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Saturday, July 30, 2005

 

Turkmen police beat and threaten Baptist

From Forum 18:

Police raiding a private home in Turkmenabad, where Baptists gather regularly for Bible study and prayer, beat the host, Asiya Zasedatelevaya, with her own Bible and even threatened to hang her, local Baptists told Forum 18 News Service. She has now appealed for the return of Christian literature they confiscated from her. Zasedatelevaya stated that "they started to interrogate me, despite the fact that I'm a third-category invalid unable to hear and speak," and that when she did not reveal where she had got her Christian books, one of the policemen hit her over the head with her Bible, while the second hit her in the face. "The local policeman threatened to hang me," she added. "During all this my four-year-old child was present in the flat." Forum 18 has been unable to reach the police to question them about the raid. There have been reports that, since President Niyazov issued a call for the country to adopt one set of religious rites, pressure on religious minorities has increased.

 

Georgia seeks to eliminate bribes with new exams

From BBC News:

Georgia's new standardised nationwide tests - similar to America's SATs - are designed to overhaul the country's notoriously corrupt education system.

Since Soviet times every university in Georgia has administered and graded its own entrance exam.

Officials believe that up to $30m - more than the country's entire education budget - was spent on bribes every year.

So a few months after the so-called Rose Revolution that ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, high school students were told to study for a new, state-administered test.

"It really came as a shock to us," says 17-year-old Ilia Karukhnishvili, as he lifts his head from the textbooks that lie open on the table.

"Imagine, all my life I was preparing for one kind of exam, and then the new government comes and changes it all," he says.

His five friends, all gathered in Ilia's living room to go over the exam material together, nod in agreement. They say preparation has been difficult, although the process seems to be much more fair.

"Before all you had to do was to pay. It did not matter what you knew, whether you were prepared. Now, we actually have to work hard, but we have an opportunity to show our knowledge now," says Karlo Kavtaradze.

Many believe it is not just the students but the country's entire education reform that is being put to the test.

And so is the man who is in charge of it.

Georgian Education Minister Alexander Lomaia played a prominent role in the Rose Revolution. Ever since then he has been trying to revolutionise the country's crumbling, Soviet-style education system.

"I hope this test will mark a cultural change too," Mr Lomaia says.

Over the past year, the school curriculum has been modernised and dozens of head teachers have been replaced. Many professors and dozens of private universities have been disqualified from teaching.

But it has been a painful and controversial process that has made more headlines and caused more street protests than any other reform.

A few months ago, thousands signed a petition asking the president to sack the education minister.

Westernising the school curriculum, many in Georgia believe, could seriously undermine national values.

 

Kyrgyzstan releases 14 refugees

From Amnesty:

Amnesty International (AI) has received reports that 14 of the 29 refugees who had been detained by the Kyrgyzstan authorities have been transferred into the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The 14 released refugees were among the 440 refugees who left Kyrgyzstan in the UNHCR "humanitarian airlift". According to reports, they arrived in Romania today (29 July).

However, 15 are still detained, 12 of whom have been recognized as refugees and three asylum-seekers. AI stresses that all 15 continue to be in need of international protection. According to the UNHCR, 11 of these refugees have already been accepted for resettlement for third countries.

"We continue to urge the Kyrgyzstan authorities not to forcibly return any of these refugees or asylum-seekers back to Uzbekistan, in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law, and to immediately transfer them into the care of UNHCR," said AI.

 

Poland recalls ambassador from Belarus

From The International Herald Tribune:

The Polish government recalled its ambassador to Belarus and urged the European Union Thursday to impose sanctions on the leadership of the country after members of the riot police with guns and dogs stormed a building used by ethnic Poles near the border with Poland.

The predawn raid took place in the western town of Grodno, about 280 kilometers, or 175 miles, west of the capital, Minsk, where most of the country's 400,000 Poles - about 4 percent of the 10.4 million population - live.

It was the latest crackdown against the Polish minority and quickly exacerbated tensions between Belarus, one of the last Communist-style regimes of the former Soviet Union, and Poland, which joined the European Union last year.

Belarus jailed three Polish activists on Wednesday for as long as 15 days for holding an illegal street concert.

The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and who is seeking a third term next year, has systematically quashed most forms of opposition to his rule, according to diplomats in Minsk. He had accused the Polish minority of "fomenting revolution," a charge dismissed by Polish diplomats, and there has been a recent series of tit-for-tat expulsions among diplomats from the two countries.

 

Lukashenka losing ground?

From Kommersant:

It's not completely clear what is driving Lukashenko to make threatening statements and simultaneously shy from each puff from without. Nevertheless, there are two possible conclusions to be made. The first is that the soil on which Lukashenko has stood firmly for so many years is gradually eroding. It would be a great exaggeration to say it's washing out from under his feet, but to all appearances, the process has started in Belarus, and the Belarussian political space, so tightly sealed off from the outside world, has become unsealed, and this makes Lukashenko very uneasy. The second conclusion is that in the struggle for his regime's survival, the Belarussian leader has apparently decided to gamble on internal reserves rather than outside forces, counting on most of Belarussian society to rally round him. The means aren't new, but they have repeatedly proven their reliability. As is well known, there is no better way to unite the nation than to declare that the homeland is in danger, that it's surrounded by enemies and ill-wishers. And there is only one person capable of delivering the blow, but he needs help to do this – nationwide help. Lukashenko is not afraid to make shrill pronouncements against the West, because in relations with the West, he has nothing to lose. He's already lost everything there was to lose. As for Ayatskov, he's the best figure for showing his toughness and high principles. After all, the Russian ambassador isn't the Russian president.

Friday, July 15, 2005

 

Vacation

There will be a break in posting for the next couple of weeks while the maintainers of this blog are away. Normal service will resume in August.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

 

Maltese MEP on Belarus

From The Times of Malta:

During the past year I got to follow the developments in Belarus quite closely. I met with both government and opposition officials. I was one of those who argued for giving Alexander Lukashenko's government the benefit of the doubt and see whether the situation could change. The situation has indeed changed, but to the worse.

We are witnessing the political cleansing of practically all the opposition leaders. The potential challengers of the current President in the next election have all been jailed. The arrests of Marinich, Levaneuski, Vaileu, Skrabets, Statkevich and Sevyarynets are a case in point. Mr Skrabets has now been on a hunger strike for more than 40 days to protest against his arrest. The authorities' reaction is simply to ignore him.

The opposition forces, which are now finally getting together, are quite sure that once they name their official candidate for President, he or she will be jailed too. The parties themselves are going underground since stricter obligations are being imposed on their registration. For example, a political party must now have a registered address in a public building. Nevertheless, few landlords are willing to rent part of their property for such purposes since they are afraid of possible consequences.

The key to a future free Belarus is a free media. The present channels are practically monopolised by the regime. Coverage of the opposition is minimal, if not non-existent. This is why both the opposition forces are calling for the setting up of a radio station in a neighbouring country to broadcast in the Belorussian territory. Both the European Union and the United States are considering financing this project.

Unfortunately, Brussels is slow to move. It is slow in diverting funds towards civil society and towards projects that can help young people and women, which are two particularly vulnerable groupings in the country.

The EU is also slow in implementing other proposals that have been put forward by the European Parliament, including the setting up of a fund to help the families of those politicians and journalists who have "disappeared" after having been critical of the regime. These families cannot even apply for the most basic social benefits as they cannot prove that their relatives are dead!

There is one other crucial player that can make a difference in this country: Russia. I am one of those who think that even more than the European Union or the United States, it is Vladimir Putin who holds the key to a peaceful solution to the problems of Belarus.

 

Putin rival faces investigation

From The Guardian:

Prosecutors in Moscow announced last night that they had opened a criminal investigation into the former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov for illegal acquisition of property.
Mr Kasyanov, prime minister during Vladimir Putin's first term as president and finance minister under Boris Yeltsin, emerged this year as a potential contender for the presidency in 2008 and in February called on the opposition to unite, accusing Mr Putin of stifling democratic values such as an independent judiciary and media, and a free business climate.

Recent newspaper reports have accused Mr Kasyanov of using a front company for the purchase of a prime piece of state land for a fraction of its worth on the day he left office in February last year.
The claims were widely seen as "kompromat" - compromising allegations designed to warn Mr Kasyanov to stay away from politics.

Last night, the general prosecutor's office confirmed the investigation was initiated by Alexander Khinshtein, a journalist and pro-Kremlin deputy in the lower house of parliament. It did not give details.

 

New Internet cafe for Uzbek journalists

From uzreport.com:

The OSCE Centre in Tashkent has launched its second Internet Cafe for Journalists today, opening new possibilities for media professionals who need access to the up-to-date global information network.

