27 January 2005, Volume
MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN PENSIONERS' TEARS
By Julie A. Corwin
Skepticism -- or even cynicism -- has been a common reaction in Russia to the recent Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, and the pensioners' protests that have shut down streets in dozens of Russian cities over the past month are eliciting much the same reaction -- at least within Russian officialdom.
During the Kyiv protests, many Russian policymakers and pundits voiced the belief that the West, specifically the CIA and/or the Soros Foundation, orchestrated the appearance of thousands of people on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. Now, the pensioners' protests are likewise seen not as a spontaneous expression of dissatisfaction but rather as a series of "provocations" organized by political opportunists.
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 17 January, acting Moscow Oblast Governor Aleksei Panteleev suggested that provocateurs were behind the recent protests. "Forces -- for whom their main concern is not the protection of their fellow citizens' interests but their own political [public relations] -- often exploit the mood of protesters, or sometimes [their motivation] is even worse: a provocative desire 'to rock the boat' in a city or raion," Panteleev said. He added that he has held meetings with a number of political organizations active in the oblast and that the "extremists" were "warned not to indulge in provocations or they would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." According to Panteleev, who was filling in for the vacationing Governor Boris Gromov, "[Our] law enforcement organs have videotapes of all those people younger than pension age who are traveling back and forth from city to city, inciting the population to close streets and engage in other violations of the law. They have been detained in accordance with the law." Earlier, Governor Gromov declared that it is not "the pensioners who are guilty, but the provocateurs."
In St. Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matvienko appeared to have been given the same set of talking points. She told reporters on 17 January that "St Petersburg's law and order agencies will take strict measures against people who provoke pensioners to carry out illegal actions," ITAR-TASS reported. "I want to give assurances that no force will be used against people attending rallies," she told reporters. "However, there are those who are making use of this situation to reap false political dividends." According to gazeta.ru on 18 January and "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 January, Matvienko ordered local police to arrest only young people and ignore elderly demonstrators. Representatives of the city prosecutor's office quoted by lenta.ru on 19 January appeared to follow that distinction between youthful organizers and old participants by saying that administrative cases are being brought only "against the organizers of the actions, not the participants, the majority of whom are pensioners."
In St. Petersburg, police detained eight people on 18 January for organizing unsanctioned meetings. In a program aired on 20 January, Maksim Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, told RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau that police targeted not only young people but also older citizens, and not only individuals known to have connections with existing political organizations but also people who assumed any kind of organizational role in the protests. For example, the police picked up 67-year-old pensioner Galina Tolmacheva, who was not associated with any political structure but had telephoned some 600 people asking them to participate in an unauthorized protest in front of St. Petersburg's mayoral offices. She has alleged that she was beaten by policemen at the police station until she lost consciousness.
On 19 January, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin jumped on the provocateur-theory bandwagon, telling reporters in Moscow that the protesting pensioners "have organizers, and highly skilled ones at that," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kudrin, the Communist Party (KPRF) and National Bolshevik Party created schedules for blocking roads that have appeared on the Internet. In Samara, oblast prosecutor Aleksandr Yefremov claimed that his office had information that the National Bolshevik Party was among the main organizers of rallies in the oblast capital of Samara, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 January. However, later that day, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov told the station that this was news to him, although he would be delighted if it turned out to be the case. Oleg Kulikov, secretary of the KPRF's Central Committee, did take credit for the protests in Samara in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January. He said the KPRF encouraged hundreds of protesters to block the streets of Samara and that it also played a role in organizing the large protests in Ufa.
Despite Kulikov's claims, some news reports suggest that the Communist Party is responding to events rather than leading them. After all, the party did fail last July in its bid to launch a nationwide protest against the social-benefits reform. "Moskovskii komsomolets" charged on 18 January that the KPRF Central Committee appears to "have been caught off-guard by events." According to the daily, in some regions, pensioners are carrying Communist Party banners but this is thanks only to the initiative of the local KPRF organizers. The daily reported that when Communists from Izhevsk in Udmurtia telephoned the Central Committee with questions regarding organizing a protest in Udmurtia, they received no clear instructions.
