Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Kazakh opposition office torched
An arson attack last night destroyed a campaign support office of a leading Kazakh opposition presidential candidate, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai of the For a Fair Kazakhstan bloc, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.
Party officials say the attack late last night destroyed a support office in the northern town of Kostanai. Computers and other equipment were lost in the blaze. No one was hurt.
Police say the arsonist climbed onto the building's roof and used Molotov cocktails to set the blaze before running away.
The incident comes as Kazakhstan prepares for a 4 December presidential election. Tuyakbai, a former parliament speaker, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev are considered to be the leading candidates.
Uzbek activist barred from court
Tashkent human rights activist Surat Ikramov has been blocked by security agents since the trial over Andijan events participants started on 15 September. This has successfully prevented him from monitoring the court process, Ikramov told journalists in Tashkent.
“Since morning of 20 September – the day when the trial over 15 accused started – I started receiving phone calls from law-enforcement officers, which asked me not to go to the court. When I went out of my house, I saw people in civilian clothes coming out of cars. They recommended me no to go to the court, citing an order ‘from above’,” the activist said.
“The secret services still don’t let me come to court, guarding my house 24 hours per day and following my car when I am in the city. And they always warn me that I can’t go to the court.”
“I was in the list of monitors of this court process, provided to authorities by Human Rights Watch,” Ikramov told Arena.
Police beat, arrest Baku protesters
Police in the former Soviet Azerbaijan republic have beaten and arrested dozens of protesters during a rally in the capital, Baku. Opposition parties held the rally despite a warning from Interior Minister Ramil Usubov who said police would break up the protest, The Associated Press reported.
Opposition supporters defied the authorities and tried to hold the demonstration ahead of parliamentary elections set for November. Thousands of supporters from the Caspian Sea nation’s largest opposition, Azadlig, marched through Baku.
All across the city centre, groups of protesters tried to make their way through the police cordons. On one of the streets, they raised their hands to prove that they were not armed. Many held flowers to show their protest was peaceful, the BBC reported.
But as soon as they began to chant anti-government slogans, the police moved forward. They chased the demonstrators down the streets, beating them with batons.
The chief of Baku police, addressing media after the event, denied reports of injuries and said the organizers had been warned well in advance not to proceed with the unsanctioned rally.
Groups warn of further Uzbek press crackdown
Media watchdog groups warn of a further crackdown on press freedom as the trial of 15 men charged with trying to overthrow the Uzbek government in the southern city of Andijan last May enters its second week.
"We are deeply concerned about the escalating crackdown on journalists by the Uzbek authorities," Pascale Bonamour, head of Europe desk for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said from Paris on Monday.
As the trial began, Uzbek prosecutor Anvar Nabiyev said Western aid groups, human rights organisations and foreign media had launched an information war against the Uzbek government, accusing them of bias and of having planned the events in Andijan, along with militant Islamic groups.
Collaborating that further, in what appeared like well rehearsed statements, the 15 alleged leaders, all of whom pleaded guilty on 20 September, accused the Western media of organising the revolt.
RSF is not alone in its concern. On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Karimov to stop scapegoating the press and to end his government's campaign of intimidation and repression against the independent media. The government crackdown, which had targeted several international news organisations in dozens of incidents over four months, was part of a broad effort to obscure the full extent of the 13 May massacre in Andijan, the New York-based group said.
In the months since, retaliation against journalists had been severe, CPJ research showed, with some journalists requesting that the watchdog group refrain from publicising abuses they had encountered out of fear they may face further retribution.
Journalists working for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have been threatened, detained, searched, and assaulted, the news organisation noted, while some had been placed under surveillance and had their belongings confiscated, a CPJ statement said, adding journalists' families had been threatened and harassed as well.
In all, RFE/RL has documented more than 30 cases of attacks on its journalists. On 19 September, an appeals court in the northeastern city of Namangan upheld the recent conviction of Nosir Zokirov, a journalist for the Uzbek service of RFE/RL. Zokirov was sentenced to six months in prison on a charge related to his reporting on Andijan.
Meanwhile, three of the defendants on trial described on Monday how they had trained at military camps in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, further collaborating the government's claim of a conspiracy that included foreign fighters and funding.
According to the AP report, the testimony by the three, all ethnic Uzbek citizens of Kyrgyzstan, opened the second week of the carefully choreographed trial. Tashkent hopes the trial will refute accusations of a massacre by government troops, supporting its claim that extremist Islamic groups from abroad were responsible.
Another candidate to run in Khodorkovsky's place
Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s campaign team said Monday that they would name another candidate later this week for a State Duma by-election in Moscow’s Universitetsky District in December.
Khodorkovsky, the jailed Yukos billionaire, was barred from running for the seat after the Moscow City Court on Thursday rejected his appeal to a lower court’s conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges.
“We will decide on the back-up candidate by the end of the week,” Khodorkovsky’s campaign chief, Ivan Starikov, said at a news conference. “But I can say that several potential candidates are sitting at the table with me.”
Seated at the table were well-known journalists Sergei Dorenko and Vladimir Kara-Murza, lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, writer and human rights activist Alla Gerber and two little-known activists from the liberal Union of Right Forces party, or SPS.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
New posters for walk
If you're in Greater London, it would be extremely helpful if you could distribute these in your neighbourhood. They can also be used as the basis for placards for the walk.
Please let us know if anything doesn't work properly (pictures not coming through, etc.).
Friday, September 23, 2005
Azeri opposition to defy protest ban
Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov today warned that authorities will break up any unsanctioned anti-government rally ahead of the 6 November legislative election.
Usubov's comments came as the Azadliq (Freedom) opposition coalition said it would defy a ban from Baku city authorities and hold a protest march in the center of the Azerbaijani capital on 25 September.
Usubov today also warned former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev that he will be arrested as soon as he enters Azerbaijan.
Ukrainian diplomat detained in Azerbaijan
Ukrainian representatives, who visited Azerbaijan to attend an international conference on the so-called second stage of democratic reforms in Belarus and Azerbaijan, were detained at the airport. One of the detainees - coordinator of the "People's advocate" social programs, citizen of Estonia Andrey Popov - was released later, unlike the adviser for the Ukrainian foreign minister Sergey Yevtushenko, who is also a member of the Pora civic organization. Yevtushenko was released and deported to Ukraine on Sunday. Pora considerably contributed to the soft change of power that swept Ukraine late last year. Chairman of major opposition Musavat Party Isa Gambar told a news conference on Friday that the State Border Service detained the Ukrainian representatives without any grounds. "The attempts by Musavat representatives, who were greeting the visitors, to get any reasonable explanation were unsuccessful… I am ashamed for the country.
It is time for Azeri authorities to start acting in accord with international norms."
Human rights reporter banned from Belarus
A UN special reporter was banned entry to the country because his mission is to collect information about the human rights in Belarus. Instead, he will visit the Baltic states where he is going to meet representatives of the government and other governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
Adrian Severin, a special reporter of the UN Committee for human rights, is going to visit Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in September, 18-24 to collect information about the human rights situation in Belarus.
Mr. Severin, the former Foreign Minister of Romania was appointed a special UN reporter for human rights in Belarus in July, 2004. However, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Belarus officially refused to cooperate with the special reporter and forbade him the country.
Kyrgyz parliament deputy murdered
Kyrgyz lawmaker and businessman Bayaman Erkinbaev was shot dead last night [Wednesday] in Bishkek. Erkinbaev, who was for a brief time among the country's presidential contenders earlier this year, had alleged connections to criminal groups in the southern Osh area. He is the second parliament deputy to be killed since June. His murder comes after a warning by Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman that contract murders were on the rise in the country. The Kyrgyz parliament today held an emergency session on the murder, with both President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov in attendance.
Controversy seemed to follow the lawmaker since a previous murder attempt against him last April. At the time, Erkinbaev said the attack was linked to his presidential bid.
"With full responsibility I declare that this [assassination attempt] is a political order which I believe is linked to my decision to run for president," Erkinbaev said.
But there may have been other reasons -- Erkinbaev's alleged criminal ties among them.
In June, violence broke out in his native Osh region when guards shot guns into the air to disperse a crowd of angry protesters gathered outside an Osh hotel believed to be owned by Erkinbaev. The protesters were primarily merchants from the Kara-suu bazaar, one of the biggest such markets in Central Asia.
Erkinbaev allegedly held large financial interests in the Kara-suu bazaar. Several recent articles in the Kyrgyz press and on the Internet accused Erkinbaev of being involved in a number of illegal business ventures, including some linked to the market.
Khodorkovsky's appeal rejected
The Moscow City Court late Thursday rejected Mikhail Khodorkovsky's appeal in a marathon 11-hour session, cutting short his campaign for a State Duma seat before it even began.
