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Thursday, June 30, 2005

 

Uzbekistan targets journalists

From The Moscow Times:

At least two reporters have been targeted in Uzbekistan after the bloody suppression of last month's uprising, an international media freedom group said in a statement, urging authorities to stop abusing journalists' rights.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders accused Uzbek authorities of "systematic repression" against the media, according to the statement posted on the group's web site late Tuesday.

The group said that Gafur Yuldashev, a Radio Free Europe correspondent, was questioned for four hours by police on Sunday in the eastern city of Andijan, where he had planned to interview opposition activists. Police also seized Yuldashev's tape recorder, it said.

Also on Sunday, independent journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov was brutally beaten by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Karshi, where he had gone to visit his colleague.

 

Azerbaijan ignores Europe with new election law

From Radio Free Europe:

At its final session before the two-month summer recess, the Azerbaijani parliament approved on 28 June in the second and third (final) readings 43 separate election law amendments proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijani media reported.


Those amendments do not include the most important changes called for by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. The Azerbaijani opposition, which had similarly argued that changes are essential to prevent election fraud, immediately attributed the parliament's apparent imperviousness to Western pressure to the current leadership's determination to "falsify the elections and create a puppet parliament," as Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar told Turan on 29 June.

The changes deemed most necessary by both the Council of Europe and the opposition focus on the composition of the election commissions responsible for counting and tallying votes. In line with amendments to the law passed two years ago in the run-up to the October 2003 presidential election, the opposition nominates six of the 15 members of the Central Election Commission, four of the nine members of regional election commissions, and two of the six members on local election commissions.

The election law amendments approved on 28 June leave the composition of election commissions unchanged. They also leave in force the provision that domestic NGOs that receive more than 30 percent of their funding from abroad may not monitor elections. The amendments do, however, include some key technical measures intended to ensure that elections are more democratic, such as reducing the deposit election candidates must pay to register, posting updated voter lists on the Internet, and cutting from five days to two days after the ballot the deadline for making public preliminary returns.

As indicated above, Azerbaijani opposition politicians reacted to passage of the amendments with anger and outrage. There has been no international reaction as of late on 29 June, but Council of Europe officials who visited Baku in recent months have made the point that even the most democratically-formulated law cannot prevent fraud if the authorities are dead set on rigging the ballot.

 

Questions raised about Georgian democracy

From Radio Free Europe:

Two developments in recent weeks have further tarnished Georgia's claim to be the trailblazer of liberal democracy within the CIS. The first was the launch of a process to staff the Central Election Commission and its lower-level equivalents with people known to be loyal to the ruling elite. That process also effectively excluded many Armenians and Azerbaijanis from southern and eastern Georgia from serving on such commissions. The second was the national legislature's initial backing of an amendment to empower the Tbilisi municipal council to elect the city mayor.


Together, they beg questions about the dedication to democracy of the "democrats" who came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution.

While the new Georgian leadership lost no time in dismissing and arresting -- sometimes in front of television cameras -- Shevardnadze-era officials suspected of corruption and mismanagement, skepticism swiftly surfaced over the depth of the new government's commitment to true democratization and far-reaching reform. In a lengthy and detailed analysis of the aftermath of the 2003 Rose Revolution published in December, one London-based analyst suggested that the transition from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili (who was elected president in early January 2004 with 96 percent of the vote) was one from "democracy without democrats" to "democrats without democracy."

Pro-Saakashvili legislators and Saakashvili himself have sought to rationalize that procedure by arguing that the election of a mayor whose political affiliation differs from that of the majority of municipal council members could paralyze the city legislature. But opposition politicians protested that the legislation would pave the way for the ruling party to dominate the city council on a permanent basis. Koba Davitashvili (Conservative) termed it the first step toward abolishing all mayoral elections in all towns and predicted that it could trigger a serious civic crisis. Even before that amendment was unveiled in parliament, the opposition Conservative party raised the possibility of seeking to impeach President Saakashvili on the grounds that he has violated the constitution by failing to introduce direct elections for the post of mayor in the towns of Batumi, Poti, and Zestafoni, Caucasus Press reported on 14 April.

Another protest situation stems from a recent decree promulgated by Saakashvili that strips Georgia's universities of their autonomy and augments the power of the rector, who is appointed by the president. Faculty members at Tbilisi State University launched a protest on 27 June against the decision by acting rector Rusudan Lortkipanidze to reduce the number of faculties from 22 to six and to dismiss 800 staff. Lortkipanidze responded to that protest action by declaring that anyone who dislikes her planned reforms is free to resign.

Nor is its apparent reluctance to promote top-down democratization the only perceived failing of the new Georgian leadership. Some of its senior members have been accused of criminal activities. For example, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and his protege, Mikheil Kareli, governor of the Shida Kartli region that encompasses the disputed unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, are both believed to be implicated in smuggling, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Caucasus Reporting Service on 21 April. On 24 June, the opposition New Conservative (aka New Rightist) parliamentary faction accused Kareli of creating obstacles to private business, rustavi2.com reported. Okruashvili has further been accused of single-handedly determining how budget funds allocated for the Georgian armed forces should be spent, according to the daily "Rezonansi" on 13 May.

 

Parliament rejects third Putin term

From MosNews.com

The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament on Wednesday voted against an amendment that suggested changes in the election law that could have led to a third term as president for Vladimir Putin, the RIA-Novosti news agency reports.

Only 32 deputies voted in favor of the amendment with a required minimum of 226 votes. 99 parliamentarians voted against the changes.

 

Russia welcomes Uzbek leader

From The International Herald Tribune:

Asserting itself anew in the affairs of a nation formerly under Moscow's control, Russia increased its support on Wednesday for the embattled regime in Uzbekistan, announcing that Russian forces would conduct joint military exercises with the Uzbeks this summer.

The announcement, made by the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, was broadcast on national television here after Ivanov met with Islam Karimov, the Uzbek president.

The televised remarks were one highlight of a state visit to Moscow by Karimov that underscored the diplomatic difficulties Western governments face as they seek leverage against Uzbekistan after the lethal crackdown in Andijon last month.

Karimov has complicated his relations with the West by withdrawing from contact; diplomats say he has shunned Western officials since the bloodshed.

But he showed a restored comfort level with Moscow. As Western organizations press for an investigation, Karimov on Tuesday was received by President Vladimir Putin and treated as an honored guest. The limited public glimpse of him at Putin's residence suggested how far he has drifted from his former efforts to have relations with the West. The televised portion of the meeting showed him hinting to Putin that the United States was behind the uprising.

Sitting beside Putin, Karimov said the uprising must be considered in context of recent anti-government protests in other former Soviet nations - an apparent reference to demonstrations in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

He described these events, according to a transcript prepared by the BBC, as "painstakingly, cleverly and seriously prepared" with "so-called populist pro-democracy street crowds, fed and prepared beforehand."


Radio Free Europe adds:


The Kremlin refrained from commenting on Karimov’s accusations that the West was behind the revolt, but it did support his claims that the revolt had been planned from abroad.

Ivanov told the Uzbek president today that Russia had known about the revolt.

"We, in fact, knew how all this was prepared [the events in Andijon] or at least we knew some of the elements [of the plan]," Ivanov said. "It's quite clear there was an external link. This helped us to take really an objective stance [on the events in Andijon] based on all circumstances of what had happened and [to avoid] any one-sided assessment which has only political considerations."

Putin also told Karimov yesterday that Russia possessed information that militants had crossed from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan. "We confirm the information that militants penetrated from specially prepared bases in Afghanistan. They were concentrating on border territories and this is a fact. Our secret services confirm that.”

 

Armenian amendments 'vital'

From armenialiberty.org:

The Council of Europe believes that sweeping constitutional amendments promised by the Armenian authorities are vital for Armenia’s democratization and expects their approval at a referendum later this year, a senior official from Strasbourg said on Tuesday.

Those amendments would considerably curtail President Robert Kocharian’s sweeping powers to appoint and sack the government as well as judges at will. They would also make the mayor of Yerevan, home of at least one third of Armenia’s population, an elected official.

Under a memorandum signed with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in Strasbourg on Friday, the Kocharian administration has to incorporate those changes into its constitutional draft. The draft is due to be debated and finally approved by parliament in August before being put to a referendum this fall.

 

Armenian rights organisation claims harassment

From Armenialiberty.org:

A private law firm that has helped ordinary people file human rights lawsuits against the government claimed on Tuesday to be facing harassment by Armenia's National Security Service (NSS).

The head of the firm called Right, Vahe Grigorian, said the Armenian successor to the Soviet-era KGB has launched criminal proceedings against him on what he described as trumped-up fraud charges. He said the case was brought in retaliation for Right’s activities.

The NSS reportedly wants to prosecute Grigorian for allegedly cheating a client. It has already frozen the firm’s bank accounts and confiscated some of its documents. The security agency denies any wrongdoing.