Rather than organizing events, the Communist Party might be trying to gain political capital from the protests after the fact. Ekho Moskvy reported from St. Petersburg on 15 January that leaders of the Communist Workers' Party and members of the National Bolshevik Party showed up at the rally that day long after it had already started. In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 18 January, 64-year-old Olga Fedorova, who is facing administrative proceedings regarding her role in Khimki protests held in Moscow Oblast, said that "all the talk about 'young instigators' is rubbish."
Fedorova said she telephoned some of her acquaintances about the 10 January meeting at the Leningrad Highway and didn't expect more than 20 people to be there. According to police records, around 2,000 people took part. When she arrived with a megaphone in hand, people approached her asking if she was in charge; but she arrived after the highway was blocked. The police picked her up the next day in the hallway of her apartment building. She denied having been at the demonstration, but the police told her that they had her image on film. According to the daily, Fedorova supports Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia Party, but her motivation to protest was more personal than political. With a 1,500-ruble ($54) monthly pension, she could no longer afford her daily visits to relatives in the city of Moscow. She commented at the end of her interview with the daily, "It would be strange if people with a 1,500-ruble-a-month pension didn't protest."UZBEK GOVERNMENT ALLOWS MONITORS IN TORTURE PROBE
By Daniel Kimmage
Two men died in police custody in Uzbekistan on 2 January. Samandar Umarov was a prisoner serving a 17-year sentence for being a member of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Rayim Quldoshev was a resident of Jizzakh called in for questioning after a dispute that occurred on New Year's Eve. Very different in their particulars, the two cases share a crucial common element: allegations that both men died as a result of physical abuse.
Following a precedent established in the summer of 2004, the Uzbek government has agreed to have independent observers monitor an investigation of Umarov's death. Meanwhile, the unanswered questions about Quldoshev's death underscore the extent of a problem that stubbornly refuses to go away.
"RFE/RL Central Asia Report" has already covered the disputed circumstances of Samandar Umarov's 2 January death. Uzbek human rights groups allege that Umarov died under torture, although the official cause of death was listed as a stroke. A few days after the incident, the Uzbek government approached the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, asking it to observe an official investigation and agreeing to the participation of Uzbek human rights defenders and foreign specialists, Freedom House Senior Program Officer Margarita Assenova told RFE/RL on 12 January. The Uzbek observers are Abdusalom Ergashev, a specialist on religious rights, and Vohid Karimov, a medical doctor. The outside experts include Ronald Suarez, chief medical examiner of Morris County, New Jersey, and Drago Kos, a criminal investigator from Slovenia and chairman of the Council of Europe's anticorruption commission. The Polish, Swiss, and U.S. embassies will also monitor the investigation's progress.
Freedom House representatives met with a government commission chaired by Erkin Yuldashev of the Prosecutor-General's Office on 11 January. Participants agreed to make the investigation's results public, preferably in a news conference that will include members of the government commission as well as Uzbek and foreign observers. The observers have received a briefing from senior officials in Uzbekistan's penal system led by Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov. Interior Minister Zokir Almatov has assured the observers that they will have unrestricted access to the government commission's work. The investigation's conclusions are expected to be made public in the coming days.
Against this backdrop, allegations of mistreatment emerged in the death of 32-year-old Rayim Quldoshev. Quldoshev died in police custody in Jizzakh on 2 January, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 12 January. Quldoshev's misfortunes began on 31 December, when he agreed to transport three or four individuals in his car. A dispute developed, and Quldoshev's passengers subsequently filed a complaint with the police in Jizzakh.
Quldoshev was called in for questioning at 10 a.m. on 2 January. Four hours later, he was dead. A heart attack was listed as the official cause of death, but Bakhtiyor Hamroev, head of the local branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL: "We don't believe the conclusion. According to our information, Rayim died after a blow to the chest while he was being interrogated by four policemen."