"Free and professional media are vital for the development of modern democratic societies," said Ambassador Miroslav Jenca, the Head of the OSCE Centre in Tashkent, in his opening speech.

"I hope this resource centre will not only contribute to your professional growth, but also become a place for communication and exchange of experience for the journalists of Samarkand."

The successful experience of the Internet Cafe for Journalists in Tashkent, which has been functioning since November 2003, has prepared the ground for a similar initiative in Samarkand (central Uzbekistan). A third one will officially be opened in Nukus (Republic of Karakalpakstan) soon.

 

Kyrgyz election shows 'democratic progress'

From The Financial Times:

Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Monday won a landslide victory in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, replacing Askar Akayev, who fled the Central Asian country in March during a popular uprising.

Mr Bakiyev, acting president since Mr Akayev’s fall and one of the six candidates in the poll, won over 88 per cent of the votes, according to preliminary results broadcast by the Central Election Commission.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which drafted 346 observers to monitor the election, said the vote marked “tangible democratic progress” in the country.

“The election marked a clear progress, although the quality of the process deteriorated during the count,” Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of the OSCE’s delegation to Kyrgyzstan, said in a statement.

 

23 Americans detained in Belarus

From Interfax:

MINSK. July 8 (Interfax) - Belarussian law enforcement agencies have detained 23 U.S. citizens without registration documents in the district of Stolbtsy, Minsk region, the Belarussian Interior Ministry told Interfax on Friday.

"Officers from the Stolbtsy district police and the State Security Committee department for Minsk and the Minsk region detained 23 U.S. citizens staying in Belarussian territory without registration near the village of Nikolayevshchina in the district of Stolbtsy at 7:30 p.m. Thursday," the Interior Ministry said.

 

EU parliament urges sanctions on Belarus

From The International Herald Tribune:

Sanctions against Belarus should be broadened, the European Parliament said in a resolution Thursday in response to what it described as violations of media freedom in that former Soviet state.

In a nonbinding resolution, Parliament condemned what it called "indiscriminate attacks" on media freedom under the government of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

These have included "arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment of detainees, disappearances and politically motivated persecution," Parliament said.

The resolution urged the executive European Commission and European Union member governments to create a support program for independent journalists. It also envisioned a possible ban on visas for Belarus officials implicated in abridging press freedoms.

In Minsk, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ruslan Yesin, dismissed the resolution.

"When issues of fighting terrorism are center stage throughout the world, some parliamentarians still discuss the affairs of a country with a stable political and socioeconomic system," he said.

 

Armenia detains Turkish historian

From The Herald-Sun (North Carolina):

Duke University doctoral student Yektan Turkyilmaz is something of a rarity in the chronically uneasy relationship between Turkey and neighboring Armenia: a Turkish historian accepted by Armenians as impartial.

Which makes it seem all the more odd to his Duke associates, friends and family that after allowing him to conduct research at Armenia's national archives -- reportedly the first Turk ever to do so -- Armenian authorities have detained him for more than three weeks.

Despite pleas from Duke administrators and others, Turkyilmaz remains in a legal limbo. Although he has not been charged, he ran afoul of an Armenian law that makes it a crime to take any book more than 50 years old out of the country without permission.

While researching in Armenia, Turkyilmaz bought several second-hand books from street vendors, said his adviser, Duke professor Orin Starn.

Turkyilmaz had finished a six-week stint at the Armenian archives in the capital city of Yerevan, the last leg of travels that also have taken him to Paris and Ankara, Turkey, for his dissertation on Turkey and the surrounding region in the early 20th century. He was pulled off a departing plane at Yerevan's airport on June 17 and held by Armenia's National Security Service.

He has not been allowed to communicate with his family in Turkey or with Duke associates, although he now has a lawyer, Starn said. The lawyer has relayed word that Turkyilmaz is in good health and says he has not been mistreated, said Starn, who has communicated with Turkyilmaz's sister in Istanbul.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

 

Belarusian papers seek new names to satisfy law

From Charter 97:

The limited liability company “Belorusskaya Gazeta” has been reregistered as “BelGazeta” Ltd, told director of the edition Ihar Vysotski to BelaPAN. As said by him, the next stage is to be re-registration of the newspaper under the same name.

As we have informed, according to the decree of Alyaksandr Lukashenka of May 31, 2005 “On additional measures regulating of the use of the words “national” and “Belarusian” in the names of commercial and non-commercial organizations of the country”, these words could be used only by state-owned organizations and mass media, and by the political parties, national public associations, trade unions and banks. According to the document, organizations and mass media which do not correspond to the requirements of the decree are to be reregistered within three months.

 

Fourth fake newspaper published in Belarus

From Charter 97:

The forth “pirate” issue of the “Glosu znad Niemna”, issued without sanction of the Union of Poles of Belarus, has been printed [see earlier item]. It is stated there that Viktar Kruczkouski, living in Vaukavysk region, is acting editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Radio Svaboda informs. Viktar Kruczkouski is brother of the former head of the Union of Poles in Belarus Tadeusz Kruczkouki, recognized by the authorities as the head of the Union as before. Earlier the name of the editor-in-chief was absent in the newspaper, and it has been written only about an “editorial office”.

 

Kyrgyzstan stops repatriating Uzbeks

From BBC News:

Kyrgyzstan has called a partial halt to the repatriation of refugees who fled Uzbekistan in May, after a bloody crackdown in the Uzbek city of Andijan.
Foreign Minister Rosa Otunbayeva said no Uzbeks would be returned unless the country's situation changed.

However, the chief prosecutor said 12 Uzbeks who are already convicted criminals will still be repatriated.

Hundreds of refugees sought shelter in Kyrgyzstan after Uzbek government troops fired on protesters in Andijan.

Kyrgyzstan's government has already sent back four Uzbeks and announced it would deport 29 more.

The United Nations has said the decision to return refugees violated international conventions.

Top Kyrgyz prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov, who has spearheaded moves to deport the Uzbeks, said on Tuesday that 12 Uzbeks would still be returned because, as convicted criminals, they did not have refugee status.

 

Uzbekistan: Beaten journalist still in hospital

From Radio Free Europe:

RFE/RL's reporter in Gulistan, Uzbekistan (120 km south of the capital Tashkent), Ms. Lobar Qaynarova, remains in the hospital with severe injuries to her face and abdomen, as well as bruises to much of her body, which she sustained during a nearly three-hour beating by attackers in the early evening of Friday, July 1, 2005.

Qaynarova was attacked by a man and two women inside the stairwell of her apartment upon returning from covering a local trial of youths charged with theft. The attackers continued to beat her while dragging her out of her apartment building and pushing her into a waiting "Moskvich" van, where they continued to beat her while driving around from approximately 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm local time. The assailants threw her out of the van with her clothing and purse in front of her home, but kept her recording equipment and disks of the trial proceedings.

Qaynarova has told local police who questioned her at the hospital that she recognized one of her attackers as the ex-wife of her husband. Local police today found Qaynarova's recorder, but not the discs, and say they "are learning" the case. There appears to be no criminal investigation at the moment.

Yesterday, Svetlana Artykova, the spokesperson for Uzbek Prosecutor General Rashid Kadirov in Tashkent, denied that Qaynorova had been severely injured and falsely reported that Qaynorova had not been hospitalized.

In recent weeks, Qaynarova had been interviewing human rights activists throughout the Syrdarya and Jizzah regions who have reported coming under intense government harassment. Before the Friday attack, she had been recently threatened several times by phone for "putting her nose into politics." Gulistan is the capital of Syrdarya region.


So far there's no word on whether Qaynarova's unborn child survived the assault.

 

Uzbek activist arrested in Kazakhstan

From The Moscow Times:

An Uzbek human rights activist who criticized a recent bloody government crackdown on protesters has been arrested in neighboring Kazakhstan following a request from Uzbekistan to deport him, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.

Lutfulo Shamsitdinov, who fled Uzbekistan after government troops killed up to 750 people in a May uprising, was detained Monday by police in the commercial capital, Almaty, said Narasimha Rao, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kazakhstan.

Rao said it was not clear what charges Shamsitdinov, who together with his family has been recognized as a refugee by the UN, was facing.

Rao said the UN agency protested the Kazakh authorities' move, as it violated the country's obligations under the UN convention on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. He said no response had been received so far.

Kazakh officials were not available for comment on Tuesday.

 

New Armenian constitution has a long way to go

From EurasiaNet:

Armenia’s ruling coalition and opposition appear poised to reach a consensus on amendments to the country’s constitution. The breakthrough comes after persistent intervention by the Council of Europe and could signal an end to the opposition’s 18-month boycott of parliament.