The three-judge panel reduced his sentence -- and that of his business partner Platon Lebedev -- from nine years to eight.
"The punishment will come into force," Chief Judge Vyacheslav Tarasov said. "The hearing is over. I ask the guards to take the convicted man away."
Later, in the darkness outside the heavily guarded courthouse in northeastern Moscow, Boris Khodorkovsky quietly remarked, "From nine to eight. ... I won't live that long."
It was not immediately clear where Khodorkovsky, 42, would be sent next. Under Russian law, once an appeal is exhausted, a prisoner serves the rest of his term in a prison colony. Khodorkovsky's lawyer Yury Shmidt said his client would be sent to a prison not far from Moscow.
Azerbaijan takes a lesson from Andijan
As campaigning for the 6 November parliamentary elections gets under way, the Azerbaijani authorities are directing their efforts toward ensuring that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, together with ostensibly independent but loyal candidates, retains control of the new parliament. While such efforts are not unexpected in light of previous tainted elections, the Azerbaijani government's blatant disregard for the international community's insistence on electoral fairness and transparency is surprising. Moreover, this apparent disdain for world public opinion is at odds with -- and signals a retreat from -- initial moves apparently aimed at reversing the country's record of election "illegalities."
One factor driving the Azerbaijani government's disregard for international reaction to its tactics over the past six weeks may be its inferences from Western -- specifically the U.S. -- response to two other developments.
The first test case for Azerbaijan was what Baku perceived to be the lukewarm Western reaction to the May unrest in Uzbekistan. Not only did Uzbek President Islam Karimov's bloody response to the violent events in the southeastern town of Andijon, his government's dubious definition of the events as an uprising by Islamic extremists, and the repressive handling of the victims and witnesses not result in international sanctions, most importantly, the Uzbek case was a direct and blatant challenge to U.S. credibility.
The second key development was Washington's praise for Egypt's presidential election earlier this month. That praise may have been construed in Baku as signaling that the United States would be content with even the most modest progress toward greater democracy.
Meanwhile, the Polish ambassador to Azerbaijan has dismissed rumours that the Polish government has been planning a coup with opposition members.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Azerbaijan opposition plans rally for 25 September
The “Azadlig” bloc appealed to the Baku city Executive Power for holding mass action in Baku city on September 25.
It was decided to hold the action in the center of the capital. The administration of the city was appealed for determination of any of the central squares.
F.Hajiyev informed that the bloc does intend to hold the action in other than the places mentioned above: “if the Baku city Executive Power does not determine one of these territories, the administration of the bloc will chose one of these territories and hold the action there”.
Russian politicians seek support from football fans
Russian politicians' love affair with youth movements continues to deepen with the emergence of new youth groups seemingly every other month. Parallel with this trend has been a growing -- but less visible -- cooperation with soccer fan clubs.
At the formal level, a Moscow city government committee approved a decree last week providing an estimated $3.5 billion rubles ($123 million) in 2006 for the creation of an association of fans of various sports clubs, the Civil Transition patriotic youth movement, and a youth TV channel. At an informal level, the pro-Kremlin youth movements Walking Together and its successor Nashi have been linked with various soccer fan clubs, whose members they reportedly use for security and other purposes.
With their courtship of soccer fan clubs, Russian political authorities may be stepping where earlier counterparts feared to tread. In the early 1980s, Soviet law-enforcement officials were so alarmed by the growing zeal of Russian soccer fans and their adoration of British soccer hooligans that they started to crack down on any emotional displays by audiences during games. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 April, during matches, fans were banned not only from chanting or singing songs, but even applauding too fervently. Young people wearing the scarves of the clubs they favored were immediately under suspicion by the law-enforcement agencies. The disintegration of the Soviet Union helped dampen any remaining passion for soccer until the mid-1990s, when fan clubs experienced a rebirth.
One of the first Russian political leaders to see the political possibilities for an alliance with soccer fans was Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of Liberal Democratic Party of the Russia (LDPR). Speaking on the basis of anonymity, a young Moscow-based soccer hooligan identified only as Vasilii told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 December 2004 that Zhirinovskii's team actively courted devotees of Dynamo Moscow. "They financed trips for out-of-town matches, published several fan books, paid for parties," Vasilii said. "LDPR figured that attracting Dynamo fans to their enterprise would raise their party's rating among youth." Vasilii said that LDPR never tried to use the fan club to provide security, although Walking Together did.
According to Vasilii, fans of CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) participated for money in the riot that occurred in central Moscow in June 2002 following Russia's loss to Japan in the World Cup. The riot happened just before the first reading in the State Duma of the law on political extremism. "The media was full of talk about youth extremism. And suddenly before the second reading there was disorder on Manezh Square with attempt to break into the State Duma building," Vasilii said.
Of course, Vasilii, if he indeed exists, was speaking anonymously, but suspicions about the violence have been voiced from any variety of different people.
Meanwhile, officials from the Nashi youth movement and its predecessor, Walking Together, deny having any connection to soccer fans at all. Konstantin Lebedev, press secretary for Walking Together, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" in December 2004 that his organization "does not cooperate with any kind of fan grouping." However, Aleksei Mitrushin, leader of the CSKA fan group Gallant Steed, has been identified in a number of articles as the director of the northeast branch of Walking Together and as a Nashi coordinator ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 April, "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 14 March, and "Ekspert," on 5 September).
From its very beginning, stories about Nashi have been heavy with references to brawny soccer hooligans, and activists at competing organizations have been more than willing to name names. Sergei Shagrunov, head of the Motherland party's youth group ,and Vladimir Abel, a top official with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), both identified Roman Verbitskii, the head of Spartak Moscow's Gladiator fan club, as the head of Nashi's regional-development department in articles in "Kommersant-Daily," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Vedomosti." "Ekspert" reported on 5 September that Verbitskii and another leader of the Gladiators, Vasilii Stepanov, aka Vasya the Killer, have attended meetings at the Kremlin with other Nashi members. However, Nashi press secretary Ivan Mostovich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that he does not know any Roman Verbitskii.
According to most detailed accounts of the Russian soccer fan clubs, the young men share certain prejudices, such as a hatred for persons from the Caucasus, but they lack any broader political agenda. Their role models are British soccer hooligans. Bill Buford, an American journalist who went undercover with fans of Manchester United's Red Devils, suggested that British hooligans seek an ecstatic, sex-like release from mass violence. Similarly, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote that Russian soccer fanatics "are directed not by political convictions but by the search for strong sensations." In their search for an adrenaline rush, they aren't likely to be easily controlled by anyone -- regardless of their bureaucratic rank within the Kremlin or without.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Route for Belarus walk
The walk will begin at 11.30 am sharp.
At the suggestion of Students for Global Democracy, who are organising the walks worldwide, the overall length of the walk will be approximately 12 km to symbolise the 12 years Lukashenka has been in power. If you don't think you can manage the whole distance, you are welcome to walk as far as you can or to join us at any of the points along the way.
SGD's original idea was to provide all participants with T-shirts and to charge each walker US$15, which would cover the cost of the shirt as well as a donation to pro-democracy groups in Belarus. However, we have since learned that the shirts cannot be shipped overseas from America. Furthermore, we at Volodymyr Campaign don't feel it would be appropriate to make people pay to participate in our demonstrations. Participation in the walk is therefore free, although we will be happy to provide information about giving directly to pro-democracy groups in Belarus.
We're asking that participants bring a homemade sign if possible -- we'll be posting a few ideas over the next couple of weeks.
If you would like to take part in the walk, please e-mail email@example.com as soon as possible.
