

Rushana Huseinova, the murdered journalist’s widow, has concerns about the investigation as well. "I call the Ministry of National Security every day. They say that they have no information for me, because I am in contact with the media," Huseinova told EurasiaNet. The last information Huseinova received from officials, she said, was the news that the case was being transferred to the Ministry of National Security. "That is all? I do not care if my husband’s case is considered as an issue of national security. I just want it to be solved."

 

WAN statement on Cherkasova

From Journalists Network:

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has expressed concern over the investigation by Belarusian prosecutors over the murder of journalist Veronika Cherkasova, who was working for the newspaper Solidarnost when she was stabbed to death last October and her body was found in her apartment. At that time, she was investigating the alleged sale of arms by Belarus to Iraq.

Though an independent investigation reveals the cause of death to be professional assassination, the authorities identified her 15-year-old son and chronically ill stepfather as the main suspects in the case and subjected them to months of harassment. However the Prosecutor General's office, senior legal counsellor I.K. Zuy said no evidence had been found thus far linking the murder to Ms Cherkasova's professional activities, and he denied that the family members were subjected to "inappropriate or proscribed investigating methods."

In an effort to ensure that the murders of journalists worldwide are thoroughly investigated and killers are brought to justice, WAN would continue to monitor the case.

 

Yakubov campaign gains momentum

From Reuters AlertNet:

A campaign calling for the release of Uzbek journalist Sabirjon Yakubov is gaining momentum following what activists refer to as trumped up charges against him earlier this month. "We are calling for his immediate release and due process of law," Pascale Bonnamour, head of the Europe desk for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told IRIN from Paris on Wednesday, noting their organisation's concern for the young journalist's safety while in jail.

The 22-year-old was initially detained in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on 11 April on charges of religious extremism and formally charged three days later, local and international press reports say.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the formal charge is based on Yakubov's alleged religious activities. The government did not describe those purported actions in detail, but local reports cited Yakubov's alleged participation in an illegal organisation, the New York-based group said.

Yakubov's colleagues, however, believe the charges against him were politicised and he was being punished for writing about Islam and advocating democratic reforms, a CPJ statement read on Tuesday, citing press reports, a sentiment shared by activists on the ground.

Bonnamour believed Yakubov's arrest stemmed from an article he wrote on 16 March about the implication of senior Ukrainian officials in the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze and its contributing role in Ukraine's "orange revolution" at the end of 2004. The article also accused the United States of reining in its human rights monitoring in the country following Tashkent's support for America's war against terrorism following the events of 11 September 2001.

 

Tajikistan: Mixed reaction to OSCE statements

From Reuters AlertNet:

A call by Dmitrij Rupel, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Tuesday to improve the electoral process and promote free media in Tajikistan has drawn mixed reaction from the government, opposition and civic groups in the country.

Shokirjon Khakimov, deputy head of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT), one of the main opposition groups, welcomed the call by Europe's largest security body. "The head of the OSCE raised real issues present in Tajik society, particularly those related to the implementation of Tajikistan's commitments to the OSCE," Khakimov told IRIN in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on Wednesday.

"The main problem the authorities have today is the inconsistency between the laws and their actual implementation," Khakimov added. "In order to attract foreign investment and aid, quite robust laws were adopted. However, the authorities cannot ensure their full implementation, and as an excuse [sense?], Tajik society is not ready to such laws."

But Mukhibullo Dadajonov, head of the Tajik Central Electoral Commission (CEC), was adamant that the country's electoral process was more progressive than the OSCE gave it credit for.

"Lots of things are being done in Tajikistan to improve the electoral process. During the 27 February elections, apart from the OSCE observing mission, there were international observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and some other organisations. Only the OSCE said that our elections fell short of international standards, while the rest gave a positive assessment," he said.

 

Belarus: Sociological institute closed

From Euro-Reporters:

"I deeply regret the recent decision of the Belarus court to liquidate the Independent Institute of Social, Economic and Political Studies," said Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Belarus Supreme Court decided earlier in the week to liquidate the Independent Institute of Social, Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS). "Since its establishment in 1992 the Institute has become one of the most reputable contributors to independent sociological surveys in Belarus," said Davis. "I urge the Belarus authorities to refrain from further steps which could impede the access of Belarusian citizens to independent sources of information and analysis in the country in the run up to the presidential elections in 2006."
Davis' criticism comes days after that of the OSCE. The organization's ambassador in Minsk, Eberhard Heyken, attended a court hearing on the closure of the institute. One of the main activities of the IISEPS, closed down for 'administrative violations of the law', was to survey public opinion on political events in Belarus. "It is extremely regrettable that the IISEPS has been forced into liquidation," said OSCE Ambassador Heyken. The IISEPS is known in Belarus as a serious institution for the investigation of public opinion and has acquired an excellent reputation. Its publications serve as a reliable and indispensable mechanism to assess Belarusian public opinion in all its diversity.

