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Russia Report: July 2, 2004

2 July 2004, Volume 4, Number 25
Not one, but two Communist Party plenums took place in Moscow on 1 July, just two days before the party's 10th congress. The first, convened by a faction within the party that opposes current party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, voted him out and elected in his place Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Moscow, Zyuganov's supporters convened a second plenum at which Zyuganov said that only the presidium of the party's Central Committee can convene a plenum, and "they are all here," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 July. Even Tikhonov himself acknowledged in comments to RBK that only a party congress can elect a new Central Committee and a new party chairman.

Zyuganov had been on track for a smooth reelection on 3 July. The majority of the delegates selected for the 10th congress had already expressed their support for Zyuganov, who has headed the party since February 1993. Now the possibility exists that two congresses will take place and the party that dominated the State Duma in the last decade will be split into two, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 2 July.

In March, Zyuganov let it be known that he would decline to be renominated at the July congress, clearing the way for someone younger. One month later, however, he changed his mind. Among the various explanations suggested for his change of heart, two were most prominent, "Rodnaya gazeta", No. 16, reported. One was that presidential administration told him not to let go of the reins. Another was he never intended to resign anyway, and that his hints were just a ploy designed to consolidate the support of his backers.

Whatever the reason, Zyuganov, who turned 60 last week, currently shows no signs of wishing to retire. At the same time, his long-time rival, State Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin, demonstrated by organizing the alternative plenum on 1 July that he too is not willing to give up, despite his ouster from the party in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). Last year, when the party gathered barely half the amount of votes in the State Duma election that it had in the previous race in 1999, deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov declared the "end" of the Communist Party, "Kommersant-Daily" recalled, noting that it is not hard to guess which side the Kremlin prefers in the struggle between the two factions. Semigin has frequently been accused of being a Kremlin "mole."

Meanwhile, the timing of the coup against Zyuganov could not be more opportune from the perspective of the government, which is trying to push through a social-benefits reform that the Communist Party and its electorate strongly oppose. Preoccupied with its own leadership struggles, the party will hardly be in a position to organize nationwide protests. (Julie A. Corwin)

By Robert Coalson

When Vladimir Lukin was confirmed as Russia's human rights ombudsman in February, activists were cautiously optimistic.

As a co-founder and co-leader of the oppositionist Yabloko party, Lukin clearly has the required liberal credentials, but as a former ambassador to the United States, he has a reputation for diplomatic finesse that was somewhat less encouraging. However, in recent weeks, after three months on the job, the new ombudsman has taken on some of the country's most powerful interests -- the Interior Ministry, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Kremlin, and even President Vladimir Putin -- in a startlingly energetic and aggressive manner.

The skeptics seemed to be vindicated in April when Lukin held a cozy meeting with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, after which Lukin took pains to minimize the significance of the fact that nearly half of all complaints to his office are directed against the police. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Lukin as saying that Nurgaliev is aware of the figures and that during the meeting he "justly noted that the ministry must not be judged just by scandalous facts and phenomena." Lukin emphasized that the ministry has had "both negative and positive results," and lauded Nurgaliev's willingness to cooperate with the ombudsman's office. "Law enforcement organs must precisely know and observe human rights, but citizens must know and observe the rights and obligations of the law enforcement organs," Lukin said, in what appeared to be an attempt to justify some of the ministry's alleged human rights violations.

On 16 June, however, Lukin returned with a vengeance to the theme of human rights violations allegedly committed by police. At a press conference called to present the results of his first three months in office, Lukin repeated that "the most important and urgent questions are the state of human rights in the law enforcement agencies," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 June in an article titled "Lukin Becomes A Dissident." He offered a laundry list of complaints, including allegations of torture, beatings, unlawful detentions, planting evidence, and illegal searches. "The most impermissible means of influence are used in temporary holding cells and police offices," he said. Lukin cited the case of a woman in the Leningrad Oblast town of Gatchina who alleged that she was tortured by being forced to don a gas mask that had been sealed off with tape. Another woman in Moscow Oblast said that she had been subjected to electric shock, and a resident of Vladimir Oblast was tied to a bench and beaten until he bled from his ears, Lukin said, according to "Novye izvestiya."

