Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: August 10, 2005

10 August 2005, Volume 6, Number 12
WILL PUTIN FOLLOW IN NAZARBAEV'S FOOTSTEPS? Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against the foreign funding of Russian nongovernmental organizations that engage in political activities. The presidential press service has not issued any follow-up statements explaining what Putin meant by "political activities," nor has Vladimir Lukin, the presidential ombudsman for human rights, offered an explanation.

In the absence of any official clarifications, Russian NGOs have been left to parse the president's words for deeper meaning. During a call-in show with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau, Pavel Slapak of the Ivanovo Oblast branch of Memorial suggested that what really matters is not what Putin said but how his loyal followers will interpret his words. Yurii Vdovin of Citizens' Control agreed, stating that he is "afraid that the bureaucrats will want to be more Catholic than the pope in their efforts to fulfill Putin's orders."

If Putin's followers are looking for a model of what to do, they need look no further than Kazakhstan. In what has widely been interpreted as a reaction to the "colored revolutions" in countries in the former Soviet Union, Kazakh legislators loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev drafted legislation that would severely hobble the work of the republic's tiny NGOs community if enacted. One of the authors of the bills, lower parliament member Valerii Kotovich, told his colleagues that he was suggesting increasing control over the finances of NGOs in the interest of strengthening national security, "Ekpress K" reported on 9 June. In his remarks on the legislation, Communist lawmaker Yarosyl Abylkasymov sounded a similar theme: "We do not hide the fact that these bills are being adopted for the upcoming [presidential] election and for the defense [of Kazakhstan] against pseudo-revolutions," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 June.

One opponent of the legislation, Senator Svetlana Dzhalmagambetova, asked Kotovich whether he had any data showing how many foreign NGOs over a certain period engaged in activities directed at overthrowing constitutional order and weakening the defense of the nation, "Ekpress K" reported on 29 June. Kotovich admitted that he and his fellow authors didn't have any statistics; however, he said that they know various examples of how this or that international organization operates.

The bills passed Kazakhstan's upper chamber last month with some modification of its harsher features. Originally the bills called for NGOs to report at least 10 days in advance to local executive organs about any new measures that they were preparing. NGOs were also originally required to send a detailed report to local executive organs about any financial transaction with a foreign donor; under the current version they only need to alert local authorities about the direction of the financial flows, "Ekspress K" reported on 29 June. An additional requirement that the NGOs publish information in official sources about their financing was kept despite one senator's objection that this stipulation "would cost an NGO more than a $1,000, the cost of two wheelchairs for handicapped people."

The NGOs themselves have been watching the bills' progress through Kazakhstan's lower and upper chamber with great concern. Zhemis Turmagambetova, deputy director for the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Observance of the Law, told "Ekspress K" on 9 June that the lawmakers "are trying to regulate everything. They [want to] put NGOs [in the situation] of justifying everything in advance, they want to make us guilty in advance. What about the presumption of innocence? We should report every time that we are planning on doing something. This is so that they can find out what we are doing, but the government [already] has many resources, specialized agencies, which can uncover crimes, in particular the Committee for National Security [KNB] and law-enforcement agencies." Turmagambetova predicted that if the laws are adopted in their present form, international foundations will no longer consider applications from Kazakhstan.

The NGO community is hoping that President Nazarbaev will veto the legislation, "Ekspert-Kazakhstan" reported on 18 July, commenting that Nazarbaev has sent the bills to the Constitutional Council. Some observers hope that the legislation will experience the same fate as similarly controversial draft media law did last year. In April 2004, the council ruled that draft media law unconstitutional and, since then, no new media bills have so far been put forth.

In the meantime, Russian NGOs like Memorial's Ivanovo branch are left to question their next move. Slapak reported that Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vlaidmir Tikhonov announced on television on 20 July that all local government organs should not under any circumstances criticize the activities of federal government organs. "If we speak out against this, will this be considered political activity?" he asked. "All this is leading to a situation where only [the pro-Kremlin youth group] Nashi will remain" (see, "New Youth Movement To Foil U.S. Plot To Take Over Russia").