"The founders of the institute have always attached a great importance to scientific independence and, until the liquidation, a certain freedom from censorship has guaranteed the professional objectivity of the surveys," said Heyken. Belarus has also come in for much criticism from the European Parliament for its human rights record. "We should not shrink back from speaking of a dictatorship as that is exactly what is growing stronger in Belarus," said MEP Elisabeth Schroedter. "And this is also the situation when political prisoners like Michail Marinich, Valery Levonevski, Alexander Vasilyev and professor Jurij Bandaschewski suffer restrictions to their freedom."

 

More on crackdowns in Central Asia

From Radio Free Europe:

Many oriental cultures have a saying that "defeat is often more instructive than victory."

It's an apt sentiment in Central Asia today.

With this in mind, Central Asian governments have taken steps to ensure that public protests will not be allowed to force presidential overthrows.

Kazakhstan, for example, has banned public assemblies in the period between a vote and the announcement of its results. Then-Kazakh Justice Minister Ongalsyn Zhumabekov -- who has since moved to head the Central Election Commission -- outlined the changes on 8 April. NGOs were believed to have played a role in the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. And Akaev accused U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young of helping to secure his ouster by complaining about the country's flawed parliamentary elections to local media.

Tajikistan took that into consideration in passing a new law last week that obligates foreign embassies and organizations working in Tajikistan to report to authorities on any contacts with media or political and civil activists.

Even reclusive and repressive Turkmenistan took measures to avoid a Kyrgyz scenario. The country has no opposition parties and has only had a few public demonstrations during its post-independence history. Even so, authorities there felt the need to take action in order to ensure their grip on power.

In one such step, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov gave the most precise date yet for holding presidential elections. Niyazov was made president for life in late 1999, but he has on occasion spoken of holding a vote for his successor in 2008 or 2010. Earlier this month he offered new details.

"In 2009, we need to have presidential elections," Niyazov said. "There must be an election, because there must be a replacement for this position sooner or later."

A new decree by Niyazov prohibits foreign postal services from delivering to Turkmenistan. Now all mail coming into Turkmenistan is handled by the state postal agency, Turkmenpochta. DHL, FedEx, and other foreign delivery firms are now barred.

Even more significantly, the decree affects the delivery of foreign periodicals and newspapers -- notably, "The Times of Central Asia," an English-language newspaper published in Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan is the one Central Asian nation that has made no special moves to tighten its laws since the Kyrgyz events. But that may be because genuine opposition parties are already effectively banned in the country, and public dissent is virtually unheard of.

 

Rice: Belarus last European dictatorship

From BBC News:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described Belarus as the "last true dictatorship" in central Europe and has called for the country to change.
Speaking in neighbouring Lithuania, Ms Rice said she thought it was no bad thing for ex-Soviet republics to "throw off the yoke of tyranny".

Belarus has responded angrily to the comments, accusing Ms Rice of meddling in the country's affairs.

Ms Rice is in Vilnius for Nato meetings having met President Putin in Moscow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

 

Marinich is Person of the Year

From Charter 97:

The European movement of Denmark named the Belarusian political prisoner Mikhail Marynich the Person of the Year, told Igor Marynich, the son of the political prisoners, leader of the civil initiative “Freedom to political prisoners!” to the Charter’97 press center. On April 16 he visited Copenhagen and took part in the congress of the European movement of Denmark.

As said by Igor Marynich, this case is the first for the whole period of the existence of the European movement in Denmark. Up to now only citizens of this country were awarded this honourable title. As the leaders of the movement explained, choosing Mikhail Marynich the Person of the Year shows serious concern both in Denmark and the European Union in general over the situation in Belarus.

 

Foreign aid to youth movements 'exaggerated'

From Radio Free Europe:

persistent impression in the non-Western media is that the U.S. government along with a group of Western foundations financed the recent revolutions in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Georgia by funneling money to the revolutions' most activist element, young people.


In many cases, the press has exaggerated the level of direct foreign funding available to youth movements such as Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, and Ukraine's Pora. Western organizations such as the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy and International Republican Institute did provide direct funding to youth organizations -- though the amounts were not tens of millions, but tens of thousands of dollars.