- 11.30 am: Begin at Kyrgyz Embassy, 119 Crawford St W1H 1AD
- Turn right onto Wyndham Place
- Turn right onto Crawford Street
- Continue straight until Crawford Place
- Turn right onto Edgware Road
- Turn left onto Sussex Gardens
- Turn left onto Westbourne Street
- Continue straight to Lancaster Terrace
- Continue straight to Ukrainian Embassy, 60 Holland Park, W11 3SJ
- Continue on to Holland Park Avenue
- Turn onto Holland Road
- Turn left onto Russell Gardens
- Proceed to Georgian Embassy, 4 Russell Gardens, W14 8EZ
- Turn right onto Holland Road
- Continue to Addison Road
- Turn right onto Warwick Gardens
- Turn left onto Slip Road
- Continue straight to Cromwell Road
- Turn right onto Thurloe Place
- Turn left onto Thurloe Square
- Proceed to Kazakh Embassy, 33 Thurloe Square, SW7 2SD
- Turn right onto Thurloe Place
- Turn right onto Cromwell Road
- Turn left
- Turn right onto Exhibition Road
- Turn left onto Imperial College Road
- Continue to Queen's Gate
- Turn left onto Elvaston Place
- Turn right onto Gore Street
- Turn left onto Petersham Place
- Turn right onto Petersham Lane
- Turn left onto Queen's Gate Terrace
- Turn right onto Victoria Grove
- Turn left onto Victoria Road
- Turn right onto Cottesmore Gardens
- Turn left onto Stanford Road
- Turn right onto Kelso Place
- Turn left onto St Margaret's Lane
- Turn right onto Marloes Road
- Continue to Cheniston Gardens
- Proceed to Armenian Embassy, 25a Cheniston Gardens W8 6TG
- Turn left onto Wright's Lane
- Turn right onto Kensington High Street
- Turn left onto Kensington Palace Gardens
- Proceed to Russian Embassy, 13 Kensington Palace Gardens W8 4QX
- Turn left
- Turn right onto Palace Avenue
- Turn left onto Kensington Road
- Turn right onto Palace Gate
- Turn left onto Queen's Gate Mews
- Proceed to Estonian Embassy, 16 Hyde Park Gate, London SW7 5DG
- Turn right onto Gloucester Road
- Turn left onto Canning Place
- Turn right onto Canning Passage
- Turn right onto Victoria Road
- Turn left onto Prince of Wales Terrace
- Proceed to Belarusian Embassy, 6 Kensington Court W8 5DL
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Third Yeni Fikir member arrested
Azerbaijan on Wednesday detained a third opposition youth leader allegedly involved in anti-government activities, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Murad Gasanly, a spokesman for the Azadlyq opposition bloc, said police had detained Ramin Tagiev, a leader of the Yeni Fakir (New Idea) youth movement. The arrest comes two days after the detention of another of the movement’s members, Said Nuri, who has since been hospitalized with apparent liver problems, according to RFE/RL. In August, the police arrested Yeni Fakir leader Ruslan Bashirli, who was implicated in an alleged anti-government plot.
Activists beaten in Georgia
Three activists from the opposition Conservative Party were reportedly attacked and beaten up by a group of unknown men on September 13 in Batumi, Adjara Autonomous Republic.
The attack occurred while the activists were hanging posters of Jumber Tavartkiladze, who plans to run for MP in Batumi's single-mandate constituency.
MP Koba Davitashvili, the leader of Conservative Party, accused the local authorities of attempting to thwart the opposition party’s election campaign in Adjara.
MEPs criticise broadcasts to Belarus
The European Commission's plans to fund independent radio and television broadcasts into Belarus were met by harsh and sometimes scathing criticism in the European Parliament's foreign-affairs committee today.
Many members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were particularly scathing about the commission's perceived preference for Russian over Belarusian as the main language for the planned broadcasts.
Former Lithuanian President Vytatutas Landsbergis was one of a number of MEPs from former communist countries who warned the commission it risks complicity in Russia's longstanding ambitions to "Russify" its neighbors.
Some Western European MEPs pointed out that more than 60 percent of the population of Belarus considers itself ethnically Russian. Their appeals to pragmatism were drowned by protestations from representatives of smaller, Eastern European member states.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an Estonian and a vice chairman of the parliament's foreign-affairs committee, noted that indigenous languages, not Russian, had served as the main vehicles for democratic change in Eastern Europe.
Most speakers also dismissed the 2 million euros earmarked by the commission for two years' TV and radio broadcasts as by far insufficient. The commission's tendering rules, requiring applying media organizations to demonstrate an annual turnover of 3 million euros, were described as designed to exclude companies from neighboring Poland and Lithuania.
The strategy also appears to sideline the 500,000 ethnic Belarusians living in Poland and the three Baltic States, who a number of MEPs said would be best-placed to reach out to their compatriots.
Reporters removed from Khodorkovsky court
Police on Tuesday forced all those who had gathered in the territory of Moscow's Meshchansky court, which is to hear former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev's appeals, out of the court premises.
Policemen ordered reporters and all other visitors to leave the court premises without explaining the reasons and saying only they had been ordered to do so, an Interfax correspondent reported.
Russian journalist a prisoner in his city
It is well past closing time at the small cafe where this small city's hip young men and women often meet for an after-dinner espresso. The waitresses are steering patrons out the door, but Yuri Bagrov waves them off.
''Don't worry," he tells his guests, settling in again over his tea. The waitresses smile indulgently. Bagrov is what you might call a man about town -- he hasn't left Vladikavkaz, in the Caucasian republic of North Ossetia, in more than a year.
The brash, 29-year-old journalist is engaged in a war of nerves with Russia's Federal Security Service, and so far, the agency is ahead. Agents confiscated Bagrov's internal travel documents in August 2004, leaving him a virtual prisoner of the city.
''This is really getting tough to bear," said Bagrov, known for his often-controversial stories for US-funded Radio Liberty and, formerly, the Associated Press, in Russia's troubled north Caucasus region.
Bagrov said his problems began after a series of stories he wrote about smuggling and corruption. The most sensitive, he said, was a piece he wrote for the Associated Press describing the disappearance of a local prosecutor who had been investigating possible links between the FSB and the disappearance of dozens of young men in the Caucasian republic of Ingushetia.
Not long after, he said, 10 FSB agents arrived at his doorstep at 8 one morning and searched his house, car, and office. The warrant said they were looking for materials used to forge official documents, as well as weapons, drugs, and ammunition. But they took every piece of paper in the house.
''At 4 p.m., I was taken to the FSB," Bagrov said. ''The investigator told me to write an explanation of how I'd gotten Russian citizenship."
Bagrov was born in Tbilisi, which became capital of independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He carried an old Soviet passport long after he moved to Vladikavkaz, his mother's hometown, in 1992. He exchanged it for a Russian passport in 2003, but authorities said there was no registered court record of the new document, fined him the equivalent of $526, and briefly threatened him with deportation.
Then scarier things started to happen.
''There were phone calls to my wife, who was pregnant," he said. ''The caller would say, 'May I speak to the widow of Mr. Bagrov?' It was more than once that this happened."
With no identity documents, Bagrov was unable to leave Vladikavkaz or apply for new press accreditation to do his job. He missed the biggest story of his career when militants attacked a school in Beslan, 10 miles away.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Pro-government hecklers drown out Khodorkovsky rally
The partisans of jailed oligarch were muffled by soccer horns. The activists from the movement "We Are with Khodorkovsky!" and "For Human Rights" tried yesterday to have a demonstration of support for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Despite the fact that action was sanctioned by the authorities, it was interrupted by the young activists from "Eurasian Youth Union." The human rights activists claim that they were interrupted by the members of state sponsored "United" movement. Their opponents rejected the claims and called themselves simply "politically active youth."
The demonstration, organized by the movements "We Are With Khodorkovsky!" and "For Human Rights", started about 6 p.m. Approximately 100 people gathered next to A. Pushkin monument and put up the posters with slogans like "Scoundrel Authorities - Scoundrel Decisions!," and "Better to be in jail than to be humiliated by the scum!" In the mean time, the young people in white t-shirts with lettering "Khodorkovsky to jail!" started to assemble in the other side of the monument. "We gathered here to express our solidarity with political prisoners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev before the court hearings on Sep.14," Ivan Felyushin, activist of the movement "We Are with Khodorkovsky!', told Kommersant. Then, he took a worrying look to another side of the fence, where the young people in white t-shirts started to form the row. When Lev Ponomarev, head of the movement "For Human Rights," tried to open the demonstration with a speech, the youth in other side started forcefully to blow the horns, which are widely use by soccer fans during the matches. Despite the amplification equipment, the noise was so loud that only activists who were standing within three yards of the Ponomarev could hear him.
When Yuri Samodurov, Director of Sakharov Museum, came up to the microphone, he was immediately interrupted by two young men, who pushed themselves into the crowd screaming: "Khodorkovsky needs to be finished in outhouse!"
This is apparently a reference to one of Putin's statements concerning Chechnya: he vowed to 'rub out the bandits in the crapper.'
"The same colors of t-shirts and the same flags are signs that these people are associated with authorities," Alexei Sidelnikov, activist of "It's time!" movement, told Kommersant. "It is time!" had also participated in pro-Khodorkovsky demonstration. "Most likely the organizers of this hooligan act are the youth movement "United". It is against the law, anyway, and we will sue," Sidelnikov complained. “We got the permission papers earlier," Alexei, the leader of the anti-Khodorkovsky demonstration, said. "So our meeting is perfectly legal." "We got two papers with permissions several days before. For that reason the both actions are legal “the police officer, who was guarding the demonstration, told Kommersant. He refused to give his name.
Report says government protecting Gongadze's killers
Powerful political figures in Ukraine who authorised the assassination of investigative reporter Gyorgy Gongadze in 2000 are eluding justice, according to a new report by four journalists' organisations, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Published jointly by IFJ, the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland, the Gongadze Foundation and the Institute of Mass Information, the report warns that an ongoing investigation into Gongadze's murder continues to be marked by serious negligence.