Constitutional reform is a pivotal political issue for Armenia. Overtures to western organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union have picked up pace in recent years and Yerevan appears eager to throw its lot more decidedly with the West. Making the case that the government is committed to democratic reform constitutes a key part of that process.

The changes advocated by the Venice Commission and opposition and accepted by the government cover three main areas. Under the Commission’s recommendations, the president would no longer be able to dismiss the prime minister at will and a new prime minister would require the approval of a majority of parliament’s members.

The election of Yerevan’s mayor presented a second key concession. Under Armenia’s current constitution, the country is divided into 11 provinces (marzs), with governors appointed by the central government. Yerevan, home to roughly half of the country’s population of 2.98 million, holds the status of a province. Apparently fearing the emergence of a powerful political rival, both Kocharian and Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian (1990-1998), had favored keeping the mayorship an appointed position.

The third concession concerned the Council of Justice, a body that plays a key role in appointing judges. The government had initially refused to remove provisions from the draft constitution that name the president chairman of the council. The Council of Europe had recommended that such a change was necessary to establish the independence of judicial power.

After final changes are made to the document and approved by parliament in late August, the proposed constitution will be put to Armenian voters this November in a national referendum.

With the opposition already welcoming the government’s decision to accept the Venice Commission’s recommendations, both sides now appear optimistic about the course of political change. "It’s too important that the referendum to be held in Armenia by November be crowned with success and Armenia receive a new chance for its development, [for the] extension of democracy, as a result of which the country will become a [leader] in the South Caucasus," Noyan Tapan news agency reported Torosian as saying in explaining the decision to adopt the Commission’s proposals and work with the opposition.

The newfound agreement, however, came as the result of steady pressure. An earlier referendum in 2003, submitted by the government one year later than promised, failed to gain voters’ support. Past delays in advancing constitutional reform prompted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to include this issue as an urgent topic of discussion in its June 2005 session.

In a June 23 resolution during PACE’s summer assembly, the body delivered a de facto ultimatum to Armenia for this latest draft: "The Assembly strongly believes that, for the sake of its own people and for the sake of its further European integration, Armenia cannot afford another failure of the constitutional referendum." The document calls on Armenia to hold a referendum on an amended constitution no later than November 20005 and for the opposition to end its boycott of parliament, launched following the disputed re-election of President Kocharian in 2003, and promote the Council of Europe’s recommendations.

Armenia will resubmit its draft constitution to the Venice Commission by July 7 for further discussion.

However, numerous difficulties remain. Armenia’s ruling coalition must approve the changes made based on the recommendations and send the document once again to the Venice Commission for approval.

Only after parliament approves the final draft document, will preparations for the November referendum begin. These include a public awareness campaign as well as work to remove irregularities from voter lists that have plagued past Armenian votes.

Getting Armenians to turn out for the vote, however, could prove the ultimate test. In a recent poll conducted by the private Vox Populi organization, only 29 percent of some 624 Yerevan residents definitely planned to take part or were likely to take part in the November referendum, Armenialiberty.org reported.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

 

Orthodox Church: Human rights won't work in Russia

From MosNews:

Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchy have suggested Russia should work out its own distinctive view on human rights, Itar-Tass reports.

The West has been trying to thrust its own opinion of the issue on Russia, “an opinion that ignores values of state and society,” Father Vsevolod Chaplin, who is in charge of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, said at a round table discussion devoted to rights problems in Russia.

According to Chaplin, “[the Orthodox Church] needs to begin a serious discourse on the issue in order to determine what is more valuable than human rights.” Although he named values such as “Motherland, nation and the security of one’s neighbors”, he did not specify if they are the most important in his opinion.

 

Sakharov Museum sentence upheld

From Interfax:

The Moscow City Court has upheld the sentence against the organizers of the Beware of Religion exhibition, which was held at the Andrei Sakharov museum, who were earlier found guilty of fomenting inter-religious discord and fined.

The defense had asked for "the remission of the sentence and closing of the case due to the lack of corpus delicti," lawyer Anna Stavitskaya told Interfax.

The evidence considered by the court did not prove the charges against Yury Samodurov, director of the Andrei Sakharov center and museum, and employee Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, the defense said.

 

Russia won't charge Jewish group or anti-Semites

Following the police investigation into the distribution of a medieval Jewish text, Russian prosecutors have announced that they will not bring charges against the Congress of Jewish Organizations. Nor will they prosecute the signers of a letter that called for Judaism to be outlawed. From Interfax:

The Prosecutor General's Office has confirmed that it will not open a criminal case against the authors of a letter that called for the banning of Jewish organizations in Russia, nor will it act against the publication of a book on Jewish law.

"An investigation staged in accordance with a decision of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office related to statements by two groups of citizens confirmed that the decision [not to open the cases] was legal and reasonable," First Deputy Prosecutor Yury Biryukov told Interfax on Tuesday.

 

Uzbekistan brings charges against news organisation

From ferghana.ru:

Upping the stakes in a year-long campaign to limit the activities of western non-governmental democracy organizations, Uzbek authorities have brought criminal charges against Internews, a leading international media rights organization. Internews Network, a US based non-profit media organization, began operations in Uzbekistan in 1995 where it has helped develop Uzbekistan's independent, private television stations through trainings, technical assistance and support of local news and information programming.

On Monday the Uzbek government formally charged local Internews Network staff with conspiracy to engage in productions of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses. A former Internews director, and an Internews accountant, is charged with violating Article 190(2) b of the Uzbek criminal code - a crime punishable by up to six months in prison.

Pressure on Internews and other democracy organizations escalated after popular uprisings in neighboring Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. A massacre of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in the city of Andijan on May 13th brought demands by the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. government and others for an independent investigation. In spite of these appeals, pressures on international NGOs working in the country have only increased.

In pursuing its case against Internews, the Ministry of Justice has demanded that Internews cease educating lawyers involved in the field of mass media, close down the activities of its Media Resource Center for Fergana Valley in the city of Namangan, stop publishing the periodicals Vestnik TV (TV News) and Erkin Soz (Freedom of Speech), and end production of two popular TV news programs.


When we last checked, Internews's Uzbekistan web site seemed to have been taken down. Their international site is here.

 

Marinich's sons visit him in hospital

From Charter 97:

Belarusian political prisoner Mikhail Marynich, placed to republican hospital was visited by his sons, leaders of the civil initiative “Freedom to political prisoners!”, members of “Free Belarus” Igor and Pavel Marynich. As said by the sons of the political prisoner, the state of health of Mikhail Marynich had not improved at all. “Father is an ill man. He has not recovered after the stroke. The leg is not functioning well, and he has pain in his arm. And now he has a rather serious eye infection. He could have lost eyesight if not provided medical aid in good time,” said Pavel Marynich to the Charter’97 press center. However, as said by him, Mikhail Marynich is cheerful, and he passes words of gratitude to all those who support him.

 

EU parliament to focus on Belarus

From Charter 97:

The discussion of the situation in Belarus is one of the main questions of the imminent session of the European parliament, which is to be held on July 4-7 in Strasbourg (France). According to the Belarusian mass media, they where informed about it by the head of the delegation of the European parliament on relations with Belarus Adam Klich (Poland).

The European parliamentarians plan to discuss the developments of the political situation in the country and the state of Belarusian independent media. On the agenda is passing of resolution on Belarus. Klich notes that the final variant of the document is not approved. In particular, the draft resolution says that a radio station for broadcasting for Belarus is to be launched in one of the neighbouring countries. The European parliament is also going to express concern over the situation of Polish diaspora in Belarus, after the interference of the Belarusian authorities in the activities of the public association “union of Poles in Belarus”.

 

More youth activists detained in Belarus

From Charter 97:

On July 3 activists of youth branch of the United Civil Party, the “Young Democrats, organized a protest against renaming of central streets and prospects of Minsk by Lukashenka’s decree. Leaflets and badges with portraits of Frantsysk Skaryna and Pyotr Masherau were handed out to Minsk dwellers fro about 15 minutes. After that riot policemen detained the activists.

16 activists of the “Young Democrats” at the noon came out to Surhanau Street in Minsk, and handed out badges with the portraits of Frantsysk Skaryna and Pyotr Masherau, and the leaflets with the call to defend the earlier names of the streets, which were changed by Lukashenka’s decree on May 7.

The participants of the action have managed to march only several hundreds meters. By the “Riga” shop they were caught up by riot police detachment. Policemen ringed the young people and ordered to show documents. After that they were escorted to police bus.

Eight protesters were taken to Soviet police department. The young people were asked to provide explanation. Agitation materials were confiscated. In three hours they were released.

