Monday, May 30, 2005
Five killed in Georgian breakaway region
TBILISI, May 29 (Reuters) - Five men died in a gunfight in the Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia on Sunday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said, the first violence this year in a zone patrolled by a three-sided peacekeeping force.
The spokesman, Guram Donadze, said one Georgian policeman and four South Ossetians died in the village of Kurta, three km (two miles) north of Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia. The circumstances were unclear. Regional police chief Vladimer Jugeli told Georgia's Rustavi-2 television that he suspected it was an attack launched by South Ossetian volunteer fighters.
The tiny Georgian region is not internationally recognised as a state but it has rejected all attempts by Tbilisi to bring it back into the fold, including fighting a separatist war to win de facto independence in 1992.
Georgia has accused Russia of backing rebels in the region, as well as in another separatist zone, Abkhazia.
The dispute over South Ossetia flared into violence last year, but a Georgian plan to grant the region broad autonomy in January calmed things down.
Gongadze case not resolved yet – Ukrainian president.
LVOV, May 29 (Itar-Tass) -- The investigation of journalist Georgy Gongadze’s murder has not brought sufficient results, but “I have done my best for its soonest completion,” Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told the press in Ternopol on Sunday.
The investigators “still need to collect evidence and find people involved in the journalist murder,” Yushchenko said. He said the police are detaining suspects with a high social status. “The head of the murdered journalist may be found only after the arrest of Police Gen. Pukach,” he said.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun said on Saturday they still need to find former head of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Surveillance Department Alexei Pukach (who is the crime’s suspected perpetrator), question former major of the State Guard Service Nikolai Melnichenko who currently lives in the United States, and finalize the body’s identification by request of the family.
The body is under an international examination, which involves specialists from Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Ukraine, he said.
Opposition journalist Gongadze disappeared in September 2000, and a decapitated body was found in the Tarashcha forest near Kiev two months later.
Uzbek Forces Present in Andijan Crackdown
ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan -- The armed, masked guard behind the gate at police headquarters projected sheer force, but his eyes brightened as he fondly remembered his time training in the United States.
The U.S. government has trained and equipped Uzbek troops and police -- the same forces who opened fire without warning on some 2,000 demonstrators this month in this eastern city. Now international groups are urging Washington to reconsider its aid and involvement.
Under U.S. law, no unit of a foreign military can receive training if it is found to have committed a gross violation of human rights.
Uzbek officials won't name the exact units involved in the Andijan events for security reasons. But one police official said all the country's elite forces had been mobilized here.
"There were regular army and special forces of all sorts, both Interior Ministry and National Security Service," the official said on condition of anonymity. "Everyone was there."
Karimov has used the language of anti-terrorism in explaining authorities' actions in Andijan, claiming the instigators were extremists bent on creating a Muslim state -- and refusing to acknowledge any peaceful protesters were present as seen by reporters.
U.S. and Uzbek soldiers have held regular training exercises since the 1990s, with American special forces troops heading to the mountains with their Uzbek counterparts for lessons on repelling incursions -- a main worry for Uzbekistan after several such attacks starting in the late 1990s by the al-Qaida-allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Much U.S. assistance also focuses on worries about the spread of weapons of mass destruction across rugged, poorly controlled borders. Uzbekistan controls half of an island in the Aral Sea that was the site of a Soviet biological weapons research lab, and has some nuclear facilities.
Uzbekistan's human rights abuses have caused it to lose aid before. Last July, the U.S. State Department withdrew most of its aid after failing to certify Tashkent had made progress to rectify its abuses.
But later that month, Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the region, flew to the Uzbek capital Tashkent to reassure the Uzbeks that the American military would maintain and even boost its cooperation -- aid that is separate from State Department assistance.
Noting the base negotiations that could be a financial windfall for Uzbekistan, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch expressed concern this week that Defense Department cooperation with the country continues, and that the European Union also gives some $20.1 million in indirect assistance. Uzbek troops in Andijan were seen driving around in British Land Rovers.
"The U.S. and the EU have to make clear that there will be real consequences for a cover-up if there is no independent investigation, and they have to set a deadline for it to take place," Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
It's not clear if any immediate reconsideration of assistance is in the works. On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington continues to press for reforms and an open investigation into the Andijan violence, but that anti-terrorism cooperation with Uzbekistan would continue.
"It doesn't do any of us any good to abandon the effort against terrorism in this critical region," Boucher said. "So we will continue work with them in many areas, including the fight against terrorism."
China to help Uzbekistan struggle against revolutions
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov has arrived in China on a state visit. This the first country he decided to visit following the brutal suppression of the uprising in Andijan. These days China looks like the best way to go to for Mr. Karimov. Moscow could have been his only alternative.
Mr. Karimov began pushing for "active friendship" with Beijing about two years ago. He was also seeking Moscow's support at the time following the disruption of relations between Uzbekistan and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In 2002, the EBRD accused Tashkent of committing a number of deplorable things such as human rights violations and the use of torture in prisons. Subsequently, the Uzbek authorities decided to improve relations with those who turn a blind eye to the situation in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan and Russia signed an agreement on strategic partnership. Now a similar document will be signed in Beijing after the talks with the Chinese leadership.
"It is highly unlikely that Beijing will criticize Mr. Karimov for the way he put down the upheaval in Andijan because the memories of Tiananmen Square are still alive," Andrei Grozin was quoted as saying to Izvestia. Mr. Grozin is a head of the department for studies of Kazakhstan and Central Asia of the Institute of the CIS Countries. China's stance on the events in Uzbekistan is based primarily on the "Kyrgyz experience." Beijing is interested in maintaining its positions in Central Asia. "China used Kyrgyzstan as a "model country" of sorts for strengthening its economic influence in Central Asia," said Mr. Grozin. According to him, the groups that seized power in Kyrgyzstan mostly share the anti-Chinese sentiments and Beijing could not but worry about the situation. China does not want any new "velvet revolutions" in Central Asia.
Russian Right-Wing Party’s Ex-Leaders Promise Not to Meddle in Party Activities
The former leader of the Union of Right Forces, Boris Nemtsov, has given a pledge that neither he nor the chief of the Unified Energy System (UES) of Russia, Anatoliy Chubais, will meddle in the day-to-day activities of the party, and that the party’s new leader will not be a puppet, Interfax news agency reported.
He also said that he would support Nikita Belykh, the deputy governor of Russia’s Perm region, although he respected the other candidate, Ivan Starikov, the former Council of Federation (Upper House of Parliament) member. A third candidate, Aleksandr Fomin pulled himself out of the elections.
At the moment Nemtsov works as the Ukrainian President’s economic advisor.
No Grounds For Revolution In Belarus: KGB Chief
Belarus has no revolutionary prerequisites at all, Stepan Sukhorenko, its KGB (state security committee) chief, said to a news conference in Astana, Kazakh capital, tonight.
"We have no grounds for a revolution, and no prerequisites for a revolutionary situation. The country enjoys social and political stability, and its economy is on an upswing. Revolution from the inside is ruled out.
"As for intervention from without, there is small chance for it-other laws are governing the world nowadays," he reassured.
Well, that's what he says anyway.
U.S. Warns Americans in Uzbekistan
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan May 28, 2005 — The United States warned its citizens Saturday of potential terror attacks against American targets in Uzbekistan following the recent deadly riots in the Central Asian nation a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism.
It cautioned U.S. citizens to limit unnecessary travel to the eastern city of Andijan, where the government said 173 people were killed when Uzbek troops put down a May 13 protest after militants seized a local prison and government headquarters.
The announcement came after the State Department designated the Islamic Jihad Group a global terrorist organization, saying the group coordinated last year's bombings of the U.S. and Israeli embassies in the Uzbek capital and the Uzbek prosecutor general's office.
Those attacks, along with other scattered violence, killed more than 50 people in the spring and summer of 2004.
But the unrest in Andijan was far deadlier the worst violence the nation has seen since gaining independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.
On Friday, the Uzbek prosecutor's office announced the death toll from the Andijan riots reached 173 after four law enforcement workers died of their wounds. Authorities rejected rights activists claims that as many as 750 people were killed.
The U.S. response to the violence was cautious at first, but after Britain and non-governmental organizations assailed Uzbekistan, Washington joined the criticism and urged Karimov's government to allow an international investigation.
Describing the Andijan unrest in Saturday's announcement, the State Department said "fighting broke out between government forces and the militants" and "there were reports indicating that several hundred civilians died in the ensuing violence."
There no reports of U.S. citizens being hurt in the clashes, it said.