It points the finger at Ukrainian authorities, who it accuses of steering the investigation away from the powerful organisers of the crime and limiting it to the handful of individuals who took part in the killing.
The full report can be read here.
Georgian MP says government planned assault
After two months of treatment in a Vilnius hospital following an attack on him in Tbilisi this July, Republican party member and majoritarian MP from the Khashuri district Valeri Gelashvili returned to Georgia on September 12.
The MP returned to Georgia without his family, because, he says, of safety problems. Nevertheless, he plans to continue his political and business activities in Georgia.
Gelashvili, who has not talked with investigators since his attack, said he would have his first questioning Monday evening.
Gelashivli was flown out of Georgia in a air ambulance after being assaulted by masked assailants carrying weapons. The assailants stopped the car he was driving near the Eliava Bazaar on July 14, smashed the windows and beat up the parliamentarian and his personal bodyguard.
At Monday's press conference Gelashvili claimed that he had recognized one Opel Vectra and one Ford car that had stopped him as belonging to special forces of the so-called seventh department of the Internal Affairs Ministry.
"Everything was planned beforehand. I was driving to my village and they could have made the attack there, but they chose a crowded place because they wanted to teach people a lesson to show that if anybody speaks out they will be beaten like Gelashvili," added the MP.
Shortly before the attack Gelashvili, a self-made businessman who lived in Lithuania until 1997, accused the government of failing to pay for work his construction firm had done on the new presidential palace.
Gelashvili also alleged local doctors conspired with attackers to cover-up the severity of his condition. "They thought I would die after that beating, but I did not," said Gelashvili "so they decided to kill me at the hospital. My lungs were full of water, though doctors claimed the situation was stable. But the doctors who came from Vilnius saved me by taking four liters of water from my lungs before my flight to Vilnius. Otherwise my heart would have stopped three or four hours later," he said.
Bekauri report airs on Georgian TV
Tbilisi-based private television station 202 broadcasted on September 13 an investigative report, which incriminates Koba Bekauri, a parliamentarian from the ruling National Movement party, for illegal business activities.
The report is a major element in a scandal involving the detention of co-founder and anchor of the 202 TV, Shalva Ramishvili. Bekauri claims Ramishvili was extorting USD 100,000 in exchange for the latter killing the piece. Ramishvili says Bekauri has been intimidating him and fabricated the extortion charge.
Uzbekistan shuts another NGO
Uzbekistan, increasingly hostile toward foreign non-governmental organizations it accuses of fomenting revolution in the ex-Soviet state, has shut a second U.S. charity in four days, the charity said on Tuesday.
A worker for U.S.-based educational charity IREX, who did not want his name to be disclosed, told Reuters that Tashkent city court ordered the organization on Monday to suspend its activities for six months.
"The decision was motivated by IREX's refusal to provide information about Uzbek citizens who studied abroad, being supported by IREX," he said adding that other charges included the use of an unregistered logo.
Kazakh president: NGOs to be watched
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev cautioned foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday that their activities will be closely watched. Nazarbaev is seeking re-reelection in presidential elections in December. The Kazakh president warned foreign NGOs not to interfere in the country’s politics and threatened to prosecute them if they meddled in the election campaign. But analysts say Nazarbaev is concerned about a repeat of the colored revolutions that have hit other former Soviet states.
Speaking to a gathering of civic groups in Astana yesterday, Nazarbaev devoted a good portion of speech to the work of foreign NGOs.
In particular, the Kazakh president emphasized the negative roles he said such groups played in recent changes of power in Georgia, Ukraine, and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Nazarbaev said that in the wake of the so-called colored revolutions in those countries, Kazakhstan’s parliament has sought to pass new legislation placing strict guidelines on the work of foreign NGOs. The proposed law on the activities of NGOs in Kazakhstan was overruled by the Constitutional Council last month, but Nazarbaev said members of parliament were justified in seeking to further regulate the role of NGOs.
Turkmen Jehovah's Witness appeals sentence
Jehovah's Witness Konstantin Vlaskin, beaten by police and imprisoned for 15 days in July on charges of hooliganism, is challenging the basis of his conviction. "The police claim I caused a disturbance, but this is untrue," he told Forum 18 News Service from Turkmenabad. "They wanted to cover up the fact they were punishing me for my religious activity." After the prosecutor's office upheld the charge on 31 August, Vlaskin pledged to take his case higher. He has since been threatened with a fine. After bringing in a local mullah, police insulted three other Jehovah's Witnesses in the city for "abandoning their [Muslim] faith", while another was beaten and accused of being a terrorist. In Ashgabad, Dmitry Krivets' vital 10-day medical treatment at a clinic was cut short after two days after its director received a phone call that he was a "sectarian". A Jehovah's Witness pensioner was threatened with deportation to a desert region of the country. Turkmenistan's Jehovah's Witnesses have not applied for official registration, saying they are still not clear whether it would be any help in being able to practice their faith freely. Registered faiths regularly suffer raids on religious services.
More stories from Andijan
Crowds began to gather in Bobur Square from 7am on May 13. There were some armed oppositionists around a local government building at one end, say the refugees and international organisations that have investigated the massacre, but not among the 10,000 demonstrators in the square, who included large numbers of women and children. The first shooting began at 8am, says Hakim, as government militiamen drove up, opened fire and left, during which time he saw a woman and child killed. The car was followed by a military jeep, spraying the crowd with gunfire. Then "it came from all sides," says Dolim. "We had gone expecting speeches, not bullets."
Why did they stay in the square? "Because," says Hakim, "if you tried to leave by side streets, they were blocked by armoured cars. I saw people trying to escape being killed up those streets." Anyway, says Nizomidin, "we were expecting people from the government to arrive and stop it, to save us. Someone said Karimov was on his way, and people started cheering."
Instead, at about 10am, a group of armoured cars entered the square, criss-crossing its edges and firing indiscriminately. In no way, say the witnesses, were they targeting the armed men at the other end. The shooting continued sporadically until 5pm, when two columns of armed personnel carriers arrived. "The second [column] opened fire directly at us," says Yuldash. "I saw people falling around me, women and children too; screaming and blood everywhere. I saw at least five small children killed."
The article doesn't make easy reading, but these stories need to be heard.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Marinich to appeal for early release 22 September
A commission on the questions of early release of Minsk colony is not in favour of early release of former Minister and Ambassador Mikhail Marynich, his wife Tatsyana Marynich informed Radio Svaboda. She had a meeting with her husband in the colony from September 7 to 9. Tatsyana Marynich says that her husband is making efforts to change the decision of the commission.
“He was acquainted with the decision of the commission concerning possibility of his early release. He wrote his objection to the decision. Firstly, he follows all rules and has not committed any violations of the order, and secondly, he needs urgent treatment,” Tatsyana Marynich said.
According to information of Tatsyana Marynich, on September 22 a new session of the commission is to take place. It is to determine finally, whether Mikhail Marynich will be released. He believed that he completely meets conditions of the early release, as considering the amnesty he had served more than a half of the term in prison, and he is a pensioner.
On the days leading up to the commission meeting, it is vitally important that the international community keeps up pressure on Belarus to release Mr Marinich. If you haven't already sent a letter to the Belarusian government, now is an ideal time to do so.
Protests block Uzbek road
Protesters blocked the road between Osh and Qorasuv for three hours on September 11. Participants of the rally in front of the Qorasuv prosecutor's office demanded the finding of murderers of Abdalim Zhunusov shot on September 5. Zhunusov had run the Qorasuv wholesale market once managed by deputy of the parliament Bajaman Erkinbayev, its previous owner.
At least 300 protesters, most of them Zhunusov's relatives and former subordinates, blocked the road carrying posters and placards "Azimbek Beknazarov is the attorney of criminals", "Trial for deputy Bajaman Erkinbayev", and "Away with Cholpon Bekoyeva". The protesters chanted slogans denouncing Prosecutor General Beknazarov and Bekoyeva of the Constitutional Court.
One of the protesters who insisted on anonymity told this correspondent that the population of the Qorasuv district of the Osh region is actively arming itself now. It is awaiting armed clashes among different factions of the underworld bent on redistribution of assets in the southern part of the country.
No representative of the authorities deigned to turn up at the protest rally in front of the Qorasuv prosecutor's office.
Yeni Fikir deputy arrested
Azerbaijani authorities have detained another opposition youth activist on suspicion of plotting against the state, according to a local news report.
Azerbaijan's independent Turan news agency quoted lawyer Yavar Huseyn as saying police today apprehended Said Nuri, the deputy head of the Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), movement.
