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(Un)Civil Societies Report: October 31, 2004

31 October 2004, Volume 5, Number 17
WIVES OF RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL PRISONERS IN UZBEKISTAN FACE CHALLENGES WITH STRENGTH. Uzbek President Islam Karimov tolerates only state-sponsored Islam and has cracked down on unauthorized religious or political activity. While an estimated 6,000 religious and political prisoners serve time, their mothers, wives, and daughters are often left behind, forced to survive in hard economic conditions. But Uzbek human right activists say these women possess a strong spirit and are more active in defending the rights of the prisoners than their male relatives.

Fifty-seven-year old Saida's three sons are in prison in Uzbekistan after having been convicted of religious extremism and attempting to overthrow the government.

Two of her sons were detained after a string of deadly bomb explosions in the Uzbek capital in February 1999 that were blamed on Islamic extremists. They were eventually sentenced to 17 years each. Her third son was detained several days after a series of explosions in Tashkent and Bukhara last spring killed some 50 people. He was convicted of the same crimes.

Saida lives in Tashkent with her daughters-in-law and two grandchildren and maintains that her sons are innocent. She said that, with her sons in prison, the four women have trouble making ends meet.

"My three daughters-in-law are jobless. One of them bakes cakes and sells them," Saida said. "The others help neighbors clean their houses and gets paid for it. I am retired myself. My pension is very small -- only 17,000 soms [$17] a month. But they give me only half of my pension. The other half goes for utilities, which I can't afford to pay otherwise."

Saida visits her sons in prison regularly, but the trip is difficult and costly. Two of her sons are in prison in Qarshi, in southern Uzbekistan. It takes eight hours to travel from Tashkent to Qarshi by bus. Then it may take another eight hours before she and her daughters-in-law are allowed to see the men. Relatives of religious and political prisoners in Uzbekistan routinely have to wait longer to see their loved ones than the relatives of other prisoners and are restricted in the amount of food and clothing they can pass along.

The worst thing, Saida said, was when her eldest son disappeared last spring. She said she went to the police and the prosecutor's office, but was given no information on his whereabouts. Only three weeks later, Saida said, did she learn he had been detained.

Surat Ikramov, who heads the nongovernmental organization Center for Human Rights Initiative, said this is nothing unusual for Uzbekistan.

"First of all, it is the Internal Affairs Ministry, the police and the Prosecutor's Office who violate human rights," Ikramov said. "[According to law], when they detain someone, they must inform the detainee's mother or other family member within two to three hours. Then a suspect can be held in detention for 72 hours while the case is studied. If the suspicions seem sound, the prosecutor's office sanctions arrest."

Ikramov said that the women left behind by such detentions face particular challenges. One of the problems, he said, is that women like Saida are often unaware of their rights. Another problem is the stigma that is often attached to them, both by having family members in prison and because of their religious practices.

Saida and her daughters-in-law wear the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. This is part of the reason why they have trouble finding work. Ikramov said that Uzbek officials and many employers have negative attitudes toward traditional Muslim women.

Aza Sharipova never wore a hijab but said that she, too, felt stigmatized. In 2003, her son Ruslan was convicted of homosexuality and the sexual abuse of minors. International right groups, such as Human Rights Watch, say the case was politically motivated and that Ruslan was imprisoned for his independent journalistic activities. "Granny, they imprisoned Daddy. What are they going to do to us?"

Sharipov was eventually released and received political asylum in the United States earlier this year.

Sharipova recalled the detention of her son: "I experienced such stress that I had to consult a psychotherapist afterward," Sharipova said. "It was awful when I went to the GUVD [the Internal Affairs department where Ruslan was being held]. Ruslan had a fever. They refused to give him medicine. I was so stressed because I was not allowed to give him food or anything else."

Ikramov said that, despite the obstacles, it is the women of Uzbekistan who fight most passionately for the rights of their imprisoned relatives.

"In 99 percent of cases, the mothers or wives [of convicts] seek our help," Ikramov said. "There are almost no fathers or brothers [who do so]. I believe it is because of the fear they have. I asked several men about this, and they openly admitted they were scared. They think officials will be less cruel toward women than men."

In Uzbekistan, women have also been more active in campaigning against the death penalty. Tamara Chikunova is a founder of the nongovernmental organization Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture. She started her campaign after her son Dmitrii was executed in 2000.

As he has done in the past, Karimov earlier this month declared a prisoner amnesty in honor of Constitution Day (8 December). He announced his decision at a session of parliament in Tashkent.

"With today's decision, we are releasing 5,040 people from jail," Karimov said. "In general, the decree will also affect 8,000 to 9,000 people [who will have their sentences reduced]."

The amnesty applied mostly to people convicted of minor crimes, however, and Saida's sons were not among the 9,000. The amnesty never includes members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, who have been accused of unconstitutional activities.

"An amnesty has been announced three times since [my sons] were imprisoned," Saida said. "But they were never granted it. I contacted the Internal Affairs Ministry. [They] said the crime was too serious and that my sons must ask the president's pardon. How can they beg pardon for something they didn't commit?"

Saida said that the hardest thing for her is to answer her grandchildren's questions about the future.

"The kids are growing up with negative feelings toward the government," Saida said. "They ask me why their fathers are in prison. The other day, my 4-year-old grandson asked me: 'Granny, they imprisoned daddy. What are they going to do to us?' I said, 'They are not going to do anything to you.' And he said: 'I don't want to be imprisoned.'"

It has been five years since Saida's two sons were imprisoned. There are 12 years left on their sentences. Saida said she fears she might not live long enough to see their release. (Gulnoza Saidazimova)

UKRAINIAN PROTESTERS SAY AUTHORITIES STAGING VIOLENCE ON EVE OF ELECTIONS. Waving orange-colored banners, 100,000 supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko marched to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) on 23 October and Yushchenko vowed not to allow authorities to falsify elections.