 

Stalin portraits displayed at Minsk ceremony

From Charter 97:

On Sunday official ceremony on the occasion of the Independence Day and the 61st anniversary of Minsk liberation from fascist troops took place. The central event of the celebration was a march of war veterans from October Square to Victory Square along the former Skaryna Avenue. The column was lead by Lukashenka and was carrying the portrait of Stalin. The portrait was demonstrated by Belarusian TV during the live broadcast many times, Radio Svaboda informs.

In the evening a great number of citizens of Minsk was disappointed as the police did not let them into the Kastrychnitskaya (October) Square, where a concert was to take place. Suddenly three lines of policemen blocked Skaryna Avenue near the Circus. A mass of people did not know where to go. The sentiment I the crowd where becoming extreme.

The sports competitions on rollers a day before with participation of Lukashenka, where not so popular as the concert. The traffic on Masherau Avenue was stopped, and security men were standing along the street tightly. The head of the country naturally was the winner in the competition, with a great break-off from other representatives of authorities.

 

Pregnant reporter beaten in Uzbekistan

From The Hindu News:

A reporter for US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who is four months pregnant was beaten in Uzbekistan after receiving threats, the station's correspondent said today.

Lobar Qaynarova was attacked on Friday by unidentified assailants in central Syrdarya province's capital, Gulistan, 120 kms south of the national capital, Tashkent, journalist Sadriddin Ashurov said.

Qaynarova was beaten in the stomach, her nose was broken, and her tape recorder was stolen, Ashurov said. She recently interviewed local Opposition activists, after which she received threats from unknown people who told her "not to mess with politics," Ashurov said. She has been hospitalized, but her condition is unknown, Ashurov said.

 

U.S. asks Azerbaijan to punish fraud

From Today.Az:

The USA ambassador in Azerbaijan Reno Harnish told the journalists that joint measure is taken with government and all political forces.

“We don’t support any political party and political candidate” - said the ambassador stating that, he backs the order on improving of election practice signed by President Ilham Aliyev.

R.Harnish told that a lot of work should be done in this field and calls on Azerbaijan government to punish the committers of fraud in the elections. He offered the assistance of his country in this matter: “We can assist the government of Azerbaijan concerning the functions of an organization and an institute in punishing those committing fraud in the elections and how it should be regulated by the legislation and other issues”.

R.Harnish called on the heads of executive powers to respect the right of free assembly of people as it is in Baku in his visit to the Western regions.

 

PACE representatives visit Azerbaijan, Ukraine

From A1plus AM:

Today the PACE co-reporters Andreas Gross and Andres Herkel will arrive in Baku. The aim of the visit is to investigate the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan and the course of the reforms. Monitorings will be held both in Baku and in the residences of the national minorities. {BR}

There will also be meetings with the representatives of the opposition and the Parliamentary fractions.


From noticias.info:


high-level delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) – made up of the Assembly’s President René van der Linden and the leaders of its five political groups – is to make a visit to Ukraine from 5 to 8 July 2005.

Explaining the purpose of the visit, Mr van der Linden said: “The Orange Revolution inspired many, but now comes the hard work of making Ukraine a truly democratic country, where European standards fully apply. A day after his inauguration, President Yushchenko came to Strasbourg and asked for the Council of Europe’s help. We have already responded, but the purpose of this visit is to find out what more we can do together. The success of democratic reforms in Ukraine is important for the whole region.”

The delegation will meet President Viktor Yushchenko, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, as well as former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and representatives of other opposition political forces and NGOs. PACE President René van der Linden will address the Verkhovna Rada on Wednesday 6 July at 4 p.m. (see programme).

 

Andijan 'showed Karimov's weakness, not strength'

From Kommersant:

After Uzbekistani authorities suppressed the uprising in Andijan in May, at the cost of hundreds of dead and wounded, many, including many in Russia, took Islam Karimov's cruelty as a sign of the strength of his regime. The line of thought was that he, unlike Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma or Askar Akasev, was able to resist unrest on the streets and showed the decisiveness to prevent a velvet revolution and strangle it in its very infancy.


But now it can be seen that the events in Andijan were evidence of the weakness of the Karimov regime. The strength of any ruler is his ability to control the situation without the use of military force against his own people. By giving the order to shoot into the unarmed crowd, he showed his weakness and that he is no longer fit to rule the country. And that diagnosis will be acted upon without doubt. It is just a matter of time.

The unavoidability of that outcome is understood by both those close to the Uzbek president and his opponents. This is clear from the battle beginning in the Uzbekistani elite, especially law-enforcement heads, to be his successor. In his presence, the battle is exclusively to draw closer to the president, who has no intentions of going anywhere, and not to succeed him.

Another sign of Karimov's impending departure is the burst of energy from the democratic opposition, such as the visit by leader of the Erk Party Mohammed Salih to the United States. Washington had condemned the use of force in Andijan before the visit. Now, organizational steps may be taken, such as the international isolation of the Karimov regime. That will be a serious lesson for other authoritarian rulers in the CIS and more confirmation that the wave of velvet revolutions is not over there.

 

Karimov's neighbours show support

From The Globe and Mail (Canada):

The political climate of Central Asia has become so supportive of Uzbek President Islam Karimov that it's impossible to criticize the killing of protesters in Andijan, the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister says.

In an interview, Roza Otunbayeva suggested that she doesn't necessarily share the opinion of the leaders of Russia, China and Central Asian countries who will gather tomorrow for a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization.

Members of the group have closed ranks around Uzbekistan in the days before the meeting, declaring their support for Mr. Karimov and his bloody crackdown on May 13 that left hundreds of corpses in the streets.

Kyrgyzstan will remain silent on the issue. "We are very much committed to human rights," Ms. Otunbayeva said. "But sometimes the realpolitik is very tough."

As leaders from Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan prepared for the two-day meeting in the Kazakhstani capital of Astana, several of them clearly signalled their intention to warmly welcome Mr. Karimov.

Foreign ministers from each country scrupulously avoided criticizing the Andijan events during a meeting on June 4 to set an agenda for the summit, focusing instead on plans to set parameters for joint anti-terrorism operations and sharing lists of terrorists in the region.

On Friday, the Chinese official leading the Shanghai group told a news conference in Beijing that China believes Uzbekistan was defending itself against terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a similar view on Tuesday, as he welcomed the Uzbek leader at his home outside Moscow.

In the shadow of such major powers, the fledging, post-revolutionary Kyrgyz government cannot argue publicly, Ms. Otunbayeva said.

"We have a difference of opinion," she acknowledged, but added: "In this region, we are eternal neighbours. It's a difficult path. We face all sorts of problems."

"What happened in my country, the revolution of [March] 24, I do appreciate that none of our neighbours have been involved in our internal affairs. They didn't try to save Akayev as their comrade," she said, referring to former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev, who fled to Russia during this spring's Tulip Revolution.

"You can talk about our braveness or not. But many countries, which are far away from Uzbekistan, they didn't express their opinion at all. They were very mildly critical, very mildly reflecting on these events."

Monday, July 04, 2005

 

Belarusian institute to be 'liquidated'

From Viasna:

On 30 June the assembly of teachers and students of the Institute of Contemporary Knowledge was held in Minsk. At the assembly the intention to liquidate the three branches of the institute in Vitsiebsk, Hrodna and Bierastsie as well as the department of law and social technologies in Minsk was declared. It was also said that the liquidation was initiated by the Ministry of Education, which considered that the education at these units of the institute didn’t meet the present standards.

According to the assembly participants the real reason is that the institute is private, that’s why he will follow the fate of Iakub Kolas Humanities University and European Humanities University.

The Institute of Contemporary Knowledge was established in 1990 and is the first non-state educational establishment of the country. It educates specialists in economy, law, humanities and art criticism.

 

Kosher grocery attacked in Moscow

From MosNews:

Two young men wearing gas masks attacked Moscow’s only kosher foods store, spraying unknown gas and shouting out anti-Semitic slogans, Interfax reported Sunday quoting the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

Short before the closing time on Saturday, two young men broke into the shop in Maryina Rosha, a few minutes’ walk away from the Jewish Community Center.

The men were wearing gas masks, one had a Kalashnikov gun dummy in his hands. After spraying the unidentified gas, they took the insides of the store to pieces, the Federation’s officials said.

“The attackers were shouting ”Beat the Jews, save Russia!“ and hailing Hitler,” Rabi Uri Spassky, who witnessed the scene, said.

The attackers were identified as two employees of a nearby shop, chairman of the Federation’s board Alexander Boroda told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Now that they have been identified, it is expected that they will be detained.

 

Officials hamper Kasparov's campaign

From The Moscow Times:

Whatever welcome Garry Kasparov was expecting when he toured the North Caucasus last week, the rude reception he received from local authorities appeared to take the chess champion-turned-liberal politician aback by its ferocity.