Another account on an Uzbek opposition website suggested that Quldoshev might have suffocated when police put a plastic bag over his head. Jizzakh police chief Olim Qosimov told the BBC that a criminal case has been opened in the wake of the incident, but he insisted that Quldoshev's death did not result from torture.
The official decision to conduct an investigation with the participation of outside observers comes after a similar inquiry examined the death of murder suspect Andrei Shelkovenko in 2004. That investigation found no evidence of torture.
Although no details of the new investigation are available yet, the Umarov case breaks new ground, since he was a convicted member of an Islamist group the Uzbek government views as a dangerous enemy of the state. Critics have argued, however, that it is the violent persecution of suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members that ensures the government of Islam Karimov a steady supply of new enemies. This dispute has often set the terms of the debate over police brutality and torture in Uzbekistan, pitting Karimov's foes, who believe that the only real solution is the removal of the current administration, against the government and its supporters, who insist that tough methods are needed to fight the extremist threat.
For the vast majority of ordinary Uzbek citizens who are neither high-ranking officials nor active opponents of the government, the issue of police brutality and torture raises a much less theoretical question: Do the country's law-enforcement organs inspire respect as upholders of justice or fear as practitioners of torture? This is the question that UN special rapporteur on torture Theo van Boven raised when he dubbed torture in Uzbek prisons "systematic" in a widely noted 2002 report. And it is the specter that hangs over the allegations of mistreatment in the Quldoshev case.IRANIAN NOBEL LAUREATE SUMMONED BEFORE REVOLUTIONARY COURT FOR UNSPECIFIED CHARGES
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Iran's judiciary has ordered Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, to appear before the hard-line Revolutionary Court for questioning or face arrest. Ebadi has until 16 January to appear before the court. Ebadi's team of lawyers has been involved in several high-profile human rights cases recently, but the reason for her summons is unclear.
In an interview with Radio Farda, Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, said she has no idea why she has been called to appear before the Revolutionary Court.
"Two days ago, a summons was delivered to my law office in which it was stated that I have to go to the Revolutionary Court to give explanations, without mentioning if I'm accused or not and what the charges are against me," Ebadi said. "In the letter, it was stated that if I don't present myself within [three days], they will order my arrest."
Ebadi said the court order contradicts Iranian law: "Such a summons is not in accordance with criminal law because the law says that if someone commits an offense, he or she must be informed of the allegations against him or her and be summoned to court to present an explanation. This summons from the court -- it does not specify whether I stand accused and, if I am, what my charges are -- stands against our criminal law."
It is unclear how she plans to respond to the court order. Reuters quoted a close colleague of Ebadi's, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, as saying she plans to appear before the court on 15 January. In 2003, Ebadi became the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition for her fight for more rights for Iranian women and children. She is the founder of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, an Iranian rights organization.
The Revolutionary Court deals with national security offenses and is known for jailing many political dissidents.
In 2003, Ebadi became the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition for her fight for more rights for Iranian women and children. She is the founder of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, an Iranian rights organization.
Inside Iran, however, her activities have angered some conservatives and hard-liners. Ebadi said she has received several death threats.
Ebadi and her team of lawyers at the center have been involved in several high-profile cases, such as that of Zahra Kazemi, a photojournalist with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship. Kazemi died in 2003 from a blow to the head while in custody in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Ebadi has also called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran and for an end to the practice of issuing death sentences for young offenders that are carried out when the prisoner reaches the age of 18.
The U.S. State Department called the move against Ebadi a violation of international standards of human rights and said it is monitoring the situation. A State Department official said: "We will continue to follow closely the [Iranian] government's actions against Ms. Ebadi and others, as well as the deteriorating situation in Iran, and will continue to raise this issue and our grave concern over the worsening human rights situation in Iran with friends and allies in the region."
Human rights activists and international organizations defending human rights have also condemned the court order. Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, has called on Iranian authorities to end their harassment of Ebadi.
According to Neil Hicks, director of international programs at Human Rights First, said the judiciary's move demonstrates that "no one who speaks out on human rights in Iran is immune from arbitrary repression and intimidation by the authorities."