This week President Putin met with Nashi members in his Tver Oblast residence. During a televised meeting with several dozen well-groomed Nashi youth clad in white short-sleeved shirts on 27 June, Putin was asked what he thought about the crisis in education and the problem of "more and more less-educated" people appearing in Russian universities. He replied that "the problem is in you thinking that you are smarter than those people." He smiled indulgently, patting the knee of the young woman who asked the question as the youths, all paying rapt attention, laughed and applauded. (Julie A. Corwin)

PUTIN 'FOREIGN FUNDING' REMARKS DRAW CIVIL SOCIETY CONCERNS. Washington, 21 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Human rights activists are expressing concerns about Russian civil society after President Vladimir Putin spoke out yesterday against foreign funding for political organizations. Representatives of groups involved in human rights work in Russia said they are worried that Putin might further restrict dialogue aimed at improving rights and governance. Putin offered state support for nonprofit groups, but some experts say such backing would have to be channeled through independent bodies to ensure independence.

Putin raised concern about outside political interference at a Kremlin meeting of the Council for Promoting the Development of Civil Society Institutions and for Human Rights, a body his office oversees.

The president told the group that he had received reports of money sent from abroad for "specific political activities." Without providing examples, he expressed concern that foreign actors were seeking to manipulate Russia's domestic scene.

"I object categorically to foreign funding of political activity in the Russian Federation," Putin said yesterday. "I object to it categorically. Not a single self-respecting country allows that and neither will we."

Putin's comments echoed similar remarks by leaders in other former Soviet countries, who accuse Western-funded civil society groups of fomenting popular revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has also increased pressure on such groups, following criticism of his government's bloody crackdown on protesters in Andijon in mid-May.

As for Russia, Eliza Moussaeva, a consultant with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said conditions for civil society groups have been getting worse. But Moussaeva, traveling in the United States, said Putin's latest remarks signal an intention to further clamp down on activists.

"I think it's just another step [to clamp down on activists], because actually Putin has already gotten used to such things because he has been allowed by the international community to make such statements," Moussaeva said.

Putin offered the Kremlin's financial support for nongovernmental organizations. He stressed there should be no concern about government attempts to "bribe" civil society groups.

The director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Aaron Rhodes, told RFE/RL that Putin's government so far has a record of obstructing and pressuring civil society groups. But he said Putin's offer of financial support should be given consideration.

"He's got a point. The funding for civil society organizations should come from their own society. That's the only way that it really makes any sense and that it's really sustainable," Rhodes said. "Russian organizations should be supporting human rights organizations in Russia. The Russian government could even do so if it channeled the funding first through an independent foundation."

The use of a rights-promoting foundation distinct from the government could be a solution to the funding problem, but it could prove difficult to find local support for any Russian group monitoring human rights in war-ravaged Chechnya.

That's the view of Oksana Chelysheva, who works as an editor for the Nizhny Novgorod-based Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, a rights monitor. Chelysheva told RFE/RL her group relies on funding from the European Commission, the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and Norway's Foreign Ministry.

"Being involved in the Chechen issue, it's impossible to hope that we will be able to find some internal source of funding because it's just impossible," Chelysheva said. "Thus, we totally depend on our foreign donors."

Chris Walker, the director of studies at U.S.-based rights monitor Freedom House, said the group has noted a deterioration in conditions for civil society since Putin's state of the nation address in May 2004. In the speech, Putin warned nongovernmental organizations against serving "dubious group and commercial interests."

"The atmosphere has become less hospitable and more chilled for independent groups that are working in Russia," Walker said. "That's been communicated to us by a number of groups that we've spoken with and it seems to be the prevailing sentiment in the NGO community there."

In its annual ratings of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House downgraded Russia last year from "partly free" to "not free." (Robert McMahon)

LARGE PROTEST HELD AT MAIN U.S. AIR BASE. On 26 July, a crowed estimated to number at least 1,000, chanted slogans against the United States at the main U.S. military facility in Afghanistan located in Bagram, in the northern Parwan Province. The protestors had gathered before the gates of the heavily guarded base to protest the detention of a local commander and seven other people -- including a local mullah.

The commander whose arrest sparked the riot has been identified as Hamidullah, an engineer who was once associated with the radical Hizb-e Islami group led by fugitive former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

While most sources have described the commander at the center of the Bagram riot as Hamidullah, Kabul-based Tolu Television in a 26 July broadcast identified the commander as Hajji Mohammad Hashem, also formerly associated with Hekmatyar's party.