Formation Of Ombudsman Institute In Armenia Was "Premature"
In Europe the institute of ombudsman is a parliamentary body, since human rights are violated by the executive power”, chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanyan noted. He is against the appointment of the Ombudsman by the President. “Actually the formation of the institute of ombudsman of Armenia was a mere formal step in order to demonstrate the fulfillment of commitments to the CE”, he says. Aveti, Ishkhanyan considers that for real correspondence to the European standards the appointment of the human rights defender, guarantees of his independence and existence as a parliamentary body should be precisely fixed in the Constitution. “Otherwise we will not be able to say that the institute has been already formed in the RA”, he notes.
When commenting of the activities of the institute of ombudsman in Armenia, he said, “Even in winter 2004 I stated that the human rights defender will face serious challenges having in mind the opposition rallies. Everyone knew that human rights will be violated at that time, however the developments exceeded all the expectations. Unfortunately the newly appointed Ombudsman did not pass the trial. The formation of the institute of ombudsman in Armenia was premature, as the Ombudsman was appointed by the President”, he resumed.
Milkola Statkevich Arrested, sentenced to 10 Days
The Belarusian social-democratic party People’s Ghramada leader and the European coalition coordinator Mikola Statkevich was sentenced to 10 days of imprisonment. He is charged with article 166 of the administrative code violation (the order violation in the court and showing the absence of respect to the court). The sentenced was made by the central Minsk court’s judge Alexy Bychko. The politician refused cooperation with the court declining to answer the judge’s questions and did not rise when Mr Bychko was addressing him. Earlier Mr Statkevich said that he did not consider the hearing to be a true one: “I cannot call this the court because the judge is said to be totally dependent on Lukashenka and thus I’ll be sentenced by his administration,” he said.
From the judge’s study Mr Statkevich was sent to the detaining centre and his case hearing to be continued today at 14:00.
The hearings on Mr Statkevich’s and Mr Seviarynetz’s criminal cases started yesterday in Minsk central court. The two politicians are charged with public disorders inspiration in October 2004. Mr Statkevich and Mr Seviatynetz together with hundreds of other citizens took part in the demonstration protesting against the fraud parliamentary election and the national referendum results.
Central Asia still dangerous for journalists
Freedom of expression, the safety of journalists and media development are under siege in most regions of the world, according to the World Association of Newspaper’s (WAN) half-year review of press freedom world-wide.
"The press is simply muzzled in many countries. Attacks on journalists are common. Too many killers of journalists remain free. A total of 38 journalists have been killed since November 2004. Hundreds more have been arrested, assaulted and harassed," said the report, delivered to the WAN Board, meeting in Seoul, Korea, on the eve of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global meetings of the world’s press.
In Central Asia, the governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan remain the worst predators of press freedom in the region. In Uzbekistan, international free expression and media organisations remain shuttered, and self-censorship is endemic in what remains of the country’s independent media. Turkmenistan remains completely isolated from the outside world; very few foreign media travel to the country, and there is no independent media.
In Europe, Belarus continues to provide an extremely difficult environment for media under the dictatorial government of President Aleksandro Lukashenko. Closures and legal harassment of the country’s independent press continue, an example being the three-month suspension of Birzha Informatsii in December for "violating the media law" after writing articles that criticised the action of Mr Lukashenko in the run-up to the country’s October referendum.
In Russia, the apparent unwillingness of authorities to investigate a number of murders of journalists as well as physical attacks on journalists further tarnishes the country’s already poor press freedom record.
The article also mentions problems for reporters in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. You can read the original WAN report here.
Friday, May 27, 2005
More Russian experts expect 'velvet revolution'
58 percent of Russian experts, who have taken part in the latest poll, believe that the country may soon face a regime change similar to the recent “velvet revolutions” in former Soviet states, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Less than a year ago only 28 percent of analysts shared this view, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reported.
Center of Public Opinion Studies Glas Naroda (Voice of the People) polled 42 Moscow political scientists and 120 experts from Russian regions. Most of them said the revolution may happen even before the 2008 presidential elections, but at the same time express concern that radical nationalists may come to power after the collapse of Putin’s regime.
Khodorkovsky verdict still going
Lawyers largely agreed that the drawn-out reading of the verdict may take a few more days, spilling over to next week. But Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer on the defense team, predicted that the verdict reading may already wrap up on Friday. "I am taking bets on it!" he said.
Khodorkovsky's farther, Boris, drew a bottle in his notepad, scribbling underneath "We are waiting!" He then waved it at the defendants' cage. Both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev smiled back.
The number of pro-Khodorkovsky supporters further dwindled on Thursday, dropping to just about 30 people.
A half-dozen anti-Khodorkovsky demonstrators stood on the opposite side of the street and away from the court, where much of the area was still blocked by idle road repair machinery.
Alleged 'Kremlin officials' seize car dealership
A group of 25 men claiming to represent the Kremlin seized the Trinity Motors car dealership near Pushkin Square on Thursday, changing the locks and painting showroom windows white, Trinity Motors said.
The seizure of the piece of prime real estate on Tverskaya Ulitsa caps a three-month-long lease dispute between the luxury-car dealer and Izvestia, a presidential property department-managed company that controls the building.
Trinity Motors is registered in Russia and says it is owned by a Canadian and two British citizens.
Trinity, which refused to identify the foreign owners, hastily called a news conference Thursday night to denounce what it described as a state property grab.
"The issue here is that bureaucrats in the presidential administration are abusing their power against a foreign investor," said Rudy Amirkhanian, who represents Trinity's owners.
Amirkhanian said the men -- some wearing dark security guard-style uniforms -- entered the showroom at about 11 a.m. and identified themselves as representatives of the presidential property department, but did not show any identification. They ordered employees to leave, covered showroom windows in white paint and changed the locks, he said.
Trinity employees called the police, but no officers arrived, he said. The dealership later filed a complaint about the takeover with the police, he said.
Phone calls to Izvestia went unanswered Thursday. The company is wholly state owned and not connected to the Izvestia newspaper, which is controlled by Vladimir Potanin's Interros holding. Calls to the presidential property department also went unanswered.
Russian politician faces grilling after blackout
A day after the power outage that hit Moscow and four neighboring regions, electricity chief Anatoly Chubais faced questions from prosecutors about his role in the blackout, and speculation mounted about his future.
The City Prosecutor's Office summoned Chubais for questioning at 4 p.m., but the Unified Energy Systems chief -- whom President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday personally blamed for the outage -- turned up more than four hours later, saying that he had urgent work to do first.
A spokesman for the City Prosecutor's Office, Sergei Marchenko, said late Thursday that investigators were questioning Chubais about "organizational activities that he oversees," The Associated Press reported. He did not elaborate.
Chubais, 49, one of the country's most experienced and controversial liberal politicians, has served in various capacities under both former President Boris Yeltsin and Putin and has proven almost unsinkable over the last 15 years of his highly visible career. But Chubais' influence within the Kremlin has been on the wane, particularly since the rout of his party, the pro-business Union of Right Forces, in the December 2003 State Duma elections, and the increased influence of the siloviki.
In March, Chubais was in the headlines over an ambush on his motorcade in March, when gunmen opened fire on his car on a road outside Moscow. Chubais was unhurt, but speculation swirled about who could have been behind the attack.
As recently as last week, the Natural Resources Ministry launched an investigation into what it said was unsanctioned tree-felling at Chubais' country home.
With Putin moving with unusual haste to blame Chubais for Wednesday's power outage, speculation grew that even if Chubais managed to hang onto his job at UES, he could find his influence within the company and in the political arena seriously undermined.
Narodnaya Volya suit postponed
Court put off hearing of the suit filed by the LDPB leader Siarhei Haidukievich against the Narodnaia volia to 3 June
On 25 May no court hearings took place because some of the documents presented to the court by the parties had not been translated from English. Judge Lubou Valievich of Leninski Borough of Minsk, who is to chair the hearings, informed the press service of the BAJ.
Zubr activists fined
In Mahilou two activists of the Zubr resistance movement were punished for the action they staged outside the Mahilou KGB office in commemoration of the anniversary of the disappearance of the former Minister of Interior of Belarus Iury Zakharanka.
The picket was prevented by the police that detained 12 people, and made detention reports.
After this, Iauhien Suvorau and Andrei Razumkou were again detained by the police for distributing the independent newspaper Vybar in the central streets of Mahilou, and taken to the police station and then to the court that dealt with their participation in the 7 May action.
According to Radio Liberty, the court found guilty the Zubr activists of having taken part in an unauthorized event and insubordination to the police, and imposed large fines on them: Andrei Razumkou will have to pay 20 basic units, and Iauhien Suvorau - 25, which is more than 500 thousand rubles.