Mohammad Seyfzadeh, one of Ebadi's colleagues at the Center of Human Rights Defenders in Tehran, said the court action against Ebadi is causing concern inside Iran, as well. "Lawyers and human rights activists who have contacted me are very upset," Seyfzadeh said. "Mrs. Ebadi is working within the framework of legal and human rights issues. So [summoning her to court] means the destruction of freedom of expression, it means disregard for people's expertise. She talks within her expertise." Seyfzadeh said he believes the summons might be connected with Ebadi's human rights activities.
In a statement, the League For the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, an organization based in Paris, said the judicial order is an attempt to silence the voice of human rights activists in Iran.
Ebadi was Iran's first female judge before being forced to resign following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She was jailed in 2000 for distributing the videotaped confession of a Iranian hard-liner who said prominent conservative leaders were instigating physical attacks on pro-reform figures.
(Radio Farda's Mahmonir Rahimi contributed to this report.)
SELF-IMMOLATION REPORTED IN KABUL.
A woman in the 8th District of Kabul burned herself to death on 17 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported the following day. According to an unidentified police source, the woman burned herself because of problems with her husband. According to the report, in the past year 60 to 70 women have set themselves on fire in western parts of Afghanistan mostly because of family problems and a lack of respect for women's rights within families (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January)WOMEN'S RADIO STATION RESUMES TRANSMISSION.
The all-women Voice of Afghan Women radio station resumed transmission in Kabul on 18 January, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The station, which is run by women and has programming on issues related to women, originally began broadcasting in March 2003 with limited funding provided by UNESCO. The radio's director, Jamila Mojahed, has said the station intends to become self-sufficient through advertisement (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 March 2003). The radio station hopes to expand its broadcasting to provinces outside Kabul. It is not clear when the radio station first stopped its broadcasting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January)
OPPOSITION LEADER PREDICTS HARSHER POLITICAL REPRESSION.
Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 20 January that Major General Stsyapan Sukharenka's appointment as the new head of the State Security Committee (KGB) signals that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka wants to reinforce political repression in the country before the 2006 presidential election. "Stsyapan Sukharenka has a great passion for political repression," Lyabedzka said. "The presidential election campaign is approaching, and the priority for Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his entourage will be not so much fighting corruption or transnational crime as staying in power." Another opposition leader, Mikalay Statkevich, said that Lukashenka has begun to purge the KGB top ranks of people with "Moscow connections." "This is a trend," Statkevich said. "[The KGB top ranks are being filled by] a new draft of people who have no connections in Moscow and do not belong to the common clan of KGB people [of the former USSR]." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES TEHRAN.
"The [Iranian] judiciary...has been at the center of many serious human rights violations," according to the most recent report from Human Rights Watch (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/01/13/iran9803.htm). The report also notes the activities of the so-called parallel organizations that have a quasi-official role but do not seem answerable to anybody. The report refers to clandestine detention centers run by the judiciary and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in which "severe physical torture," solitary confinement, and lack of access to legal counsel are used to secure confessions. Although judiciary chief Shahrudi's April 2004 directive bans torture, there is no mechanism to enforce this. Minorities, such as Baha'is, Sunnis, and Baluchis, also encounter discrimination and persecution, according to Human Rights Watch. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON BILLIARD PARLORS.
A recent edict from the Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi), which deals with issues such as listening to music and lewd behavior, regulates the time billiard parlors in Tehran can stay open, Radio Farda reported on 10 January. Billiard parlors must close by 11 in the first six months of the year (March-September) and by 10 in the last six months of the year (October-March). Moreover, no new pool halls will be licensed. Physical Education Organization official Hassan Mirza Aqabeig told Radio Farda there are 450 licensed billiard parlors in Tehran. He added that no family wants its children shooting pool until 2:30 a.m. Reza Haidari, a young man who occasionally hangs out in billiard parlors, told Radio Farda that young people go to these places to relax and have fun. He said he has heard of places where boys and girls played billiards together, but he never went to one himself. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January)TEACHERS AND NURSES PROTEST IN TEHRAN.