Hekmatyar is currently considered the third party of the triumvirate fighting against Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and its foreign backers. The neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda account for the other two parties in this axis. In 2002, Hekmatyar declared jihad against the United States for its presence in Afghanistan. The following year the U.S. State Department named Hekmatyar as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003).

Most of the protesters where from Deh Mullah, a village east of the base, and were -- according to Parwan police chief Major General Mawlana Abdul Rahman Sayyedkhayli -- "enraged" by the "raid on Hamidullah's residence and his subsequent arrest in the "still of the night" by U.S. forces.

According to Sayyedkhayli, the former commander renounced armed opposition a decade ago and was working as a farmer.

Cindy Moore, a U.S. military spokeswoman, told Pajhwak Afghan News on 27 July that U.S. forces had recovered explosives from Hamidullah's residence and that the he was arrested on suspicion of planning an attack on Bagram. According to Moore, Afghan intelligence and police personnel were accompanying U.S. forces when the arrests were made -- a request made by Karzai to involve his government in cases involving Afghan citizens.

After less than one day in custody, the United States handed the eight men over to provincial authorities in Parwan on 27 July.

While the handover of the eight detainees to the Afghans might very well have quelled the anger of local residents of Bagram District, the longer term question of counterterrorist activities in Afghanistan, and the standing of the United States in that country, remains an open question.

There has been no credible accounting as to which of Afghanistan's former warlords have sincerely traded in their swords for plows, nor has any of them thus far been identified or arrested for their past deeds. Moreover, the Afghan judicial system remains in shambles with little hope of it returning soon to something that can be remotely regarded as a transparent and fair system in which cases can be tried. This situation is especially true in provinces where local loyalties often overpower any respect there is for the central Afghan government's laws and commitments, including its counterterrorism efforts. The Bagram riot clearly points to this problem, as no protests have targeted that base since late 2001 when some locals were arrested.

As such, the task for the United States in leading the war against terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan becomes very complicated. On one hand, with more intrusive operations the U.S. faces the possibility of dealing with more hostility to its presence in Afghanistan while on the other hand, in the absence of a robust Afghan commitment to investigate, arrest when needed, and incarcerate suspected terrorists, the chance for an Afghanistan free of the menace of terrorism might fall victim to short-term local expediencies. (Amin Tarzi)

WIFE OF ALLEGED AKRAMIYA FOUNDER LEFT TO WONDER OVER HUSBAND'S FATE. Prague, 27 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek authorities have long accused Akram Yuldoshev, a former math teacher from the city of Andijon, of having helped found the banned Islamic group Akramiya. Tashkent claims Akramiya members have been behind a number of terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan and provoked the bloody government crackdown in mid-May. Yuldoshev himself has been in prison since 1999, serving a 17-year sentence on terrorism charges. But his wife, Yodgora Yuldosheva, says she has received no news about him since the Andijon unrest. RFE/RL recently visited the Suzaq refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan and met with Yuldosheva.

Yodgora Yuldosheva was at the Suzaq camp in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-Abad Province ever since she fled the Andijon violence in May.

Human rights groups say the bloody clashes on 13-14 May between protesters and government troops left as many as 750 people dead. The government puts the figure at 187, and has refused requests for an independent inquiry into the events.

Yuldosheva last visited her imprisoned husband, Akram , in April, at the Sangorod prison near the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

Since then, she said, she has seen no trace of him.

"I don't know where my husband is now," Yuldosheva told RFE/RL. "He was in Sangorod before I came here; I knew he was there. I've heard so many different rumors from people who have come here from Andijon. They've said he was transferred to another prison, that he is being held separately from others, that he's been tortured. I don't know exactly. I am asking visitors [to the camp] for information."

Yodgora and Akram, now both 42, met in school, married, and had four children. Yuldosheva said she supported her husband when he began learning about Islam from a friend in the 1980s.

He soon went his own way in exploring his religion. He later wrote a pamphlet titled "Iymonga Yo'l," or "The Path to Faith." The work -- which focuses more on moral and religious issues than on political debate -- was widely read by like-minded Islamic followers interested in Yuldoshev's views.