In Dagestan, police prevented him from visiting a refugee camp; in North Ossetia, he had eggs covered in ketchup thrown at him; in three cities the authorities refused to allow his plane to land; and in town after town meeting venues were canceled or suffered power outages, and hotels became mysteriously booked up or closed for repairs.

Kasparov, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin and a leading member of the United Civil Front, a newly established opposition group, was touring the North Caucasus on a campaign stump last week. On his itinerary were meetings with ethnic Dagestani refugees and the Beslan Mothers' Committee, but instead Kasparov spent most of his time struggling to overcome various obstacles put in his way, in some cases apparently by local authorities.

Kasparov is not the first opposition politician to find his campaigning efforts sabotaged or obstructed. In 2004, presidential candidate Sergei Glazyev saw his campaign thwarted as electricity was turned off at meeting venues in various cities, and he had to resort to holding meetings on the street.

Kasparov had a plane chartered specially for his tour, but airports in Stavropol, Rostov-on-Don and Taganrog refused to allow it to land.

"We made no secret of our itinerary. We distributed it to reporters," Kasparov's spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich said. "Those who tried to sabotage our trip clearly had this program in front of their eyes."

A campaign visit to Novosibirsk by Kasparov last month was also hit by cancellations, with authorities forbidding him from holding meetings at a college with students and opposition politicians, and a local television station canceling a planned studio appearance.

When he spoke outside a house of culture in Vladikavkaz, a group of teenagers threw eggs covered in ketchup at him, Litvinovich said.

Local authorities denied any involvement in the incident, and state media in Moscow accused Kasparov of trying to "make political capital" out of the Beslan tragedy.

North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov said that the teenagers had attacked Kasparov in a "spontaneous demonstration of their feelings."

"Three days before the visit of Garry Kimovich, anti-government and anti-presidential posters and manifestos were placed on all the walls. So people had plenty of time to form their own point of view and think about what they wanted to do," Mamsurov said in an interview published in Thursday's Rossiiskaya Gazeta government newspaper.

"Accusations in our direction or in the direction of the special services are absolutely groundless. It is quite clear from the videotape that the teenagers were throwing eggs and ketchup. As we all know, teenagers do not serve in the FSB," Mamsurov said.

Litvinovich and at least one journalist traveling with Kasparov said that they saw the teenagers who threw the eggs being brought to the meeting and driven away in a police vehicle after the incident.

"What is very important is that people were coming up to us in North Ossetia to say that they were sorry about what the authorities were doing, and to apologize that they could not show us traditional Caucasus hospitality," Kasparov said.

 

Christian tortured in Uzbekistan

From Forum 18:

A Pentecostal Christian in the capital, Tashkent, has been tortured by police since being arrested on 14 June, and other church members have been summoned and threatened, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. 19-year-old Kural Bekjanov was tortured by both police officers and prisoners to try to force him to abandon Christianity. His mother, Gulya, saw him on 26 June, when he had lost weight, had difficulty walking and his fingers and legs were covered in blood. "His mother heard the cries of her own son and begged them to stop beating him," Forum 18 was told. "They told her it wasn't her son's cries, but she said she knew the sound of her own son's voice. Yesterday police threatened to put him on a chair wired up to the electricity – believe me, all this is happening," a church member told Forum 18. Protestants in Karakalpakstan, in north-west-Uzbekistan, the targets of a long running anti-Christian campaign by the authorities, have told Forum 18 of renewed difficulties in meeting. Elsewhere, the trial of six members of the Bethany Church in Tashkent has been fixed for 7 July, after police raided the church whilst a service was taking place.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

 

Youth opposition hold football tournament in Belarus

From Zubr:

Annual tournament among amateur teams organized by youth center “Volat” and “Zubr” movement was held in Barysau.

16 teams from different parts of the city took part in it. More than 150 young people were struggling for title of the best amateur team of Barysau and suburbs under national white-red-white flag. Team “Agregat” won the title. The second position was occupied by “Darida”, the third by “Academic”.

It is remarkable that pro-Lukashenka youth organization BRSM was trying to organize the tournament the same days. But they did not succeed. Only five teams took part in their tournament in spite of serious financial support from authorities.

 

Fake newspapers printed to discredit Union of Poles

From Viasna:

Three unofficial issues of the Glos znad Niemna that came out contrary to the leadership of the Union of Poles in Belarus were funded by Hrodna Region Executive Committee. The senior editor of the newspaper Andrzej Pisalnik learnt this from the distributor of the Glos znad Niemna – Belsaiuzdruk.

Pisalnik told the Polish Radio that in case the next illegal issue of the paper comes out, the UPB will stage a protest. It is not ruled out that the protest will take place on 3 July. The UPB activist said that the local Poles will come with slogans and transparencies to the meeting staged by the Hrodna authorities on the occasion of the holiday. "Because three issues of the newspaper were published by unknown people, we reported the illegal activities to the procurator's office and the police. However, our appeals were not answered", said Andrzej Pisalnik.

The media argue that the illegal Glos znad Niemna is published by the former UPB chair Tadeusz Kruczkowski whom the Belarusian authorities attempt to support using any methods.

 

Freedom of speech in Belarus has deteriorated

From Viasna:

The American Center for Exchange and International Research (IREX) reports the deteriorated situation with the freedom of speech in Belarus last year. This information is provided in the "Index of media stability in 2004". The "Index" offers an assessment of the development of the media in the 20 countries of Eurasia. The report assesses the freedom of speech, pluralism of the media available to the public, standards of professional journalism, media stability and efficiency of the institutes that support the independent media, says the Charter-97 press service.

Last year the Ministry of Information of Belarus suspended the activity of 25 newspapers for "minor technical violations" in the opinion of experts. With the help of presidential decrees, new norms and unofficial instructions, the government deprived the independent media of the possibility to obtain and distribute news and earn money", says the report. Furthermore, the central and regional authorities prevent "problem journalists" from getting accreditation, and unofficially forbid printers to print opposition newspapers.

"At the same time the Constitution of Belarus guarantees the freedom of speech, the authorities in fact permanently persecute those whose words do not agree with the state policy", says the "Index of media stability in 2004". "Draft laws show that access to the Internet will be restricted. Also, a state public council for media control may be created", argue American experts. Last year the greatest progress among the countries that are investigated has been made by Ukraine.

 

Belarus to formalise controls on political groups

From the Assembly of Belarusian Pro-Democratic NGOs:

On June 29 Belarusian House of Representatives adopted amendments to the Law on Public Organizations. The draft will be forwarded to the Council of the Republic; it should be examined there within 20 days. Today, on June 30 the second session of the Council is closed up and now it is not known whether the senators will hurry up or whether they will approve the draft during their next session. The new law will come into force after it is signed by the president and published.

Mostly, those amendments were adopted just to include into the law the norms, invented by Łukašenka's administration. Among them: the ban on activities of not registered public organizations (it was already stipulated in the decree of the president), a lot of norms on registration of public organizations that were taken from the rules of registration and examining of the documents that are submitted for state registration of public organizations (approved by the Ministry of Justice). Also, liquidation of an organization because of so called "violation of the use of foreign gratuitous aid" (it means using foreign aid without permission from presidential administration, previously was stipulated in the president’s decree #24, 2003). However, the new version of the law implements a number of new grounds for liquidation of public organizations.

 

Military departments of Russian unis to close

As The Economist predicted, the Russian government is closing one of the loopholes young Russians use to avoid military conscription. MosNews reports:

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that most university military departments will be closed by 2009 in a bid to block a widely-used chance to avoid compulsory military service, local media reported.

For young Russian men, the military departments have provided an opportunity to receive the rank of reserve officer and thus escape serving in an army notorious for vicious hazing and poor living conditions, Associated Press points out.

According to the ministry only 30 to 35 of the country’s military departments would remain by 2009. “The others will be shut down,” Ivanov said.

All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve two years in the armed forces — three years for the navy. However, military officials have said that only 9.5 percent of eligible men are being drafted.

Many try to dodge service in the underfunded military by signing up for college, being excused for health reasons — often falsified — or paying bribes. While students who graduate without military training are automatically drafted into the army, most reserve officers avoid military service altogether.

Russian officials plan to switch part of the nation’s military from conscripts to volunteer soldiers and reduce the conscription term by one year — a measure expected to take effect by 2008. They say, however, that this will require enlisting twice as many conscripts — around half a million per year.

 

Rice criticises Belarus, Uzbekistan

From U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's Opening remarks at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's 14th annual session (posted on the State Department website:

The gains for freedom have been dramatic, but much remains to be done if Helsinki’s great promise is to be fully realized in all 55 signatory states.


Regrettably, the governments of some OSCE states, most notably Belarus and Uzbekistan, are failing to live up to their commitments on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They reject OSCE’s offers of assistance, charging interference in their internal affairs. That was a false charge when the Soviets made it and it is a false charge now.