As demonstrators dispersed, youths wearing armbands reportedly broke some windows and six were detained, AP reported 23 October. But opposition members instantly accused the government of orchestrating the violence. Later, as demonstrators lingered at the CEC, about 100 thugs reportedly attacked a column of people with hammers, bottles and other objects , seriously injuring eight demonstrators (see "The Game With No Rule Books," "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October). Three parliamentarians detained men they said were the attackers and discovered two of them were carrying police identification and gun permits, prompting them to charge that the authorities staged the incident using plainsclothes police, reported on 24 October. Deputy Aleksandr Tretyakov told reporters that two of the men they held were from the Titan Division of the special forces and the third was from a security firm. Police deny the claims and are awaiting a prosecutor's investigation into charges that Yushchenko and his followers attacked police, reported.

At a concert in support of Yushchenko, Volodymyr Zakaliuzhnyy, an activist of Pora (Time's Up), was arrested by police as he distributed campaign stickers and was accused of stealing a mobile phone, Pora reported on 24 October. Pora believes he is innocent because police changed their original charge that the young man had stolen a wallet.

These kinds of incidents will be watched closely by parliamentarians, the media, and human rights groups as demonstrators maintain they are gathering peaceably but are provoked by officially-sponsored instigators, and the authorities claim force is required to suppress violent protesters, or that arrests must be made because some groups have weapons. Many are discussing the possibility of a "Georgia option" for Ukraine, referring to when masses of people converged on public squares in the capital, Tbilisi, to protest election fraud in the "Rose Revolution" of November 2003. But what is just as likely is an "Azberbaijani option" of October 2003 or a Belarusian option of October 2004, when demonstrators are not only brutally beaten, but some of them accused of provoking violence and sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

Pora is among the leading youth groups said to have modeled themselves after the youth movement Otpor (Resistance) in the former Yugoslavia, which in November 1998 gained visibility by distributing millions of stickers with the slogan Gotov je ("He's finished" or "He's cooked"), helping to topple President Slobodan Milosevic. The Ukrainian groups are also reminiscent of Kmara (Enough) in Georgia, which was central to the Georgian revolution and also used graffiti, stickers, and t-shirts to spread their message. These parallels have made supporters of presidential candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych call on the government "to use all possible measures" to suppress a "chestnut revolution" over vote falsification (see "Are Authorities Afraid of 'Georgian Scenario' in Presidential Election?" "Belarus and Ukrainian Weekly," 20 October 2004).

Human rights activists believe the authorities have long been laying the groundwork both to discredit the opposition and its supporters with violent incidents and to limit their ability to maneuver. On the eve of the 31 October elections, authorities have begun demonstratively cracking down on nongovernmental groups perceived as aiding the opposition and, in numerous cases, accusing them of criminal acts, including weapons possession. Last week, 15 civic groups said in a public appeal led by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union that "the presidential election campaign under way in Ukraine is mired in grave violations of fundamental human rights and basic freedoms."

The Ukrainian Helsinki Union reports that from 16-18 October, police searched a number of youth groups, including Pora, Studentska Khvylya (Student Wave), Studentske Bratstvo Lvivshiny (Lviv Region Fraternity), and the Kyiv-Mohila Academy.

Authorities claimed to be looking for explosive devices on alleged anonymous tips that the groups were supposedly involved in "terrorist activities." Some members were detained and questioned about publications they distributed, and released within a few hours. Police said they found an improvised explosive device, TNT, detonators, and a grenade. Yaroslav Hodunok, a member of the opposition Ukrainian People's Party, was arrested in connection with the incident.

Yet activists say they believe the explosive was planted by police. An earlier search with dogs had not turned it up, and it was discovered only when police were alone on premises containing three tons of campaign literature, which had previously been sealed after a search. The incident is being used to accuse civic groups and opposition parties of being involved in illegal paramilitary formations and to investigate them for alleged terrorist activities. The human rights groups deny the charges. They say that when the prosecutor-general held a press conference after the search, claiming a possible connection between the political opposition and terrorism, he was violating the presumption of innocence and the right to an impartial investigation. While journalists are often reprimanded or interrogated for supposedly "divulging the confidentiality of the investigation," an act punishable under the criminal code, the Prosecutor's Office freely released information from an ongoing investigation in a manner suggesting political manipulation, say activists.

State-sponsored television covered the searches and repeated the authorities' charges about the alleged "terrorist" nature of the youth movements Pora and Chista Ukrayina ("Clean Ukraine"), a group also searched, whose members were also detained.

The youth activists say police have been routinely detaining their members when presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich visits their region. Seventeen people handing out leaflets were detained in Chernihiv and Poltava during his 18-19 October visits. Also in Chirnihiv, the office of the local Pora movement was searched and Tetyana Pekur was beaten by police when she tried to call others about the raid. Another member, Oleksandr Lomak, was detained and counterfeit money and explosives were said to be found by police.

NGOs believe the short detentions and raids of youth groups and others involved in opposition campaigns have been sanctioned by top authorities in an effort to suppress grassroots activism and ensure the election of Prime Minister Yanukovych. They have appealed to international organizations to investigate the crackdowns and affirm that they are not involved in violent criminal activity but have been working to defend victims of political persecution and promote freedom of assembly and expression during the election.

Among the signers of the NGO appeal are the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Regional Union of Soldiers' Mothers, the Kherson Regional Organization of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, the Chernihiv Public Committee of Human Rights Protection, the EOL Ecological Club of Odesa, and others involved in human rights and social issues.

At the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, the Ukrainian Helsinki Union and Respublica Institute presented a report on freedom of assembly from May-August 2004, in which they documented a trend of increasing political protest and government crackdowns as well as social protest not always related to the election campaigns. The report's authors say that "mass violations" of civil rights have been the norm; instead of using constitutional standards for freedom of assembly, which provide for the notification of authorities to convene a rally, the government is essentially engaging in the licensing of public demonstrations on a discretionary and often arbitrary basis. This suppression of would-be protesters over the last year has been a major difference from the milder climate in Georgia leading up to the revolution.

