17 July 2002, Volume
ATTACK ON GEORGIA'S LIBERTY INSTITUTE.
In a swift and well-organized operation, approximately 15 people attacked the offices of the Liberty Institute on 10 July, injuring six leaders at the institute and destroying property, the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC) reported from Tbilisi the following day. Levan Ramishvili, director of the institute, a nongovernmental organization devoted to promotion of democracy and human rights, was among the injured along with David Zurabashvili, RFE/RL Georgia correspondent Sozar Subeliani, and three other institute representatives. Ramishvili sustained a severe beating and lacerations and was hospitalized with speech difficulties. Three experts from the Council of Europe, present at the time of the attack, survived the attack unscathed by barricading themselves in an office. Subeliani was hospitalized for treatment of his wounds and released; Ramishvili remained in serious condition this week.
"This is one of the most vicious assaults on human rights defenders we have ever seen in the former Soviet Union," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a press release issued by HRW condemning the attack. "This attack shows that human rights defenders are at serious risk in Georgia." The New-York based group, which maintains an office in Moscow and frequently sends researchers to the Caucasus, called for a swift and serious investigation of the attack.
Local human rights monitors report that assailants broke into Liberty Institute's office at 3:00 p.m., swiftly pummeled the members and broke furniture and computers, then left the office in less than 10 minutes, leaving behind considerable disarray. Eyewitnesses report the perpetrators were well-trained and athletic in appearance, between 25 and 30 years old. They methodically broke up into groups to assault the institute's members and seemed to know the floor plan of the office. Subeliani told Human Rights Watch that he managed to shield himself behind a door after sustaining an initial beating from men wielding brass knuckles.
Victims of the attack believe President Eduard Shevardnadze should take responsibility for the incident, which followed televised debates between institute Director Ramishvili and Guram Sharadze, an ultranationalist parliamentarian associated with an excommunicated Orthodox priest, Basili Mkalavishvili, also known for his extremist views and persecution of minority religions, HRIDC reported in its 11 July monthly electronic bulletin (http://www.hridc.org). HRIDC believes the government ordered the attack because the assailants behaved so openly, casually walked away after the assault, and continue to use mobile phones stolen during the attack.
During the television debates, Ramishvili criticized Sharadze, known for his extreme nationalists views, for his alleged cooperation with the Soviet-era KGB and his advocacy of religious and ethnic intolerance. After the broadcast, on 8 July, supporters of Sharadze and Mkalavishvili demonstrated in front of the Liberty Institute's office, hurling objects at people inside the office. In August 2000, Sozar Subeliani, the RFE/RL reporter, was assaulted and beaten in a Tbilisi district courtroom in an incident also believed to have been perpetrated by supporters of the defrocked priest Basilii.
Aside from Ramishvili, who remains hospitalized in serious condition, five other Liberty Institute members, including a female secretary, were beaten, with one remaining bedridden, reports Human Rights Watch. Several other staff and visitors avoided injury by barricading themselves behind doors. The visitors included David Gladwell, a British government official and part of a three-man fact-finding delegation representing the Council of Europe, of which Georgia has been a member since 1999.
The Liberty Institute is known for its opposition to religious violence and intolerance in Georgia in the last three years along with its public condemnation of Sharadze, leader of the Our Georgia movement. The institute believes the attack on its office and other attacks on religious groups and human rights defenders to be tolerated by Georgian law-enforcement agencies. In February 2001, the Supreme Court deregistered the Jehovah's Witnesses in response to a civil lawsuit Sharadze had brought protesting their registration. During the case and since, Sharadze has propagated demonizing myths about Jehovah's Witnesses that have contributed to the growing climate of violent intolerance. These include unfounded accusations that Jehovah's Witnesses attempted to poison the Georgian bread supply; undertook a mass suicide jump from the ramparts of Gori Castle; or have vandalized Orthodox churches and icons.