Private paper seized in Belarus
A print run of the private newspaper Den was seized on Belarus` Russian border on the evening of May 26, Editor-in-Chief Nikolai Markevich told BelaPAN. According to Mr. Markevich, the shipment passed the Belarusian customs checkpoint without hindrance but then the vehicle was stopped by road police officers who said that there might be something wrong with the shipment.
The vehicle was taken to the Dubrovno district police department in the Vitebsk region, where all Den copies were seized on the alleged ground that the newspaper "is not accredited," Mr. Markevich said with reference to the driver.
Belarus KGB given even greater powers
The new version of the law "On Organs of State Security" gives broader powers to the operative services. Now they can enter a person`s place or any (even foreign) organization`s office without the procurator`s office sanction. The procurator`s permission is not necessary at all, informing the procurator within 24 hours of the entry necessitated by operative reasons will do. "If we find nothing, we`ll offer our apologies", answered the former KGB chair Leanid Ieryn to the question asked by the journalists about how the agents will be punished in the event of a mistake.
Another important innovation of the law is the right of the special service to implant its secret agents into any organization. A person disclosing the identity of a secret agent will be criminally persecuted under the law. The punishment is up to 5 years in prison. The one who makes public a state secret will be imprisoned for the same term…
Belarusian students on hunger strike
On 25 May four members of the Zhodzina-based Young Front went on hunger strike to protest against the wave of expulsions from universities, including secondary schools. This is the information provided by www.belngo.info. Among the hunger strikers is the under-age Siarzhuk Murashka, who was expelled from a polytechnic college last week. The Young Front leadership says that in case the legal demands of the hunger strikers are not fulfilled in the near future, the Zhodzina action will become nation-wide.
According to Paval Krasouski, the chair of the Zhodzina branch of the Young Front, the following students have been expelled for political reasons over the past month: Kiryl Shymanovich - legal school of BSU, Siarzhuk Murashka - polytechnic college, Alies Smolski - military school, Siarzhuk Savich - academy of the interior, Zmitsier Chartkou - arts academy. Yesterday on 24 May Paval Kareniukhin was expelled from Pleshchanitsy-based state school of the Olympic reserve. The Young Front members Natallia Maksimava and Volha Halubiets, who are students in Zhodzina women`s gymnasium, threaten that the girls would be deprived of the opportunity to carry on with their studies.
Belarus prosecutors seek three years for opposition leaders
At the today’s trial over opposition leaders, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada), coordinator of the European Coalition Mikola Statkevich and one of the leaders of the “Young Front” Paval Sevyarynets, Prosecutor Vadzim Paznyak (Vadim Pozniak) demanded to sentence them to three years of restraint of liberty. The politicians are charged with organizing mass protest actions against rigged results of parliamentary elections and referendum -- Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organizing of group actions, violating public order, or participation in them). The main complaint against Statkevich and Sevyarynets is blocking of traffic for a short time during the protest rally.
The prosecutor stressed that Mikola Statkevich and Paval Sevyarynets are subject to amnesty announced on the 60th anniversary of victory in Great patriotic War, and the term of restraint could be cut down for one year.
Mikola Statkevich, the BSDP leader, at the moment is serving a 10-day arrest for contempt to court, as he refused to stand up during the trial. As said by Statkevich, the court is dependent and cannot pass a just verdict in his case.
Ukrainian websites must register
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at a new decree governing registration of websites, put forward by the Ministry of Transport and Communication, that has already come under attack from the Ukrainian media.
Compulsory registration has so far been adopted only by countries that trample free expression, such as China and Vietnam, the organisation pointed out.
To be allowed to appear, sites must not call for "a change of government through violence" or support "terrorism", not damage individuals' "honour", "dignity" or "reputation" and not post "swear words" or pornographic content. Reporters Without Borders said the language is however too vague to guarantee press freedom if it were to be applied to private websites.
The decree, adopted on 18 May, also specifies that an "administrator" will decide on the registration of the website, opening the way to administrative censorship of the Internet, said the organisation.
"The way the decree is worded appears to suggest that all electronic media - private and public - will be forced to register in future. A recent statement from the Ministry of Transport and Communication that it would only be compulsory for government-run sites, has not completely reassured us," it said.
Council of Europe wants ties to Central Asia
The 46-member Council of Europe, the influential forum promoting human rights, is hoping to further develop its relations with the Central Asian republics.
The new focus on Central Asia comes at a time when the region is increasingly volatile, with democratic elements in some countries squeezed between authoritarian regimes on the one hand and the threat of Muslim extremism on the other.
Council Secretary-General Davis said a "softly, softly" approach will be used to increase dialoge with what he calls "our neighbors."
"We are not approaching [this project] like missioneries; we are approaching it as friends and neighbors who want to encourage people to raise the level of human rights and democracy, not only inside Europe, but in the countries around Europe," Davis said.
U.S. diplomacy weighs pipeline against principle
U.S. President George W. Bush says the focus of his second four-year term is the spread of democracy worldwide, and the United States has garnered some of the credit for facilitating the democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine. But with respect to at least two countries, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, Washington must maintain a careful balance between its economic and strategic interests on the one hand, and their peoples' desire for democracy on the other.
The White House and the State Department have spoken out in favor of greater freedoms in Uzbekistan, the scene of recent protests that led to the deaths of as many as hundreds of people in the eastern city of Andijon.
In Azerbaijan, the recent detention and arrest of about 30 members of the opposition prompted the U.S. Embassy in Baku to question the country's commitment to free and fair elections this fall. The arrests came just before an unsanctioned pro-democracy rally scheduled for 21 May that authorities broke up.
It is not clear how the Bush administration might be helping democracy movements in Uzbekistan, but efforts to provide aid via nongovernmental organizations are under way in Azerbaijan. For example, the Eurasia Foundation, a private nongovernmental organization financed in part by the U.S. government, this week announced grants totaling more than $90,000 to support civil-society work in Azerbaijan.
Ottaway said it is too early to say whether nongovernmental organizations in Azerbaijan will receive support from the United States. Now, she noted, the pro-democracy movement is fractured. She said the different opposition factions could help their cause if they begin working together more closely.
According to [policy analyst Marina] Ottaway, there are two other developments that make the United States more reluctant to support opposition movements in postcommunist countries. One is the danger that such efforts could destabilize their political environment. She pointed to the current uncertainty in Kyrgyzstan and to what she calls the political "mess" in Serbia.
The other development, Ottaway said, is that governments with growing democracy movements are cracking down on NGOs that promote civil society.
Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are greatly in need of reform, this according to Freedom House, a New York-based advocacy group for democracy and human rights. It says human rights in both countries have improved little, if at all, since they gained independence.
Yet both countries are allied with the United States. Washington has a military base outside Tashkent to support operations in neighboring Afghanistan. And it has interests in gaining access to the oil that will be flowing from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which began filling near the Azerbaijani capital yesterday.
Christopher Walker, a Eurasia analyst at Freedom House, said the Bush administration has to be careful not to let its needs blind it to the needs of ordinary Azeris and Uzbeks. In fact, he told RFE/RL, these needs are not necessarily contradictory.
Uzbekistan blocking information about Andijan
Nearly two weeks after the shootings, Andijan residents whom Human Rights Watch contacted clearly feared government retribution for speaking about the events. A woman who was wounded and lost two family members on May 13 told Human Rights Watch:
"I am so scared, I don't want anything, I don't want any justice. Don't tell our names, don't say you came to our house – just say you heard about what happened to us from other people."
Several people told Human Rights Watch that police had warned them not to talk to journalists or other "outsiders."
One person told Human Rights Watch:
"Last night there was an [identification] check throughout the neighborhood. Several policemen were checking the documents in every house. They warned us, 'If the journalists, correspondents come – you should not tell them anything, otherwise we will find you.'"
The same person warned Human Rights Watch not to go to the local cemetery where there were reportedly visibly fresh graves, because "there is an informant sitting near the gates watching for any strangers who come to the cemetery."
Andijan remains essentially closed to journalists and human rights investigators. Police have either forced foreign journalists in Andijan to leave or threatened them and their support staff. Police have warned taxi drivers not to take foreign passengers to Andijan. Any traveler to the city must first pass through numerous checkpoints and undergo thorough searches.
OSCE to monitor Kyrgyz election
Europe's top security organization says it will have an observer mission in Kyrgyzstan to monitor the July 10 presidential election.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, says it will "assess the entire election process" in terms of its compliance with international standards for democratic elections.
The OSCE mission consists of 15 election experts based in Bishkek and 26 long-term observers deployed to various regions of Kyrgyzstan. About 300 short-term observers will join the mission just before the polls.
The OSCE move follows allegations of official abuses during the Kyrgyz parliamentary polls earlier this year which triggered public protests that ousted the unpopular government in March.