Lukin has followed a similar pattern in his dealings with the Justice Ministry's Main Corrections Department regarding prison conditions. In the spring, a wave of hunger strikes rolled through the penal system, and were particularly widespread in Leningrad Oblast, where more than 5,000 prisoners were striking at one point. Lukin investigated and found a "well-developed system of extortion to extract food, money, and valuables from prisoners and their families," "Novye izvestiya" reported on 6 April. He said some prisoners, with the knowledge and support of the guards, were extorting other prisoners using threats of beatings. Although Lukin charged local penal authorities with trying to cover up the reasons for the hunger strike and with denying prisoners access to human rights organizations, his accusations were low-key and barely attracted the notice of the national media.

However, Lukin went public in a forceful way in May when it appeared that the Main Corrections Department was continuing the cover-up and even going after the NGOs that were increasingly trying to draw attention to such abuses. In May, a group of activists in the Adygeya Republic was detained while trying to verify reports of prisoner abuse, and the Justice Department accused them of accepting money from criminal groups and working on their behalf. A few days earlier, Main Corrections Department Deputy Director Vladimir Kraev made similar unsubstantiated allegations. Lukin responded boldly in both cases, stating publicly that he would personally monitor the case of the Adygeya activists. On 24 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Lukin as saying that Kraev's comments were an inappropriate response to allegations of poor prison conditions and that "his job is not to make declarations but to keep his own house in order." Lukin discussed the matter with Justice Minister Yurii Chaika.

In recent days, Lukin has also been in the press constantly with his opposition to the controversial government-backed bills on conducting referendums and on public demonstrations. Lukin participated in several demonstrations against the referendums bill and told activists in St. Petersburg on 12 June that he had submitted several amendments to it, reported. However, the Duma adopted the bill after rejecting all 173 amendments proposed. As ombudsman, Lukin could present his objections to Putin in a bid to persuade him not to sign the bill into law.

Lukin also recently promised to look into charges that the FSB has prevented scholars from entering the closed Chelyabinsk Oblast city of Ozersk, reported on 10 June. The scholars had been invited to conduct sociological research, and the NGO that sponsored them reported that an FSB official had informed them that they would be arrested if they attempted to enter the city and possibly charged with espionage. The FSB official was aware that the NGO received grant funding from a U.S. foundation and mentioned the case of researcher Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted in April of spying in connection with research he did for a U.S. organization. Lukin reportedly said that he would travel to Ozersk himself to look into the matter.

Lukin also recently helped organize a group of Moscow residents who are concerned about uncontrolled construction in the capital and forced Moscow Mayor Luzhkov to meet with them. Lukin's involvement in this matter was also widely reported in the national media, and marked the ombudsman's first open collaboration with his old Yabloko colleagues.

It is possible that Lukin has earned the right to pursue these matters aggressively by carrying water for the Kremlin in the international arena. Lukin has routinely responded diplomatically to periodic Western accusations of human rights abuses in Chechnya. "I cannot concentrate all of my attention exclusively on Chechnya," Lukin told the Spanish daily "La Vanguardia" on 2 June. In the same interview, he responded to a U.S. State Department report on human rights in Russia by sarcastically saying, "Washington's statements on the failure to observe human rights in any country look simply comical these days." Lukin has also spoken out repeatedly in defense of Russian speakers in Turkmenistan and other parts of the former Soviet Union, a subject that is close to the heart of the presidential administration.

In the "La Vanguardia" interview, Lukin also described the meeting with Putin at which they first discussed his candidacy as ombudsman. "[Putin] told me that his experience in the area of human rights was limited, since he had worked where he worked for so many years," apparently a reference to Putin's KGB and FSB background. The mounting evidence from Lukin's recent performance as ombudsman seems to indicate that the president has chosen the right person to make up for this shortcoming. As Lukin said in an interview with RFE/RL in March, shortly after his confirmation: "Two things are capable of influencing the situation in this country: force and authority. It is true that the human rights ombudsman has practically no force at his disposal. But if he has authority, then he can achieve a lot."