Huseyn said Nuri was remanded in custody on accusations that he received money to prepare a coup.
Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Basirli was arrested last month on similar charges.
Khodorkovsky to appeal Wednesday
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil magnate whose empire was carved up in a politically charged campaign, was to appear in court Wednesday to appeal a nine-year sentence handed down in May after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion.
But as before his grueling 12-day verdict reading, lawyers for Russia's once-richest man suggested his chances of a reduced sentence were faint. According to analysts, Khodorkovsky's bid for parliament and his increasingly combative behind-bars criticism of President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin have ensured he will be kept in jail for years to come.
In an interview with Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung, posted Monday on his defense team's Web site, Khodorkovsky called the hearings at the Moscow City Court "a formality."
"They have been informed of the political decision right down to the formal writing of the verdict," he said.
Lawyers have said that if the appeal fails they will take their case to the Supreme Court; they have already filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights.
Yesterday, both supporters and opponents of Khodorkovsky rallied in Moscow. From Interfax:
Members of We Are with Khodorkovsky and Lev Ponomaryov-led Human Rights movements are rallying on Pushkin Square in Moscow. Opponents of Khodorkovsky are trying to disrupt the rally.
Metal barriers have been placed on Pushkin Square dividing it into sections occupied Khodorkovsky's supporters and their opponents, an Interfax correspondent reports.
Members of the Irina Khakamada-led Our Choice Party, the Union of Right Forces, the Oborona Youth Movement and a number of human rights activists are taking part in the rally. They are holding posters reading "Freedom to Russian Political Prisoners!", "Freedom to Victims of Espionage!" and "No to Political Reprisals! Freedom to Decembrists!".
Several dozen young people are wearing white T-shirts with a picture of prison bars and an inscription "MBK to Jail!" with about 50 protesters blowing soccer horns and holding anti-Khodorkovsky posters.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Independent papers vanish in Tajikistan
Over the past year, Tajikistan’s independent media have suffered one setback after another. All the major opposition newspapers have been shut down, and recently the editor of one of those newspapers was jailed on what many say are politically motivated charges. In the last week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed concerns about Tajikistan’s media environment.
There are fewer sources of information in Tajikistan these days. Independent media, especially newspapers, have been hit hard. Two dailies have simply vanished -- a fact that has been noticed by those selling newspapers.
“The popularity of newspapers like 'Ruzi Nau' and 'Nerui Sukhan' was high among our customers, but they have not been putting them out lately. I hope they start again,” one newspaper vendor says.
Readers agree the closings are unhealthy for the country’s political development. One reader in Dusanbe lamented the disappearance of “Ruzi Nau.”
“The newspaper 'Ruzi Nau' is very free and bold and wrote about serious issues and we read the paper with great interest," one newspaper buyer says. "If it were possible, I would ask the Tajik authorities to permit 'Ruzi Nau' to be published, and not only 'Ruzi Nau,' but other newspapers that worked independently and could openly express their opinions about the government. Let them be published! Let the people read! That would represent progress in political life.”
Miklos Haraszti, the representative on media freedom for the OSCE, this week sent a letter to Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov to express his concerns. Harasti’s senior adviser Alex Ivanko explained the case to RFE/RL: “The first time Mr. Haraszti raised this issue [independent media problems] was with the authorities in Tajikistan last year during the annual OSCE-Central Asia Media Conference. And after that on several occasions he has written to the Tajik authorities and now after a year he again wants to raise awareness of the fact that this issue has not been solved.”
Some say it is becoming worse.
In his letter, Haraszti mentioned four opposition newspapers and two printing houses that have been closed. Then, at the end of last month, Mukhtar Bokizoda, the editor of “Nerui Sukhan,” was sentenced to jail.
Baku: 2,000 rally for free elections
More than 2,000 opposition politicians and their supporters, clad in orange, rallied in the Azerbaijani capital on Saturday, demanding President Ilham Aliev’s resignation and calling on the authorities to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections in November. It was the first in a series of rallies planned for the run-up to the poll, in which activists, children, and the elderly paraded through the streets of Baku, waving the opposition’s orange flags and shouting “Resign!” and “Freedom!” Observers are expecting more popular protests in the run-up to the 6 November elections similar to those that succeeded in overthrowing governments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported. Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation of eight million people with large oil and gas reserves, has never staged an election judged free and fair by Western monitors.
Huseynov suspects 'arrested in Austria'
There is information that Georgian citizens Tahir Khubanov and Teymuraz Aliyev who are accused in the murder of Elmar Huseynov were arrested in Vienna, capital of Austria 10 days ago.
The source informing APA about it reported that Khubanov and Aliyev were arrested during the operation conducted by Interpol. Though the law enforcement bodies of Austria do not announce the names of the imprisoned officially they confirmed that they are Georgian citizens who have been specialized on ordered assassinations.
The detained suspects are accused of a number of hired assassinations. As concerns which country claimed to search the imprisoned Georgian killers through Interpol, it is not announced. The law enforcement bodies told that, the imprisoned hired assassins are the members of organized criminal gang which is involved in illicit trafficking of drugs, kidnapping, banditry and ordered assassinations. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili has confirmed the fact of two killers of Georgian citizen supposed to be in Austria. He said that the personalities of the detained killers identified.
Internews thrown out of Uzbekistan
In yet another blow to democracy and freedom of speech in Uzbekistan, Internews Network, a leading international media development organization, has been ordered by the Uzbek authorities to close its office in Uzbekistan. Internews plans to appeal the verdict.
A Tashkent city court on Friday found Internews Network guilty of a number of violations of Uzbek law and told it to leave the country. The US-based non-profit organization began operations in Uzbekistan in 1995 where it has helped develop the country’s independent, private television stations through trainings, technical assistance and support of local news and information programming.
“They gave us one day’s notice about the hearing and then sped through the proceedings at an incredible rate," said Catherine Eldridge, Country Director for Internews Network in Uzbekistan. “The judge refused our request to call witnesses, denied all our petitions and was blatantly biased. This is obviously a politically motivated case.”
Eldridge added, “The closure of Internews Network sets a precedent for the Uzbek government to liquidate other foreign NGOs on the basis of biased court cases and trumped up or trivial charges. This case and the criminal case against our two employees last month were a terrible loss for independent media and human rights in Uzbekistan."
Monday, September 05, 2005
Journalist interrogated in Tashkent
On Thursday, at about 12:00 Tashkent time, a female stringer of Tashkent bureau of the US-funded Ozodlik (Liberty) Radio, Robiya Mirzaakhmedova, was forcedly taken out of a taxi by security service agents. The agents, wearing civilian clothes, took her to the nearest police station, a source told Arena on the condition of anonymity.
Mirzaakhmedova is the only Ozodlik bureau employee wearing hijab, a headscarf that leaves only the face open.
At the police station, the young woman was searched in presence of the attesting witnesses. Her recordings were listened to over and over, by both police and the National Security Service staff, for several hours. The latter did not hide they represented the NSS.
The journalist was asked several times if she was related to the banned religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Her cellphone was taken away, and she was not allowed to telephone her colleagues to tell them about her whereabouts.
Turkmen activists' families threatened
Rights activists living outside Turkmenistan say the Turkmen government has been intimidating their relatives and friends in Turkmenistan because of their own efforts from abroad to highlight the desert nation's poor human rights record.
"There has been systematic pressure on us since we established the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation [THF] in 2003," Tajigul Begmedova, head of THF, said on Wednesday from the Bulgarian resort city of Varna where the rights group is based. According to Begmedova, the Turkmen authorities have been harassing her relatives, who still live in her homeland, since THF was first established.
"My father was beaten by the police and sent into internal exile in the north of the country," Begmedova said. "He has heart problems and he needs to go to [the capital] Ashgabat for treatment but the authorities won't allow him to do that. Moreover, he contracted tuberculosis but they are not doing anything for his treatment," she alleged. She also claimed that her sister had been incarcerated on trumped-up charges and is now serving an eight-year prison sentence.
Begmedova is not the only activist to make such claims. Pressure on dissenters and their associates or families has long been a common factor in Turkmenistan according to Farid Tukhbatulin. He heads the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, another Turkmen rights group.
Nashi seek to ban Jehovah's Witnesses
The missionary department of the Yekaterinburg Eparchy has started collecting evidence for a legal appeal to ban the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Sverdlovsk Oblast, uralpolit.ru reported on 30 August. The eparchy considers the group a sect, and the head of the missionary department, Father Vladimir Zaitsev, told the agency that a Moscow court decision last year banning the group from the city created a precedent for a similar action in his oblast. Zaitsev complained about sick people being pressured not to receive medical treatment for religions reasons and predicted that he will have enough materials for the legal case by December. Earlier in the month, some 500 protesters in Saransk from various youth organizations, including the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, called on Mordovian authorities to ban Jehovah's Witnesses.