A year ago, unknown persons broke into the Liberty Institute office and took its accumulated computer files, Human Rights Watch reported in a press release condemning the incident released on 12 July. At that time, intruders removed the hard disks from all the old computers but did not touch two recently purchased machines. Liberty Institute staff reported to Human Rights Watch that the deputy chief military prosecutor informed them in November 2001 that an officer of the state defense security service was arrested in parliament while trying to use Ramishvili's identity card, which had been discovered missing after the burglary
Basili, excommunicated from the Orthodox church, has carried out a vehement campaign against nontraditional religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, and others, and has publicly demonstrated against a recent religious bill which would recognize the groups. Earlier, Basili had accused public defender Nana Devdariani of treason against Orthodoxy and "anathematized" her for supporting the bill, which acknowledges the right of each religion to practice freely in Georgia.
The attack on the Liberty Institute comes at a time of turmoil and violence for Georgia during local elections. In a separate incident this week, unknown men halted a car in which representatives of the NGO "Fair Elections" were traveling near the west Georgian town of Zugdidi late on 14 July, RFE/RL reported on 15 July, citing Caucasus Press. They attacked three observers who were monitoring voting in the local election and robbed them of mobile phones, documents, $4,000, and the car in which they were driving, according to "Rezonansi" on 15 July. The 2 June local elections in Zugdidi were declared invalid due to widespread irregularities. CAF
POLICE ACCUSED OF MISTREATING ARRESTED ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY.
Fellow parliament deputies said on 11 July that Gevorg Hakobian, who is affiliated with the pro-government Miasnutiun faction, was beaten up in police custody during the night of 9-10 July after been stopped for suspected drunken driving, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 July. Hakobian has complained to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, naming Yerevan police chief Ashot Gizirian as one of the officers who he says assaulted him. Viktor Dallakian, who chairs the parliament's Commission on State and Legal Affairs, said Markarian has undertaken to conduct an investigation and ensure that those responsible for the incident are punished. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)CANDIDATES WITHDRAW FROM REPEAT ARMENIAN BY-ELECTION.
Three of the four candidates who contested the 19 May by-election in Shirak, the outcome of which was annulled following allegations of serious fraud, have pulled out of the repeat election scheduled for 14 July. Vartan Makeyan of the opposition Democratic Fatherland party told journalists in Yerevan on 9 July that numerous government officials had traveled to Shirak in order to pressure voters to cast their ballots in favor of Hakob Matilian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, who was initially declared the victor in the 19 May ballot. Independent TV station executive Artur Kirakossian earlier withdrew his candidacy to support Makeyan, saying he feared the repeat ballot too would be marred by fraud. Democratic Fatherland Chairman Petros Makeyan told journalists in Yerevan on 11 July that his namesake's decision to withdraw his candidacy was intended to highlight what he termed the imminent threat of a totalitarian regime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)PRESIDENT WITHDRAWS OBJECTIONS TO PACE RAPPORTEUR.
Bruno Haller, secretary-general of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), telephoned Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, Ilham Aliev, late on 11 July to inform them he was "shocked" by the tone of a letter he received from Alesqerov demanding that PACE rapporteur Andreas Gross be excluded from the PACE delegation scheduled to visit Azerbaijan later this month, Turan reported on 12 July. Earlier Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev similarly stated that Gross, whom many Azerbaijanis consider biased against their country, may be declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan due to his alleged lack of objectivity, said Turan, cited by Groong. Haller reportedly warned that a refusal to allow Gross to enter Azerbaijan would have "serious political consequences," whereupon Aliyev issued a written invitation to him. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
BELARUSIAN HINDUS BEGIN HUNGER STRIKE.
Twelve Hindus began a hunger strike in Minsk on 14 July to protest what they called state persecution after the former Soviet republic passed a new law on religion on 27 June, AP reported the same day. The seven men and five women were among 17 arrested on 13 July while singing Hindu songs and hymns in a park, claimed Tatyana Akadanova, one of those arrested. She said they were accused of holding an unsanctioned procession and meeting. Akadanova said the arrest was a result of the new law on religion. "Persecution has already begun," she said, adding that the group earlier was refused permission to register and denied use of a hall to hold religious services. Officials at a police processing facility confirmed that the group has begun a hunger strike. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
SREBRENICA SURVIVORS DEDICATE MEMORIAL...