Right first figured news reports last month when the NSS arrested an employee of Armenia’s Office of Human Rights Defender on bribery charges. Investigators also raided the office’s building in Yerevan, confiscating its main computer that contained information about individuals alleging rights abuses.

 

OSCE seeks to build trust between Kyrgyz police, people

From noticias.info:

Building trust between law enforcement bodies and the people in southern Kyrgyzstan was the focus of a meeting today in Jalalabad, organized by the OSCE Field Office in Osh, the Jalalabad City Department of Interior Affairs and Peace Building Group, an NGO.

"Promoting dialogue and reconciliation is a crucial part of the OSCE's strategy in response to the March events in southern Kyrgyzstan," said Jerome Bouyjou, Political Officer at the OSCE Field Office in Osh.

"We have been conducting several activities with the police and the population to achieve understanding and to build mutual trust and confidence."

Representatives of law enforcement agencies, the local administration and NGOs agreed on the importance of preventing tensions of the type which arose after the recent political events and of cooperating to bring police and the people of Jalalabad closer together.

This OSCE initiative, funded by the French Government, is also providing Jalalabad city police with urgent material support such as office equipment, uniforms and typewriters to replace those that were damaged or burnt during the March unrest.

 

Kyrgyz elite fear new uprising

From Kommersant:

Kyrgyz siloviki fear that the ruling of the Pervomaysky District Court of Biskhek on June 23, which recognized the chairman of Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan party Urmat Baryktabasov a Kazakh citizen, may drive the opposition to storm of the House of Government again. This decision virtually ruined last hopes of Mr. Baryktabasov’s supporters to register him as a presidential candidate. The local legislation does not recognize the double citizenship and requires that Kyrgyz presidential candidates reside in the territory of the country for the last 15 years.

We remind our readers that supporters of Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan party staged a rally on June 17 demanding that the decision of the central electoral commission to deny Urmat Baryktabasov a registration be invalidated. The rally turned into the storming and seizure of the House of Government. The building was cleared by law enforcement officers in a few hours, and some two hundred activists of Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan party were arrested. The leader of the party was placed on an international wanting list. The General Prosecutor’s Office charged him with an attempt of the violent seizure of power. Kyrgyz interior ministry sued Mr. Baryktabasov demanding the reparation of over $600,000damages caused by the disorders and clashes.

The same day, Kyrgyz acting president Kurmanbek Bakiev accused the former Kyrgyz leader Askar Akaev, his elder son Aydar and his son-in-law Adil Toygonbaev of bankrolling the upheavals. This theory was confirmed by two deputy premiers Adakhan Madumarov and Daniyar Usenov the following day. The Interior Minister Muratbek Sutalinov shortly stated that the authorities were preparing to repulse a new storm of the government building. Yet, no actions of the opponents of the new power ensued. What is more, it is virtually impossible to find anybody of Urmat Baryktabasov’s entourage. His supporters turned off their cell phones and do not turn up in public.

Ten days after a bizarre seizure of the government building in Bishkek, many people regard all these events as an unsuccessful staging organized by the new authorities to mould an image of “the enemy of the Kyrgyz revolution”. Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan’s few members who have not gone underground say that 60 party activists and their relatives were arrested on June 16 night, i.e. a day before the events described. “We were going to stage a rally demanding that our leader be allowed to run for presidency. But we found among ourselves total strangers, some 500 people – they incited the disorders and stormed the House of Government,” the editor-in-chief of the party’s newspaper Meken Bermet Turdiniyazova says.

 

Polish activist murdered in Belarus

From Monsters and Critics:

A Belarussian opposition group protested the brutal murder of an ethnic Polish political activist, anti-government activists said Tuesday.

The Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), a group devoted to promoting the rights of ethnic Poles in the former Soviet republic, accused police of refusing to investigate the death of Jusefa Varaksa because she had spoken out against the government in the past.

Relatives found Varaksa, 68, dead in her home in a village outside the capital Minsk last week. She had suffered multiple knife wounds including an apparent attempt to cut out her tongue.

Eyewitnesses at the crime scene said the assailant or assailants broke a window to enter the house. Varaska's valuables were untouched.

Andrei Pachobut, a UPB spokesman, blamed the attack on Belarus' state-controlled television, which two months ago aired a propaganda piece linking UPB officials with millions of dollars of alleged payments from spy agencies of NATO member states.

False reports of western financing to the UPB likely made Varaksa a target for robbers who tortured her to death in trying to locate secret funds that did not exist, Pachobut said.

Police are refusing to open an investigation into the killing, and the Belarus Interior Ministry has rejected a UPB application to march in protest, he added.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

IHF report finds violations throughout region

The International Helsinki Federation has released its annual report on human-rights violations worldwide.

Some highlights:

Armenia

Throughout the year opposition activists were arrested, faced prosecution on questionable grounds, and were physically assaulted. Party offices were vandalized or raided by the police and equipment and materials were seized. Many arrested activists were ill-treated while in police custody.

In order to seize control of the situation, the government took a number of steps to restrict civil rights and democratic freedoms. By way of adopting new laws, the rights to association and peaceful assembly were restricted, and the regular parliamentary sessions were limited from once every two weeks to once every three.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under article 24 of the Constitution of Armenia. The constitutional provisions are regulated by the Law “On Television and the Radio” (2000), the Law “On Freedom of Information” (2003), and the Law “On Mass Media” (2003).

In reality, however, the president of Armenia and other authorities controlled the entire national TV broadcasting. Only a few opposition newspapers were free from the authorities’ control: the Haykakan Jamanak (daily), Chorrord Ishkhanutyun (bi-weekly), and AiB-Fe (weekly, together with its daily news web site).

Police frequently hindered journalists from carrying out their duties, and journalists and reporters were subjected to harassment and physical assault. Law enforcement officials remained inactive or, even worse, often participated in harassment.

While arbitrary arrest and detention were common in Armenia in general, they occurred on a massive scale from April through June – similar to the aftermath of the 2003 presidential elections. Both the use of administrative detention and violations of provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code regarding arrest and detention gave rise to serious concern.

While the CPT reported that torture and ill-treatment were still common in 2002 in pre-trial establishments, it appeared that this was no longer the case in 2004. However, in 2004, 60% of all detainees were reportedly beaten at the time of arrest or while in police stations. The Armenian Helsinki Association registered two deaths of detainees in police stations, one of which was suicide.


Azerbaijan


The freedom of assembly and association were frequently violated. Mass events of the opposition were dispersed, the demonstrators arrested and fined. Human rights defenders and journalists were attacked in the media, and as of the end of 2004, there were still about 250 political prisoners in the country. The unresolved conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the presence of up to 880,000 refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan contributed significantly to aggravating the economic, social and political situation in the country. Up to 20% of the country’s territory continued to be occupied by Armenian forces.
There was a visible gap between the legal framework and its implementation. Courts demonstrated dependence on the executive branch, especially in politically sensitive cases such as those regarding arrests for participation in demonstrations in protest against the October 2003 election fraud.

Prison conditions remained harsh, with numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment made by those prisoners whose arrests were most likely politically motivated. Lack of access to prisons made it difficult for human rights defenders to confirm such information.

In January 2004, PACE expressed its concern about the serious irregularities during the presidential elections of 15 October 2003. Ten months later, on 5 October, it repeated its concern that “despite the requests made in Resolution 1358 (2004), transparency of the entire electoral process has still not been satisfactorily ensured.” The PACE recommended that the government “ensure that election officers who are indeed responsible for fraud are taken to court; publish full election results for each polling station and officially acknowledge the serious irregularities that marred the 2003 elections; draw up a new civil register so that voters can be properly registered, if possible, in time for the forthcoming municipal elections scheduled for the end of 2004, and at the latest, in time for the parliamentary elections in 2005.”

Opposition and independent journalists continued to be arrested and stand trial under questionable charges, including for defamation. Huge fines were frequently issued for legitimate criticism of state officials.

Dismissals based on political affiliation were common in Azerbaijan, particularly at the time of pre-election campaigns. By the end of March 2004, only 26 of the 114 members of the Muslavat party – most of them teachers – who had been dismissed from their jobs during the October 2003 presidential election campaign were reinstated, and then to lower positions. Documents were falsified to give the impression that the dismissals had happened earlier.


Belarus


Belarus remained one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The government’s record fell short in respect to a number of basic rights. It imposed excessive restrictions on the freedom of expression, association and the media, while violations of the right of peaceful assembly continued. Conditions in prisons and detention facilities remained poor, amounting in some instances to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Police misconduct continued, including arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, and unsolved “disappearances” of the past remained uninvestigated. Fair trial standards were repeatedly violated by the courts. The Criminal Code and other legislation allowed arbitrary accusations against persons for various offences. As a result, intimidation and manipulation of critically minded public officials also became possible.