Ramishvili arrest a warning to media, experts say
The recent arrest of two executives from a Georgian television station often critical of the government could have far-reaching implications for the status of media in Georgia, observers are saying.
Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili has characterized the August 27 arrests of Shalva Ramishvili and David Kokhreidze on charges of extortion as the opening of an anti-corruption crackdown on Georgian media companies. But associates of the detainees, along with some human rights activists, accuse the government of orchestrating the pair’s arrest in an attempt to squelch media criticism ahead of parliamentary by-elections in October.
In an interview with EurasiaNet, Giorgi Kokhreidze, brother and business partner of David Kokhreidze, charged that the arrests, as filmed by the Interior Ministry, were "a provocation" against the 202 television station. "The show that he [Ramishvili] produced does not suit the government. It is an independent channel," Kokhreidze said. "There was a goal to scare not only journalists [on 202] but all journalists in Georgia."
The government has since indicated that these arrests are the beginning of an effort to crack down on corruption in the media. On the day of Ramishvili’s arrest, Merabishvili, the interior minister, remarked during his August 27 news conference that "along with the Customs Office, the Tax Department and other state agencies, the media must also be free of corruption." Merabishvili added that the ministry would be willing to work with "any interested party."
Giorgi Kokhreidze maintains that the arrests of his brother and Ramishvili, along with the sting operation, were designed to discredit 202. "A lot happened that was not shown [on the clip aired by Georgian TV stations from the arrests]," he said, including contradictory statements from Bekauri concerning the timetable of events and who exactly propositioned him [for money]."
Maia Mikashavidze, dean of journalism and media management at the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs in Tbilisi, commented that while it is still too early to say exactly what happened between Ramishvili and Bekauri, the situation is unsettling. "It is a very strange coincidence that this could happen to the person who was the most outspoken against the government," Mikashavidze said. "That is why it is creating fear in people."
Members of the ruling National Movement have also spoken out against the proceedings, arguing that the official investigation should also focus on Bekauri and his business dealings. A meeting of the party’s parliamentary faction is planned for September 4 to discuss the issue. One National Movement MP, David Zurabishvili, who had been increasingly at odds with the National Movement leadership, resigned from the party after he was criticized by fellow National Movement member and MP Giga Bokeria for publicly questioning Ramishvili’s arrest.
One civil rights activist, however, argued that the problem often lies with journalists themselves. The case against Ramishvili, said Giorgi Meladze, a program director at the Liberty Institute, is one of simple corruption, not government pressure against independent media. "We all saw what was happening," Meladze said. "There is clear evidence that this guy is taking money." While Meladze agreed that government pressure on the media does exist in Georgia, he said that this is not the case with Ramishvili and 202. "I just saw that a person has been arrested for taking a bribe. The station is still operating," Meladze said.
A high court has upheld Ramishvili's three-month detention before trial. Civil Georgia reports on new details of the case that emerged on Friday:
The Interior Ministry issued a statement unveiling the name of a person who acted as mediator between MP Bekauri and Ramishvili – Irma Stepnadze, spokesperson of the Georgian Railway Company. The Interior Ministry said that Ramishvili and MP Bekauri met in Stepnadze’s apartment in Tbilisi where Ramishvili received USD 30,000 from Bekauri – part of the USD 100,000, which Ramishvili was allegedly extorting from Bekauri in exchange for not airing a compromising story about the parliamentarian. Irma Stepnadze is a long-time common friend of both Ramishvili and Bekauri.
At a pre-trial hearing on August 29 Ramishvili said that he pinned hopes on the testimony of the apartment’s owner (Ramishvili then refrained from naming the owner), but eventually Stepnadze testified against Ramishvili and even said that the latter offered her USD 5,000, which she refused to take.
As a result, Stepnadze has become the second person, after MP Bekauri, to give evidence against the 202 TV co-founder, thus improving the investigators' case against Ramishvili.
In a response to the Interior Ministry’s statement and the testimony of Stepnadze, Shalva Ramishvili disseminated, through his defense lawyers, a letter on September 1 in which the 202 TV co-founder gave his version of the developments and also unveiled two new names who might also be questioned by the investigators.
Meanwhile, Georgia's Public TV channel has offered to broadcast the report that Bekauri was allegedly trying to suppress.
Evidence against Georgian editor 'fabricated'
On August 2 criminal police in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia detained Revaz Okruashvili, editor of the newspaper "People's Newspaper" alleging the illegal possession and sale of narcotics. He was later sentenced by the court to three months of preliminary detention. The detention may trigger the first serious political crisis for the new administration, as human rights activists allege fabrication of evidence and speak about political persecution of Okruashvili from the governor of Shida Kartli - Mikheil Kareli. Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili threw his weight behind the detention on August 3, stating that he personally ordered the operation.
The campaign to release the arrested editor is led by the influential Liberty Institute. This activist group had strongly criticized Eduard Shevardnadze’s government for human rights abuses and is considered one of the driving forces behind the November 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought Saakashvili to power. The Liberty Institute convened a press-conference on August 3, announcing that "criminal practices of fabrication of evidence, including planting of the narcotics and weapons, continues at the Interior Ministry."
The family of the detainee argues that Kvemo Kartli governor Mikheil Kareli, as well as the police chiefs of Shida Kartli, were alarmed by publications in "People's Newspaper" that alleged the region's administration’s continued participation in illegal trade and smuggling via South Ossetia - a secessionist Georgian region bordering Shida Kartli. The newspaper also alleged that the governor deserted from military service. According to Revaz Okruashvili's wife, Badri Nanitashvili, formerly the owner of the local TV company close to the governor and currently an MP, has threatened to "bring up the narcotics charges" against her if the newspaper did not stop publishing compromising material against the governor. One of the leaders of Liberty Institute, Sozar Subeliani, tipped by President Saakashvili to become the Public Defender of Georgia, says pressure was placed on the newspaper. "The last issue of the newspaper was practically impounded [by the local authorities], it never went into circulation" Subeliani says.
No apologies for Beslan parents
Meeting on Friday with mothers of children killed in the Beslan school a year ago, President Vladimir Putin promised a thorough investigation into how the crisis was handled, but told them that Russia was not able to protect its citizens against terrorism.
Members of the Beslan delegation, who have been fiercely critical of the investigation and the Kremlin's reluctance to assign blame for the botched handling of the crisis, expressed satisfaction at finally meeting with the president.
On Sunday, however, they said they had expected him to publicly apologize on Saturday for the deaths of 331 hostages, more than half of them children.
Putin, wearing a black suit, was visibly nervous Friday, shifting in his chair several times as he addressed the eight-person, black-clad delegation from Beslan at a large oval table.
"It's difficult to start this conversation. I won't make a secret of that," he said in televised remarks at the start of the meeting. The location of the meeting was not announced. Kommersant reported that it took place at "one of the government residences" in Moscow.
"The feelings that you are experiencing are understandable for any mother, any father, any normal person," Putin said.
None of the people from Beslan was shown speaking on camera. The broadcast lasted about two minutes and was limited to Putin's opening remarks.
"I must say immediately: I agree with those who believe that the state is not in a condition to provide for the security of its citizens to the extent necessary," Putin said.
He then attempted to deflect the blame by saying no government could fully protect its people from terrorism, pointing to Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorist acts in Madrid and London.
"Developed, powerful governments with functioning economies and well-performing intelligence services are currently unable to prevent terrorist acts," he said. "To say nothing about our country, which sustained enormous losses during the collapse of the Soviet Union, economically and in the social sphere."
Putin also responded to criticism of the choice of Friday for the long-sought meeting with the mothers, who had to interrupt their mourning during the Sept. 1-3 anniversary to come to Moscow. Putin said he had wanted to wait for the investigation into the attack to produce sufficient information before meeting with them. Also, the meeting Friday preceded the national Day of Solidarity with the Victims of Terrorist Acts, on Sept. 3, which was declared last year in the aftermath of the attack, he said.
Putin wrapped up his opening remarks saying, "I am ready to answer all your questions." At that point, the broadcast ended.
Nashi organise Beslan rallies anonymously
Tourists and students from the North Caucasus joined thousands of Nashi activists near Red Square to remember the Beslan school seizure with lit candles and a moment of silence on Saturday.
At least 7,000 people gathered on Vasilyevsky Spusk, alongside St. Basil's Cathedral, to take part in a silent rally organized by the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi, or Us, which had placed black posters on public transportation and elsewhere around the city urging Moscow residents to join. The posters made no mention of Nashi's involvement.
"I came here because I simply could not be anywhere else on this day," said Tatyana Kopylova, 46, of the Moscow region town of Elektrostal. As she spoke, tears rolled down her cheeks. She clutched four red carnations in one hand and a candle in the other.