By Don Hill

It's official. On 23 June, Moscow officialdom banned any further organized activity in the city by the Christian group Jehovah's Witnesses.

The final ruling on a four-year-old case by the Moscow City Court is important to the group's 10,000 followers in Moscow, as well as those elsewhere. That is because they consider active proselytizing -- that is, "witnessing," or speaking out on behalf of Jehovah, an old Hebrew word for God -- as a necessary part of their worship.

It is significant, too, because this is the first successful application under Russia's 1997 religion law to outlaw a religious organization. The court ruling was also the last step required to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Geraldine Fagan of the religious rights organization Forum 18 has been following the Moscow case from its inception. In a telephone interview from Moscow, she said that Jehovah's Witnesses arouse opposition in Russia not for what they profess to believe, but for how energetically they profess it. "A key element here is not so much the doctrine of the organization, as how active they are," she said. "The Jehovah's Witnesses are very active in terms of proselytizing, in terms of going around to people's flats, handing out literature, having large conferences, and so on."

Followers of the faith understand that their diligence -- some would say aggressiveness -- in declaring their views can be an irritant. But as Jim Andrik, a Jehovah's Witness and human rights lawyer at the denomination's headquarters in New York, explained, their activity is inseparable from their doctrine: "Part of our worship -- we feel clearly from the scriptures [that] Jesus said in the Book of Matthew that the good news of the kingdom would be preached throughout the Earth. And it's a commission that we feel we need to follow as part of our worship of our God, Jehovah. And so when oftentimes we're talking to people, and it's just by the nature of our work that they see us around quite often, and so some don't like to see us talking about our beliefs."

One oddity of the treatment of nontraditional religions in Moscow is that the Jehovah's Witnesses case outwardly rests on Russia's religion law of 1997. Yet under that law, the group has been able to register and operate unhindered elsewhere in Russia. Andrik said he thinks that the Russian Orthodox Church orchestrated the Jehovah's Witnesses' problems in Moscow.

"It could be [because] this is where the seat of the patriarch is. And it was clear throughout the trial that the Russian Orthodox Church was instrumental [in the case against Jehovah's Witnesses]. Even the charges that were brought were brought by a group that is associated with the Russian Orthodox Church," Andrik said.

Canadian lawyer John Burns represented the denomination in the appeal just lost in Moscow City Court. He said that the matter now is ripe to go before the European Court of Human Rights. The official European human rights body, the Council of Europe, established the European Court of Human Rights in 1953 to interpret and reinforce the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The court is empowered to hear and decide cases, to levy fines, and to refer violations to the Council of Europe. It has no independent enforcement powers except moral suasion. Russia is a member of the council and a signatory to the court treaty.

Burns said that the Jehovah's Witnesses took their case to the European court several years ago, complaining that the proceedings in Moscow were too slow, and that the very effort to ban the denomination was interfering with its followers' right to practice their faith. The European court declined to act, however, until the final Russian court action.

"So now that we are banned, of course, we can complain," Burns said. "So what we're doing is we're updating the European court as to the decision last week."

Burns said that both parties to the case, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Russian officials, have petitioned the court to hear oral arguments promptly. The church group says it already has waited too long.

"The Russian government has asked for an oral hearing on this case because they say it's one of great public concern," Burns said. "That was in a letter that their representative gave to the European court during the month of March. And we've also asked for an oral hearing. And that's on the issue of admissibility -- is this a case [that] the European court should hear? -- and then as to the merits [of the case]."

Jehovah's Witnesses won a victory over Greece in the European Court of Human Rights less than a month ago. Greek law provides for compulsory military service but allows ministers of what the law calls "recognized religions" to decline. Priests of the Greek Orthodox Church routinely apply for and receive this exemption.

From the early 1990s, however, the Greek military has insisted on arresting and jailing declared Jehovah's Witnesses ministers on the grounds that their faith is not a recognized religion. The military persisted despite repeated court rulings in favor of the applicants.

The European court ruled late in May on an appeal from several applicants that their right to religious equity before the law had been violated. The court ordered Greece to pay the equivalent of $72,000 in compensation to the applicants. Greece, like Russia, is a member of the Council of Europe.