Yuldoshev's audience comprises what the government now considers an active Islamist movement with violent intent. But the group -- which acknowledges a common interest in Islamic religious theory and moral values -- denies they are members of an extremist movement, and that there is no such thing as the Akramiya organization.

Yuldoshev -- whose first name gave Akramiya its purported title -- was first imprisoned in 1998 but was released a few months later under an amnesty.

After a series of explosions in Tashkent left 16 people dead in 1999, he was arrested again and charged with Islamic extremism. He has been in jail ever since.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov launched a fierce crackdown on perceived government critics and extremists after the 1999 bombings.

Tashkent claims Akramiya was set up by disenchanted former members of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Hizb ut-Tahrir endorses the aim of establishing a regionwide Islamic state, or caliphate, but without the use of violence. The Uzbek government has alleged that Akramiya, by contrast, has the same goal but is willing to use terror to achieve its ends.

Akramiya has denied the claims. And Yuldosheva said her husband has never spoken out against Uzbekistan's political system or leadership.

"He used to say about Karimov: 'I am not interested in either the presidency or in creating a caliphate.' He used to say that it is up to Allah to choose a ruler, and that going against a ruler meant going against Allah's will," Yuldosheva said.

Life has been hard for Yuldosheva without her husband. Two of the couple's grown daughters married while their father was in prison. One has since begun a family of her own, and the other was pregnant at the time of the Andijon bloodshed.

Yuldosheva actively participated in the demonstrations that sparked the Andijon violence. Demonstrators were protesting the trial of 23 businessmen accused of belonging to Akramiya. She also appeared as a defense witness at the hearings, but said her testimony was ignored and that the process was "nothing but a farce."

Yuldosheva said she joined the 13 May demonstration at Andijon's central square because she was hoping for an opportunity to talk to Uzbek officials about her husband's plight. In the end, she said -- barely able to hold back her tears -- she was naive to hope that something good would come of the rally.

"We went to the meeting that day because we heard that Karimov was coming," Yuldosheva said. "We thought Karimov didn't know what the real situation was. We thought it was only the bureaucrats around him who were being so bad and unfair. We waited for him all day. He didn't come. Karimov said [afterward], 'How could I shoot my own people, who are my supporters, my life, and my joy?' But he did shoot. He shot using BTRs [military personnel carriers] and bullets that ripped people into small pieces. We saw that with our own eyes."

Yuldosheva's 15-year-old son was with her in Suzaq. But the whereabouts of her youngest child, a 13-year-old daughter, have been unknown since the Andijon clashes.

Yuldosheva said she lost many friends in the Andijon bloodshed. But the hardest thing, she said, was finding out that three of her husband's brothers, and one of his nephews, were arrested in the wake of the uprising.

But her biggest concern remained the fate of her husband. She said she needs only to know her husband is alive.

"I'm waiting for any news about my husband," Yuldosheva said. "I beg anyone who visits [the camp] to give me any information they have. They say they don't know anything. Maybe they do, but they're hiding the truth from me. The past seven, eight years [that he has been in prison] have been a serious test for me. I stay here because of the future. I can speak against Karimov while I am here. There, [in Uzbekistan], we can't speak against him."

Yuldosheva was presumably among the more than 400 Uzbek refugees being flown today from Kyrgyzstan to a third country that has not been disclosed. (Gulnoza Saidazimova)

BELARUS BANS EUROPEAN FOUNDATION ON ESPIONAGE CHARGES. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has banned the Warsaw-based European Foundation Dialogue, saying the organization serves as a cover for gathering intelligence and recruiting secret agents, Belarusian Television reported on 21 July. "This foundation was registered in Warsaw with an aim of promoting cooperation between scientific circles in Central and Eastern Europe," the channel's main "Panarama" newscast reported. "Its main work was conducted in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. However, it turned out that under the cover of exclusively scientific interests, the foundation was actually created for conducting intelligence activities on CIS territory." According to the report, Belarusian scientists were recruited as agents while visiting Poland to give lectures or meet with Polish colleagues. "For the Polish Embassy in our country, this is not the first surprise of this kind," the report added. "In its espionage activities the Polish intelligence service does not limit itself to creating various foundations but uses career officers working under diplomatic cover." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005)