Of all the youth groups, Serbia's Otpor was perhaps the biggest beneficiary. Writing in the book "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict" (Palgrave: 2001), Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall conclude that Otpor managed to do what previous Serbian opposition groups could not, tap into financial or material support from the international community by professing a philosophy of nonviolence. The U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the authors, provided the bulk of financing for Otpor's ubiquitous stickers and T-shirts bearing the message "He's finished," among others. The Soros Foundation also provided monies to Otpor.

By the time the Georgian parliamentary elections rolled around in March 2003, Western foundations and the U.S. government decided to put their money into upgrading the country's election system rather than channeling it directly to youth groups, such as Kmara. After the toppling of Milosevic, the Russian and Georgian press had heightened suspicions about the role the United States and international financier/philanthropist George Soros might play in Georgian politics. The Georgian newspaper "Tribuna" in two articles on 5 and 12 May 2003 claimed that Soros was financing Kmara. A month later, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze lashed out during a weekly radio interview at an "international organization" for providing support for "antigovernment forces." According to Rustavi-2, Shevardnadze aides later confirmed that the president was referring to the Open Society Georgia Foundation. Soros telephoned Shevardnadze soon after that to reassure him that he was not interfering in Georgia's democratic process.

Nevertheless, the belief that Soros bankrolled Kmara has persisted. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 28 November 2003 that its sources confirmed that "Soros invested $5 million in Kmara." However, the Soros Foundation's entire budget for all of its programs in Georgia that year amounted to only $4.6 million, and none of that money went directly to Kmara, according to Laura Silber, senior policy adviser for the foundation.

In an interview with the "2000" newspaper on 21 January 2005, Vladyslav Kaskiv, a Pora coordinator, denied that international organizations had anything to do with the process of providing training or education to Pora members. Kaskiv also categorically denied that the Soros Foundation gave them any money. "If there had been Western support, I personally would not have seen anything bad about it," he said "And Pora would have accepted it with great delight." But he said the Soros Foundation in Ukraine categorically refused. For its part, the NED provided more than $240,000 for projects "to mobilize Ukrainian youth to greater political participation" from 2001-04, according to NED records, but it also did not contribute money directly to Pora. Another program to encourage young people to vote netted more than $100,000 in 2004 alone.

Shortly after Ukraine's Orange Revolution, the Russian weekly "Itogi," No. 51, in 2004 asked NED Director for Central Europe and Eurasia Nadia Diuk what role her organization played in the recent events in Kyiv. She answered: "We have been working in Ukraine since 1989. As in Russia, our programs there have a limited character. In the current situation in Ukraine we are occupied with monitoring the election, conducting parallel vote counts and exit polls. But you know, neither our modest organization nor all of the Western foundations together could bring a million people out on the streets. Ukrainian freedom like any other has a local origin. You can't import freedom and the struggle for it. Would hundreds of thousands of Muscovites really come out for a meeting with Boris Yeltsin and Andrei Sakharov for money?"

 

OSCE calls for Tajik election reform

From ReliefWeb:

DUSHANBE, 19 April 2005 - Good governance, democratic elections and media freedom are crucial for stabilizing the emerging civil society in Tajikistan and attracting international assistance and investments, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dimitrij Rupel said today in Dushanbe.

The Slovenian Foreign Minister said a healthy democratic process in Tajikistan would require continued reform of election legislation, reform and training of those responsible for election administration, as well as increasing the scope for independent media and political party development.

"To help address the shortcomings it noted during the February 27 parliamentary elections, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is ready to engage in a dialogue with Tajik authorities to identify areas in which technical assistance projects could be developed to promote democratic elections," Minister Rupel said.

"Decriminalizing libel and defamation is important," he said. He also asked the Tajik authorities to ease the licensing processes for electronic media following the suspension of the relevant procedures in February 2004.

"Media administrative violations, such as tax evasion or irregularities in the registration or everyday work of the media, must not be solved through criminal penalties but through administrative means. Suspending or sealing printing houses, or seizing the entire circulation of newspapers, should not be allowed."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

French government speaks out for Marinich

From Charter 97:

As we have informed, in December 2004 imprisoned former Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus Mikhail Marynich addressed a letter to the leaders of the G8 countries hoping to find defence of his constitutional rights. The Foreign Office of the Great Britain was the first to answer the letter of the political prisoner. Now we would like to offer you the letter from the Administration of the President of France.