The elections were not transparent at any stages of the process – observers were not allowed to monitor the establishment of the election commissions; they did not have a genuine possibility to control the ballot-boxes and vote count; and they were generally prevented from monitoring the tally of absentee ballots. The Central Election Commission, according to its own interpretation of the Election Code, illegally restricted public associations’ ability to participate in monitoring: only official members of NGOs were allowed to observe the elections, not other people selected by the NGO for this purpose. Members of the election commissions refused to authorize protocols on the election results that were prepared by the observers and by candidates.

The principle of a free and secret ballot was massively violated. Citizens, especially students and employees of state companies and institutions, were forced to vote in advance – often in the presence of the administration and other people. The ballots were not adequately protected against copying, their exact number was unknown and the final protocol confirmed by the local election commissions did not include all the necessary information.

The parliamentary elections were combined with a referendum aimed at lifting all limitations on the tenure of President Lukashenka. The BHC stated that the Constitution and other laws clearly limit his tenure to two terms, and, therefore, a referendum on this question was illegal.

The fraudulent referendum decided that the number of presidential terms must not be limited. After this, the Constitution was changed, enabling President Lukashenka to nominate himself and to run in the next presidential elections.

Belarusian human rights activists faced constant harassment, judicial proceedings and other threats. The authorities targeted especially the BHC, which was the only nation-wide human rights organization that still maintained its legal status.

Members of the political opposition and other critical public figures were constantly targeted, harassed and risked detention on fabricated or questionable charges.

Mikhail Marynich, former minister, Member of Parliament, ambassador, and presidential candidate was taken into investigative custody of the State Security Committee (KGB) on 26 April and was still detained as of the end of the year. Marynich was first charged under article 295(2) of the Criminal Code (illegal actions with firearms, ammunition and explosives), and later with additional criminal offences: theft or damage of documents, stamps, and seals (article 377.2) and larceny committed with abuse of power by an organized group or at an especially high rate (article 210.4). While the court dismissed the first charge, it sentenced Marynich for alleged larceny. The BHC believes that these charges were fabricated and the real reason for Marynich's detention appeared to be his opposition activities. On 25 August, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions was denied access to Marynich. On 30 December, despite reported due process violations and domestic and international protests, Marynich was sentenced to five years of imprisonment with confiscation of property.

In 2002-2004, well-known public figures and intellectuals were increasingly subjected to beatings by “unidentified individuals” who, as a rule, were never caught. The victims included Professor Adam Maldzis; Yury Khaschavatski and Valery Mazynski, producers; Yauhen Kryzhanouski and Victar Charnabayeu, actors; Radzim Haretski and Yauhen Babosau, academicians; Uladzimir Kolas, director of the recently closed National Humanitarian Lyceum; Siarhey Zakonnikau, a poet; Aleh Volchak, head of the recently closed “Legal Aid to Population”; and Valery Fralow, member of parliament.

In 2004, criminal, administrative and economic pressure on the independent mass media increased. The state-run media was financed from the national budget, and the Academy of Management under the President of the Republic of Belarus trained staff journalists for the state-owned mass media. At the same time, the independent media faced serious financial problems.

Fearing problems from the authorities, shops and supermarkets refused to sell independent newspapers and magazines.

Another powerful form of indirect censorship was the right of the authorities to issue official warnings to the mass media—after two warnings, a court was able to order the closure of an media outlet. Moreover, the Ministry of Information was able to suspend the operation of an outlet without a court decision. In 2004, the ministry punished a number of media outlets after their critical reporting. The following newspapers were suspended: Novaya Gazeta Smarhoni, Navinki, Zgoda, Vremya, Predprinimatelskaya Gazeta, Vecherni Stolin, Regionalnaya Gazeta, Narodny Predprinimatel, Regionalnye Vedomosti, Birzha Informacii.

There was a serious threat to free access to the Internet and specific websites were banned. According to new rules, visitors of internet cafes were obliged to identify themselves and the cafe administration was required to keep track of their customers surfing on the Internet.

Criticism of the authorities often equalled to an insult of the authorities, which, under article 369 of the Criminal Code, entails a fine, correctional labor or deprivation of liberty for up to three years. This circumstance essentially affected the course of the electoral campaign in October 2004. Moreover, during the elections, the authorities censored speeches of the candidates.

All state organizations and enterprises with a staff more than 300 people employed “deputy managers for ideological work.” Their task was to promote the ideology of the Belarusian state and its home and foreign policies.

In addition, each university and other institutes of higher education provided for compulsory courses on state ideology. State officers and state-run enterprises were obliged to subscribe to the presidential and governmental newspapers Sovetskaya Belorussija and Respublika.

It was only possible to hold peaceful assemblies and demonstrations if permitted by authorities, and organizers had to cover the costs for “providing for public order.” Opposition rallies were as a rule not sanctioned and – if they were held at all – were dispersed by the police and the participants were beaten, arrested and fined. Authorities often moved even sanctioned demonstrations to suburban areas or they banned them outright.

New regulations and practices led to a wave of threats to and liquidations of NGOs, which seriously affected the whole Belarusian civil society. A number of NGOs were closed down for alleged violations of regulations relating to foreign aid and rules on registration. A number of restrictions on the freedom of associations and activities of NGOs were not based on laws but were merely outlined in presidential decrees and instructions of the Ministry of Justice.

The main threat to the independence of the judiciary lay in the system of material and social subsistence of judges. For example, a judge had the right to a publicly owned apartment but the apartment was allocated by local authorities. Judges’ salaries and social guarantees were established by the president. Their monthly income was about 750,000 Belarusian roubles (approximately EUR 285).

Courts frequently accepted as sole evidence a confession by the suspect, even if there was reason to believe that it had been given under duress. The punishments were often totally disproportionate to the harm done. For example, fines for felonies were sometimes as high as EUR 625, which equals an average annual salary. Trials were often held behind closed doors without adequate justification, and representatives of human rights organizations were not allowed access to courts to monitor hearings.

Participants of peaceful meetings and demonstrations were the principal victims of arbitrary detention. Dozens of members of the informal oppositional youth movements Zubr and Malady Front, as well as other political activists and journalists, were arbitrarily detained during 2004.

The whereabouts of four people critical of the government remained unknown as of the end of 2004 and were also specially mentioned by the UN rapporteur. They were: Yury Zakharanka, former Minister of Interior; Viktar Hanchar, vice-speaker of Belarusian Parliament (XIII convocation); Anatol Krasowski, a businessman supporting the opposition; and Dzmitry Zavadski, Russian public TV operator and former personal cameraman of President Lukashenka. All of them vanished in 1999-2000, and Belarusian authorities have failed to conduct a comprehensive and objective investigation into the “disappearances”. The BHC suspected that the failure to investigate the cases was due to the fact that the highest state officials were involved in organizing the kidnappings and possible killings of the “disappeared” persons.

Prisoners and detainees in Belarus typically had less than two square meters of space, including bed space, in dirty, dusty, and poorly ventilated cells. In some extremely overcrowded jails, prisoners had to take turns sleeping. Inmates were not given enough food, were forced to use inadequate hygiene facilities, and did not always receive the medical care or medicines that they needed.

Belarus was one of only three OSCE states, which still carried out executions in 2004.


Georgia


In February, the Georgian Parliament adopted a set of constitutional amendments that strengthened presidential powers, allowing the president to dissolve parliament if it fails to approve the draft budget or in the event of a government crisis. The president said the new model was based on those of Western Europe, especially France, according to Interfax. Saakashvili argued that "strong authority" is needed to extract Georgia from its present crisis, but denied that such authority is tantamount to dictatorship, as some political opponents claimed.

Yet, the constitutional changes did not bring the system of government closer to the European model ­ ­ - in fact, the outcome was exactly the opposite. Saakashvili had asked the Council of Europe Venice Commission to review the draft amendments, but in the end the suggestions of the commission were not taken into account. The Venice Commission had concluded that the amendments did not fully realize the proclaimed aim.

After coming into power, the Saakashvili administration immediately set out on a fierce campaign to fight corruption. While the determination of authorities to root out corruption deserves commendation, the tactics used amounted to violations of some basic principles of due criminal process and introduced the controversial system of “plea bargaining.” This system makes it possible for some suspects to have their charges reduced or dropped in return for the payment of the money they have allegedly embezzled.

In its widely publicized fight against corruption, high profile figures were frequently arrested in a spectacular manner. However, Georgian NGOs and others have complained that the authorities were selectively targeting individuals for political reasons, and that the law was not applied equally to all.
Individuals suspected of corruption were often arrested without warrants even in cases where there was no indication that they had the intention to flee. In addition, in several cases, law enforcement officials used excessive force, and some arrests were filmed and widely broadcast on TV, a practice that amounted to degradation of the suspects and violated the principle of the presumption of innocence.