The presidential election is seen as a major democracy test for the new Kyrgyz leadership.
Watchdogs fear more crackdowns in Uzbekistan
"We are concerned over a possible further crackdown and have already seen the beginnings of it," Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Europe and Central Asia division, told IRIN from New York, citing incidents of local rights activists being called in for questioning.
"Generally, the situation has already deteriorated," Maisy Weicherding, a researcher for Amnesty International's (AI) Central Asia desk said. Speaking from London, she cautioned that the situation could worsen further unless immediate action is taken, referring to repeated calls for an independent international investigation.
"The recent tragic events in Andijan may spark a renewed crackdown on civil rights and liberties in Uzbekistan," Peter Zalmayev, programme manager for the New York-based International League of Human Rights (ILHR), told IRIN.
Dr Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), warned of possible further violence.
"We cannot say what will happen in the future," Rhodes said from Vienna. "The social and political situation is unstable. Citizens want to resist but they fear for their lives, especially after the regime has demonstrated that it has no qualms about killing peaceful demonstrators," the prominent activist maintained.
Uzbekistan 'becoming failed state'
Uzbeks face an increasingly repressive economic and political environment. Anyone who opposes the regime is liable to be accused of being an Islamist radical or terrorist. There are small numbers of both in Uzbekistan but the vast majority of protests have been by people angered by economic policies that have concentrated wealth in the hands of a tiny elite while stifling opportunities for others. Industry is in dire straits, foreign investment has evaporated, and agriculture provides almost no income for farmers. The World Bank calls Uzbekistan a "Low-Income Country under Stress", a polite term for a state at serious risk of failing. But the international community has been slow to recognise the dangers of instability.
Russia and China have strongly backed Karimov's approach, ignoring the reality that his failed economic policies and political restrictions have fuelled the potential for a serious Islamist opposition. U.S. policy has focused almost entirely on maintaining a strong security relationship, with far less attention to improving human rights, encouraging political reforms or opening the economy, thus inevitably undercutting these objectives and adding to some of the very risks that Washington says it is engaged in the region to prevent.
Unless Uzbekistan urgently adopts widespread economic and political reforms, it is likely to move with greater speed towards state failure. This would have a profound impact on all Central Asia, including Afghanistan. Chaos in the region would be the best possible outcome for a number of underground Islamist groups that are active in Uzbekistan and its neighbours.
As a first step toward assessing the true condition of the country, democratic governments and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Uzbekistan is a member, should press, following the lead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for an independent and international investigation into what happened in Andijon. If President Karimov continues to block such transparency, governments will need to ask themselves whether the only way to avoid being tainted themselves by association with the Uzbek government, and to shock the Uzbek authorities into reform before it is too late, is to pull back their assistance and begin to distance themselves from the regime.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Moscow elections postponed
The next elections to the Moscow city legislature are likely to take place in March, 2006, not in December, 2005, as earlier planned, said Central Elections Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnaykov.
He told members of the United Russia factions' sub-group led by Vladimir Katrenko, that the postponement is due to the current debates in the State Duma of amendments to 13 regulatory acts, including the proposal to set a single day for elections in Russia - the second Sunday of March.
Attempt on life of Russian journalist
Reporters Without Borders condemned systematic violence against the press and urged the authorities to act after a murder attempt was made against the head of a press group in Samara, south of the country. Dmitri Surianinov, head of Media-Samara (six dailies, one magazine, three TV stations and a distribution network) was brutally beaten by three men wielding baseball bats at 1am on 21 May.
Surianinov, who was attacked in the street near his home, said that the murder attempt was linked to his professional work. He had a large sum of money on him at the time which was ignored by his attackers. He was taken to the neuro-surgical unit of Samara's Pirogov Hospital with concussion and multiple contusions. The prosecutor's office opened an investigation for "attempted murder".
The journalist had received threats after the publication of a series of articles in the weekly Samarskoe Obosrenie and the daily Postscriptum (belonging to the Media-Samara group), particularly revealing the activities of the automobile industry group SOK. Several of his neighbours had told him that unidentified men had turned up at his apartment block several times at the end of April, asking for information about his working hours."After publishing a photo of Yuri Kachmazov, on the front page of Samarskoe Obosrenie, with the caption 'a multimillionaire's statement', I also received threats from people I cannot name," he said. "I was advised to employ a bodyguard but I didn't think it had got to that point", said Surianinov.
Eyewitness reports from Azerbaijan protest
The opposition party’s demonstration scheduled at 4.00 pm in the square facing the 28 May metro station on 21 May. The square reminded the seized citadel, as great number of police and internal troops was deployed there and this metro station kept closed during the rally-long. Police encircled headquarters of three leading parties and blocked approaches to the party offices.
Azerbaijani government mobilised police, internal troops and specially trained athletic guys in casual wear to beat opposition activists and scatter the demonstration violently. Some ten buses jammed with police with truncheons were standing nearby one of the opposition party office. A large number of police were also brought from regions outside Baku.
The opposition parties continued to maintain their rallies in various central parts of Baku by forming separate groups, as it failed to enter the main planned square encircled by fortified by police.
"Today’s event clearly sign that the government is not ready for holding free and fair elections. Over 300 opposition supporters were detained and seriously beaten up,” said Ali Kerimli, chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party.
“I was attacked in my car by a large group of police and my five bodyguards were detained, while my car was taken to an unknown direction. I hardly escaped from this police storm”, Karimli said in front of his party headquarter.
Several journalists have suffered during the clashes between policemen and demonstrators. Policemen especially used brutal force against Farid Teymurkhanly, Zerkalo newspaper's correspondent. Although journalists wore a special jacket identifying working for mass media, the policemen beat them violently. Police mainly beat the opposition backers on their scull and face, while some supporter were immediately hospitalised.
More comments on Azerbaijan crackdown
U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is joining foreign officials Wednesday in Azerbaijan to inaugurate a new oil pipeline largely built with U.S. financial assistance.
But the violent break-up of an attempted rally by various opposition groups Saturday in Azerbaijan's capital Baku has cast a shadow over the long-awaited event.
The chief of the Azerjaijani division of British Petroleum, David Woodward, said he was surprised the government felt the need to prevent the protest gathering.
The U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan said the arrest and detention of members of the opposition cast doubt about the commitment of the government to hold free and fair parliamentary elections later this
Many analysts say the oil wealth flooding into the country has intensified long-standing political tensions as the general public has seen little economic gain.
Mikhail Alexandrov is an expert on Azerbaijan with the Institute for CIS or former Soviet states in Moscow.
He says outside countries are in a position to put pressure on the government.
"What Western countries do, they just close their eyes to the fact that these local authorities just get this money, and put it into Western banks,” he noted. “There must be more strong criticism from the West.”
NATO warns Uzbekistan
NATO has warned Uzbekistan that its ties with the security alliance depend on its commitment to upholding basic human rights.
A NATO statement, issued Tuesday in Brussels, condemned the recent reported use of excessive force against protesters and supported the United Nations' call for an independent inquiry.
Meanwhile, China today declared its support for the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov, saying whatever happened in the country is an internal affair. President Karimov is to visit Beijing Wednesday.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Uzbek media had instructions from state
A letter signed by Deputy Premier Rustam Azizov was cabled to Uzbek media outlets the other day. The letter is essentially an instruction on how the recent events in Andizhan should be covered, according to executive of a Dzhizak regional TV studio who insisted on anonymity.
"The letter is quite explicit. We are supposed to offer "a true picture" of the tragedy in Andizhan consistent with what the president said at his press conferences on May 15 and 17," the executive said.
Formal charges brought against Skrebets
Formal charges were brought against Sergei Skrebets, a member of the 2000-2004 House of Representatives of the Belarusian National Assembly, on May 23, eight days after his arrest.
As a source with the Brest Regional Prosecutor`s Office, the charges were brought under the same articles of the Criminal Code under which the criminal case had been opened: Part 1 of the Criminal Code`s Article 13, which penalizes preparations for an offense, and Part 2 of Article 431, which carries punishment for giving a bribe.
Investigators have gathered sufficient evidence to prove the former lawmaker`s guilt under these articles, which may result in a 5-year "restricted freedom" sentence or imprisonment for two to seven years for him, the source said.
Narodnaya Volya faces tax inspection
The majority of the employees of the editorial office of the independent newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” received letters from tax inspections of their districts with the demand to declare all their income and property. The employees of the newspaper link the actions of the tax inspection with the problems related to the list of signatures under the address of the movement “Volya Narodu” published in the newspaper in the beginning of May. In this connection eight dwellers of Salihorsk and Klyotsk went to law demanding material compensation of 220 million Br in total.