A group of teachers and another group of about 200 nurses gathered outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran on 9 January to stage employment-related protests, according to Iranian newspapers on 10 January. The teachers, who taught at overseas Iranian schools, complained that they had not received their full salaries and benefits, "Hemayat" reported. The teachers' earlier demonstration outside the Management and Planning Organization did not yield results, and legislator Mohammad Hussein Nejad-Fallah asked them to select one person to represent them. The nurses demanded salary increases, an end to privatization in their field, fewer night shifts, and a larger pool of nurses, "Sharq" reported. Several parliamentarians met with the demonstrators and promised to look into their grievances. The result of this was an agreement to hire more nurses, Dashtestan representative Seyyed Abdolmajid Shoja told "Sharq." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January)
GOVERNMENT UPS EFFORTS TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING.
Deputy Justice Minister Ubaidulla Stamkulov told a commission on fighting human trafficking on 13 January that "law-enforcement bodies and the National Security Committee have considerably stepped up their activities against this problem," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Stamkulov said that 12 criminal cases were opened under the Criminal Code's "human trafficking" statute in 2004, twice as many as in 2003. He also noted that "five channels for trafficking Kazakh citizens abroad for sexual and other exploitation were identified and blocked [in 2004]." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)
OPPOSITION HOLDS DEMONSTRATION IN CAPITAL...
The opposition blocs Ata-Jurt and the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan's held an unsanctioned demonstration with 500 participants in the center of Bishkek on 19 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Demonstrators demanded an end to the hounding of the authorities' political opponents and the right to participate in 27 February parliamentary elections. Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the Erkindik party, addressed the crowd, saying, "Starting on 1 February, we will begin collecting signatures across the country to impeach President [Askar] Akaev." Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of Ata-Jurt, said, "President Akaev's son and daughter have announced their intentions to run for parliament, as have the son of [Prime Minister Nikolai] Tanaev, the son and son-in-law of [presidential-administration head Toichubek] Kosymov. Is this the kind of parliament we want?" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January)...SEES THREAT TO DEMOCRACY.
A number of Kyrgyz opposition groups held a forum on Kyrgyzstan's "democracy deficit" in Bishkek on 18 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Participants included Muratbek Imanaliev, leader of the bloc New Direction; Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the opposition movement Ata-Jurt; and Emil Aliev, deputy leader of opposition party Ar-Namys. "We have been driven into a cage. There is intimidation everywhere.... Any other head of state is better than [Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev. We have a right to the article in the constitution entitled 'transfer of power,'" Otunbaeva said. Otunbaeva, whose recent disqualification from running in 27 February parliamentary elections sparked protests in Bishkek, pledged to continue fighting for Kyrgyz democracy. Other speakers criticized the politicization of the Central Election Commission and the authorities' failure to make good on promises of democratic reform. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January)PRESIDENT LAUDS STABILITY, BLASTS 'PROVOCATEURS.'
Dubbing 2005 the year of social stability and housing construction, President Askar Akaev used an address on 11 January to praise the progress of reforms in Kyrgyzstan and continue his criticism of revolutionary political change, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akaev said democracy has put down "deep roots in the consciousness of the Kyrgyz people." He noted, however, that upcoming 27 February parliamentary elections create a "very favorable" environment for "a variety of provocateurs," Interfax reported. In a clear reference to recent protests in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005), the president said, "What makes the danger worse is that our homegrown provocateurs now have skilled coaches who have learned how to use provocations.... No significant event has occurred,... but certain groups are already trying to pitch tents and infect people with yellow plague." He concluded, "I want to call on the entire nation to counter the exporters of revolution and the provocateurs." Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev echoed the president's remarks, telling journalists on 11 January that the political situation in the lead-up to parliamentary elections is worrisome, RFE/RL reported. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005)
PRESIDENT WANTS 'TRUTH' ABOUT 1989 REVOLUTION...