As for the repeated parliamentary elections on 28 March 2004, the international election observation mission of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the EU listed a number of serious shortcomings that still have to be addressed for future elections but declared that they demonstrated commendable progress in relation to previous elections and brought “Georgia’s election process in closer alignment with European standards for democratic elections.” Among continuing concerns were problems with the voter lists, the failure of state TV to provide balanced coverage of the election campaign, the inability to ensure a balanced election commission on all levels, a continuing lack of clear separation between state administration and political party structures, and a complete lack of commitment of local authorities to guarantee sufficient conditions for democratic elections in Adjaria.

Moreover, President Saakashvili, his ministers and other members of the government violated the Georgian law by actively partaking in the election campaign and calling on the public to vote for the president’s party. The president even stated publicly that he did not need any opposition parties in the parliament. There were also sporadic reports that that the central government in some cases put pressure on local authorities to take efforts so as to ensure the victory of the ruling party.

In 2004, the diversity of the media narrowed alarmingly as most formerly critical media outlets became closely linked to the new government and were loyal to it. Political debate in the media was particularly affected after three television stations simultaneously took off the air their popular evening talk shows that discussed political issues. While political pressure was rumored, the central reasons appeared to be financial.

Journalists and outlets that were not pro-government were automatically labeled as supporters of the previous government and faced reprisals soon after the Rose Revolution. Pressure on them and independent media was exercised, for example, by threatening owners with tax and other financial controls and in some cases following through with such threats. These superfluous controls appeared to be based on the political loyalty of the outlet.

Anti-governmental demonstrations held in 2004 were in most cases dispersed by the police, frequently through excessive force.

Torture and ill-treatment were among the central human rights concerns during the Shevardnadze era. In 2004, the number of cases of torture, ill-treatment and inhuman and degrading treatment as well as arbitrary detentions increased further. While in some areas of law enforcement improvements were reported, it appeared that the authorities and police officers were willing to sacrifice the right to physical integrity for efficiency in the fight against criminality. In addition, the practice of isolating detainees, restricting access to family and defense counsel, and denying detainees the representation of a lawyer of their choice were still common in Georgia in 2004.

The official status of religious minorities continued to be a problematic issue in Georgia in 2004. There is no law specifically detailing the rights of minority religious groups, although the government does have a formal concordat with the Georgian Orthodox Church signed in 2002. In 2004 the issue of minority rights centered a great deal upon organizational and building rights. It remained virtually impossible for non-Orthodox religious groups to build places of worship, either because they were refused permits by secular authorities claiming that the 2002 concordat gives the Orthodox Church the right to veto applications by other religious bodies, or because of strong resistance and the threat of violence from local populations.


Kazakhstan


On 19 September and 3 October, parliamentary elections were held in Kazakhstan. International election observers deployed by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that the elections did not correspond to the generally accepted standards of free and fair elections, although some improvements in comparison to previous elections were observed.

According to the OSCE/ODIHR, main points of concern included the opacity of the electronic voting procedures and biased mass media coverage. It was also noted as a serious shortcoming that the Central Election Commission (CEC) was composed in a politically unbalanced way, which resulted in decisions favoring the government, and that its actions lacked transparency. The Almaty t its actions were primarily oriented toward furthering the interests of the authorities.

Unlike in previous election campaigns, no media outlet was shut down and no serious cases of persecution of journalists were reported. Yet, the International Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, Adil Soz, documented 39 cases where journalists’ rights were violated in connection with the parliamentary elections. For example, journalists were denied access to polling stations – sometimes through the use of force – and refused interviews and access to voting protocols.

Libel and defamation charges were actively used to persecute critical journalists. Because journalists feared that they may be prosecuted on these grounds and ordered to pay high damages, they often engaged in self-censorship.

As in previous years, NGOs were subjected to harassment, such as intimidating visits by security and law enforcement agencies, arbitrary investigations by the tax police and surveillance by law enforcement and security agents. In a highly worrisome development, the major opposition party DCK faced severe sanctions in an apparently politically motivated case.

A broad debate about torture and ill-treatment in prisons followed after the TV channel KTK in February broadcasted footage of the brutal beating of inmates at a prison in Arkalyk, northern Kazakhstan. A commission set up by the Justice Ministry to look into the events later confirmed the KTK report. The prison guards responsible for the documented abuse were imprisoned, however not for torture or ill-treatment but for “exceeding their authority.”

The situation regarding religious freedom has improved in Kazakhstan in recent years and remained hopeful during the first part of 2004. However, toward the end of the year, there were indications that the authorities attempted to step up control of religious communities, which gave rise to new concerns about undue interference with religious rights.


Kyrgyzstan


The general situation of the independent human rights community in Kyrgyzstan gave cause for profound concern. Numerous activists routinely faced intimidation, harassment and denunciations in state-controlled media that amounted to incitement to violence. Officials often persuaded inhabitants not to cooperate with human rights defenders, for example, by threatening to stop the provision of necessary supplies such as tractors or gasoline to their villages.

During 2004, independent media outlets faced increasing pressure and journalists harassment. Open criticism of government policies and of widespread corruption remained a risky topic for journalists and outspoken individuals and easily led to harassment. In April to May 2004 alone, forty cases of detention, interrogation and other intimidation of journalists usually based on bogus accusations were reported by the Journalists Association in Kyrgyzstan.

Defamation charges were used to stifle criticism, aiming particularly at the closure of independent media outlets under the heavy burden of compensation awards ordered by courts, and under obvious political pressure.

No serious reforms were taken in Kyrgyzstan to provide for a more independent judicial system. The presidential administration and local authorities greatly influenced and pressurized courts and judges. Authorities constantly held attestations of judges in order to keep them under their control. Courts remained underfinanced and judges underpaid, which made the judicial personnel vulnerable to bribes. For all these reasons, the independent administration of justice in the country could not be guaranteed.

The Criminal and Civil Codes were not in line with international standards. Lawyers were often hindered from working freely, which was especially true if their client was a well-known opposition activist.

Torture and ill-treatment remained common practice. In spite of the fact that under the initiative of the KCHR the parliament had adopted a new article to the Criminal Code regarding “torture and the responsibility for its application” as a criminal offense, abuse by law enforcement officers did not become less frequent.

Conditions in Kyrgyz prisons and detention facilities were seriously substandard. Prisoners did not undergo a medical check upon their arrival, and healthy prisoners were kept in overcrowded cells together with prisoners suffering from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Each prisoner usually had less than one square meter of space, far less than that required by international standards. There were no special facilities for mentally ill prisoners. Accordingly, they did not receive necessary treatment, which often led to conflicts – even violent attacks – between them and other inmates.


Moldova


In Transdniestria, the local “Ministry of State Security” posed restrictions on civil society activities, especially if they concerned human rights. All non-governmental activities, such as conferences and training sessions, were to be coordinated with local authorities. The organizers were required to submit to the “ministry” the program of their meetings, a list of participants, and the names of the hotels they were staying at. Failing to do this meant that the event was illegal.

Throughout 2004, the media was under unofficial and indirect governmental censorship that took the form of administrative, economic, and judicial pressure. Administrative pressure was used especially against journalists working for public electronic and printed media such as Teleradio Moldova and the newspapers Moldova Suverana, and Nezavisimaia Moldova. The managers of these media outlets punished their journalists (for example, with pay cuts) who did not respect the “corrections” made by the ruling party.

Judicial censorship was applied through courts, which were subordinated to the executive power. Most independent newspapers (for example, Jurnal de Chisinau, Ziarul de Garda, Moldavskie Vedomosti, Flux, Timpul de Dimineata, etc.) faced trials initiated by political leaders or powerful businessmen for defamation. The newspaper Timpul lost a trial and was forced to change its name and juridical status. Several members of parliament (for example, V. Stepaniuc and Iu.Rosca), and members of the government (for example the Minister of Internal Affairs Gh. Papuc) and other high state officials filed defamation charges against newspapers for legitimate criticism of their activities or allegations of corruption.

Moldovan legislative process lacked clarity and transparency. The ruling Communist Party, which had the absolute majority in the parliament from 2001 to 2004, appeared not to be interested in parliamentary dialogue, and there was no mechanism for public input in to the legislative process, for example, in terms of discussing draft laws.

Authorities continued to interfere in the operation of the courts and the judiciary. Several newspaper articles, some parliamentary deputies from the opposition party and a former judge of the Constitutional Court, Gheorghe Susarenco, voiced concern regarding the erosion of the independence of judiciary and political interference on the part of the government party in some cases that were pending in the national courts or were under investigation.

The presidents of courts were under the de facto control of the Communist authorities. They were also in charge of the distribution of case files among the judges, and many of them abused this position to give specific cases to those judges from whom they could expect judgments that were politically desirable.