“Dear Sir,

The President of the Republic has received your letter forwarded by the Embassy of France in Minsk, and he is grateful for the letter. He empowered me to inform you that the news about confirmation of your sentence has been received with great disappointment by him. Though the term has been shortened to 3.5 years, it does not reverse the illegal character of the ruling. Perfectly knowing the present situation in Belarus, I would like to assure you that the struggle which you are conducting for normalization of the political situation in your country, could get only positive response in France. With all my heart I wish the common sense to prevail so that the Belarusian authorities would order to release you. Rest assured that France and the European Union together would raise this issue in their talks with the Belarusian government.

Assuring you of my highest esteem,


Maurice Gourdault-Montagne

Diplomatic Advisor

Administration of the President of the French Republic”

 

Belarus opposition charged with smuggling

From The Moscow Times:

MINSK -- Authorities have detained a man who allegedly tried to smuggle $200,000 from neighboring Lithuania into Belarus for an opposition lawmaker who has campaigned for President Alexander Lukashenko's ouster, state-run television reported Monday.

The report cited no sources and did not identify the suspected smuggler, but said the money was intended to help former lawmaker Sergei Skrebets fund opposition groups who are under increasing pressure from Lukashenko's government.

Skrebets said the accusations were a provocation, claiming security officials coerced two former business partners into saying they had smuggled the money at Skrebets' request.

Vasily Dementei, first deputy head of Belarus' main security agency, told Interfax that investigators have "sufficient evidence" and will show more people were involved in the case.

"This money was intended for the radical opposition," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

The incident came weeks after opposition parties, emboldened by recent popular uprisings in other Soviet republics, staged a sizable rally in the Belarussian capital.

Skrebets said the smuggling allegations were another attempt to quash Belarus' opposition.

 

Petition to free Uzbek journalist

Go here to sign.

Help Free Innocent Journalist Sobirjon Yakubov

Dear Mr. George Bush, the President of the United States of America,

on April 11, 2005 Uzbek authorities arrested 22 year-old journalist from Uzbekistan Sobirjon Yakubov on false grounds accusing him of "undermining the constitutional regime" in the country. His arrest was followed by a cynical meeting of first deputy minister of internal affairs, Alisher Sharafutdinov, on April 15 during which he said the government and his ministry did not have any special list of Uzbek journalists subject to persecution. He called such allegations "absurd". The meeting took place at the request of a group of independent and foreign-media journalists following an article on the Internet by an unknown journalist on alleged plans of the Uzbek Interior Ministry to attack independent journalists according to their special "black list".

Sitting at the table and talking to journalists, Mr. Sharafutdinov knew that a few days earlier his agency had already arrested a young journalist on charges of "undermining the constitutional regime".

All the colleagues of Sobirjon Yakubov and people who know him well are shocked by his arrest. They refuse to believe he might be part of anti-government conspiracy calling him a "decent, hard-working man with good manners".

Mr. Yakubov is the winner of the Alisher Navoi stipend program, one of the highest educational government fellowship programs. He is also a nominee to receive the highest fellowship program - Presidential Stipend. Lately he's been working for non-government "Hurriyat" newspaper. He is also pursuing his Master's at the National University of Uzbekistan. Sometime ago he was given President Karimov's gifts - books signed by the president personally - for Yakubov's outstanding academic performance.

One of his striking articles was devoted to Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze who was killed by the previous Ukrainian regime. That article could have triggered the authorities to arrest him trying to find in his article a plot against the Karimov regime.

As you know, the Karimov regime has become very wary of any attempts to build an open society in Uzbekistan, especially following the regime changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. A number of other journalists have been arrested in the past two years and a lot of American organizations supporting free press were shut down or denied annual re-registration. The Open Society Institute, Internews, the National Republican Institute are only a few to name.

Mr. President, we all appreciate your hard work in bringing democracy into the Middle East and other places in the world that lack it. We appreciate America's sacrifice in ridding the Iraqi people of their bloody dictator and planting seeds of democracy on the Iraqi soil.

We, in Uzbekistan, would also like to remind you that Uzbekistan is one such country. However the attention of your administration to human rights problems has sharply declined following Karimov's assistance to the United States in war against international terror and thus Uzbek peoples' support for the Republican Party's policies has dropped too.

Don't you think that by ignoring the history and supporting corrupt and repressive regimes, like Karimov's, the United States is laying a foundation for another monster. Think of how the Taliban came to existence after the people of Pakistan felt abandoned once the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan and the United States dropped its pledge to keep assisting Pakistan.