While numerous officially-sponsored public events are held in Ukraine without incident, by contrast, political rallies often run into troubles, making it difficult for social movements to gain traction among local populations. Often local officials ban the rallies, such as one in May planned by the Ukrainian People's Party in Kherson and one by the Socialist Party in June in Senkivka, claiming that organizers had not made the proper notification. Local courts frequently made reference to outdated Soviet-era legislation governing public assemblies.

Protests not related to the political campaigns had even greater problems, says the report. In Sumy in August, a student protest over a university merger and the appointment of a principal led to short-term detentions of more than 30 people.

Out of 40 trials during this period, convened to hear civic groups' petitions about restrictions on their right to peaceful assembly, only two cases were resolved in favor of the rally organizers. In fact, most cases involve local governments appealing to courts to get a ruling to ban a rally after organizers have provided due notification. The Respublica Institute says there are often violations of due process with evidence presented only from the side of local administrations. Court decisions often made reference to the "probability" of clashes or "fear" of clashes between rival political forces as a reason for denying rally permits, although clashes are more likely to happen with police when demonstrators proceed with unauthorized protests.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union also reports that NGOs have had trouble obtaining legal status and operating without hindrance. The registration procedure is highly bureaucratized compared to the registration of businesses, and a license is required for providing "social services," which is vaguely defined. A draft law on nonprofit organizations has languished in parliament for two years as the government has stalled it. Another law on the right to assembly, submitted by President Kuchma, was not supported by the Ukrainian Parliament after it received strong public criticism. An alternative draft prepared by parliamentarians did not gain sufficient support, either, and thus the law has not been reformed. That has not stopped thousands of Ukrainians from taking to the streets to express their views, but it has made it easy for authorities to make short-term detentions or arrests for longer periods on charges such as "resisting police."

The dramatic moments in the Ukrainian campaign in recent weeks, such as Yushchenko's claim that he had been poisoned and the crowds of protestors in the capital, may distract from the massive crackdowns under way in less visible areas. It is often in smaller towns with less coverage from independent television and radio -- itself increasingly restricting or shuttered -- that election rallies are banned by authorities, with numerous people, particularly youths, detained and then subjected to further harassment at schools.

Pora announced on 25 October that it was beginning a "wave of student strikes" to protest what it sees as official repression of the youth movement and the unjust claims of police that weapons and counterfeit money are being found on youth activists, RFE/RL reported 26 October.

In a press release 25 October, Amnesty International said there was a "disappointing disregard" for freedom of expression in Ukraine in the run-up to the elections. The human rights group expressed concern at reports that members of youth groups such as Pora were allegedly being arbitrarily detained. Andrij Kulibaba of the Vinytsya branch of Pora was detained on 20 October, sentenced for resisting arrest to 10 days in jail, then suddenly released and his sentence reduced to a fine on 23 October. Oleksandr Pugash was also detained in Vinnytsya on 21 October for allegedly refusing to give his name to police, then released, the arrested again as he stood on the courthouse steps and charged with "hooliganism." In Kirovograd, Oleksandr Tsitsenko was detained by masked police on 21 October as he was collecting Pora leaflets and stickers, accused of resisting police, and then released 25 October. A rash of such short-term detentions in Ukraine appear designed to intimidate youths from organizing demonstrations around the time of the presidential vote.

BELARUSIAN COURT SENTENCES OPPOSITIONIST TO FIVE YEARS FOR THEFT. A district court in Minsk on 30 December sentenced opposition politician Mikhail Marynich to five years in prison after finding him guilty of stealing computers and other office equipment belonging to the U.S. Embassy, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. Marynich told the court that the case against him was "fabricated by the KGB following an order from the authorities," arguing that the equipment had been provided free of charge by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk to the Dzelavaya Initsyyatyva (Business Initiative) association, of which he was chairman. The U.S. Embassy did not report the computers stolen, and a U.S. State Department statement presented to the court said the embassy had no claims against Marynich. According to Marynich, the sentence is intended to prevent him from participating in the 2006 presidential election. Marynich's lawyers have announced that they will appeal the verdict. Marynich was minister of foreign economic relations (1994-98) and afterward became Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. In mid-2001, Marynich resigned his ambassadorial post to challenge Lukashenka in that fall's presidential election (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 4 January 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005)

UN HUMAN RIGHTS RAPPORTEUR DENIED BELARUSIAN VISA. Adrian Severin, the UN Commission on Human Rights' special rapporteur on Belarus, has been denied a Belarusian visa, Belapan reported on 25 December, citing Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Severin was appointed rapporteur on Belarus in July, three months after the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution blasting Belarus's human rights record (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). He planned to arrive in Belarus in December to prepare a report to be presented this spring to the commission. "[The Belarusian Foreign Ministry] fully rejects the accusations mentioned in that UN resolution on the situation in Belarus and can accept neither the form nor the content of the resolution itself," Savinykh said of the visa denial. "Belarus [is] not going to cooperate with the [UN] special rapporteur" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004).

APPEAL TO OSCE: 'HUMAN RIGHTS NO INTERNAL AFFAIR.' In a development cited by many Western diplomats as the most encouraging sign from civil society in Eastern Europe and Eurasia in many years, 105 signatories from 16 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) countries issued their own response at a human rights conference in Warsaw on 15 October to a critique of the OSCE's human rights programs launched in July. They said they were challenging what they saw as their own governments' retreat from the basic principle that human rights are not the internal affair of any one member, but the proper subject for examination and criticism by other member states based on OSCE standards.

Many diplomatic missions as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have grown frustrated with what they feel are dull OSCE meetings failing to lead to tangible progress in the human rights field. OSCE documents are not binding treaties and states do not negotiate texts at human rights meetings. Western diplomats say they are fearful that a confrontation with Eurasian governments over their backsliding on human rights in recent years, in an effort to get more detailed standards, would lead to weaker texts and the erosion of past achievements. But NGOs say that making mere recommendations to states not serious about reform is a futile effort. They have trouble justifying the cost of maintaining their presence at a two-week meeting to present human rights complaints -- although most still recognize that there are some benefits -- and have turned their attention to other institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights if their country is in the Council of Europe, or the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where they can get resolutions and written decisions with detailed condemnation of human rights practices.