Elsewhere in our OSCE community, frozen conflicts in the Caucasus and Moldova have yet to be resolved through peaceful settlements. And tensions in these regions also must be reduced through Russia’s fulfillment of its Istanbul Commitments. The recent agreement between Russia and Georgia is a positive step toward fulfilling those commitments.

 

Two convicted of killing Russian party leader

From The Moscow Times:

A St. Petersburg court on Thursday convicted Vitaly Akishin on charges of firing a gun that killed liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova in the stairwell of her apartment building in 1998, and sentenced him to 23 1/2 years in prison.

Former military intelligence officer Yury Kolchin, who was charged with organizing the murder, was also convicted and sentenced to 20 years, while four other suspects were cleared. A second gunman, who was dressed as a woman, and two other suspects in the high-profile murder remain at large.

Two more suspects are to go on trial soon, while the identity of the person who ordered the killing remains unknown.

Starovoitova, the outspoken leader of the Democratic Russia party, was 52 years old when she was shot dead in her St. Petersburg apartment building on the evening of Nov. 20, 1998. She was struck by three bullets.

Ending a 2 1/2-year trial, the St. Petersburg City Court found Akishin and Kolchin guilty of conspiring to kill a political figure in order to end her political and public activities.

Yuly Rybakov, a human rights advocate and former political ally of Starovoitova's, said the prison terms were too short, especially since the men could earn early release for good behavior in a few years.

"Such light sentences basically mean that all these people will be released in 10 years and will continue killing people for political reasons," he said.

Liberal politicians on Thursday urged the authorities to find out who had given the order.

"The value of life, even of a well-known politician, has sharply fallen today," said Sergei Ivanenko, a leader of the Yabloko party, Interfax reported. "And that is largely because the work of law enforcement agencies ... has shown either a lack of will or an inability to determine the people who order political murders."

"It can't fail to give us satisfaction that the killers got what they deserved, ... but it's bad that the people who ordered this politically motivated crime remain unidentified," said Boris Nadezhdin, a leader of the Union of Right Forces party.

Only one person has ever been convicted of ordering a murder in the handful of killings of prominent figures in post-Soviet Russia. Mikhail Kodanyov, who headed a wing of the Liberal Russia party that supported businessman Boris Berezovsky, was convicted in March 2004 of ordering the 2003 murder of Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, who headed a rival faction of Liberal Russia that had voted to expel Berezovsky.

 

Russian policeman jailed for not catching terrorists

From Kommersant:

The Domodedovo Court of the Moscow Region sentenced Thursday, June 30, former police captain Mikhail Artamonov to seven-year imprisonment. Artamonov failed to spot two Chechen shakhids, who let off bombs in Tu-134 and Tu-154 planes on August 24, 2004, having killed 98 people as a result. Mikhail Artamonov pled no guilty to the court.

The court hall was filled to capacity yesterday, mainly by the relatives and friends of Mikhail Artamonov. Only five relatives of 98 victims of the terror acts attended the hearing. Most of them have never believed in Artamonov’s guilt, saying the real party in fault is not the policeman but his direct bosses, who hadn’t properly arranged safety procedures in the airport, as well as East Line that manages it.

Nevertheless, judge Natalia Mishina declared Mikhail Artamonov guilty, saying he had failed to thoroughly search Satsit Dzhebirkhanova and Amanat Nagaeva, who arrived in Moscow from Makhachkala. The court decided Artamonov had ignored instructions to pay special attention to the Chechens, particularly to women from 20 to 40 years old.

"This performance with the criminal case against me was staged by the prosecutors not to bring to account the true guilty of tragedy. If the explosive device managed to find its way to board of the plane, it means the examination had not been properly arranged,” Artamonov said, having heard the verdict. “I have a feeling that I live somewhat in 1930s, when a man could have been pointed by finger and then “closed,”” Artamonov said.

Russia’s Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov called Artamonov guilty even before the trial. Ustinov said Artamonov had not searched the shakhids at all. But during the trial, it turned out Artamonov and other policemen had checked Dzhebirkhanova and Nagaeva but found no reasons for detention.

 

Another journalist killed in Russia

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the killing of Magomedzagid Varisov, the second journalist to be murdered this year in Russia, and called on interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to order an immediate investigation aimed at identifying both perpetrators and instigators and bringing them to justice.

Varisov was gunned down at around 9 p.m. on 28 June in Makhachkala (the capital of the southwestern republic of Dagestan) as he was getting out of his car in front of his home. He died instantly, while his driver, who was wounded by several shots, was hospitalized. His wife, who was also with him, was not hit. The police said they were looking for a black Lada car which the gunmen used to get away.

It seems likely that Varisov was killed because of his work as a journalist. The head of the political section of the weekly Novoye Delo, he was very critical of the Dagestan opposition in his articles. He also headed the Republican Centre for Strategic and Political Initiatives.

 

New 'security' laws in Kazakhstan

From Radio Free Europe:

The lower house of the Kazakh parliament on 29 June passed several new amendments to the Kazakh law on national security, Interfax reported. The amendments imposed new restrictions in several areas, including the Criminal Code and the laws regulating the activities of religious groups, the media and political parties. Some of the more controversial amendments include criminal penalties for "foreign citizens" engaging in the "financing" of political parties or conducting "activities to promote candidates and political parties" throughout the electoral process. An amendment covering the media specifically prohibits a "foreigner" from holding an editorial position in a Kazakh media outlet.

 

Group suggests reforms in Armenia's prisons

From Radio Free Europe:

An independent monitoring group comprised of representatives of a dozen NGOs and the Armenian Apostolic Church issued a report on 30 June calling on the Armenian government to address the "unsatisfactory" conditions in the country's penal institutions, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The report, based on a yearlong series of inspections of Armenian prisons, found that prisoners are forced to endure overcrowding and often deplorable living conditions, including inadequate food, water, and lighting, and an overall lack of proper sanitation. Oversight and management of Armenian prisons were transferred from the jurisdiction of the police to the Justice Ministry in 2002 in accordance with the recommendations of the Council of Europe. A Justice Ministry official responsible for penal conditions, Samvel Hovannisian, noted that the report's findings were generally accurate but explained that the Armenian government lacks the necessary funding needed to introduce serious improvements in living conditions.

 

Uzbek opposition asks for Western aid

From Radio Free Europe:

A leading Uzbek opposition figure, Muhammad Solih, is urging the United States and the European Union to expand their support for democracy activists in Uzbekistan. Solih says the events in Andijon in May demonstrate that democratization is the only way to ensure a peaceful transition in power from the regime of President Islam Karimov. But a U.S. State Department official says Washington does not want to be seen as an agent for revolutionary change in the region and is working with all parties to bring about gradual reforms.

"We do not ask for a lot from the West," Solih said. "We want the West to aid the legalization of political parties in Uzbekistan. We would like the West to aid the leaders of the opposition to function in Uzbekistan, to ensure the conduct of fair elections in Uzbekistan and the participation of the opposition in those elections and to ensure the existence of a free press. This in and of itself is enough to ensure the peaceful removal of this anti-democratic regime."

Solih announced that some key Uzbek opposition leaders have united and formed a new group -- the United Uzbek Democratic Coalition -- to press their cause. Solih was named their head.

The State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus is Matthew Bryza. He told RFE/RL on 30 June that the United States remains intent on guiding democratic reforms in Uzbekistan. But he made clear that Washington is not planning to focus its interests on opposition activists despite concerns over the actions of the Karimov government.

Bryza said Solih's visit to Washington was coincidental and did not reflect new ties with the Uzbek opposition.

"We work across the board with all Uzbek people -- with the government, with the political opposition, with people in the middle. We want to work with the entire society, as we do in the neighboring broader Middle East," Bryza said. "And that's an enduring interest of ours, so we haven't grown any more active in our engagement with all Uzbekistan society. Maybe the world is paying more attention to our engagement now."

 

Amnesty statement on Uzbek refugees

From Amnesty International:

More than 500 Uzbekistanis fled their country, and sought international protection and safety in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, after Uzbekistani government troops reportedly fired on demonstrators in the city of Andizhan on 13 May 2005.

The Uzbekistani government has requested the extradition of 131 refugees. Four people have already been forcibly returned by the Kyrgyz authorities in violation of Kyrgyzstan’s obligations under international law. More have been moved from the refugee camp to detention centres and are under threat of forcible return.

Nearly a month after the refugees first crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan, AI interviews revealed that refugees had not yet been provided with an effective opportunity to submit a claim for asylum - the Kyrgyz Migration Service had failed to initiate asylum procedures, in accordance with national law and international refugee standards.