Belarus opposition leader sentenced to 10 days
Leader of the Belarusian Social Democrats (Narodnaya Hramada), coordinator of the European coalition Mikola Statkevich is sentenced to 10 days of arrest. The oppositionist is charged with violation of the Article 166 of the Administrative Code (violation of order during court session and actions demonstrating contempt to court). The ruling was passed by the judge of the court of Tsentralny district of Minsk, Alyaksei Bychko. The politician had refused to cooperate with the court. He was not answering the questions of the court and did not stand up when the judge addressed him. “I cannot call it a trial. The judge is considered to be simply a clerk who is completely dependent on Lukashenka and cannot be independent. The judgement to me is to be passed by Lukashenka’s administration. They have ordered to bring up the criminal action against me,” told Mikola Statkevich in his interview to the Charter’97 press center yesterday.
Journalist assaulted at Baku rally
Dear Mr President,
At our meeting on 8 April this year, you stressed that it was "unacceptable for government officials to attack journalists" and that you wished in future to "establish the rule of law" in Azerbaijan.
I must tell you of my surprise and deep concern therefore at an assault by the security forces on Farid Teymurkhanli of the daily Zerkalo while he was covering a demonstration in Baku on Saturday 21 May. The fact that the gathering had not been officially authorised should not in any way excuse the use of violence by the police against a journalist who was only doing his job.
Several police officers clubbed him on the head in Rashid Beybudov Street and continued beating him after he had lost consciousness. I would like to point out that the journalist could not have been confused with a demonstrator because he was wearing an armband with the word press emblazoned on it.
I am therefore convinced that you will be prepared to respond to my request for those responsible for the attack on Farid Teymurkhanli to be quickly punished and that journalists should receive better protection so that this kind of incident is not repeated.
I would appreciate it if you would keep me informed of the progress in this case.
Robert Ménard Secretary General
Uzbek rights activist detained
Uzbek authorities should immediately release a prominent human rights defender detained in Andijan, Human Rights Watch said today. The defender, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, has been in custody since May 21. While the charges against him are unknown, Zainabitdinov's detention appears to be linked to his having spoken out about recent demonstrations in Andijan and the government's use of force. The arrest raises serious concerns about a growing crackdown against activists and others in the wake of events in Andijan.
A government-appointed lawyer who visited Saidjahon Zainabitdinov's family yesterday confirmed that the human rights defender is in government custody. Zainabitditnov is the chairman of the Andijan human rights group Apelliatsia ("Appeal").
U.S., OSCE criticise Azerbaijan
There has been sharp international criticism of the way the authorities in Azerbaijan prevented opposition activists from holding a demonstration in Baku on 21 May. The United States and the OSCE were among the most outspoken critics of the police's use of violence. Dozens of opposition members were arrested and some remain in detention.
On 25 May, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a host of other world leaders and businessmen will arrive in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, to celebrate the launch of the $4 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Instead, his government is under a cloud of international condemnation for its violent handling of an opposition demonstration on 21 May.
The Azerbaijani authorities have been undermined by their own authoritarian reflex and their complete failure to anticipate international reaction. And this despite the fact that the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan had issued a statement the day before the rally, urging the government to guarantee the right of Azeri citizens to free assembly.
If the intention of the authorities was to silence the opposition, its ban on the rally was an abject failure. Even the opposition concedes that no more than a few thousand took part, but the heavy police presence in Baku guaranteed domestic and international publicity.
Norway's Ambassador to Azerbaijan Steynar Gil was among those on hand to witness the beatings and arrests.
"Of course, one would have liked things to have happened differently. The right to assembly is established by the constitution. It's a universal right. They could have conducted this demonstration calmly, just as happens in all democratic countries. I saw the [police] violence with my own eyes. It was serious violence, I would say," Gil said.
Radio Australia adds:
US state department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said the government's decision to detain protesters violated the spirit of a presidential decree affirming the right to peaceful assembly.
"[It is] regrettable that the police used force to disband small groups of protesters and detain participants in an unsanctioned rally," he said.
And the The Baku Sun adds:
The OSCE Office in Baku this week expressed concern over the refusal by the Baku Mayor’s Office to authorize a rally of opposition parties planned for Saturday, 21 May.
“The decision taken by the Mayor of Baku seems to contradict the spirit of the 12 May Presidential Decree, which ordered the local administration to authorize political rallies and find appropriate venues for them,” said Ambassador Maurizio Pavesi, head of the OSCE Office in Baku. “Such a decision raises doubts about the implementation of the Decree.” The Mayor’s Office has said that 21 May rally would interfere with preparations for the official opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will take place on 25 May.
“The fact that no public manifestations of the opposition have been allowed in the city in the past 19 months is another example of the position taken by the Baku Executive Authority, which violates the constitutional law,” added Ambassador Pavesi.
The OSCE Office in Baku hopes that the right to freedom of assembly will be immediately restored, not only in connection with the upcoming November Parliamentary Elections, but as a fundamental political right of citizens.
Experts discuss prospects for change in Belarus
Siarhei Salash, chairman of Skryzhavanne (Crossroads), an independent NGO dedicated to educating and training political active youth, declared that he is "absolutely sure our Belarusian youth will be very active in [Belarus's 2006 presidential] elections. They will be just as passionate as the youth in Georgia and Ukraine were and other countries of the former Soviet bloc. I am very hopeful that 2006 will be the year of great changes in our country."
Asked whether Belarus has some of the key elements that made the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine possible, Olha Stuzhinskaya, coordinator of We Remember!, an independent NGO dedicated to informing the Belarusian and international community about the course of investigations into disappearances, noted that Ukraine was already a lot more democratic than Belarus: it had opposition members in the parliament and at least one independent television station. "We do not expect the same scenario in Belarus," Stuzhinskaya said. "Probably there will be much more blood."
Salash, for his part, agreed that Belarus "will not have the same kind of revolution as happened in Ukraine and Georgia." He continued, "Concerning the security forces, Lukashenka has a full circle of people who are funded from an undisclosed budget. I am absolutely convinced that nothing will stop these people." He concluded that the Belarusian opposition would need to get much more than even 50,000 people out on the street. "I think hundreds of thousands will have to go out into the streets, and then the opposite process will take place," he said "Those [people] who are protecting Lukashenka right now will be protecting the people from Lukashenka."
For Salash, a key to getting large numbers of Belarusians to act publicly is finding a single presidential candidate from the democratic opposition around whom people can unite. Salash said the process of selecting a joint democratic candidate is ongoing, although it has been "somewhat dragged out." Stuzhinskaya, however, suggested that delay is not necessarily bad because the "danger exists to a very high degree" that once a single candidate is identified, he or she will become a target for the authorities. United Civic Party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka told Belapan on 18 May that eight presidential hopefuls are going to participate in an effort to select a single candidate, and they plan to hold a congress by 1 October.
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, Alyaksandr Kazulin, the leader of the unregistered Will of the People movement, echoed these youths' sentiments. He declared that Lukashenka would no longer be president next year.
The wild card, however, in all of the calculations of Belarus's opposition is what role Russia would play. Kazulin believes that "Russian will not come to Lukashenka's aid and will not allow blood to be spilled" in the event that the current authorities in Belarus find themselves in a crisis.
Salash, however, was less hopeful. "Unfortunately, Russia is conducting a very imperialistic policy toward Russia," Salash said. "Of course, again, talks of the union have been renewed. Of course, Putin has to pay attention to his political rating. He lost Ukraine. He lost Georgia. He doesn't know what is happening in Kyrgyzstan.... Putin will not have any kind of political future if Russia loses Belarus. And right now Russia is going to do everything in its power to support the regime. I do not believe that Russia will or can change the situation in Belarus. Of course, sometimes you can hear Putin criticize Lukashenka; however, it is very arbitrary and not part of a unified policy. However, when the time comes to realistically change something in Belarus, Putin's Russia provides all possible support to Lukashenka. It doesn't matter what kind of violations took place during the elections. The next day, Russia recognized them."
Yukos protests blocked by street repairs
Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky's supporters planned to protest, again, outside the courthouse where he is - still - awaiting a verdict in a trial that has turned epic, but the road workers got there first.
When the protesters arrived this morning, bulky construction machinery already occupied the side of Kalanchevskaya Street where other supporters of Mr. Khodorkovsky had assembled each day last week. Unfettered then by the grit and racket of road repair, they were free to denounce what they called the government's selective prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky, the former chairman of Yukos Oil and once the country's richest man.
Kalanchevskaya, like most of Moscow's streets, certainly could use the work, but the timing and location of the repairs - directly opposite the courthouse - at least raised the question of selective reconstruction.
"The authorities seem to be afraid," Yelena L. Liptser, a lawyer for Mr. Khodorkovsky's partner and co-defendant, Platon Lebedev, said during a break in today's proceeding, "but I do not know what they fear."