By contrast, the NGO initiative was viewed at the OSCE as a welcome injection of activism in what has come to be seen as a stalled process, and a sign that the political and financial investment in emerging civil societies in the region have borne fruit.

The appeal developed in response to two official declarations in July ultimately by nine CIS countries -- first in Moscow and the second in Astana -- which criticized the OSCE, accusing the body of violating such fundamental principles as "noninterference in internal affairs" and of "selective attention on certain states while ignoring problems in other states" (see "Russia Coordinates Broadside Against OSCE,", 12 July). The CIS states complained that the OSCE had become unbalanced by devoting too much attention to human rights.

The NGOs expressed their "categorical disagreement with the negative evaluation of OSCE activity in the region" and said the CIS statements reminded them "of the tactics of Soviet propaganda," when Western condemnations of human rights abuses were always dismissed by Soviet officials with claims that it was "interference in internal affairs."

Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine signed the second CIS declaration -- although, say activists in their appeal, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan may well have signed it because their authorities "are not less deserving to be among those who ignore the criticism of European organizations." Activists from major human rights groups as well as smaller local groups from every one of the countries who signed the official declaration were represented in the NGO appeal except for Tajikistan. The organizers of the NGO appeal said they believed the NGO sector is weak in that country and were unable to reach anyone to sign it.

The NGOs say the CIS statements come at a time when human rights and electoral democracy have increasingly been violated in their region, representing a growing disregard for the original principles negotiated in the Final Act of the Conference for the Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, known as the Helsinki Final Act. "It has been three decades since Europe recognized and put into law the connection between European security and respect for human rights," says the NGO appeal. They fear this connection is being lost.

Western governments in the OSCE countered the CIS governments' attack by hastening to point out substantial progress in areas ostensibly of concern to the former Soviet states, such as the streamlining of visa procedures, economic progress, and programs to eliminate small arms. Yet NGOs believe that an actual or perceived "imbalance" among the different "baskets" of the Helsinki Accords is not really at issue. Rather, they say political leaders abusing their power are attempting to create a barrier against outside criticism, and are themselves a threat to security due to their flouting of the rule of law and democratic values. Accepting the CIS bid to deflect criticism of human rights in the name of economic or security progress is a "dangerous and unproductive" road, say the activists.

An argument used in the CIS declaration is that certain countries have a "special path" or "special cultural features" tied to their national sovereignty that ostensibly preclude them from accepting outside interference, implying an excuse for the violation of basic human rights. The NGO activists reject this notion. "People who suffer from the violation of their rights do not accept such arguments," the appeal emphasizes.

The text was drafted in Moscow by Valentin Gefter of the Institute for Human Rights, Lev Ponomarev of the Movement for Human Rights, and Yuri Dzhibladze for the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights. In an interview with "(Un)Civil Societies," Dzhibladze said the region-wide protest statement came in response to the CIS declarations which, in turn, appeared to be a reaction by Russia and other countries to efforts by the OSCE to increase monitors in areas of "frozen conflict" such as Abkhazia and the Transdniester. "We were very concerned by these actions because the fundamental principle that human rights is not the internal affair of the state is placed in doubt," he said. "For 30 years, the principle of human rights as a legitimate subject of outside concern has governed international relations, he said. Now this foundation of European cooperation is in peril. "Human rights is no less important for international cooperation than security or economic issues. We didn't want to cede the right to speak on behalf of our countries only to those political leaders who were taking steps against human rights and democracy," Dzhibladze said.

The Russians activists turned to other CIS groups as well as colleagues in Eastern Europe. On 25 July, they began to distribute the text through e-mail and websites, calling the campaign "Human Rights: No to the Immunity of the State," to indicate that states are not immune from criticism of the human rights situation within their countries.

"The signatures from Eastern Europe are an important sign of solidarity from those countries," said Dzhibladze. The Russians turned to Central and East European colleagues because they say they sense a new "iron curtain" going up between those countries that turned the corner on reform and joined NATO or the European Union, and those that are far from meeting EU criteria, or not even yet a member of the Council of Europe. They are hoping that citizens' ties across these new divides will help civil society address the daunting array of problems expected in a newly united Europe, from the problems of trafficking, AIDS, and migrant-labor rights to the persistent problems of torture in detention and suppression of media freedom.

The appeal calls on civil society in the former USSR to come up with "concrete suggestions" for working with the OSCE as an institution and with its member states to "stand up for European values and mechanisms adopted 30 years ago and to put them into practice." They are hoping Western governments will devise "more effective approaches in dealing with challenges, including resistance from the governments of OSCE member states." They urge the OSCE to continue monitoring elections and criticizing the human rights practices of the CIS states.

The list of 105 signatories represents a new generation of activists, including many young people not born when the Helsinki Final Act was signed in 1975. Some of them related to the citizens' movement that began nearly 30 years ago with the formation of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976, and the various tendencies that developed in the Helsinki movement today. These include Mikael Danielian of the Helsinki Association of Yerevan; Anait Bayandur of the Armenian Committee of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly; Tatiana Pratsko of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; Boris Zvozdskov of the Helsinki-XXI in Minsk; Miralem Tursinovic of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly in Tuzla; and Vladimir Cheremis of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights. Other signatories are from lesser-known groups that do not use the word "Helsinki." They were only able to hear about and sign the appeal due to the extended reach of older networks through e-mail and websites.

Some of the signers reflect work on conflict resolution necessitated by regional conflicts, such as Sotira Hroni of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation in Albania. Others are groups that have emerged to address major human rights crackdowns in their countries and challenges to the rule of law such as Nozima Kamalova of the Legal Aid Society in Tashkent and Elena Volochai of the All-Ukranian Association of Judges in Kyiv.