A specific cause of concern was the fact that Moldovan authorities handed over Moldovan citizens to the authorities of the breakaway Transdniestrian region to stand trial under the unconstitutional provisions of that region. Not only were these people stripped of judicial protection under Moldovan law, they also faced proceedings under provisions of Transdniestria that ran counter to both Moldovan law and international human rights standards.

In recent years, authorities in Transdniestria have denied registration to Baptists, Methodists, and the Church of the Living God. Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to gather publicly. The law prohibits renting premises for religious meetings and authorities regarded meetings of unregistered groups in private homes as illegal.

Transdniestrian policy toward the Moldovan/Romanian speaking minority hardened dramatically in 2004. The conflict escalated in July when Transdniestrian authorities closed down the last eight Moldovan/Romanian-language schools that used Latin script, instead of Cyrillic, as required by the authorities. Moldovan/Romanian is the mother tongue of an estimated 40% of the population in Transdniestria. Approximately 5,000 pupils had been studying using the Latin script for over ten years and wanted to continue to do so. The right to use Latin script is perceived as an important sign of the right to self-identification but is also an essential prerequisite for successful studies in Moldovan/Romanian schools of higher education.


(For some reason, we were unable to access the sections on Russia and Tajikistan.)

Turkmenistan


Turkmenistan remained the most repressive state in the OSCE region. President Saparmurat Niyazov has ruled the country with an iron fist ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and has gradually built up a personality cult of grotesque proportions.

On 19 December 2004, parliamentary elections were held. Despite claims by the government to the contrary, the elections were not democratic. According to Turkmen newspapers, 135 candidates were competing for about 50 deputy mandates. However, the elections did not offer any genuine choice since all candidates represented the so-called Galkanish (“Revival”) movement, which was initiated by President Niyazov.

The role of the parliament was merely symbolic. As a result of the 2003 constitutional reform, the People’s Council was the major legislative, executive and judicial body in the country. The primary function of this body was again to formally approve policy initiatives by President Niyazov, who was present at all its sessions.

Turkmenistan remained one of the most oppressive countries in the world in terms of media freedom. The 2004 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders listed Turkmenistan on place 164 out of 167 countries.

All Turkmen media were state-owned and reported on events taking place in the country from a one-sided, government sanctioned perspective. Journalists worked under strict control by the secret service. Also, journalists often did not have adequate qualifications for their work since formal education was poor and many experienced journalists have left the country in recent years.

Access to information from abroad was seriously restricted. The only existing Internet provider, Turkmentelecom, is a state company and all Internet traffic was monitored, which enabled authorities to take sanctions against Internet users who visited foreign web sites that contained information critical of the Turkmen regime. It has been prohibited to subscribe to foreign newspapers and magazines since 2002, and while the last foreign TV station allowed to broadcast on national frequencies (Russian ORT) was taken off air in 1998, the last foreign radio station faced the same fate in 2004. Following this measure, foreign TV and radio stations were only available over satellite.

Following the alleged assassination attempt against President Niyazov in late 2002, more than 50 people were convicted in trials conducted in gross violation of international due process standards. These prisoners were reportedly held in a secret prison close to Ashgabat, where they were not allowed to receive visits by relatives. However, no further information about their fate was available.

A law adopted in late 2003 established serious new restrictions on freedom of association. This law outlawed the activities of unregistered public associations and granted authorities extensive powers to exercise control over associations and to close them down.

The use of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials was widespread. Detainees were pressured and subjected to beatings, electric shocks, suffocation and other forms of torture in order to force them to confess to crimes they were alleged to have committed. Courts routinely admitted evidence obtained under duress, and an overwhelming majority of all verdicts that were handed down were based solely on “confessions.” No information regarding investigations into and prosecutions of cases of abuse were available. However, it was clear that law enforcement officials engaged in abusive practices with a high degree of impunity,

By early 2005, four minority religions had been registered – Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Baha’i and Hare Krishna communities. Other minority religious communities were denied registration or declined to apply for registration because they did not believe that registration would facilitate their religious practice. Indeed, religious communities that gained registration continued to face a number of restrictions, such as not being able to worship outside of approved places of worship, print or import religious literature, or receive financial contributions from fellow believers abroad.

In a similar pattern as in previous years, the secret service raided the meetings of unregistered religious communities, threatened and abused their members and confiscated their literature. During the latter half of the year, it was also reported that the secret police cracked down on members of religious communities that had obtained registration.

While it was compulsory for citizens to register their place of residence with the authorities, it was very difficult to obtain official permission to change place of residence. As a result, many people who had come to the capital Ashgabat to work were not officially registered there. In a campaign carried out in the capital in October, hundreds of employees who were not registered with the authorities were fired from their jobs at both state-owned and privately run companies.

Considerable parts of the country were declared border zones. The border zones could only be entered by people who were registered as residents of these areas or who had been granted special permission. During the year, new requirements for obtaining a permit to visit border zones were established. Firstly, applicants were required to present an invitation from relatives residing in such areas, while invitations from non-related friends were no longer accepted. Secondly, the process for considering applications was prolonged from a few days to up to three weeks.

President Niyazov stated in the spring that children would no longer have to work in agriculture. However, as in previous years, school children were made to gather cotton during the harvest season from early September to the end of November. Students attending countryside schools typically worked in the fields from early morning to late evening, with children as young as eight years old participating in some villages. Students at city schools were allowed to have classes two hours a day before being sent to the fields.

A new education program, “Bilim,” was launched in 1993. Under this program, the period of compulsory education has been shortened to nine years, and education has increasingly been given an ideological content. The teaching of arts and science subjects has been significantly reduced, and some subjects such as physical education have been abolished altogether. Instead, new subjects focusing on the political achievements of President Niyazov and his literary contributions, in particular his spiritual guide Rukhnama, have been introduced. The Ministry of Education also encourages the incorporation of Niyazov’s works into traditional disciplines and has, for example, published math text books that feature problem solving examples related to the president.


(The Ukraine section refers entirely to events before the Orange Revolution.)

Uzbekistan


The government of President Karimov has established a number of public human rights institutions. Among these are the Ombudsman on Human Rights, which was founded as the first of its kind in Central Asia in 1996, and the National Human Rights Center of Uzbekistan, which was set up in 1997. However, according to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), public human rights institutions were not engaged in any genuine efforts to promote human rights but primarily served propaganda purposes of the government.

The elections were neither free nor fair. All five political parties that had been registered with the authorities were pro-government and had similar electoral platforms. Neither these parties nor the 55 candidates nominated by initiative groups offered the electorate any real choice.

The authorities exercised strong control over media and sought to prevent the spread of critical information. While censorship was officially lifted in 2002, media outlets that were allowed to operate exercised strict self-censorship. Self-censorship was also reinforced by vaguely formulated legislation that prohibited the disclosure of state secrets and Criminal Code provisions that made defamation and libel punishable.

The process for registering media outlets was complicated, and registered media outlets could be closed down without a court decision. A new law adopted in 2003 broadened the definition of media outlets that need registration so as to include bulletin-style publications and websites. These amendments further restricted the circulation of independent information by making it unlawful for opposition political parties, NGOs and others to spread information through bulletins and websites without official registration.

Trials were often conducted in serious violation of international standards. This was inter alia the case when some 100 people charged with offences related to the violent events in the spring (see also the section on Freedom of Religion and Religious Tolerance) were tried in the second half of 2004. In these processes, defendants were as a rule declared guilty before their trials had begun and they were deprived of an adequate defense. Law enforcement authorities also reportedly planted evidence such as banned religious literature, drugs and weapons and used intimidation, pressure and torture to force defendants to confess to the crimes they were charged with (see also the section on Torture and Ill-treatment).

The use of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials remained widespread and such practices were routinely used to extract confessions and testimonies. In particular, torture and ill-treatment were used in the crack-down on independent Muslims (see also the section on Freedom of Religion and Religious Tolerance).

In addition to Belarus, Uzbekistan was the only former Soviet Union republic where the death penalty remained in use throughout 2004. In December, President Karimov stated that it was his personal opinion that “we should stop handing down death sentences.” However, he also said that he thought it would be premature to abolish the death penalty in a situation where a majority of the population supported its retention.

 

Clash over Tbilisi mayoral elections

From The Messenger (Georgia):

The issue of Tbilisi's mayoral elections has become one of central importance for Georgian politics. The opposition is unanimous in demanding that the local authority make the post of city mayor a directly elected position. Despite such protests, the government has already adopted on first hearing changes in the law on the mayor of Tbilisi that provide for the exact opposite.

According to the changes, the Sakrebulo (City Hall) will elect the Tbilisi mayor, meaning in effect that the ruling party will choose its own candidate, as new legislation also changes the system by which Sakrebulo members are elected, raising the possibility that all Tbilisi councilors will be representatives of the ruling party. Following changes to the constitution of the Central Election Commission which oversees all elections in the country, as a result of which the CEC is now staffed entirely by Saakashvili allies, the latest amendments to the law on local elections in the capital has led opposition parties to accuse the government of authoritarianism.