The biggest news of the day was that the judges appeared to have picked up the pace, though with no more explanation than last week, when the court's sessions lasted only about three hours a day. In Russian courts, a verdict is read in its entirety, as judges review the charges and the evidence before declaring a defendant's guilt or innocence.
Today, the reading ritual lasted almost six and a half hours. During a midday break, Mr. Khodorkovsky's lead lawyer, Genrikh Padva, suggested that if the judges sustained this pace, the verdict could come by the end of the week or the beginning of next week.
Inquiry into attack on Ukrainian lawmakers
Ukraine's top human rights official said Monday that she has opened an investigation into a reported police attack on three opposition lawmakers.
"The use of force against lawmakers is a clear sign of a police state," Nina Karpachova said in a statement.
The opposition Social Democratic Party of Ukraine claimed that its lawmakers had suffered injuries in the western city of Uzhgorod while attempting to prevent police from transferring former Zakarpatye Governor Ivan Rizak from hospital back to jail.
Ukrainian investigators detained Rizak earlier this month and charged him with abuse of power and bribery. Rizak, who suffers from a heart condition, was later transferred to a local hospital for treatment for a few days.
Interior Ministry spokesman Volodymyr Mulko on Monday said that it was "too early to draw any conclusions," and that senior police officials and prosecutors had traveled to Uzhgorod to investigate.
Refugees 'to return with white flags'
Refugees from the Andizhan region of Uzbekistan confined to the filtration camp in the Suzak district of Kyrgyzstan (Dzhalal-Abad region) announced on May 23 their intention to return to Uzbekistan. The men are determined to continue their struggle against Islam Karimov's regime, foreign and local journalists were told by one Murodzhon, a refugee.
"Waving white flags, we will return to the territory of Uzbekistan. We are responsible for the deaths of those who were killed by dictator Karimov's bullets. The world has seen Karimov's true face now. He can mow us down, but the world will know," Murodzhon said.
The date of the action has not been set yet.
Alisher, another refugee, emphasized that the struggle against Karimov's regime was to be restricted to peaceful methods.
Monday, May 23, 2005
U.S. official to discuss Yukos
U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman plans to raise the issue of stricken oil firm Yukos and the rule of law in Russia during his visit to Moscow this week, Reuters reported Monday quoting the Kommersant daily newspaper.
In an interview with the newspaper, Bodman said some U.S. investors were concerned about the Russian investment climate and said this could hamper the two states’ goal of strengthening their energy partnership.
Khodorkovsky verdict 'slowest ever'
After five days of reading the verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his fellow defendants, the judges of Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion court on 20 May were less than one-third of the way through the 1,000-page document. Moreover, they had not yet issued a single solid decision, although all observers agree that the language and tone of the verdict indicates the three defendants will almost certainly be convicted on all charges.
According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 May, the judges are reading between 20 and 40 pages of the verdict each day, cutting each day's session short after about three hours of reading. Lawyer Pavel Astakhov told "Moskovskie novosti," No. 19, that he has never known a court to produce such a long verdict or to read it so slowly. He said that in the embezzlement trial of Valentina Soloveva, the court read out its 860-page verdict in two days. In the case of Alfa-Bank's libel claim against the Kommersant publishing house, Astakhov said, the court extended its working day until 8 p.m. in order to read the entire verdict in one day. He declined to speculate on why the court in the Khodorkovskii case is taking so long to deliver its verdict, saying that the Moscow City Lawyers Collegium prohibits attorneys from commenting on cases in which they are not directly involved.
Defense lawyer Genrikh Padva told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 May, "I don't remember what the record is for reading a verdict in my experience, but I can say that the Meshchanskii Raion Court of Moscow has already broken it." Fellow defense lawyer Yurii Shmidt told Regnum on 20 May that the defense team now expects the reading of the verdict to last at least 10 more days.
Most analysts argued that the Kremlin is orchestrating the reading of the verdict, which was originally scheduled to be read on 27 April but was postponed without an official explanation until 16 May. Observers speculated that the purpose of the delay was to avoid having the trial overshadow the 9 May commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, which was marked in Moscow by celebrations involving more than 50 heads of state.
Among the reasons given by analysts for the slow reading of the verdict are that the Kremlin wants to create the appearance that the court has been meticulous in its consideration of the evidence. However, most observers agree that this argument is not working out; the fact that the court's verdict so far echoes word-for-word the prosecution's charges against the defendants has been seen by many as undermining faith in the independence of the court. "The fact that the announcement of the verdict is dragging on clearly shows that the Russian judicial system is highly politicized," political analyst Sergei Markov told Interfax on 20 May. "The people who have set up such a system are inflicting damage on Russia." Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov told the news agency that the fact that the Kremlin is so closely associated with the prosecution in this case means that "an acquittal would have been a blow to the authorities' legitimacy."
In addition, observers believe that the state media is using the time to swing public opinion away from sympathy for Khodorkovskii. Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii has been given particular prominence on state-controlled television, including a long interview on RTR's main analytical "Vesti-Podrobnosti" on 16 May. In that interview, Pavlovskii said that the oligarchs "tried to buy [Russia's] political system" and to "put themselves between the citizens and the state." "Then the state becomes private property," Pavlovskii said, "no longer the property of the citizenry. People couldn't go along with that. This is the moral problem that proved to be the undoing of Yukos." He further accused Yukos of waging a deliberate campaign to smear Russia's image abroad and domestically.
Analysts also argue that the purpose of dragging out the verdict is to reduce public interest in the case. By the end of the week, media were reporting that even most of the defense team and the defendants' relatives had stopped attending the hearings, as had many journalists. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 May that increasingly the words "I'm bored" and "nothing interesting" are dominating conversations at the courthouse and trial participants are most often asked, "How long are they going to read?" Some observers also note that the Russian media have been flooded with stories of rumors of the purportedly imminent dismissal of the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, which they argue is also a distraction tactic.
Belarusian journalist wins free speech award
On Friday evening in the German theatre of Hamburg the award presentation ceremony of Henri Nannen award took place. Representatives of the establishment, mass media and art of Germany have participated in the ceremony. The jury of the prestigious prize consisted of the editors of the leading German magazines “Stern”, “Der Spiegel”, “Focus”, newspapers “Sueddeutshe Zeitung”, “Die Welt”, and others. They have considered 840 articles and 150 investigations by journalists. The award has 7 nominations. A famous Belarusian journalist, deputy editor of the Minsk-based private newspaper Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, Irina Khalip, has become the winner in the nomination “For courage in the freedom of speech defence”. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer specially arrived to Hamburg to present the laureate.
Speaking of Irina Khalip, Joschka Fischer called her a real journalist, who is not afraid to bring up the most dangerous topics like corruption of state officials, rigged elections, capital punishment. “She can ask the leader of the state a direct question about his mental health,” the minister told. It all is related to the great risk, and she is exposed to the direst dangers. She is constantly summoned for interrogations to the prosecutor’s office, brought to court. In conclusion Joschka Fischer said: “Dear Irina, we are filled with admiration for your courage and devotion to the course you are serving to. The new Europe needs people like you. And Belarus is undoubtedly a part of Europe.”
Receiving this award, Irina Khalip told:
«I cannot help thinking that history is full of paradoxes. In 1939 when my grandmother fled the ghetto of the occupied Warsaw to save her life in the East she couldn’t imagine that all her life she would live in the totalitarian state.
In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed I couldn’t have imagined that in only three years I will again be living in a totalitarian state under the regime similar to that which my grandmother fled from. And the award is given to me in a free and democratic Germany…
However I had enough time to find out about a free world and European values. I envy you since freedom of speech and freedom of choice for you are as natural as the air. Several of my friends who were fighting for these values were killed, some are in prison today. Under dictatorship journalists quite often have to become human rights defenders thus becoming even more vulnerable. In receiving this award I feel that my German colleagues and the democratic community as a whole protect me. Also it demonstrates that the democratic world will not tolerate a dictatorship in the center of Europe. I’m grateful for this award, which undoubtedly could be given to any of my colleagues in Belarus. I’m grateful that you are not indifferent to my country and its problems. I believe that Belarus will soon become free. To be exact I promise you this. We have no other choice».
Viasna: Pressure on Belarus opposition increasing
Activists of Belarus` outlawed Vyasna human rights organization have issued a statement accusing the Belarusian authorities of increasing pressure on members of the pro-democratic opposition.