Among the newer provincial activists were signers such as Vasilii Adrianov of Youth for Democracy and Reforms in Kaliningrad; Artur Gorbatov of the Interregional Roma Association in Volgograd; Yevgenii Grekov from the Southern Wave in Krasnodar; Galina Selina from Arc in Lipetsk; Boris Stelmashek from House 28 in Arkhangelsk; Maksim Terlyaev from the Civic Education Club in Ulyanovsk; Aleksei Tarasov of the Chernigov Public Committee for Human Rights; and Aidzhakhon Zainabitdinov of the Andizhan Regional Human Rights Society in Uzbekistan.

Some prominent veteran human rights advocates also signed the appeal, such as Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance in Moscow; Emil Adelkhanov of Amnesty International's chapter in Tbilisi; Yevgenii Zhovtis of the Human Rights Bureau; and Boris Pustintsev of Citizens' Watch in St. Petersburg.

Dzhibladze said that "It's important to note that the more aggressive line of Russia and other CIS countries in the international arena is becoming more evident: at UN meetings, in Strasbourg at the European Parliament, at the Council of Europe, and at OSCE meetings. The general leitmotif is that democratic institutions can be peculiar to a given nation." The CIS declaration in July complained that the OSCE was not taking the "special features" of some countries into account. "This is the classic argument of authoritarian regimes or even dictatorships that, in fact, are suppressing rights and freedoms, saying there are no universal human rights, only special cultural features," said Dzhibladze. "But the people who live in these countries, and whose rights are violated, think the opposite, that human rights standards are universal, and they cannot be a subject of national particularity," he said.

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT POLLSTER FEARS CLOSURE The Minsk-based Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) has received its ninth warning in the past three months from the Justice Ministry, Belapan reported on 24 December, citing NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu. The ministry noted in its latest warning that the Minsk-based newspaper "Narodnaya volya" failed to indicate in a recent article citing a recent NISEPI survey that the pollster is a nongovernmental organization, and ordered NISEPI to demand that the paper print a correction. "It is evident that the reason for sending [this warning] is far-fetched," Manayeu commented. "This once again testifies to the fact that the Justice Ministry has no grounds for closing NISEPI but has been tasked with doing this." While the Justice Ministry has not announced any plans regarding NISEPI, the fact that the Justice Ministry may instigate court proceedings to ban an organization if it has received two official warnings within a year has many analysts speculating that NISEPI's days may be numbered. NISEPI was founded in 1992 as the first nongovernmental think tank and polling agency in Belarus ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004).

PROTESTANT GROUP LEADER IN BELARUS FINED FOR UNAUTHORIZED GATHERING. A district court in Minsk on 29 December fined Vasil Yurevich, the leader of an unregistered New Life Church community affiliated with the Association of Full Gospel Christians, 3.6 million Belarusian rubles ($1,670) for holding an unauthorized gathering of community members in the Belarusian capital in November, Belapan reported ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004).

...WITH MIXED REACTIONS FROM GOVERNMENTS. Even five years ago, governments did not openly defy the old Helsinki values, and it seemed a given that Russian and other countries accepted that human rights were a legitimate topic of international meetings. But this consensus has eroded, and civic groups must respond and get all governments to become aware of this connection, says Yuri Dzhibladze of the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights.

Western governments' intercession on this issue remains vital, say Russian NGOs, because their own government has begun to directly challenge human rights groups and has attempted to co-opt them.

"Dialogue is not easy. The channels have become severely limited. We have few opportunities to say these things to the face of our government. But in those opportunities that we have for dialogue with Foreign Ministry, at the Commission on Human Rights, and elsewhere, we will go on raising these issues," Dzhibladze said.

Russian NGOs are facing an immediate challenge to their operations with a move in the Duma to pass legislation providing for a state commission that would examine foreign grants and heavily tax those organizations that do not meet official criteria for being "socially useful." NGOs are concerned that the process will become politicized in the current climate, where President Vladimir Putin himself has lashed out at human rights NGOs, claiming they do not represent "the people's interests."

Laws severely restricting or barring foreign grants have already been put into place in Belarus and Central Asian countries. Turkmenistan has passed a law not only making it possible for the government to clear and control foreign assistance; NGOs are now being herded under state agencies according to their topic, i.e., women or the environment. In Uzbekistan, in addition to restrictive law, the Legal Aid Society reported that officials want to restrict grant transfers to two state banks, making it easy for the government to tax or obstruct aid from abroad. In Belarus, punitive restrictions on donations to NGOs has caused even Western-government aid programs to pull back their investments.

Western diplomats and OSCE staff face an increasing problem of even getting the former Soviet states to the table for talks. Many states send low-level delegations or do not remain present in the human rights conferences after they start. For the fifth straight year, Turkmenistan did not send any representative at all. Some years ago, when a state was criticized by an NGO at the OSCE human rights review meeting, it would hasten to use its "right of reply" to counter criticism and a dialogue, of sorts, would ensue. Now states grossly violating human rights, such as Belarus, have learned that if they leave the room and ignore NGOs there are no consequences.

Increasingly, OSCE states do not single out specific countries for mention in their critiques, but attempt to deal in a cooperative manner with cross-border and cross-cutting issues such as trafficking or integration of Roma. While these issues have benefited from greater attention and resources, the core issues of freedom of association and freedom of the media have seen some serious backsliding in recent years, both Western government and NGO delegations reported.

The backlash that may come when a country is singled out can be intimidating. The NGO collective appeal met with instant and vehement criticism at the OSCE session from the Russian delegation. "Who are these people? Who authorized them? They represent no one, and some of them do not even live in Russia," complained Anvar Azimov, deputy head of the Department for European Cooperation in the Foreign Ministry, about the signers of the collective appeal. Russian NGOs said on 22 June that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gathered 48 NGOs in his office to discuss how they could "maintain a united front" and "coordinate" statements made at international meetings to "defend Russia's interests" so the country's prestige would not be harmed. Critical human rights groups dealing with issues such as racism and Chechnya were demonstratively not invited.