IN: Federation Council members confirmed on 23 June Natalya Dementeva as new representative for the legislature of Marii El Republic, RosBalt reported. Most recently, Dementeva served as deputy culture minister. Dementeva replaces Ilya Lomakin-Ryumyantsev, who now heads the Federal Service for Monitoring Insurance.

IN: Legislators in Kurgan Oblast have elected former advertising magnate and head of the Mosselprom agricultural company Sergei Lisovskii as their representative to the Federation Council, replacing Andrei Vikharev, "Vremya novostei" reported on 30 June. Lisovskii is a former campaign aide to former President Boris Yeltsin.

SHIFTED: Two former deputy ministers for atomic energy, Ivan Kamenskikh and Anatolii Kotelnikov, have been named deputy heads of the new Federal Atomic Energy Agency, "Profil" reported on 28 June. Boris Yurlov, a former financial officer for Gazprom, was also named as a deputy to the agency.

UP: Magadan city legislators accepted on 30 June the resignation of Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, who after 11 years running the city is moving to Rostov to head the control department of the apparatus for presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev.

IN: Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov appointed Vyacheslav Volokh as director of the Federal Service for Monitoring the Use of Natural Resources and Aleksandr Borodko as director of the Federal Agency for Land Surveying and Cartography, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 June.

OUT: Prime Minister Fradkov has signed orders dismissing Yurii Koptev as head of the Russian Space Agency, Vladimir Pospelov as director of the now-abolished Federal Agency for Shipbuilding, Dmitrii Sukhoparov as deputy minister for economic development and trade, Sergei Mitin as deputy minister for industry, science, and technology, Anatolii Osadchikh as deputy labor minister, Nikita Bantsekin as deputy education minister, and Andrei Tsyganov and Konstantin Paremenenkov as deputy antimonopoly-policy ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 and 30 June.

REJECTED: Justice Ministry officials refused on 23 June to register the public association For a Decent Life, whose leader is State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev.

2 July: President Putin will meet with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to discuss regulating conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

2 July: State Duma will consider introducing monetary compensation for in-kind social benefits in its first reading

2 July: The Audit Chamber will hold a session examining the results of privatization over the last 10 years

2-4 July: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Seoul

3 July: Presidential election campaign in Ukraine will officially open

3 July: Communist Party congress will be held to elect new leadership

3 July: Yabloko will hold its 12th party congress

4 July: Vladivostok will hold mayoral election

4-5 July: Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov will visit Iran

5 July: The Oktyabrskii Raion Court in Rostov-na-Donu will begin hearings in the case brought by a local journalist against pop singer Filipp Kirkorov

6 July: The Motherland party headed by Dmitrii Rogozin will hold a party congress in Moscow

6 July: Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian will visit Moscow

6-10 July: International weapons exhibition in Nizhnii Tagil

10 July: State Duma will end its spring session

12 July: Hearing of the case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev to resume

21 July: Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot will visit Russia

31 July: State Duma will hold a special session

1 August: Deadline for the Finance Ministry to present its draft 2005 budget to the government

3 August: State Duma will hold a special session

26 August: Deadline for the government to submit its draft 2005 budget to the State Duma

29 August: Presidential elections will be held in Chechnya

September: St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum plans to open the Hermitage Center, which will exhibit works from the Hermitage's collection, in the city of Kazan

15-18 September: The third International Conference of Mayors of World Cities will be held in Moscow

19 September: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Samara Oblast, according to NTV on 30 June

20 September: The State Duma's fall session will begin

October: President Putin will visit China

October: International forum of the Organization of the Islamic Conference will be held in Moscow

25 October: First anniversary of then-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's arrest at an airport in Novosibirsk

31 October: Presidential election in Ukraine

November: Gubernatorial election in Pskov Oblast

22 November: President Putin to visit Brazil

December: A draft law on toll roads will be submitted to the Russian government, according to the Federal Highways Agency's Construction Department on 6 April

December: Gubernatorial elections in Bryansk, Kamchatka, Ulyanovsk, and Ivanovo oblasts

29 December: State Duma's fall session will come to a close

March 2005: Gubernatorial election in Saratov Oblast.