The statement, which bears the signatures of 150 people, says that many opposition activists are now in prison “on apparently far-fetched charges,” citing the arrest of politicians Syarhey Skrabets and Andrei Klimaw and the imprisonment of politician Mikhail Marynich, researcher Yury Bandazhewski and market vendors’ leaders Alyaksandr Vasilyew and Valery Levanewski. “Pavel Sevyarynets and Mikalai Statkevich are also to stand trial soon for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration,” the human rights defenders note.
They express concern that “state television channels continue a propaganda campaign against the opponents of the regime, which was plotted by the authorities, arouse fear and tensions to pave the way for more repressive measures.”
Four new suits against Belarusian paper
The Minsk-based private newspaper Narodnaya Volya has been hit with four more libel suits over its publication of a list of signatories of a statement in support of the Will of the People movement. Editor Iosif Seredich learned about the new lawsuits on May 20 during his meeting held in the court of Minsk’s Leninsky district in connection with five claims filed earlier, said the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
On May 16, the newspaper was notified that five workers of the Belaruskaly state-controlled company brought libel suits, each claiming 50 million rubels ($23,000) in damages.
The libel action stems from an article under the headline "Such is the Will of the People" published in the April 23 issue of the newspaper. The article listed hundreds of Belaruskaly workers who allegedly signed an appeal in support of the opposition movement "Will of the People."
The five plaintiffs denied signing that letter. One of them has reportedly withdrawn his claim.
The new 5-million rubel ($2,300) claims were put in by four residents of the town of Glusk, who also say they have never signed the statement.
Amnesty appeal for Turkmenistan prisoner
Amnesty International is concerned about the continued imprisonment following a secret trial last year of former Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah. There are allegations that he was targeted for expressing dissent and because of his ethnic origin as an Uzbek.
Exactly one year ago, in the night from 23 to 24 May 2004, officers of the Interior Ministry reportedly beat Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah in the maximum-security prison in the Caspian port town of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk). According to the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah "suffered significantly". To Amnesty International's knowledge, the authorities have not investigated the allegations and none of the perpetrators has been brought to justice.
On 2 March 2004 Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment on treason charges by Azatlyk district court in Ashgabat in a secret trial with the first five years to be served in a maximum-security prison. He was accused of involvement in the alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov in November 2002. The President had removed Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah from his post as chief mufti and deputy chair of the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs in January 2003.
There are allegations that the charges against Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah were fabricated and that he was targeted for expressing dissent. For example, he was believed to have repeatedly objected to the extensive use of the President's book Rukhnama [Book of the Soul] in mosques. In addition, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah did not advocate the imposition of the death penalty on the suspects in the November 2002 alleged assassination attempt on the President while other senior officials called for the reintroduction of the death penalty. Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah's expression of his opinion on this issue, before President Niyazov himself decided that the death penalty would not be reintroduced, could have been perceived as undermining the President's authority. There were also allegations that one of the reasons for targeting him was his Uzbek ethnicity. The government launched a new wave of pressure on ethnic minorities at the end of October 2003, removing ethnic minorities from particularly influential posts and replacing them with ethnic Turkmen.
Amnesty's page includes instructions for writing letters on behalf of Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, as well as writing to him directly.
Demonstrations in Kazakhstan too
Kazakhstan's opposition parties held an authorized rally in Almaty on Sunday to demand an end to reprisals against newspapers which criticize the authorities.
Opposition leaders and mass media managers spoke about the importance of developing independent and opposition media. They argued that alternative viewpoints positively influence democratic processes, an Interfax correspondent reported.
The demonstrators also demanded strenuous measures to combat corruption and more journalist investigations into corrupt deals.
"The Prosecutor General's Office and law enforcement must defend the citizens' rights and liberties, instead of protecting the interests of corrupt bureaucracy," they said.
The rally adopted a resolution saying that "the authorities must appropriately respond to facts of corruption and bribery quoted in the press, and prosecute those whose corrupt conduct is damaging the state."
The rally was organized by the freedom of the press public committee and by the opposition newspaper Respublika, banned by the Kazakh authorities.
Kazakh Journalists' Union Chairman Saitkazy Matayev, who is a leader of the Congress of Kazakh Journalists, said that the Congress is prepared to offer legal support to the newspaper which had appealed the authorities' moves.
Despite rainy weather, the rally had been joined by about 1,500 demonstrators. It lasted for about 90 minutes. No incidents were reported. Police watched the rally and did not intervene.
Pro-democracy demonstrators arrested in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani protesters demanding free elections were beaten back Saturday by police, who arrested dozens as they broke up a banned rally in the oil-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea four days before the inauguration of a new pipeline.
Officials had forbidden the opposition to protest, citing security concerns four days before the visit of foreign leaders who will attend a ceremony marking the opening of Azerbaijan's portion of the U.S.-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
The violence broke out as groups of protesters tried to defy the ban and make their way to a central square in the capital, Baku, shouting "Freedom!" and "Free elections!"
Helmeted police with riot shields chased protesters and lashed out at them with truncheons, dispersing the rally after about two hours.
Human rights activist Saida Godzhamanly said more than 100 people were detained.
The police said 45 people were detained for disorder and refusing to obey police.
"Our action succeeded," said opposition Musavat [Equality] party leader Isa Gambar. "Today was a demonstration of our will and the will of the people for democratic changes in the country."
Moscow demonstration for press freedom
Hundreds of liberal and radical party activists rallied in Moscow on Sunday, demanding greater press freedom and more access to the country's state-dominated television networks.
Meanwhile, the leaders of two top Russian political parties appeared in a rare prime time interview on state-run television, apparently underscoring new efforts by the Kremlin to improve media access and improve its image.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Rodina (Homeland) Party leader Dmitry Rogozin appeared on Rossiya television's Vesti Nedeli program for a brief, wide-ranging discussion on their two blocs in the Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-backed United Russia party and minority parties including the Rodina and the communists are routinely shut out of full access to Russia's television networks, which are almost all directly or indirectly controlled by the government, following the takeover of the NTV network in 2001 by the state-connected natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
Critics have accused President Vladimir Putin of cracking down on freedom of speech since he came to power in 2000 and of shutting down television stations whose reporting was critical of the government.
In an apparent effort to counter criticism of a growing centralization of power, Putin promised parliamentary leaders that he would ensure that state media offered access to all political forces.
Research shows as many as 90 percent of Russians get their news from television.
Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky told protesters wearing masks reading “Shut Off” and carrying signs reading “News Is Propaganda” and “Down With Censorship!” that Russia has no freedom of the press. “The freedom of the press is not the freedom of propaganda or pornography. It is the freedom to discuss the hardest questions and to find answers,” Yavlinsky told the rally at the Ostankino broadcasting tower.
Many of those at the protest, which included communists and activists from the radical National Bolshevik Party, wore orange T-shirts in a nod to Ukraine’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution and posters showing jailed Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
New contributor -- KelKel
Azerbaijan: 'Increasing abuse' of opposition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Leigh Tomppert (New York): 212-514-8040 x25
Michael Goldfarb (New York): 212-514-8040 x12
Frances Abouzeid (Amman): +962-777-696-069
AZERBAIJAN: STOP REPRESSION AND COMMIT TO DEMOCRATIC REFORM
NEW YORK, May 20, 2005 -- Freedom House today expressed serious concern over the government of Azerbaijan’s increasing abuse and intimidation of opposition activists.
Azeri authorities arrested and detained more than 30 activists on May 18 and 19, part of a broader pattern of repressive measures that effectively deny any non-governmental actor a meaningful voice in Azeri society. Independent media, the non-governmental sector and opposition political parties all face serious obstacles created by the authorities.
The detention of the activists comes in advance of a scheduled public rally planned by the UGUR opposition bloc for May 21. Freedom House called on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release the detained individuals and to respect the right to freedom of assembly.
"It is time for the Azerbaijani government to demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform with genuine action" said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap between the regime's pledges to implement democratic reforms and its following through on these commitments."
Freedom House also expressed concern over the reported mysterious death on May 18 of Ehtiram Jalilov, deputy head of Azerbaijan's National Democratic Party, an opposition group. He died while drinking tea with a colleague. According to the Musavat (Equality) opposition group, he was the second opposition activist to die this year.
The continued denial of political space by the regime has created a tense environment in Azerbaijan. With parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2005, it is essential that those who control power in Azerbaijan meet both the letter and spirit of a decree issued last week by President Ilham Aliev, which requires authorities across the country to ensure the implementation of free and fair elections.