While Russia may prefer not to discuss human rights problems in the country and region at international meetings, NGOs will keep going to them because of the lack of remedies at home. Valentin Gefter, director of the Institute for Human Rights, told "(Un)Civil Societies" that the CIS convention on human rights signed in 1995 did not really exist and states that had greater progress in the area of human rights and democracy within the CIS did not seem keen on pressuring their less-developed neighbors. "Where are the commissions that should be functioning on the basis of this convention? Where is it all?" asked Gefter.

NGOs from the CIS would like the OSCE to take on the standards for freedom of association and assembly promoted by the Council of Europe, in guidelines issues or in case law from the European Court of Human Rights, and in the EU's recent guidelines for human rights defenders. But Western diplomats are concerned that if they begin to negotiate these terms with Russia and other CIS states at an inopportune time they will get final texts that are significantly watered down or which undermine progress made at the 1994 Copenhagen meeting within the Helsinki process. In the same way, diplomats tended to play down the July CIS statements in the summer so as not to sharpen the CIS response.

"Many of us were surprised at the absence of reaction to this statement on the part of other OSCE countries," Dzhibladze said. Some ambassadors talked to us about how this should be resolved with "dialogue." "Offers for dialogue are a completely inappropriate response," they added. "The principles should be emphasized up front." In two statements to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna in July, the U.S. rejected the charges made by Russia and its allies about any "imbalance" among issues.

In his final statement to the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) on 15 October, Ambassador Larry Knapper of the U.S. delegation mentioned the "vigorous support of the OSCE issued by over 100 NGOs from the OSCE region" and called it "a concrete manifestation of the contribution that civil society can make in all OSCE participating states and to the OSCE as an institution."

The Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe issued customized letters to all the heads of state that had signed the July CIS declaration. The letter objected to the characterization of OSCE work as "imbalanced" and also explains that field activities in Eurasia are deployed because these regions "have a poor implementation record on OSCE commitments and have shown only slow progress in democratization."

"The vast majority of OSCE stats has made it clear that greater attention to this important component of the OSCE's contribution to Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security does not and must not detract from the unique and vital role that the OSCE, through its field missions and the ODIHR, play in promoting democratization and respect for human rights.

The letters recall the 1991 Moscow concluding document at the Helsinki meeting of the era, which was a human-dimension conference energized by the defeat of the Russian coup, stated: "[The participating states] categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned."

OSCE has been an attractive venue for NGOs precisely because they could sit at the table with governments and speak in lists that alternate between NGO and government interventions, unlike the UN, where they sometimes find themselves lumped together in a group with no listeners. Now they are finding their governments at the OSCE are not listening.

Some participants have suggested moving the meeting to a CIS capital, closer to where human rights violations occur and away from comfortable Western capitals and new NATO members like Poland, in order to shine the spotlight on the remaining difficulties in the transition to democracy throughout Eurasia. NGOs from the host country and region might find it more accessible to attend, and government officials might be more likely to attend a meeting in their homeland or region and participate more attentively.

Some governments have objected to moving the conference to sites where facilities like faxes, e-mails, and good hotels might be scarce or virtually nonexistent. But some are concerned that holding the meeting in the region might decrease access to them. "Colleagues from countries with poor human rights records worry and fear that holding OSCE meetings in Central Asia could give more legitimacy to the actions of these governments," Dzhibladze said.

More restrictive countries will not let in half the NGOs that are now able to enter Poland. They may identify NGOs that are more critical of their human rights behavior and deny them visas. This will require pressure to be mounted by the chair-in-office and other institutions of the OSCE and member states, and add to the headaches in preparation for these meetings

The NGOs are calling for special attention to be given to the problem of freedom of association, NGO registration, and the rights of NGOs in the face of state repression and attempts to co-opt them. They would like to see either a seminar devoted to the topic among the menu of follow-up seminars organized by the chair-in-office, which will be Slovenia in 2005, or else regional conferences on the subject organized by OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

TEHRAN STUDENTS STAGE SIT-IN. An unspecified number of students at Shahid Rajai University in Tehran have staged a sit-in, ILNA reported on 20 December. They are objecting to the 2 1/2-year suspension of Majid Ashrafzadeh, political secretary of the university's Islamic Student Association. ILNA reported on 19 December that Ashrafzadeh was suspended for publishing and directing the play "Dipar," and the charges against him include spreading rumors against the system and officials, promoting apostasy, propagating for groups, and causing tension and rioting at the university. The students at the sit-in demanded a meeting with the vice chancellor for student affairs but he did not meet with them ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004).

OSCE-Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. Agendas, major speeches, and background reports are posted here.

The U.S. government page of the delegation to the OSCE in Vienna.

Bulgaria is currently the chair-in-office of the OSCE.

The U.S. Congressional Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe has background papers on OSCE issues, speeches at OSCE meetings and transcripts of Congressional hearings. The English-language translation of the collective NGO appeal to the OSCE in Warsaw is also found here.

The Russian-language text of the collective NGO appeal to OSCE.

LABOR UNREST OCCURS UP AND DOWN IRAN. The employees of a textile factory in Gilan Province have not received their wages for seven months and are threatening to march from the provincial capital of Rasht to the capital city of Tehran, Radio Farda reported on 19 December. The factory workers have complained to the local House of Labor. In the city of Khomein, workers at the Nakh-e Talai (Golden Thread) factory have not worked for almost four weeks because of unpaid wages, Radio Farda reported. There is no electricity at the factory and it is not operating. Isa Kamali, a House of Labor official in the southern city of Bushehr, cited cases in which workers there have not been paid for months, Radio Farda reported. He said this is an especially risky situation in the Asaluyeh area, where there are more than 50,000 Iranian and foreign workers, because this affects national security and the oil sector ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