The UNHCR has said that Uzbekistani refugees “face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions, if returned to Uzbekistan”.

Amnesty International is calling on the Kyrgyz authorities to respect their obligations under customary international law, as well as under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 3 of the (UN) Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Kyrgyzstan is a party, which prohibit the return of a person to a country or territory where they may face serious human rights violations.


Amnesty asks that its members write to the Kyrgyz authorities and ask them to start asylum proceedings for all who have fled Uzbekistan.

 

Brutality in Russia's army

From The Economist:

“Conscription,” Tolstoy wrote of the mid-19th century Russian army, “was like death.” Things may have improved a bit for the 350,000-odd young Russians now drafted in two batches each year. But scarcely a week passes without a case of conscripts being murdered, killing themselves, freezing to death, or deserting and sometimes going on violent rampages. According to official figures, the armed forces suffer roughly 1,000 non-combat deaths every year. Military prosecutors uncovered 46 in just one week in June.

This being Russia, that revelation, like prosecutors' other remarks about theft and embezzlement among officers, was seen as a bid to undermine Sergei Ivanov, the defence minister, who is tipped as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin. Mr Ivanov has promised more transparency over military deaths—a departure from his usual line, which is to insist that military depravity is declining. The normal justifications are that crime and suicide are national problems (“the army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases,” wrote Trotsky, “usually at a higher temperature”); and that other countries' armed forces suffer from them too.

Or that the problems do not exist at all. Vladimir Valuyev, admiral of Russia's Baltic Fleet, based at Baltisk in the Kaliningrad region, says that 12 sailors who deserted in April after alleged abuse simply did not want to go to sea. “We turn out real men,” says the admiral angrily.

However much it is still cited by runaway draftees, dedovshchina (rule of the grandfathers) is said by the defence ministry to be waning. Dividing conscripts into categories according to their length of service, this system of persecution evolved in Soviet times but has become more brutal over the past two decades. Younger conscripts who refuse its serf-like obligations, including begging and stealing, risk horrific, occasionally lethal punishment, which absent, callous or corrupt officers fail to prevent.

In 2008 the conscription term is due to be cut from two years to one; by the end of 2008, 70% of all troops are meant to be volunteers. A planned professional corps of non-commissioned officers might even tackle dedovshchina. At the barracks of the Tamansk division outside Moscow, which is evolving into an all-volunteer unit, privates say that conditions are much better than elsewhere: they sleep ten to a room, rather than 100. Officers say that contract soldiers are more interested in their pay than in bullying.

But dropping conscription altogether is still not in prospect. Colonel-General Anatoly Mazurkevich argues that if Russia's armed forces—now less than half their size at the collapse of the Soviet Union—shrink any more, they will be unable to defend the country's territory. A counter-argument is that these unreformed armed forces could never repel a serious invasion anyway. “If you've got 1.2m men who've got the wrong kit and can't be deployed,” says one western liaison officer, “the situation is not much better than when the Germans came.”

Russian generals have always relied on two strategic superfluities: lots of land and enough people to compensate for the poverty of their equipment, training and feeding. But Russia's rapidly shrinking population, combined with draft-dodging, is threatening the old calculus. Government talk of abolishing student deferments to bring in more and better-quality conscripts subsided after big protests over social reforms in January. Another idea being mooted to achieve the same goal is to cut the number of universities that offer military training alongside their normal academic courses. But if anything could alienate ordinary Russians from Mr Putin's still popular regime, the prospect of tens of thousands of their sons being called up just might be it.


Meanwhile, MosNews reports:


347 Russian servicemen died from January to May 2005, at least 101 of them committed suicide, the Defense Ministry said on its website.

Brutal hazing, widespread in Russian army, led to the deaths of eight conscripts, 88 were killed in road accidents, 83 servicemen died in other types of accidents, 39 were killed by civilians, and 14 died due to carelessness — one soldier accidentally killed himself while handling a weapon.

Since January Russian servicemen have committed at least 6,000 crimes.

The Defense Ministry reported in February that 1,100 people had died in the army in 2004, while a Russian soldiers’ rights group, Mother’s Right, says that about 3,000 conscripts die each year while doing their mandatory military service in Russia. The foundation’s head, Veronika Marchenko said that about 35 percent of parents seeking guidance in her foundation said that their sons had committed suicide. About 15 percent are the result of murder and beatings, while 17 percent are the result of military action.

 

Trepashkin's sentence reduced

From MosNews:

A Moscow court has reversed a sentence in the case of a retired FSB colonel and lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, convicted earlier of disclosing state secrets and unlawful possession of weapons. The court said Trepashkin was not guilty of the latter charge, although he will continue to serve his term for divulging state secrets.

The court satisfied an appeal filed by the colonel’s defence who had insisted on the reversal of the verdict.

Trepashkin will remain in prison to serve a sentence issued by the Moscow military district court for divulging state secrets. His defense lawyers will press for his release on parole, lawyer Yelena Liptser told the news agency.

On April 15 the Dmitrovsky Court in the Moscow region found Trepashkin guilty of unlawful possession of weapons and sentenced him to twelve months in prison.

Earlier he was sentenced to four years for disclosing state secrets, Liptser said.

The retired FSB colonel was detained in October 2003. Trepashkin pleaded innocent, claiming that the pistol found in his car had been intentionally planted on him by unscrupulous police officers.

In a case that human rights activists saw as politically driven, Trepashkin was accused of making copies of confidential documents during his service in the Soviet KGB, and in the Federal Security Service. The copies were allegedly found during a search in his apartment.

Trepashkin’s supporters claimed that the case against him was an act of revenge on the part of the regime after he had exposed evidence that could suggest government complicity in the killing of more than a hundred civilians during the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow.

Friday, July 01, 2005

 

Marinich back in hospital

From Charter 97:

Belarusian political prisoner Mikhail Marynich is hospitalized to Republican prison hospital. He was placed there because of a sudden worsening of eyesight. On July 1 the son of the political prisoner, leader of the civil initiative “Freedom to political prisoners”, member of the “Free Belarus”, Pavel Marynich, petitioned the director of Minsk colony Yauhen Los and asked him to grant extra meeting with his father in connection with father’s illness, but he was not allowed. Lawyer of Mikhail Marynich can meet his client only next week.

Today the doctors of the neurological unit of the hospital told to Radio Freedom about state of health of Mikhail Marynich:

“He receives treatment in connection with eye illness. There is nothing terrible in it, and he gets medicine which is allowed for him. His condition is improving. Eye specialist examined him, and positive dynamics is observed”.

The doctor has not said if the eye pathology is related to the stroke Mikhail Marynich had not long ago. As said by her, Mikhail Marynich undergoes treatment of the stroke consequences. He gets certain medicines and other treatment. The doctor said that he has minimum of neurological deficiency now.

In the beginning of March in Vorsha colony Mikhail Marynich had a stroke. His body was partially paralyzed, his speech was unclear. As said by his son, Pavel, during the meeting in May he saw that these symptoms were still noticeable. Mikhail Marynich’s relatives insisted on his being treated in specialized hospital, however their request was declined.

 

European delegation visits Belarus

From Charter 97:

Emergence of new political prisoners in Belarus causes concern of the European parliament’s deputies. “Belarus borders on the European Union, and it is paradoxical that such situation takes place in the center of Europe,” told vice –chairman of the European Parliament Janusz Onyszkiewicz at a press conference in Minsk. He was referring to the trials over opposition leaders Mikola Statkevich, Paval Sevyarynets and Andrei Klimov, sentenced for several years of forcible corrective labour for organizing protest rallies, and arrest of the former leader of the “Respublika” group Syarhei Skrabets. The MP of the European parliament also expressed concern over disappearances of political opponents of Lukashenka in Belarus. “We still do not know what had happened to the people who disappeared relatively long ago in Belarus. This question must be elucidated indisputably. We are very concerned over the tendency of the situation’s development in Belarus,” Janusz Onyszkiewicz said.

 

Protests spark fistfight in Georgian parliament

From Eurasia.Net:

A June 30 court Tbilisi court decision -- in which Aleko Davitashvili, president of the Georgian Wrestling Federation, his brother, Davit, along with Georgian judo champion Giorgi Revazishvili, were sentenced to three months of pre-trial detention on blackmailing charges – sparked the unrest in the capital. The trio was arrested on June 28 for allegedly blackmailing Greek businessman Vili Iordanov for $8,000. The accused have denied all charges.

Tension escalated soon after the court announced the sentence. Television cameras in the courtroom relayed chaotic images of what appeared to be a brawl between supporters of the accused and court officials. Upon leaving the court, several dozen wrestlers and other supporters went on to hold a rally on nearby Rustaveli Avenue, effectively blocking Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare. When attempts by regular police to disperse the crowd failed, riot police were called to the scene. As on-lookers cried "Shame on you," dozens of demonstrators were arrested amid a string of violent scuffles.