In response, the parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition state that they will not participate in future elections and with this step they will put the authority in an uncomfortable situation with its Western allies. The opposition hopes that this will be followed by a serious reaction from the international organizations.

 

Former defense minister on trial in Moldova

From The Epoch Times:

A former defense minister in ex-Soviet Moldova went on trial on Monday charged with abuse of power and defrauding the state in connection with the sale of 21 warplanes to the United States in 1997.
Valery Pasat, now a senior manager at Russia's electricity giant Unified Energy System (UES), is accused of having sold 21 MiG-29s too cheaply at $40 million, causing a loss of $55 million to state coffers.

The judge agreed to a demand by prosecutors to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors on grounds that issues of national security were at stake in the country- one of Europe's poorest, wedged between Ukraine and Romania.

Defence lawyers said when Pasat was arrested that legal action was politically motivated and linked to his opposition to Moldova's Communist leadership.

President Vladimir Voronin's communists finished first in a general election in March on a platform of moving Moldova out of Russia's shadow and towards the West.

Pavel Smirnov, a UES board member, said the decision to conduct Pasat's trial behind closed doors was "incomprehensible... from a human standpoint".

A statement by the company's press service in Moscow quoted Smirnov as saying Moldovan prosecutors had twice previously decided against any legal action against Pasat since the 1997 deal and no new evidence was now being produced.

 

Ukrainian TV becomes popular in Belarus

From Monsters and Critics:

The popularity of Ukrainian TV channels is growing in Belarus. Residents not only of the border areas, but of the Belarusian capital Minsk too, have been able to watch them regularly for several years. Serhiy Khomych reports.

[Correspondent] For a long time Belarusians enjoyed only one national channel. Russian TV broadcasting dominated in their country, a habit that had remained from Soviet times. The situation only began to change relatively recently. In the last three years, four Belarusian channels appeared at once, and started squeezing out their foreign competitors. Russian channels are now mainly broadcast by cable networks, and they face significant competition from TV companies from other post-Soviet countries, including Ukrainian ones.

Last week fans of Ukrainian TV were given reason to worry. Reports appeared in the internet that Belarus had banned Inter-Plus. Cable operators were bombarded with calls from the Ukrainian diaspora and many other viewers who had come to love Ukrainian programmes. But it turned out there was no reason to panic.

[Kovhan] The reports spread around some Belarusian sites and even ended up on Russian sites. There was a report that a Belarusian cable operator had had problems getting agreement [presumably from the government] for this channel. But most likely this information doesn't correspond to reality. Our company has experienced no such problems. The information ministry agreed that we could carry out test broadcasting, and I hope it will approve the contract we're going to sign.

 

Belarus university re-opens in exile

Jonathan F. Fanton, the former president of the New School for Social Research in New York, writes in The International Herald Tribune:

Is it possible at the dawn of the 21st century that an entire university could be driven into exile in Europe?

Seventy-two years after scholars fled Hitler's Germany to establish the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research in New York, it has happened. Last year, the European Humanities University in Belarus was forced to close by the country's authoritarian regime. This month, European Humanities University-International dedicated its new campus in Vilnius, where it now resides in exile.

European Humanities University was established in Minsk in 1992. Known for its exceptional graduate programs in philosophy, law, politics, languages and European studies, it enrolled almost 1,000 students. In a closed society, EHU was an island of free inquiry, opening students to diverse ideas and vigorous debate, allowing them to see their country's history with a clear eye in the context of the democratic tide sweeping away authoritarian regimes across the world.

After unsuccessfully trying to remove the university's rector, Lukashenko forced EHU to shut down in July 2004. The action was part of a broader campaign to stifle intellectual and academic freedom in Belarus, undertaken in the mistaken belief that national greatness can come about by shutting out the world. But great nations do not fear knowledge, they embrace it. Strong societies do not stifle criticism, they encourage it. Good leaders do not smother intellectual inquiry, they promote it.

In the end, Lukashenko's attempts to stifle academic freedom will be no more successful than his efforts to deny his people democracy and a free-market economy.


EHU's web site is here, and Mr Fanton's speech at the reopening ceremony is available here.

 

Send Khodorkovsky a message

A new site in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, mbktrial.com, has a page where visitors can send greetings to Khodorkovsky in prison. The page was originally set up for his birthday on 26 June, but still seems to be working.

Thanks to Siberian Light for pointing the link out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

Third Putin term mooted

From The Moscow Times:

The State Duma will vote this week on a United Russia-sponsored amendment to the electoral law that might allow President Vladimir Putin to serve a third term. The bill, however, appears to be more of a show of loyalty to the Kremlin than a serious attempt to extend Putin's rule.

Under the amendment, popularly elected leaders in the executive branch of power -- the president and mayors -- could run for a third term if early elections were held before their second term expired and a court found the early election invalid and ordered a new vote.

The bill could allow Putin to run for a third term if he stepped down before the end of his second term in spring 2008 and a subsequent early election was declared invalid. A presidential election can be declared invalid if voter turnout is less than 50 percent or if more voters pick "against all" than any candidate.

Vladimir Pligin, the chairman of the Constitution and State Affairs Committee, stressed Friday that the amendment was introduced "to regulate the elections of mayors who resign before their terms end" and is not intended to help Putin retain power, Interfax reported. He said the wording of the amendment needed to be edited to avoid misunderstanding by the media.

Putin has repeatedly ruled out the possibility that he might seek a third term. However, he half-jokingly hinted during a trip to Germany in April that he might run in 2012.

 

Dagestanis won't return to raided village

From The Moscow Times:

Residents of Borozdinovskaya, a village in eastern Chechnya raided by masked gunmen earlier this month, have refused to take up offers to return home, despite promises of a thorough investigation and material compensation by senior federal and Chechen officials.

More than 1,000 ethnic Dagestanis fled the village after they found charred human remains in a house burned out during the June 4 raid. One man died and 11 men were abducted in the raid. The men have not been seen since.

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, on a visit to Borozdinovskaya on Sunday, promised to ensure the residents' safety if they returned. A day earlier, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov, who is unrelated to Alu Alkhanov, said a squad of 19 policemen headed by an ethnic Dagestani would be set up in Borozdinovskaya.

The Chechen government has also offered cash compensation to residents whose houses were destroyed in the raid if they return home.

But on Sunday, Borozdinovskaya residents camped out in tents just over the border in Dagestan said they would not return until the fate of the missing men was known.

"Not a single person will return until the fate of these 11 people is established," Borozdinovskaya resident Sofia Ibragimova said, Interfax reported Sunday.

Villagers have accused members of the Vostok, or East, militia led by Sulim Yamadayev, a former rebel warlord who now serves in the federal military, of carrying out the raid and say they recognized some of his men among the attackers.

Yamadayev and his federal military commander have denied that any of Yamadayev's men took part in the raid.

Ruslan Yamadayev accused Chechen rebels of carrying out the Borozdinovskaya raid in an attempt to discredit the federal military and its Chechen units, like his brother's militia, in Chechnya. He said that rebel sympathizers serving in the military could have taken part in the raid.

In an interview with Izvestia published Friday, Ruslan Yamadayev also said that the Dagestani police had evidence identifying the 11 abducted men as rebel fighters.

Dagestani officials have never claimed that before.

 

Russian journalist gets 7 months hard labour

From Reporters Without Borders:

Freelance journalist Eduard Abrosimov was sentenced to seven months forced labour for defamation by the regional court in Saratov, southern Russia on 23 June 2005.

He was sentenced over an article carried by Moscow weekly Sobesednik and a draft article found by investigators that was intended for regional daily Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya.

Abrosimov was sentenced at the end of a one month trial for disseminating false news under Article 129 of the criminal code. He was immediately taken to prison in Saratov. He said he would appeal the sentence before the Russian Federation Supreme Court.

The case began with the publication of an article "Don't peep through the keyhole" carried on 2 November 2004 in the weekly Sobesednik, under the pseudonym Andrei Zabelin. The article was referring to the sexual preferences of a deputy in the Duma, Viatcheslav Volodin.

Abrosimov was arrested on 21 January 2005, on the orders of the Saratov prosecutor, who opened an investigation for defamation. The journalist, then adviser to the governor of Saratov, Dmitri Ayatskov, has spent four months in custody. The investigators recovered an unpublished draft article from the hard disk of the journalist's computer sent by email to a journalist on the daily Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya.

In the article, Abrosimov reported that one of the investigators in the office of the regional prosecutor, Dmitri Petriaikin, took bribes from certain criminals to release them. The definitive article headlined "Let us reflect on a portrait" was carried in Saratov-Stolitsa Povoljya on 11 November 2004, raising local authority corruption but without naming Dmitri Petriaikin.