In an interview with the private channel Realitatea TV on 10 January, President Traian Basescu said he wants to find out "the truth about the  revolution" and intends to "push things" as far as his constitutional prerogatives allow in order to have this clarified, Mediafax and Revista Presei Online reported the next day. Basescu said it is "inadmissible" for the Romanian people to be in the dark about why 1,300 people had to die after communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted in the uprising on 22 December 1989. Basescu was hinting at allegations that the so-called terrorists of December 1989 were acting on orders aimed to legitimize the National Salvation Front headed by former President Ion Iliescu as defender of the revolution. He said he hopes people will learn the truth before his mandate ends in late 2009. Basescu also said the law on accessing the files of the former Securitate must be amended to make genuinely accessible all files that do not affect national security. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005)...SHRUGS OFF COMPLAINT TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT BY PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER.
In his televised interview on Realitatea TV, President Basescu said lower-house speaker Adrian Nastase's complaint against him at the Constitutional Court lacked credibility, Mediafax and Revista Presei Online reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). Basescu said the complaint might have been justified if he had in any way acted in order to bring about Nastase's dismissal as Chamber of Deputies speaker. "It is unthinkable," he said, that the head of state would have less freedom in expressing political opinions than any other Romanian citizen. Basescu also said he will abide by any decision pronounced by the court on Nastase's complaint (Mediafax on 11 January reported that Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu has launched a similar complaint with the court.) Basescu also said he does not believe the Democratic Party would agree to be merged into the National Liberal Party (PNL), as suggested by some PNL members, and that the merger is more likely to succeed if the two formations set up a new "Popular European" party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2005)HUNGARIAN DOCUMENTARY ON TRIANON BANNED.
Culture Minister Mona Musca on 10 January banned any further showing in Romania of a Hungarian documentary film on the 1920 Trianon Treaty on the grounds that it is chauvinistic, dpa reported. The 14-part documentary was produced by Hungarian film director Gabor Koltai and is based on the works of Hungarian historian Erno Raffayi. A shorter two-hour version was shown in Cluj on 9 January under the auspices of the local Hungarian Reformed Theological Institute. Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes appears in the documentary. Hungarian State Television (MTV) and Duna TV, which broadcasts for Hungarian minorities abroad, refused to broadcast the documentary on grounds that it was anti-Semitic and incited revisionism, according to dpa and reports in Romanian dailies of 10 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January)
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP NOTES CONTINUED EROSION OF RUSSIANS' RIGHTS.
In its annual "World Report 2005" issued on 13 January, Human Rights Watch concluded that in 2004, Russia experienced a "further erosion of fundamental rights that underpin the country's fledgling democracy." The report noted that before 2004 the NGO community "was the only part of civil society that had not faced any significant meddling by the Kremlin." However, President Putin's May state-of-the-nation address, which criticized NGOs, sparked a new campaign of pressure. The report praised the reform of the prison system, where overcrowding has been eased, but criticized the government for failing to make use of Russia's current economic prosperity "to reform state institutions that have entrenched human rights problems." Among the entrenched human rights problems listed were systematic hazing practices in the armed forces, torture and abuse of criminal suspects by the police, poor treatment of children in orphanages, and inhumane treatment of patients in psychiatric institutions. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January)GOVERNMENT TO ENCOURAGE NGOS TO PROMOTE RUSSIAN INTERESTS ABROAD.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told a conference in Petrozavodsk on 18 January that the ministry will do more to promote the international work of Russian nongovernmental organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry "will focus on strengthening interaction with public institutions in light of the tasks set out by President Vladimir Putin in his annual address to the Federal Assembly," Yakovenko said. Among those tasks, Yakovenko said, are the strengthening of ties with Russian communities abroad, promoting the Russian language and culture, and helping to form a positive international image of Russia. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January)RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN DENIED PERMISSION TO ADDRESS DUMA.