Same process is occurring in Uzbekistan. By repressing devout Muslims, by denying people ordinary economic and civil conditions, by rejecting alternative voices and secular parliament opposition, the Karimov regime is nurturing Islamic extremism, anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism, because people in Uzbekistan do not see America's role in assisting democratization processes in Uzbekistan. This leads them to believe that America helps only oil-rich countries.

Mr. President, you should use your authority, principles based on which America exists and your second presidential term to dissolve such a belief and feelings existent in the Uzbek society and among Uzbek intellectuals.

We all look for your leadership and courage to influence on the Uzbek leadership to demand the release of Mr. Yakubov and to stop persecuting journalists and other people who disagree with the Karimov regime policies.

Uzbek people deserve as much freedom and dignity as the Iraqis whom you helped. However we are not asking to launch air strikes against Uzbekistan or to invade Uzbekistan, but you surely have enough powers and reputation in the international community to pursue what is universally right and to prove that America has no double standards.

 

Torture on the rise in Uzbekistan

From Radio Free Europe:

The prevalence of torture has escalated drastically in Uzbekistan, according to three human rights experts who spoke to a RFE/RL audience recently. According to the experts, torture, and the fear of it, may even serve as the primary tool of controlling society in Uzbekistan today.

Nozima Kamalova, director of the Legal Aid Society--Uzbekistan?s primary non-governmental organization investigating human rights abuses--said that "freedom from torture does not exist" in Uzbekistan, adding that "systematic" torture is practiced by the government despite international criticism. Kamalova also drew concern to a new regulation that redefines Article 235 of the Uzbek criminal code in such a way as to, in effect, "legalize torture in the Uzbek legal system." Kamalova described a "stifling political atmosphere" in Uzbekistan, where no opposition parties were allowed to participate in the December 26, 2004 parliamentary elections because they had all been disqualified during a government imposed re-registration process.

Alisher Ergashev, a prominent human rights lawyer and member of the Legal Aid Society, agreed with Kamalova that torture continues to be the primary tool for "gathering evidence through confessions and consequently, convictions." Ergashev cited numerous cases to illustrate conditions within the prison system in Uzbekistan. For example, he was denied access to one of his imprisoned clients for 53 days, and despite obvious signs of torture on the client's body, appeals for a doctor to examine and treat his client were also denied. Illegal detentions, Ergashev said, "are common." Citizens are taken off the streets and detained for weeks to elicit incriminating evidence about people they have never met. Witnesses have complained to international human rights organizations they were forced to give testimony to things they had never seen or heard, to avoid being tortured.

Vitaly Ponomaryov, director of the Central Asian Program at the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, said that the use of imprisonment and torture today is as pervasive as it was in the late 1990s and in 2000. Ponomaryov noted that the Uzbek government did open a "dialogue" with the international community about improving conditions in the summer of 2001, but ?any encouraging democratic signs were reversed in the spring of 2004, after violence erupted in Uzbekistan." According to Ponomaryov, "high level officials continue to ignore the very term torture in their public speeches, courts disregard claims of citizens that torture was used against them, and when law enforcement officials are held responsible, it is never covered in the national media." In a new report on human rights conditions in Uzbekistan, Memorial documents the existence of at least 4,000 political prisoners, based on convictions between 1997-2003. Ponomaryov, however, believes that the actual number of prisoners is closer to 6,800--a number cited in the latest U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights.

 

'Little changed' in Kyrgyzstan

From The Guardian:

When protesters stormed the government headquarters in Kyrgyzstan last month, staffers in then-President Askar Akayev's administration cowered in locked rooms or fled through a side door.

Five days later many were back, taking orders from their new boss in a building still littered with broken glass.

The popular uprising pushed Akayev out after 15 years in power and ushered some of his staunchest opponents into top positions. But in some ways, little has changed.

Many bureaucrats remain in office. Others are being appointed because of connections or family ties, using the same system of loyalty to clan and family that pervaded the old government. State television has settled into a familiar pattern, fawning over those now in power.

Perhaps most strikingly, the parliament elected in disputed voting that served as the catalyst for Akayev's ouster is now in session - and last week his daughter Bermet Akayeva, who had fled with the rest of the family, unexpectedly turned up at the legislature to assume the seat she won in the balloting after a rival was disqualified.

Outside parliament, though, a small crowd of protesters reflected the anger of those in this country who want a cleaner break with the past. Their ire raises the possibility of new unrest and has helped prompt warnings, including from Western nations anxiously watching Kyrgyzstan, that the new authorities must avoid making the same mistakes as their predecessors, who were widely accused of corruption and abuse of power.

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