The Saratov prosecutor however ruled that the draft article was defamatory as soon as it had been sent by email and at least one person was aware of it.

 

Historic Russian archive endangered by move

From The Financial Times:

After 170 years of inhabiting the buildings that housed the pre-revolutionary Senate and Synod, Russia's largest and oldest archive, containing 6.5m manuscripts documenting history from Peter the Great to the Bolshevik coup, is being evicted by the Kremlin.

It will be moved to a new location on the outskirts of St Petersburg, while the grand 18th-century buildings designed by an Italian architect to house the archive will be handed over to the presidential administrative department, a powerful organisation that inherited most of the property used by the Central Committee of the Communist party, including sanatoriums, hospitals and hotels.

Prominent Russian historians and writers say the “relocation” of the archive is the most disturbing, though by no means the only, example of the ambivalent attitude to history in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

The Historical Archive is not the only Russian heritage site endangered by the redistribution of property in the country.

Several historic buildings in St Petersburg have already been claimed by members of Mr Putin's entourage. Moscow's Museum of Cinema is in danger of disappearing after its building was sold to an unknown organisation, and the government is claiming ownership of Catherine the Great's estate near Moscow.

Viktor Khrekov, spokesman for the presidential administrative department, says the documents will be safer in a modern and well equipped building.

But Marietta Chudakova, a famous scholar and a former member of Boris Yeltsin's presidential council, does not believe that Kremlin bureaucrats are genuine in their concern for the documents. “It is disgusting that under the mask of ‘improving' conditions of the archive, a fine historic building is being emptied for the needs of the Kremlin's power structures. It is one of the most vulgar examples of the action of siloviki [the man of power] and the inaction of the society.”

Nikita Krylov, an archivist at the state historical archive who has organised a voluntary committee for its protection, says there is a double danger in moving the archive. “First, some documents will inevitably perish during the move. Many of them have never been looked at or copied.” The second danger is that a change in environment could damage the documents. Mr Krylov says the building possesses a unique microclimate that helps to preserve the documents. “The new building is built from concrete, which is a very aggressive environment for old paper,” he says.

Ms Chudakova adds: “The archive of this size should only be moved under the threat of bombing or flooding.”

 

Kasparov interview

MosNews interviews Russian chess-player-turned-opposition-politician Garry Kasparov:

Why did you form the United Civil Front? Are you waging a war?

The ruling authorities have declared a war on the people. The number of people dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the country is growing. After the country’s second presidential election, or rather after Putin’s appointment, this tendency has been increasingly apparent. The regime is toughening its policy line. True, the majority of these people are still showing only passive dissatisfaction, but whereas during Putin’s first term in office, their discontent could not be measured mathematically, now it is there for everyone to see.
Today, the dividing line in Russian society should not run traditionally between rightists and leftists; it should point to the extent to which people are ready to make tough demands upon the current regime. All of today’s political organizations have a narrow focus; it is useless to talk now about the political program we will have in 2007. When the results of elections are falsified, it doesn’t matter who is five degrees more to the left or to the right.

How does the presidential appointment of governors affect you personally?

At first glance, it is hard to see the link between worsening living standards and the abolition of gubernatorial elections. But just consider this: first, the people are stripped of power — they can no longer elect governors and they can no longer vote for single-mandate candidates. Next, the people are stripped of money. More and more people are beginning to see the connection.

You want to dismantle the present regime. But Putin has the support of the majority. Does it really matter if his supporters amount to 60% or 65% of the population?

We are in the year 2005, not 2004. Today we are witnessing regular demonstrations that demand Putin’s resignation. The tendency is obvious: 70 percent of the citizenry used to support Putin; now the figure is 40 percent. One more point: if you ask people about their attitude toward the war in Chechnya, the growing crime rate, and the state of the economy, then the rating of the present regime becomes quite different. Either people don’t look upon Putin as a politician who wields real influence on the country’s life, or they don’t want to be frank on this matter.

What exactly are you going to do?

There is a wide variety of possible protests — walkouts, hunger strikes, demonstrations. It’s difficult to incite a hunger strike — that’s a measure people resort to when they can’t bear to be downtrodden any longer. But we can unite all these people into a broad anti-regime front. They must feel that they are not alone.

Who funds all your programs?

Alas, we live in a country where the lives of our sponsors would be in danger if we named them. All well-known right-wing liberal sponsors of the past are now either abroad or in jail. I can only tell you that we are short of funds. We will not even hide the fact that we have far less money than the amount needed to get our movement going, far less than the democrats spent. However, we are learning to work in such conditions, trying to get the best returns on our investments, counting every kopek.

The tougher the Kremlin’s actions, the greater are our chances of getting help — the number of discontented people grows and more of them wish to help us. In fact, the main potential of our Front is that it exists while the regime is what it is, as long as it engenders discontent.

 

UN concerned for refugees in Kyrgyzstan

From Reuters AlertNet:

The UN's Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Kamel Morjane, expressed concern about Kyrgyz threats to repatriate Uzbek refugees fleeing mass killings in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan last month. He was speaking in the capital, Bishkek on Monday.

"We are especially concerned that 29 people who are today in detention in [the southern Kyrgyz city of] Osh. They were taken from the [Uzbek] refugee camp in Jalal-Abad after official requests from Uzbekistan", Morjane said at a press conference.

There has been growing international concern about the plight of nearly 500 Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan following the killings and this prompted the two-day visit by Morjane to learn more about the situation in the area.

The UN official, who has visited the asylum seekers, said it was hard to agree with Tashkent's assertion that the Uzbek exiles were all wrongdoers.

"Being in the camp and talking with the refugees I did not get the impression that I was in a camp with terrorists and extremists. I'm not saying they were all angels but certainly the majority appeared clean," Morjane said.

In an indication of how seriously the UN is taking the asylum seekers' situation, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke by phone to acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Saturday, urging him to respect the groups' rights. The converation appears to have resulted in a new commitment from Bishkek, which earlier seemed to be wavering in its decision to allow the group to stay, under pressure from its powerful neighbour.

"Today, Bakiyev reassured UNHCR that there would not be any forcible return of genuine refugees to Uzbekistan," Morjane told IRIN. He went on to welcome this reaffirmation but stressed that the process to determine who is a refugee needed to be fair and transparent and should include the right to appeal against unfavourable decisions. The UNHCR official also expressed concern about the fact that Uzbek security forces appeared to have access to the asylum seekers' camp.

Monday, June 27, 2005

 

Belarus: Political prisoners ask for books, sports equipment

From Charter 97:

The editorial office of the Grodna “Pahonia” newspaper received a letter from a reformatory written by political prisoner, leader of the All-National Strike Committee of Entrepreneurs, friend of “Svabodnaya Belarus” Valery Levaneuski where he begs for help.

”The correctional institution PK-22 is a reformatory of minimum security were more than 600 people are kept.

The reformatoy is ”young”, it is still being constructed. Even the public transport does not reach this place, although the Ministry of Transport and Communication Services claimed to solve this problem in 2005…

... Here we have practically no library and sports ground. There is only one horizontal bar for 300 people and mini-football field. We have to buy table games (draughts, chess) for our own money...
Thus, we beg you to render informational and other help in stocking of library funds of PK-22 and purchase of sport equipment.

We will be very grateful to all who will send us books (fiction and manuals) and sport equipment (volley-ball net, football and volleyball balls, dumb-bells, weights, draughts, chess), maybe already utilized.

It will be more convenient if you either pass books and sport equipment with my relatives or bring them to the reformatory yourself. Contact phone-numbers for more detailed information: 8-0296-31-30-62, 8-0152-31-30-62.

Valery Levaneuski

 

Marinich's sons appeal to court

From Charter 97:

Igar and Paval Marynich, the sons of the Belarusian political prisoner, leaders of the civil initiative “Freedom to political prisoners!”, members of the Council of Civil Initiatives “Svabodnaya Belarus”, have made an appeal today on the resolution of the Minsk Central District Court of sequestration of property to the judicial assembly on civil affairs of the Minsk Municipal Court. According to the resolution of judge Natalla Vaitsakhovich of 06.07.2005, from all sequestrated things only the iron, TV-set and bicycle simulator were returned to the ex-wife and sons of Mikhail Marynich. In the apartment where former Minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Diplomat Mikhail Marynich resided, the property was inventoried at the sum of Br 4 mln.

“I consider the resolution of judge Vaitsakhovich criminal, because the resolution is targeted directly against me, my brother and my mother. The judge ignored in her resolution even the principal positions of the Civil-Procedural Code according to which the things of primary importance cannot be sequestrated - a table, chair, bed, refrigerator… The judge established that my elder brother Igar, my mother and I inhabit the apartment and that there are our belongings. Nevertheless, Vaitsakhovich wrote in her resolution that I could not have any possessions in 1997 because at that time I had been under the age - but I was 27 years old then! Moreover, the things that we had purchased in December 2004, when the father had already been imprisoned, were also sequestrated. The judge’s cynicism is comprised within the fact that after 40 years of working activity my mother is to possess one iron only…” - Paval Marynich said in his interview to the Charter’97 press center.