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said on 20 January that he intends to complain to the Constitutional Court because the Duma earlier that day denied him permission to address the chamber on 21 January, Interfax reported. "The human rights ombudsman was virtually denied the right to make a public assessment of the actions of the authorities at various levels [regarding the implementation of the social-benefits reforms]," Lukin said. "I am guaranteed the right to speak in the State Duma by [law]." "It is my firm belief that those who restrict the opportunities for serious dialog between the authorities and society widen the range of action for extremism," Lukin added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January)DUMA PASSES BILL THAT COULD BAN KREMLIN CRITICS FROM ENTERING RUSSIA.
The State Duma passed in its first reading on 12 January a draft bill amending the laws on visas and on the legal status of foreigners, ITAR-TASS and RosBalt reported. The vote was 353 in favor, 44 against, and six abstentions. State Duma Constitutional Legislation Chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia) said that under the current version of the bill, foreigners who fail to submit a certificate verifying that they are HIV-negative would not get visas, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, foreigners who show "contempt for federal bodies of power and Russia's state symbols would not be granted visas." According to gazeta.ru, critics of the Russian president could find that they are unable to enter Russia. Tatyana Lokshina of the Demos analytical center told the website that in the opinion of the center's experts, people who have criticized Russian policies in Chechnya or the Russian authorities in any form could be blacklisted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January)GAY-RIGHTS ADVOCATE LAUNCHES SAME-SEX-MARRIAGE TEST CASE.
The registration office of Moscow's Butyrka Raion has accepted a marriage application submitted by two men, the first time that a single-sex-marriage application has been accepted in Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 18 January. The application was submitted by Bashkortostan legislator Edvard Murzin and the editor of the national gay magazine "Kvir," Ed Mishin, as "simply a way of drawing public attention to the status of sexual minorities in Russia," Murzin said. Murzin explained that it was purely a political initiative and that the two men do not have an emotional relationship. "I ask myself who, if we do not do it ourselves, will defend the interests of such people," Murzin said, "who are forced to live a way of life imposed on them by society.... They are called names wherever they show themselves. There are all sorts of examples of them being harassed at work, being dismissed, being refused promotion. In fact, I think the fact that we are trying to defend our rights is a service not so much to gays as to society itself." Murzin said that he expects the registration office will deny his application within 10 days, since same-sex marriages are illegal in Russia. He then intends to take the case through the legal system to the Constitutional Court and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January)
JUSTICE MINISTRY DENIES U.S. DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE REGISTRATION.
Tajikistan's Justice Ministry has refused the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) registration in Tajikistan because of errors in its application, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 10 January. A Justice Minister official told the news agency that the ministry has asked NDI to make corrections and resubmit its documents. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January)EXTREMIST GROUP MEMBERS GO ON TRIAL.
A group of more than 10 alleged members of the Tajik extremist group Bayat has gone on trial in Khujand on charges ranging from organizing a criminal group to murder, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. Hodi Fattoev, one of the group's suspected leaders, is among the accused. A source in Tajikistan's Interior Ministry told the Russian news agency that operations are under way to find and detain Ali Aminov, the alleged overall leader of Bayat. The source also suggested that Bayat might be linked to the banned Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as to international terrorist organizations. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS IN SOUTH CAUCASUS STATES.
In its annual overview of human rights observance worldwide, released on 13 January, Human Rights Watch noted that Armenia failed in 2004 to improve its human rights record, resorting in April to police violence against peaceful demonstrators and imposing restrictions on the freedom of assembly. The report noted that torture and ill-treatment in police custody persist and that there are restrictions on full media freedom; at the same time it registered an improvement in religious freedom in Armenia. The report said that the ongoing pressure by the Azerbaijani government on the political opposition reached "a new intensity" in the wake of the 2003 presidential election, as reflected by the trials of over 100 activists, of whom 46 were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years. The report also highlighted reprisals against independent and opposition media. On the plus side, it noted that 32 political prisoners have been released, although others remain in jail. In Georgia, religious tolerance has improved but torture and ill-treatment in pre-trial custody remain widespread, one prominent victim being former Control Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili. The report registered concern that the new leadership's much-publicized anticorruption campaign "is not being applied equally to all," and notes that constitutional changes enacted in February that empower the president to appoint and dismiss judges contravene international human rights norms. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January)