Kopylova was not aware who organized the event and said she had learned about it from a poster in the metro.
Nashi organized similar silent rallies in 30 other cities across the country, including St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg, group spokesman Ivan Mastovich told Interfax.
About 200 people on Friday held a demonstration organized by human rights and opposition groups, apparently hoping to counter the Nashi rally. Participants chanted "Shame!" and called for the resignation of Putin's top police and security officials.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Minsk church's land to be confiscated
City authorities in the capital Minsk have told the embattled charismatic New Life church that the land it bought with its church building in 2002 is to be confiscated. The city claims the congregation is using the land on which the church stands "not in accordance with its designation", Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "Our members have paid 13,000 US dollars in taxes on it – they can't say that it's not ours," New Life's administrator Vasily Yurevich told Forum 18. At a 30 August meeting, church members decided to begin a round-the-clock prayer vigil, challenge the proposed confiscation in court and launch a campaign to keep their land. The church has been denied re-registration by the authorities which under Belarusian law, in defiance of international human rights agreements, renders all activity by the 600-strong congregation illegal.
Georgian detained in Bashirli case
The Shamkir group of the State Border Service (SBS) of Azerbaijan detained a Georgian citizen Kurami Georgievitsch Ahvediani.
Amount of 9,000 Armenian drams and a piece of paper with the telephone numbers of Ruslan Bashirli, Osman Alimuradov and Seid Nuriyev, as well as the Internet site and e-mail addresses of the “Yeni Fikir” youth organization were found on Ahvediani.
It's not clear whether this arrest has anything to do with the one reported in Civil Georgia:
News broke on August 30 that Georgian citizen Merab Jibuti was arrested by Azeri border guards for alleged illegal crossing of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border on August 26, Georgian and Azeri media sources reported.
Merab Jibuti is suspected by the Azerbaijani security service of being linked to Ruslan Bashirli, chief of the Yeni Fikir youth organization, who was arrested on August 3 and charged with plotting a coup in Azerbaijan.
Azeri media sources reported that Merab Jibuti was arrested while crossing the Georgian-Azerbaijani border without any identification. Reportedly, Jibuti had contact information of some activists from the Yeni Fikir youth organization.
It is unclear why Jibuti was going to visit Azerbaijan. The Azeri media reported that Jibuti planned to meet with Ruslan Bashirli, but as the detention of Jibuti occurred on August 26, by that time Bashirli had already been arrested (on August 3) by the Azeri security service.
Yeni Fikir start hunger strike
Five Azerbaijani youth activists today launched a hunger strike in a bid to obtain the release of their jailed leader.
They also demand that an end be put to attacks on opposition supporters in the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary elections.
The protesters belong to Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), a youth movement close to the reformist wing of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (AXCP).
Leaders: Solidarity should inspire Belarusians
Leaders from across central Europe yesterday called for the export of Poland's peaceful revolution to the neighbouring country of Belarus, described as Europe's last dictatorship.
Gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the birth of Solidarity, the presidents of Georgia and Ukraine, Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko, were greeted with standing ovations as they declared that Solidarity's example should inspire democracy activists in Belarus to topple the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who expects to be re-elected next year.
"We're hoping to Europeanise our policy," said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish defence minister who is now vice-president of the European parliament. "That was the case with Ukraine and we hope it will be the same with Belarus. The aim is to bring an end to this anomaly, the dictatorship in Belarus. The EU can't have a country like Belarus on its doorstep."
Amnesty calls for support of Roma in Moldova
Anna Lepadatu, Chairwoman of Roma Students Association of Chisinau, informs that Amnesty International in Moldova has start an Urgent Action to support Roma people after the police raid in the city of Yedintsy, in the north of Moldova.
On or around the 18 of July, during the investigations for several murders in Chisinau, the Moldavian police beat Roma men, women and children. More than 30 Roma people were detained, among them several 12 years old boys.
Most of the men were held for two days in Yedintsy before the release. During this period, they were allegedly beaten in order to force them to incriminate themselves or others for the Chisinau murders.
Torture and ill-treatment in police's custody are common in Moldova, and the members of the Roma community are frequent targets of the police. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its report on Moldova of April 2003, raised concerns about discrimination against Roma in the country and highlighted the frequent ill-treatment of Roma by members of the police.
Amnesty's call to action can be found here.
Andijan trials to start in three weeks
Uzbek President Islam Karimov said today that the first trial of people accused of participating in a revolt in the eastern city of Andijon in May will begin on 20 September.
Karimov said: "the whole truth will be exposed" at the trials. Karimov -- speaking on state radio -- blamed his security
forces for not stopping the incident from happening.
Azerbaijan opposition meet in Warsaw
Leaders of major opposition Popular Front (PFPA), Musavat and Azerbaijan Democratic Parties included in the Azadlig (Freedom) bloc, have met in Warsaw.
During the meeting, party leaders Ali Karimli, Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliyev exchanged views on the strategy of the bloc and preparations for the November parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan: Journalist's brother beaten
Reporters Without Borders voiced shock after masked men seized the brother of an opposition daily journalist from a city centre and took him to a suburb where they beat him and threw him into a canal.
Ramin Rzayev, brother of journalist on Azadlig, Mohammed Rzayev, was abducted on the evening of 30 August in the centre of Nakhitchevan in south-west Azerbaijan.
His assailants told him to tell his brother not to stand in November 2005 legislative elections and to stop writing articles critical of the local authorities. They threatened that the next time Mohammed Rzayev would get the same treatment as his brother.
Ramin Rzayev, who was left suffering bad headaches, went to hospital for treatment.
Men in Nashi shirts attack activists
Masked men wielding baseball bats and gas pistols, several of whom were wearing T-shirts bearing the emblem of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, attacked a group of National Bolshevik Party activists Monday night, activists who witnessed the incident said Tuesday.
The attack, which witnesses said lasted only a few minutes, left three people hospitalized. Opposition youth activists and political leaders accused Nashi of carrying out a well-planned attack against the Kremlin's political opponents and warned of an escalating conflict. Nashi, or Us, which has condemned radical youth groups as "fascists" and proclaimed them to be its primary political foes, denied any connection to the attack.
Kommersant has more:
At the police station where the attackers were taken, all information about them has been declared secret and the attackers themselves released. Kommersant has been able to obtain a list of the arrestees, however. It can be gathered from an examination of that list that the attackers were part of an organized group of fans of the Spartak team that has been suspected of having ties with Nashi.
“A little after seven, during the meeting, we heard shouts,” recounts For the Fatherland member Dmitry Sovolyev. “We looked out the window and saw people running toward the entrance f the building wearing black masks and carrying clubs, guns and torches.” At the entrance, Comrade Sovolyev continued, the masked persons fell on the seven National Bolshevik guards, two of whom were young women. “When we saw that,” he continued, “we grabbed flagpoles that were leaning by the door and headed downstairs, but the attackers had already fled. They ran off and threw away their masks and white gloves along the way.”
Several minutes later, police arrived from the Danilovsky precinct, but the perpetrators had already boarded a bus owned by the Avtotrevel Co. with markings for the No. 576 route to the suburban town of Korolev. That bus was stopped by the road police at the entrance to Lefortovo Tunnel. The young people on the bus immediately warned the traffic inspector that he was “making a big mistake and most likely would be punished.” The young people made several called by cell phone and soon police cars from the Danilovsky precinct arrived and escorted the bus and its passengers to the police station.
According to policemen from Danilovsky, things went according to standard procedure at the beginning. The officer on duty filled out papers for the detainees. A that point, an investigator was supposed to take written accounts of the incident from each of them, but that didn't happen. “A call came from above ordering us to release the detainees,” a policeman told Kommersant. “Those guys warned us when we were recording them that it wasn't worth the effort, that they would soon be released.” They were not released immediately, however, since the police station was already surrounded by television journalists and the members of leftist parties that had been attacked. The police resorted to deception to release the detainees. They took them three at a time in patrol cars and released them is different places.
The Kommersant article also has a complete list of those detained.
Lawyer appeals Ramishvili's detention
Davit Korkotashvili, defense lawyer of Shalva Ramishvili who is a co-founder of the Tbilisi-based private 202 television station and who is currently facing extortion charges, appealed the Tbilisi District Court on August 31 requesting to suspend the lower court’s ruling, which sentenced Ramishvili and his partner Davit Kokhreidze, director of the 202 TV, to three-month pre-trial custody on August 29.
Meanwhile, Ramishvili and Kokhreidze, who deny extortion accusations and label them a provocation, continue their hunger strike claiming that their detention is politically-motivated.
It's official: Khodorkovsky to stand for parliament
Jailed Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky has announced that he intends to stand for parliament.