To meet the president's stated objectives, the Azeri government should immediately take the following steps:
Enable the unfettered activity of civil society, both during and outside of election campaign periods. Toward this end the regime should also facilitate less onerous registration and compliance procedures for non-governmental organizations;
Meet obligations within the context of its Council of Europe membership to improve the law on public television and enable the creation of a genuinely independent public television station. At present, all television news outlets with national reach are controlled by the regime, or forces aligned with it. A genuinely free and fair election can only take place with a diversity of political views capable of reaching a national audience;
Cease the aggressive denial of rights to opposition activists in order to bring about a more civil and productive dialogue capable of meeting the needs of average Azeri citizens. Toward this end, the political opposition and protesters should also avoid violence and seek a productive course in looking to meet Azerbaijan's serious public policy challenges, including poverty and corruption.
Rice threatens to cut aid to Uzbekistan
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday raised the prospect of a further cut in U.S. aid to Uzbekistan if the government of President Islam Karimov continues to resist calls for an investigation of last week's Uzbek political unrest. The United States and other countries have called for a credible probe of the violence that includes international involvement.
At a news conference here with Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih, Secretary Rice said the United States has relations with the Karimov government and is using them to urge authorities to respond positively to what she termed the international community's justified concerns about what happened in Andijon.
If it does not, she indicated the Uzbek government could face a repeat of the 11-million dollar aid cut the Bush administration enacted last year under a human rights mandate from the Congress.
"As to what consequences there might be, I think Uzbekistan does not want to endure further isolation from the international community,” said Ms. Rice. “And secondly, I would just note that we have concerns about human rights, which we expressed through a human rights report and which actually have certain certification requirements for any assistance to Uzbekistan. We withheld $11 million last year because of those requirements. There are additional funds that we cannot make available to the government without further human rights certification."
Tajikistan's only independent TV station closed
The tax authorities on 17 May sealed the offices and equipment of independent Somonien television in Duchanbe on the orders of the State Committee on TV and radio broadcasting.
The committee's chairman, Barakatullo Abdulfaizov, justified the closure of Somonien at a press conference on 17 May on the grounds that its licence had expired on 31 December 2004. He was unable to explain however why the licence had effectively been extended to April 2005.
The station's director, Ikrom Mirzoev, said the closure of the station was linked to a political decision. "We provided the State Committee on broadcasting with all the official documents, as set out by the prosecutor and the justice ministry, needed to renew the broadcast licence and proving that we are fully complying with the law".
Somonien, founded in 1991, was the country's first independent channel. In the run-up to legislative elections on 27 February 2005, independent stations, Guli Bodom and Somonien were the only ones to give airtime to all political parties. The State Committee on broadcasting closed Guli Bodom on 25 February, two days before polling, at the request of the mayor of Kanibodom, Emin Sanginov, for "breaking the law".
Duma approves Putin's electoral reforms
The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has approved new amendments to the laws on elections brought in by President Vladimir Putin.
According to those amendments, political parties will play a bigger role in elections at all levels. The creation of electoral alliances between several parties will now be outlawed.
A Duma member may now lose his mandate if he or she changes political faction. If the Supreme Court rules that a deputy has failed to fulfill his or her duties, his or her powers will be removed.
A candidate for deputy or a party can be banned from registering for an election if five percent of the signatures in their registration lists are found to be false; the number used to be 25 percent.
The threshold for a party to reach the Duma will be seven percent of the vote, an increase from the current five percent.
Friday, May 20, 2005
New contributor - Uzbeks of Kyrgyzstan
We hope to recruit members of other pro-democracy groups to share their views and experiences here.
U.S. scales back Uzbekistan operations
The head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, says the United States has scaled back its military operations in Uzbekistan since last week's violence in the Central Asian country. Two leading human rights organizations say Uzbek security forces may have killed as many as 1,000 civilians in the eastern city of Andijan.
Uzbekistan is a country of strategic interest to the U.S. and an ally on the war on terror.
Michael Cromartie, the head of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, says it is important that the U.S. speak with a unified voice to the Uzbek government, something it hasn't always done. "Last year the State Department refused to provide funding for the Uzbek government, due to its human rights violations. Yet, one month later the Defense Department granted funds to the Uzbek government."
Karimov rejects investigation
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov said he opposes an international investigation into the worst violence since the country's independence in 1991, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday.
``He said he had the situation under control and was taking every measure to bring those responsible to account and didn't need an international team to establish the facts,'' Annan told The Associated Press Thursday night.
Minsk church faces new charges
Vasily Yurevich, administrator of New Life charismatic church in Minsk, faces new charges of repeatedly organising "illegal" worship, five months after he was fined 150 times the minimum monthly wage for the same "offence". He told Forum 18 News Service he was summoned by police on 18 May to be informed of the new charges, two weeks after his appeal against the earlier fine was rejected. The church's pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, has also been fined twice. The authorities say the church's use of a former cowshed for services is illegal as the building has not been designated for religious use. The 600-strong church has already been denied official registration, meaning that all its activity is therefore illegal. In April Minsk city administration issued the church with a third official warning, though two are enough for a court to close down a religious organisation.
Slovak concern for Belarusian dissident
Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry is concerned about the news that Byelorussian authorities have detained opposition leader Sergei Skrebets. According to the ministry, the detention of the former MP and leader of opposition group Respublika is a further sign of politically-motivated prosecution of opposition politicians and journalists, and a sign of the rules being violated. Slovakia's Foreign Ministry has asked Byelorussian authorities to stop the pursuit and repression of private media, independent trade unions, non-governmental organisations and opposition parties.
Kyrgyzstan worried after Uzbek massacre
Two months ago, revolutionary developments in Kyrgyzstan sent shockwaves rumbling through neighboring Uzbekistan, placing Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration on guard against a popular revolt. Now, it is Kyrgyzstan’s provisional leadership that is growing nervous about the impact of the Uzbek government’s crackdown in Andijan. Felix Kulov, a key member of the Kyrgyz leadership team, has voiced concern of a spillover effect, amid unconfirmed reports that Kyrgyzstani citizens participated in the Andijan events.
At a May 17 news conference, Karimov suggested that many of the Uzbeks who found refuge in Kyrgyzstan were Islamic militants, stating that Kyrgyz border guards collected "73 assault rifles" from the refugees. "After this, you can judge what kind of refugees they were," Karimov told the assembled diplomats and journalists. A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s border guards disputed Karimov’s claim, insisting that the refugees "did not carry any weapons," the Ferghana.ru website reported May 19.
The Andijan events, and the accompanying rise in Kyrgyz-Uzbek tension, threaten to compound the Kyrgyz provisional government’s stabilization challenges. Bakiyev’s team has struggled to restore order in Kyrgyzstan since the March 24 revolution toppled Askar Akayev’s administration. Now, on top of existing problems, including the seizures of land in and around Bishkek by squatters, the provisional government faces the prospect of rising social instability in southern provinces, which have sizable ethnic Uzbek minorities. There is growing concern that prolonged unrest in Uzbekistan could possibly stir inter-ethnic tension in southern Kyrgyzstan, and/or fan Islamic radical sentiment among ethnic Uzbeks in Osh and Jalal-abad provinces.
For now, Kyrgyz leaders appear reluctant to do anything that might rile Uzbek leaders further. Although Kyrgyz officials have indicated that the country will be accepting of more Uzbek refugees, Bakiyev said May 18 that as soon as conditions in Uzbekistan "stabilized," the refugees should go home. While Kyrgyz leaders seem conciliatory towards Tashkent, Kyrgyzstani rights activists and student groups continue to protest the Uzbek government’s crackdown. Student protesters, including activists from the Kel-Kel group, staged a demonstration outside the Uzbek embassy in Bishkek on May 19, denouncing Uzbekistan as a "police state," Ferghana.ru reported.
East increasingly critical of Belarus
Lukashenka is used to criticism from the United States and European Union. What makes the new attacks different is that many of them now come from Eastern Europe and former republics of the Soviet Union. On 17 May, Slovakia added its voice to the swelling chorus of condemnation. The detention of yet another prominent opposition leader this week was, it said, further evidence of political motivated pressure on the opposition and media in Belarus.
Poland, which borders Belarus, has become one of Lukashenka's most outspoken critics. Yesterday it expelled a Belarusian diplomat in retaliation for the expulsion of the first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Minsk one day before. Earlier, at the summit of the Council of Europe, Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski said that "widespread violations of elementary principles of democracy and human rights in Belarus" were not acceptable. His foreign minister, Adam Rotfeld, made much the same point.
"In Belarus, the internal system has to change," Rotfeld said. "It is the last example of the sort of museum piece that the Council of Europe does not accept."
Lukashenka might be feeling the heat, but isolation is a condition to which he has grown accustomed. He makes no secret of his contempt for international as well as domestic opinion.
His opponents, both at home and abroad, will be encouraged by the collapse of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the elections in Ukraine in late 2004.
But Lukashenka is a tougher proposition altogether. He enjoys a solid nucleus of support in Belarus and he has repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to use force when threatened.