Opposition members, many of whom rushed to the scene after the protest’s break-up, quickly condemned the crackdown and the use of riot police, the first such occasion in Tbilisi since the 2003 Rose Revolution. In an interview with EurasiaNet at the scene of the protest, Republican Party MP Levan Berdzenishvili termed the police action "a violation of human rights." At a July 1 news conference, the New Rights, Conservative and Republican Party called for the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili for "an excessive use of force by the police" and pledged to launch a public movement against "the authorities’ violence."

One Olympic gold medalist, who supports the Wrestling Federation detainees, however, has already called on the opposition to avoid adding the Rustaveli Avenue demonstration to its list of complaints against the government. "I know we behaved badly. The president of Georgia is doing more for the development of Georgian sport than anybody before him, and he most of all doesn’t deserve this," the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported weightlifter Giorgi Asanidze as saying at a July 1 press conference. "We don’t need the interference of political parties. In sports, we’ll take care of things. Let all the parties leave us alone."

A July 1 debate in parliament about the protest, however, suggests that calls for restraint may fall on deaf ears. In footage broadcast by Georgian television, a brief, freewheeling fist-fight broke out between members of both the governing National Movement Party and opposition parties. The trouble apparently began after an irate Givi Targamadze, a majoritarian MP, took issue with a call from Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili for Merabishvili’s resignation. Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze, who has praised parliamentarians in the past for refraining from such scuffles, was not present for the debate, instead attending the annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Washington, DC.

Speaking with reporters on July 1, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli defended the riot police’s response, stating that "the police acted within the framework of the law." He also thanked Merabishvili for taking "appropriate measures to restore public order." A Georgian-language statement on the interior ministry’s web site states that a criminal case has been opened into the disorders.

 

Opposition protests in Tbilisi

From Reuters AlertNet:

Around 1,000 protesters gathered in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi late on Thursday, accusing authorities of being undemocratic.

The demonstration was sparked by police earlier dispersing a 50-strong crowd of relatives and friends of two international judo competitors who were charged with blackmail two days ago.

Dozens of people were arrested and some had been injured.

Some demonstrators were denouncing President Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power in the ex-Soviet state after a so-called "Rose revolution" in late 2003.

"Misha is Lukashenko!" shouted Bachuky Kardava, leader of the opposition National Democratic Party, likening Saakashvili to Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, branded Europe's last dictator by Washington.

Georgian television channels were showing blanket coverage of the protest.

 

London woman arrested in Azerbaijan comes home

From The Hampstead and Highgate Express:

A MOTHER who was arrested and accused of gun-running in Azerbaijan has spoken of her ordeal.

Almas Guliyeva, 46, from Child's Hill, was released and returned on Thursday last week after a two-week detention in hospital.

The British citizen from Cricklewood Lane had been visiting relatives when security officials in the capital city Baku's airport pulled a pistol from her bags.

She was kept in the airport from 6am until 8pm, when she was taken to a police station for questioning.

At that point, terrified Mrs Guliyeva became very ill and, with her blood pressure shooting up, she was rushed to hospital and placed in a bed, which was guarded at all times.

She said: "I had a minor stroke and lost feeling on my left side."

She was too weak to speak to her two sons - Ilkin, 19, and Vugar Guliyev, nine - who were in England frantically campaigning for her release.

She said: "A British Embassy official came to see me. He told me Ilkin was doing a great job and he said I should be very proud of him, and I am very proud of him."

The official finally came last Wednesday to say the Azeri government had decided to release her.

Mrs Guliyeva said she was detained because her husband Ilgar's uncle, Rasul Guliyev, is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and a former chairman of the Azeri parliament who now lives in exile in New York.

 

Uncertainty over Kyrgyzstan's future

From The Economist:

While presidential elections are to be held later this month, it will take several more months before the new amendments can be put to a vote—probably in parliament rather than at a referendum. Whether the new president, who is widely expected to be Kurmanbek Bakiev, the acting one, will still be as enthusiastic about the project once he is permanently installed, remains to be seen. He was once prime minister under the now departed Mr Akaev and only latterly joined the opposition.

Furthermore, many parliamentarians, voted into office in two flawed rounds of elections in February and March that benefited Mr Akaev and triggered the uprising, fear that Mr Bakiev might then disband them. Some of them are already talking about storming the Kirgiz White House again.

Breaking the cycle of corruption, the stated goal of the interim leadership, will be key to the success of the revolution. But Mr Bakiev is already being criticised for the lack of new faces among his political appointees, including on the central election commission. He has formed a union with his strongest rival, Felix Kulov, a former senior government official and political prisoner, who will be named prime minister if Mr Bakiev becomes president. This marriage of convenience—Mr Bakiev is from the south, Mr Kulov from the north—is expected to unite the country and ensure victory for both in a field of six candidates. Mr Kulov would presumably take on a greater role under the new constitution. Whether the union will be durable, though, is another matter.

 

Jane's predicts regime change in Uzbekistan

From Eurasia.Net:

Is the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov heading toward a violent end?

Given the Uzbek leader’s tight grip on power, such a prediction would seem to be bold, if not downright brash.

Yet that is precisely what the essay this week in "Jane’s" -- along with some Western analysts -- is predicting following last month’s unrest in Andijon.

The unsigned "Jane’s" essay rejects the idea that the events in Andijon were planned abroad or involved Islamic militants. It says the events were the climax of months of pent-up frustrations and nationwide protests. "There is probably nothing beyond socio-economic conditions that connects the various manifestations of stability," the piece says.

It goes on to state that "it is likely that the country is now beyond a point where the government can control unrest using violence, although this will not stop it trying."

Analysts such as Noubel interviewed by RFE/RL largely agreed that Uzbekistan is fast approaching a major crisis. But not all of them appeared to agree that Karimov’s regime is necessarily heading toward a violent end.

 

Lab that made Yushchenko poison found

From The Daily Telegraph:

Ukraine's authorities know who was behind the attempt to poison President Viktor Yushchenko and have traced the substance used in the plot to a laboratory for banned chemical weapons, it emerged yesterday.

The former Soviet state's security services had also deployed the same poison to kill others, Mr Yushchenko said in an interview.

A number of people suspected of involvement in the assassination attempt last September are on the run, he went on, adding that he was "certain that everybody will be caught" eventually.

The disclosure that the poison was made in Ukraine went some way to dispel suspicions that Russia was involved in the plot to get rid of Mr Yushchenko when he was leader of the country's opposition last autumn.

However, Petro Poroshenko, the head of Ukraine's security services, refused to rule out the possibility. He said the attempt to kill the president, who fell ill after a dinner with Ukrainian security chiefs, involved "specialists belonging to an existing or former secret service".

 

OSCE seeks more female participation in Azeri politics

From noticias.info:

Participants of a meeting organized today by the OSCE Office in Baku called for more active participation of women in the forthcoming parliamentary elections as part of the process of democratization.

Representatives of international organizations, donors and the diplomatic corps taking art in the event identified barriers to women's full participation in the elections and best practices to fully integrate gender perspectives into all aspects of electoral processes.

Discussions focused on the legal framework, political representation and political parties, voter registration, voter and civic education, election observation, training of women, as well as media coverage of women candidates.

Participants urged political parties to ensure that when formulating their candidate lists, women are not only included, but also put forward as candidates for "winnable" seats.

The OSCE Office also emphasized that a gender perspective will be an integral part of the ODHIR election observation and evaluation.

The OSCE Office and the participants of today's meeting will distribute booklets on women and electoral processes for use in the field by both local and international staff.

 

U.S. ambassador doesn't foresee revolution in Azerbaijan

From Baku Today:

US ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish has said he does not see pre-conditions for a ‘velvet revolution’ in Azerbaijan.

Harnish started his visit to the western regions on Tuesday to get familiar with the pre-election situation in the country.

“I didn’t come here to look for traces of revolution. The authorities and opposition should deliver on their tasks to rule out the need for a revolution.”

 

Azerbaijan opposition calls for election commission reform

From Bloomberg:

Azerbaijan opposition leader Isa Gambar called for the government of President Ilham Aliyev to ensure fair elections for parliament in November by loosening its grip on the national election oversight body.

``The No. 1 issue here is the Central Election Commission,'' Gambar said from Baku in a telephone interview today translated from Russian. ``Right now it falls under the complete control of the government.''

Gambar, 48, said the Musavat Party he heads has joined forces with the Azerbaijan Democratic Party and the Popular Front to push for the changes, including broader representation on the election panel. The opposition will rally in Baku's Victory Square on July 10, and Gambar said he expects as many as 40,000 people to show up.

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