In a statement on his website, the former Yukos chief said he would contest a seat in a Moscow district, in a by-election later this year.
Under Russian law, he is able to stand for parliament while his appeal is pending.
In a statement, he said he was running for the "right... to say publicly [that] the current Kremlin regime has exhausted itself and its days are trickling away".
Correspondents say that there is little sympathy for former oligarchs like Khodorkovsky among most ordinary Russians, with whom Mr Putin remains very popular.
Azeri opposition leader to return from exile
Exiled Azeri opposition leader Rasul Guliyev will return home to run in a November parliamentary election despite a warning from prosecutors he will be arrested, Reuters reported.
Prosecutors on Monday stripped Guliyev of the immunity he enjoys as a candidate in the vote, just two days after election officials had surprised his supporters by clearing him to run in the election.
Guliyev, a former parliamentary speaker who has lived in the United States since leaving Azerbaijan in 1996, is charged with embezzling state funds.
He was barred from taking part in previous elections.
Guliyev’s party on Tuesday filed an appeal in a Baku court against the prosecutors’ ruling stripping him of his immunity, Dzhalaloglu told Reuters.
EU diplomat to monitor Belarus
The European Commission is becoming increasingly concerned about human rights abuses in Belarus and will send a top diplomat there to get a better idea of the situation, the Reuters news agency quoted EU President Jose Manuel Barroso as saying on Tuesday.
“We are preparing a decision to send a charge d’affaires to Minsk to monitor the situation on the ground,” Barroso told a news conference in Budapest.
Speaking after meeting with the prime ministers of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Barroso said the EU was “very concerned with the situation of human rights in Belarus”.
Uzbek activist in psychiatric hospital
A leading human rights activist in Uzbekistan has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in an echo of Soviet-style practices after distributing anti-government leaflets which prosecutors claimed insulted the country's emblem.
Elena Urlayeva had earlier criticised President Islam Karimov for the Andijan massacre in May when government troops allegedly shot hundreds of innocent protesters.
Talib Yakubov, chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said Mrs Urlayeva had been detained in the past and forcibly injected with drugs. "It is because she is such a persistent critic who works 24 hours a day to help the people," he said.
Georgian MP quits after condemning Bekauri
Deputy Chairman of the ruling National Movement’s parliamentary faction MP Davit Zurabishvili announced on August 30 that he has left the party.
Zurabishvili’s decision comes after he was criticized by his colleagues from the ruling party for condemning MP Koba Bekauri for the latter’s role in the arrest of co-founder of 202 TV Shalva Ramishvili. Zurabishvili also demanded that Bekauri’s alleged wrongdoings related with the customs terminal Opiza be discussed at the session of the National Movement’s parliamentary faction. MP Bekauri is also deputy chairman of the National Movement’s parliamentary faction.
“I have different opinions and a understanding about honesty. I always tried to be loyal and observe this principle. However, when someone tries to hide the wrongdoings of a party member, especially when his activities are very suspicious for society, this the same kind of clannish policy we fought against during the Rose Revolution,” Zurabishvili told reporters on August 30.
Three arrested in anti-Semitic Kyiv attack
Three unemployed Ukrainian men were arrested on Tuesday suspected of assaulting a Jewish student who is now fighting for his life in hospital.
A 32-year-old Jewish student was attacked and severely beaten Sunday night by a group of people in Kiev. He was transported to hospital in a critical condition.
The group of assailants attacked Mordekhai Molozhenov, a student at a nearby yeshiva, or Jewish seminar, near “Mandarin-Plaza”, in an underground passage in the center of the capital.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko pledged Tuesday that his government would fight racism.
"We condemn racism and xenophobia in all of its forms," Yushchenko said in a statement released by his press service.
"Such incidents are unacceptable for Kiev and Ukraine and I will demand from all government representatives that they conduct serious work to prevent such shameful acts," he said.
A local media, Mig News pointed out that nobody of the bypasses responded anyhow to what they saw. Near the beaten pupil there were pools of blood (what is seen from the photo), but nobody rendered first aid, if it were not his fellows in studying, could have died.
Mordekhai Molozenov was transported to the reanimation department where he was operated as it was necessary to remove the hematoma of the brains. He is said to be in a critical condition and doctors are afraid for his life.
Ukrainian Interior Minister, Yury Lutsenko, announced that the police arrested three unemployed Ukrainian suspected of attacking the student. "The three men were in drunkenness situation," the ministry precised in a public statement."
The statement pointed out that "for the moment, there is no information proving the aggression was motivated by anti-Semitism or xenophobia." The statement nevertheless said "the mobile of the attack will be determined by the investigation."
Contacted by EJP, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, one of the chiefs rabbis of Ukraine, said that what happened on Sunday "did not come out from nowhere".
He explained that this terrible act, is the result two latent problems.
"First of all, what happened could be explained by the lack of reaction, of the government and the authorities in general, to the persistent vehement environment toward Jews in Ukraine," Bleich pointed ou. "Furthermore, the incitement of some of the media, mostly in the press is a key factor in the rise of racism in the country," the Rabbi added.
He underlined the fact that since the new government came to power 9 months ago, those anti-Semite and racist groups felt “bolder” to openly incite the populace to anti-Semitic acts.
Baku police arrest youth activists
Police in Baku detained 15 activists from the youth organizations Mussavat and Democratic Party Sunday night, Prime News Reports. According to the Baku Newspaper Zerkalo activists from the youth organizations 'Son' and 'Chagr' have also been detained.
According to the newspaper, the activists were posting leaflets to encourage youth to register to vote.
Lebedev files complaint against judge
The jailed head of Group Menatep Platon Lebedev has lodged a complaint against Judge Irina Kolesnikova who presided over the trial of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and their former partner Andrei Krainov, RIA Novosti reported.
Lebedev’s attorney Konstantin Rivkin said that Kolesnikova had reduced the time given to examine the court session protocol and that Lebedev found the report to be incomplete.
Finno-Ugric leader beaten in Russia
Vasili Petrov, chairman of the Youth Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples (MAFUN), was beaten up on Saturday night in his home village in the Russian Mari Republic.
The Information Center of the Finno-Ugric Peoples said in a statement published on its website, Petrov was attacked from behind and struck with a heavy object. He suffered a fractured arm and a fractured jaw, and sustained a head injury.
The government of the Mari Republic said in an official release it saw no grounds to suspect any political motives behind the assault. The government claimed Petrov was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and was attacked by village youths who were also drunk, the Helsingin Sanomat website said.
Vladimir Kozlov, head of Russia’s ethnic Mari movement, confirmed on Monday that the attack had taken place, but denied that Petrov had been intoxicated. Beatings of opposition supporters and critical journalists have become commonplace under the region’s president Leonid Markelov.
Meanwhile, Helsingin Sanomat reports that the International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, held this weekend in the Mari El republic, met numerous obstacles:
Already before the gathering the militia and security forces of the republic held conspicuous "rescue exercises". The local Mari El newspaper reported on the exercises, which were aimed at practising repulsing attacks by "terrorists and other extremist elements".
In one of the police exercises, the officers rehearsed removing a bomb from the location of the congress - the large stage of the Mari National Theatre. In another exercise they defused a dummy explosive in a Lada parked on a highway, and in another, they captured a terrorist after a shooting incident.
In the imaginary situation, a sniper was removed from the building where the guests of the congress were housed.
"It was in this atmosphere that we were supposed to engage in scientific discourse", said Riho Grünthal, Professor of Baltic Finnish Languages at the University of Helsinki.
Fewer than 40 researchers from Finland took part in the congress, even though over 80 had registered. The delegations of Estonia and Hungary had also shrunk to less than half. There were only about 20 Estonians, and just under 40 Hungarians.
Some of the scientists, such as Finnish Professor Pauli Saukkonen, had stayed away to protest the policies of the government of the Mari Republic, which has been accused of oppressing the ethnic Mari in the region.
Finnish participants said that science turned into politics. Their local colleagues were ordered not to discuss anything concerning the problems of the republic. Anyone asking a question about a controversial matter was faced with a brick wall of silence.
The foreign guests were constantly followed by police, and an entire police convoy would accompany each of the various excursions. It was certainly safe, but it was difficult to meet ordinary residents, and photography was also restricted.
The scrutiny went so far that mobile phones used by Finnish participants were silenced when they tried to set up meetings with local colleagues.
Scheduled meetings were cancelled, when a local colleague was suddenly compelled to go on holiday on the day in question. The Mari participants at the congress were also threatened with "repercussions" after the departure of the foreign guests.
Municipal leaders would often begin their speeches by saying "Thanks to President Leonid Markelov, we are doing well". After a folk dance performance it was said: "Only a happy nation dances like this!"