The political prisoner’s sons are not expecting a just resolution of the judicial assembly of the Minsk Municipal Court. “We set no hopes on the judicial assembly’s resolution because the Belarusian court is a tool in the hands of the dictator. But nevertheless, we will appeal to the Attorney General on bringing an action against judge Vaitsakhovich - for the violation of the law,” - said P. Marynich.

 

Belarus editor's sentence upheld

From Charter 97:

Today Minsk city court upheld the decision of October district court of Minsk in the suit of US citizen Arkadiy Mar, the deputy editor-in-chief of the “Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta” (BDG) Irina Khalip (Iryna Khalip) and publisher of the newspaper, a private unitary enterprise “Marat”. On April 11 the journalist and publishing firm have been found guilty of insulting honour and dignity of the plaintiff. Iryna Khalip was to pay compensation to Arkadiy Mar amounting to 10 million rubles (more than 4,500 USD), and the private unitary enterprise “Marat” was to pay 50 million rubles (about 23,000 USD). The plaintiff, as we have informed, asked a compensation of 1 million USD. Arkadiy Mar also demanded the reporter to refute some statements in her article “Oklahoma Would Never Learn About Lukashenka”.

 

Russia pulls out of Estonian border agreement

From MosNews:

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday it would be impossible to submit border treaties with Estonia for ratification by the Russian parliament following changes the Estonian parliament made to the preamble.

The Russian Foreign Ministry handed a note to Estonian Ambassador to Russia Karin Jaani on the developments involving the border treaties between the two countries, ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told reporters on Monday.

The text amended by Estonia’s parliament to include an indirect reference to the Soviet occupation of the Baltic nation “contains unacceptable statements ... that create a falsified context” for the treaties, the ministry said in a press statement released last week.

Soviet troops occupied the three Baltic states in 1940. Nazi troops took them over in 1941, but the Soviets returned in 1944.

Russia balked at signing a planned border treaty with Latvia in May because Latvia insisted on attaching a statement similar to the one approved by Estonia.

 

Russian prosecutor investigates Jewish scripture

From Haaretz:

Russia's state prosecutor has ordered an examination of Shulhan Arukh - a code of Jewish halakhic law compiled in the 16th century - to ascertain whether it constitutes racist incitement and anti-Russian material.

The prosecutor ordered the probe against a Jewish umbrella organization in Russia for distributing a Russian translation of an abbreviation of Shulhan Arukh.

Last Thursday, attorneys from the Russian State Prosecutor's Office questioned Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Organizations - one of the two large Jewish umbrella organizations in Russia. Kogan was asked to explain the contents of Shulhan Arukh, especially regarding its treatment of non-Jews.

Jerusalem sources following the affair said this is the first time since Stalin's regime that Russian officials have described holy Jewish scriptures as prohibited incitement.

The state prosecutor's last move has increased Israel's concern for the Jews in Russia, following the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents there. These incidents include attacks on Jews and damage to Jewish property.

The inquiry was launched following a letter signed by 500 public figures, including some 20 members of the nationalist Rodina party, urging the state prosecutor to outlaw the Jewish religion and all the Jewish organizations operating in Russia.

The prosecutor rejected requests of Jewish organizations to open an investigation into those who had initiated the letter.


Interfax reports that people who signed the anti-Semitic letter may be barred from the EU's Schengen zone.

 

Tajik oppositionists face arrest

From EurasiaNet:

Mahmudruzi Iskandarov was first detained in Russia in December on a warrant from the Tajik prosecutor’s office.

The Russian authorities released Iskandarov in April, after four months in custody. But two weeks later, he mysteriously disappeared from Moscow only to turn up under arrest in Tajikistan. He has been in custody there since.

On 20 June, U.S. Embassy official John Chamberlain reminded the Tajik authorities about their legal obligations to Iskandarov.

"The United States calls on the Tajik authorities to permit Mr. Iskandarov’s access to his legal counsel in accordance with Tajikistan’s own laws and international standards," Chamberlain said.

The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), another opposition party, is now claiming that it too is the victim of a campaign aimed at tarnishing its image.

Two IRP members were arrested in Khatlon province recently. The IRP claims the two were detained because they did not answer an "invitation" from the local prosecutor’s office. Local IRP leader Hoja Kalandar Saddriddinzda questioned the entire case surrounding the two men.

"[IRP member] Saifiddin Faizov, resident of Bokhtar, and another Islamic Renaissance Party member were detained for hooliganism," Saddriddinzda told RFE/RL. "Also the prosecutor’s office had asked them several times to come in for questioning. The Islamists say such an ’invitation’ without concrete questions or a case aims to cast the party’s image in a bad light."

The charge of hooliganism appears to stem from allegations that Faizov was using foul language in a mosque. In majority-Muslim Tajikistan that accusation certainly won’t help the IRP.

Two members of yet another opposition group, the Social-Democrat Party (SDP), were also jailed last week in the northern Soghd region.

The SDP leader from Soghd’s Mastcho District, Nizomiddin Begmatov, received one year in jail and Nasim Shukurov got 18 months for hooliganism. The SDP claims the two were imprisoned because on 27 February, parliamentary election day, they brought protests over the conduct of the poll to the district court head. The court official did not accept the protests.

 

Andijan survivors mourn in fear

From EurasiaNet:

Forty days have passed since the bloody events of May 13 in Andijon. The 40th day after a funeral is traditionally a time for grieving and remembrance. But, as RFE/RL reports, the living mourn the dead uneasily in Andijon today.

"We’re afraid to talk," one man told RFE/RL. "The neighborhood committee and the police keep track of everything. In Andijon today, neighbor spies on neighbor. It’s been 40 days since the events in Andijon, and informers are at work in all of the city’s neighborhoods. When the police come to homes where someone was killed, they interrogate family members and call them Wahhabis or some other kind of religious extremist. I myself was called in by the police and interrogated."

"Wherever you go, the police block your path," a second man told RFE/RL. "It’s bad everywhere. The police don’t let anyone open their mouth. If you say one word, they’ll say, ’Do you realize who you’re trying to argue with?’ Troops come into people’s homes. They have no compassion. In the Boghishamol neighborhood, 15 of them burst into a house. They trampled everything and searched through everything, took the people away, and beat them up. I have a younger brother who has a car. He was taking five or six people to the old city in his car when the police stopped them. They impounded the car and took him into custody. They beat him for 15 days."

Information is scarce, and rumor has stepped in to fill the vacuum. "I can’t say with any confidence that Andijon has returned to normal," one woman said. "These days, you sometimes hear rumors that unnerve people. Then these rumors turn out to be partially true. Today we heard that top police officials had closed up their offices and gone out to neighborhood committees. There were security services officers and commanders on our street. This made people nervous. Instead of a gradual return to calm, we have military vehicles driving all over the place. Eleven days after the events, tanks were still going around and frightening people."

 

Kazakh president takes no chances

From The International Herald Tribune:

Nazarbayev, 65, is expected to handily win re-election to another term in elections due in December.

So why is the Parliament he fully controls churning out repressive laws that will make election monitoring harder, restrict religious freedom, and put nongovernmental organizations, like the Republican Institute's Almaty office, virtually out of business?

The answer lies outside Kazakhstan's borders - in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia, where entrenched, far less popular leaders presiding over corrupt regimes were ousted after being accused of rigging elections.

In all three cases, nongovernmental organizations were instrumental, in varying degrees, in countering the effects of a muzzled press and denouncing election fraud and corruption.

Time and again, Nazarbayev, whose popularity has never been low, has demonstrated that where power is concerned, he takes no chances and does what it takes to achieve eyebrow-raising results - like the election in 1991 when, after two years in power, he officially received 98.7 percent of the votes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 

Azerbaijan: Photographer dies after police beating

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders today urged the Azerbaijan government to launch an immediate enquiry into the weekend death of opposition newspaper photographer-reporter Alim Kazimli, who was severely beaten up by police six months ago.

Kazimli, 54, who had worked for the main opposition daily Yeni Musavat for the past 12 years, died on 19 June as a result of a beating he received last 28 December at the Narimanov police station in Baku that left him paralysed on his left side. He fell into a coma on 17 June and then died of a brain haemorrhage.

He had gone to renew his identity papers at the police station's passport office, where his wife said he declared he would expose in the paper the corruption and illegal behaviour by police. The office chief, Ali Mamedov, then summoned the policemen involved and they beat him up before calling an ambulance. Kazimli and his family filed a complaint but the attack was not investigated and Mamedov denied it had happened.

Repression of journalists in Azerbaijan has increased since the beginning of the year.

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