IMPRISONED STUDENT'S CASE COMES UP FOR REVIEW. The case of a young student whose image personified the Iranian student demonstrations of July 1999 in the international media comes up for review on 20 December, according to the man's attorney. A photograph of Ahmad Batebi waving a bloody shirt was published by major international media, and Batebi has been in prison for more than five years since the 1999 tumult. Batebi's attorney, Khalil Bahramian, told Radio Farda on 19 December that after much effort he had the opportunity to read his client's file and he sees absolutely no reason for his continuing imprisonment. Batebi is charged with acting against national security, the lawyer said, but in fact he was helping emergency crews tend to the injured from clashes between students and hard-line vigilantes who stormed the Tehran University campus. The 15-year sentence against Batebi is groundless and he should be released immediately, Bahramian claimed. Bahramian also told Radio Farda that he has received a court summons. He is unaware of the reason for the summons, he said ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

KAZAKH DEMOCRACY COMMISSION GETS DOWN TO WORK. A working group in Kazakhstan's National Commission on Issues of Democracy and Civil Society began drafting a political-reform program on 22 December, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Gani Kasymov, leader of the Patriots' Party and head of the group, described the working group's aim as "gathering proposals from all political forces in Kazakhstan." Kazbek Kazkenov, a member of the ruling Otan party, said that two issues are crucial for political reform: the role and functions of the president as head of state, and the role of parliament. Kasymov noted that both the authorities and society need the commission in light of recent events in Ukraine. He said: "The main thing is not to allow so much tension. I'm convinced that Kazakh society couldn't weather such a standoff, since we are influenced by several negative factors, including the intersecting interests of major powers, territorial problems, and ethnic issues" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2004).

POLL SAYS KAZAKHS DON'T EXPECT REPEAT OF UKRAINE EVENTS. A poll conducted on 5-13 December among 2,480 respondents in 17 major Kazakh cities by the National Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists found that a slim majority support President Nursultan Nazarbaev and few expect a repeat of the events in Ukraine when Kazakhstan holds a presidential election in 2006, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 20 December. When asked who they would vote for if a presidential election was held today, 50.6 percent of respondents named Nazarbaev. Asked whether a "Ukrainian situation" is possible in Kazakhstan, only 16.4 percent replied "I think so," with 43.3 percent saying "I don't think so," and 40.1 percent finding the question difficult to answer. U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway seemed to agree, telling a news conference on 20 December that a "Ukraine scenario" in Kazakhstan is "a rather far-fetched comparison," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004).

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. In a statement published in "Respublika" on 17 December, the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party called for "civil disobedience" to "remove the family clan that has usurped power." Asserting that "2004 parliamentary elections killed the last hope for the possibility of political reforms in the country," the statement lambasted "the ruling clan headed by President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev" for persecuting the opposition with "unconstitutional and illegitimate methods." Dubbing the president and parliament "illegitimate," the opposition party stated: "In our activities we will proceed from how human rights and freedoms are understood in free countries, not from decisions made by thievish governors and corrupt courts. We view these authorities as antistate, and we are ready only for talks on their removal from power without resorting to any violence, and on their being pardoned for the crimes they have committed" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN-STYLE 'REVOLUTIONS.' Askar Akaev warned on 27 December that the authorities will not tolerate any actions in the coming elections that might provoke confrontation, Interfax reported. Akaev specifically warned against any actions by "forces whose goal is to repeat these Georgian- and Ukrainian-style revolutions using Western financial organizations' money." Referring to the political transitions in Georgia and Ukraine, Akaev further added that "those who mastermind and orchestrate these 'Orange and Rose' revolutions" are in the West. His comments follow a similar warning 10 days earlier arguing that the coming elections may be threatened by new threats posed by "religious and political extremism" that is "merging with international terrorism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in February, to be followed by a presidential election in October ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004).

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION OBJECTS TO PRESIDENT'S WARNINGS. The People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan held a news conference in Bishkek on 20 December with the participation of legislators Azimbek Nazarov and Ismail Isakov, former Education Minister Ishengul Boljurova, and Zamira Sydykova, editor in chief of the newspaper "Respublica," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Speakers disputed President Askar Akaev's 17 December contention that 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections are likely to cause rising tension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). The People's Movement said in a statement that the president's remarks were "precautionary brainwashing of people about large-scale repression being prepared in Kyrgyzstan under the pretext of the fight against terrorism and religious and political extremism," Kyrgyzinfo reported. Participants rejected official criticism of a "Georgian" or "Ukrainian" scenario, describing events there as peaceful protests against falsified elections, reported. "We do not rule out the possibility of this kind of scenario for Kyrgyzstan, but we are not going to organize it," Boljurova and Sydykova said ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004).

POLICE OPERATION IN MACEDONIA TRIGGERS STUDENT PROTEST. One ethnic Albanian was killed and two people, including one policeman, were wounded in Tetovo on 25 December during a sting operation that led to the capture of an alleged strongman and resulted in student protests, the private A1 TV reported. A shootout reportedly erupted when Macedonian police tried to arrest four ethnic Albanians during an operation targeting Lirim Jakupi (aka the Nazi), who is allegedly one of the leaders of an Albanian armed group that has at times controlled the village of Kondovo outside Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). Jakupi was reportedly wounded in the shootout but managed to escape to neighboring Kosova, where he was arrested by UNMIK police later the same day. One policeman also sustained gunshot wounds, while one ethnic Albanian was killed and the other two were arrested. In response to the police operation, Albanian students of the University of Tetovo blocked the Skopje-Tetovo highway on 27 December, demanding that the two arrested Albanians -- who studied at the university's medical faculty together with Jakupi -- be released, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004).

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT HAILS ANNIVERSARY OF GAGAUZ-YERI AUTONOMOUS REGION. Vladimir Voronin said in Chisinau on 22 December that by setting up the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic 10 years earlier, the country demonstrated that it is capable of respecting the human rights of all ethnic groups on its territory, Infotag reported. He said the autonomous region's special status should serve as an example for resolving interethnic conflicts. Voronin praised the audacity of his predecessors, Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi (who attended the ceremony), for having promoted autonomy as a solution. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, who also attended, was decorated by Voronin with the Order of the Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2004).

