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Sunday, December 04, 2005


Amnesty Christmas card campaign

Every year, Amnesty International asks supporters to send Christmas cards to selected political prisoners around the world. This year, several prisoners from the former Soviet Union are on the list:

We encourage our readers to send cards to one or more of these prisoners. Addresses and further instructions can be found at the links above.

Please follow Amnesty's directions carefully. In particular, please do not mention politics or any political organisations, as this can put the recipient in danger.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Censorship in English-language reports from Russia?

At A Step at a Time, David McDuff calls attention to a disturbing phenomenon:

From time to time there are significant and apparently increasing discrepancies between English-language and Russian-language newswire reports that emanate from the Russian Federation. This was obvious in the Interfax accounts of remarks by Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Meller, who visited Moscow for talks in the middle of last month, on November 14. While the Russian-language report - giving a more or less complete of Meller's Izvestia interview - talked frankly about the issues that still surround Katyn and their implication for Russian-Polish relations, the English-language report amounted to little more than an oblique precis of what Meller actually said. His remarks were also presented in selective fashion, and rearranged from their original sequence and out of their original context.

Read the whole thing.


Jehovah's Witnesses denied registration in Uzbekistan

From Forum 18:

The latest instance known to Forum 18 News Service of a religious minority being barred from gaining state registration – thus rendering its activity illegal – is a Jehovah's Witness community in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Following open hostility against the community from the head of the city's Yaksarai district, a subsequent meeting of local residents (the Mahalla committee), presided over by the local Mullah (Islamic clergyman), reversed a decision to allow a Jehovah's Witness congregation to apply for state registration. Under Uzbekistan's complex registration procedure, which institutionalises obstacles to religious minorities, the approval of both the Mahalla committee and the head of the district administration is necessary before a religious community can even apply for state registration from the Ministry of Justice. The Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over religious believers of all faiths.


Yabloko rally demands Moscow mayoral elections

From MosNews:

Activists of Russia’s liberal Yabloko party have held a rally in the center of Moscow demanding the return of mayoral elections.

Deputy chairman of the party, the leader of the Moscow branch of the party, Sergei Mitrokhin, said at the rally that “Moscow is deprived of rights more than any other city in the country. All other cities have the right to elect their power.”

According to the electoral reforms introduced by President Vladimir Putin last September, the heads of Russia’s regions are no longer elected but proposed by the president and later approved by regional legislations. The city of Moscow has the status of a federal subject, which is why its mayor is regarde as a regional governor.


Kazakhstan shuts Kyrgyz border

From the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor:

On November 29 Kazakhstan imposed new restrictions along the state border with Kyrgyzstan "to prevent possible penetration into Kazakhstan of unwanted elements" ahead of presidential elections on December 4 (Kazinform, November 30). Dozens of Kyrgyz traders were not able to cross the busy Kyrgyz-Kazakh Qordai customs point, and some 230 Kyrgyz citizens were arrested and deported from Almaty, according to Kubanychbek Isabekov, head of the Kyrgyz parliamentary committee on labor migration (Akipress, November 30). Besides the economic implications of tightened control on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border, the move also carries strong symbolic undertones.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had persistently declared that a democratic "color revolution" is not possible in Kazakhstan, hinting that the March 24, 2005, Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan brought instability and chaos to that country. The Kazakh media have focused solely on negative events such as looting in Bishkek, the numerous demonstrations, and political assassinations in the wake of the new political regime in Kyrgyzstan.

The closure of the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border and deportation of migrants had no advance warning. The first explanation was the alleged involvement of Kyrgyz citizens in setting fires at four large bazaars in Almaty last week. The fires caused an estimated loss of $5,000-$400,000 per stall and overall damage ran into millions of dollars. But the Kazakh Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Umurzak Uzbekov, rejected this version of events, saying that different security reasons had guided the border shutdown and noted that Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik migrants were deported as well (Akipress, November 30). However, it was clear that Kyrgyz citizens were the main targets.

The Kazakh border will remain closed to Kyrgyz citizens until around December 8-10. The International Organization for Migration is providing the deported migrants, who come from different parts of Kyrgyzstan, with shelter in northern Kyrgyz cities and small sums of money (Akipress, November 30).


Repressive 'security' bill passed in Belarus

From Radio Free Europe:

The lower house of the Belarusian National Assembly, the Chamber of Representatives, has passed in its second reading a tough new security bill that, among other things, would make it a criminal offense both to discredit Belarus's standing abroad and to train people to take part in street demonstrations. Deputies approved the bill by a majority of 97 to four. Human rights activists say the amendments to the criminal law contained in the bill are politically motivated and aimed at undermining the opposition in the run-up to next year's presidential elections.


More demonstrations in Armenia

From Radio Free Europe:

Yerevan, 2 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia's opposition supporters rallied again in Yerevan today to protest against official results of the recent referendum on constitutional changes.

Our correspondent says an estimated 2,000 demonstrators took part in the peaceful protest. The leader of the opposition, Aram Sarkisian, said that police detained several of his party activists following the rally.


Kazakhstan returns refugees to Uzbekistan

From Human Rights Watch:

Kazakh authorities have forcibly returned ten persons who had fled persecution in Uzbekistan, in violation of Kazakhstan’s international commitments, Human Rights Watch said today. A second group of Uzbeks missing in Kazakhstan are feared to be at risk of “disappearance” and forcible return. The forcible returns took place days before Kazakhstan is scheduled to hold presidential elections on December 4. The men were sought by Uzbekistan on charges of “religious extremism.” Human Rights Watch called on Kazakhstan to stop the forcible return of Uzbeks who face a risk of torture in Uzbekistan.

A Tashkent defense attorney told Human Rights Watch that ten men forcibly returned to Uzbekistan are now in the custody of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tashkent. According to the lawyer, Kazakh authorities arrested the men on November 28 in Shymkent, in southern Kazakhstan, and handed them over to the Uzbek authorities at the border between the two countries later that same night (3 a.m. on November 29). It did not appear that the Kazakh authorities followed any official extradition procedure or that there was any judicial review of the cases before the handover. One of the ten men forcibly returned to Uzbekistan is Nozim Rakhmonov, an asylum-seeker who had registered his application with UNHCR prior to being detained.

Kazakhstan’s arrest of Uzbeks seeking protection from repression at home comes as Kazakhstan’s own rights record is under scrutiny. Ahead of the December 4 elections, the government has cracked down on independent media and the political opposition. The pre-election environment has been marred by the detention of opposition activists on trumped up charges, violations of freedom of assembly, and allegations of physical attacks on relatives of opposition leaders. Local groups charged that the Nazarbaev government has illegally seized opposition newspapers and denied the opposition equal access to the media.

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