RFE/RL HONOREES FOLLOW ACTIVIST'S EXAMPLE OVER ROMANIAN AWARDS... Following the recent example set up by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, 15 current and former RFE/RL journalists announced on 17 December their personal decisions to return state honors and diplomas to outgoing President Iliescu to protest Iliescu's decoration of the Greater Romania Party's ultranationalist Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Mediafax and the dailies "Adevarul" and "Evenimentul zilei" reported. (Editor's note: RFE/RL journalists were singled out for honors by the Romanian state following that country's transformation to democracy that began in 1989.) "The club of people who receive state decorations should be a select one," the journalists said in an open letter to the president. "If we accepted being part of it [after Iliescu decorated Tudor and former Greater Romania Senator Gheorghe Buzatu], we would be going against the principles we stood up for at RFE, an institution insulted by Tudor, a notorious representative of xenophobia and anti-Semitism" and "distort[ing] the real significance of Romanian history," which they said does not justify Buzatu's "admiration of Marshal Ion Antonescu." On 18 December, Romanian-born U.S. historian Randolph Braham also returned a state distinction received last month to Iliescu. Braham said he was "perplexed and disturbed to learn that you have recently bestowed similar high honors on individuals who have, in the course of the years, besmirched the good name of Romania by their venomous anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying campaigns" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 December 2004).

...WHILE NATIONALIST HONOREE JOINS THE FRAY... Former Senator Gheorge Buzatu said on 19 December that he is returning his state honor to President Iliescu to protest the latter's having decorated Elie Wiesel in 2003, Mediafax and AFP reported. Buzatu said he would have declined the order for faithful service from the start had he known Iliescu had honored the renowned Jewish and minority-rights activist. Buzatu claimed that Wiesel said during a 2003 visit to his country of birth that "Romania killed, killed, killed" its Jews and said Wiesel is "simplistically splitting" Romanians into "those who negate the Holocaust and those who do not." Wiesel has authored more than 40 books and been honored by the French and U.S. governments for his activism ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

...AS ILIESCU APPEARS TO BACKPEDAL AGAIN. Buzatu's offer might have represented an attempt to preempt a reversal by President Iliescu, Romanian media reported on 20 December. Returning from Brussels on 17 December, President Iliescu hinted at a reversal over the mounting scandal accompanying the state honor bestowed on nationalist politician Tudor. Iliescu called that move and his pardon of miners' leader and antigovernment activist Miron Cozma "road accidents." Iliescu revoked his pardon of the Cozma on 17 December after domestic and international outcry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2004). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

GROUP CALLS FOR REFERENDUM ON CONSCRIPTION DEFERRALS. The Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers intends to initiate a national referendum on the issue of government proposals to curtail sharply the practice of granting deferrals for military conscription, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 2 January, citing union Executive Secretary Valentina Melnikova. Defense Minister Ivanov announced on 29 December that the government plans to end deferrals, saying that Russia now has "24 or 25" legal reasons for postponing service and that the number increased dramatically in the late 1990s. Ivanov said the end of deferrals is connected with the government's plan to reduce the military-service period to one year. Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on 3 January that she supports the referendum initiative, but added that the authorities will use any pretext to prevent it from being conducted. She said the only way to fight for continued deferments is "to take to the streets" since "the authorities have adopted a law under which, obviously, no referendum will be deemed legal" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005).

HUMAN RIGHTS TSAR CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF BASHKIR INTERIOR MINISTER. Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on 29 December criticized police in Bashkortostan, stating that officers had subjected "500 to 1,000 people" to reprisals from 10 to 14 December after three police officers were beaten in Blagoveshchensk, Interfax reported. He said that police raided several city neighborhoods and that more than 500 people were detained and "exposed to physical actions" at local police stations. Lukin said that he met on 29 December with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to discuss the matter after his letter to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov went unanswered. According to Regnum on 29 December, Lukin has called for the resignation of Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev. RIA-Novosti reported that Nurgaliev told journalists, "We are preparing a normative document on cultured and polite relations of Interior Ministry personnel toward citizens" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004).

NEW DRAFT TERRORISM BILL WOULD ENCROACH ON CIVIL LIBERTIES. The State Duma passed in its first reading on 17 December a bill on combating terrorism that would impose restrictions on certain freedoms and give the special services expanded powers in the event of a terrorist alert or when a special operation is being carried out, NTV reported. The vote was 385 in favor and 47 against, according to RosBalt. According to NTV, under the bill the prime minister is granted extra powers to declare a state of terrorist danger, while governors will be able to do the same in the regions. The heads of the special services can impose quarantines and curfews, order telephone taps, and ban demonstrations, rallies, and rock concerts. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin (Motherland) said the bill contains a lot of discrepancies that should be removed before the second reading, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 December. According to Interfax, in a state of emergency, the mass media would have to check its materials about a terrorist attack with operational headquarters and would not have access to the zone of a counterterrorism operation. According to "Izvestiya," a number of articles in the law as it is currently written violate the constitution ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004).

UN CONDEMNS TURKMENISTAN's RIGHTS ABUSES. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on 20 December calling on Turkmenistan to end human rights abuses, RFE/RL reported the next day. The resolution called for the release of prisoners of conscience and an end to restrictions on civil freedoms in Turkmenistan. Sponsored by the United States and the European Union, among others, the resolution passed with 69 for, 47 against, and 63 abstentions ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2004).

UZBEK HUMAN-RIGHTS GROUPS SPOTLIGHT ALLEGED TORTURE DEATH. Two Uzbek human-rights groups issued a statement on 3 January to call attention to the case of an Uzbek man whose family members allege was tortured to death by authorities, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and the Ezgulik human rights group revealed the possible torture death of Samandar Umarov, a prisoner who had been serving a 17-year sentence for belonging to the outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Uzbek officials have promised an official investigation into the circumstances of the prisoner's death ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005).