Several thousand people gathered in Potocari near Srebrenica on 11 July to mark the seventh anniversary of the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim males by Serbian forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Many of the women were in tears at the dedication of a simple monument resembling a Muslim tombstone with an inscription reading: "Srebrenica. July 1995." The monument stands in the field where many of the women saw their male relatives for the last time. The women want to identify the men's individual remains that have been found in mass graves or in isolated locations and give them a proper burial. Bosnia's highest Islamic cleric, Mustafa Ceric, told those assembled: "We pray for sorrow to become hope, for revenge to become justice, and for mothers' tears to become a reminder so that Srebrenica and New York will never happen again to anyone, anywhere." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)...WITHOUT SERBIAN PARTICIPATION.
Leading representatives of the international community joined the Muslims on 11 July, but none of the invited leaders of Republika Srpska attended, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Some local Serbs jeered the arriving mourners, gave the Serbian nationalist three-finger salute, and held up pictures of Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported. Bosnian Serb police prevented women peace activists from Serbia from attending the meeting in Potocari and sent them back to Serbia. The OSCE in Sarajevo called on Republika Srpska authorities to launch an investigation into an incident in which Bosnian Serb police on the border with the Croat-Muslim federation prevented a camera team from Federation Television from traveling to Potocari, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Elsewhere, Bosnian Serb leaders plan to hold a ceremony on 12 July to honor Serbian war victims in the Drina valley and Brcko area. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)BOSNIANS PLEASED AT EXTENSION OF UN MISSION...
Government officials in Bosnia said in Sarajevo on 13 July they are pleased that the UN Security Council agreed on a compromise the previous evening about the rules governing the new International Criminal Court (ICC), Reuters reported on 12 July. Following the unanimous vote on the ICC, the council approved an extension of six months each for the UN's missions in Bosnia and on Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula. In Sarajevo, a spokesman for the Bosnian joint Presidency said that "the latest decision showed that the international community and the United Nations are interested in Bosnia-Herzegovina," dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)U.S. OFFERS AUTHOR KARADZIC A BOOK TOUR.
Former Bosnian Serb leader and top indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic has published a children's book entitled "There Are Miracles And There Aren't" ("Ima cuda, nema cuda"), "Vesti" reported on 8 July. Asked at a Washington press conference about Karadzic's latest literary endeavor, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "If he wants to go on a book tour, for example, he could start with SFOR, and then I'm sure we could provide transportation. And we have a facility -- he can sign as many books as he wants to in The Hague while he's awaiting trial." NATO's continued failure to find and arrest Karadzic has aroused suspicion among many Muslims and Croats. The alliance says that the grip is tightening on Karadzic, whom SFOR has recently linked to smuggling and other, unspecified, illegal activities. Karadzic's followers among Bosnian Serbs believe their hero has been victimized. One told AP on 7 July: "I'm fed up with the international community. I wish they'd all leave." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
BULGARIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE 'ANTI-FILCHEV' AMENDMENTS...
Parliament on 10 July passed in its second reading an amendment to the country's judiciary act that would broaden the power of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), BTA reported. The legislation has been dubbed by some the "anti-Filchev" amendment in connection with embattled Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev because it allows one-fifth of the council to initiate the lifting of immunity or suspension of senior members of the judiciary. That right so far has belonged solely to the prosecutor-general. Justice Minister Anton Stankov, in an appeal for legislative support for the amendments, noted that the lifting of immunity is not the same as pressing charges. Deputy Tatyana Doncheva (Coalition for Bulgaria) in floor debate argued that such exclusivity renders the prosecutor-general "untouchable," BTA reported. National Movement Simeon II deputy Konstantin Penchev, whose party overwhelmingly supported the amendment, noted that the Constitutional Court will likely have the final word on the matter, "Pari" online daily reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)...WHICH INCLUDE OTHER CHECKS ON JUDICIARY.
The legislation, which was passed by a 121-20 vote, also gives the SJC a stronger say in naming a prosecutor-general and puts the SJC in charge of electing the head of the national investigative service and other institutions, BTA and "Pari" reported on 10 July. Judges, prosecutors, and investigators will also have to file annual income and property declarations, the agency added. Justice Minister Stankov had argued that the Venice Commission recently signaled its backing for broader powers to be given to Bulgaria's SJC. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 July)
CRACKDOWN ON FIRST GAY-PRIDE MARCH.
Croatia's first gay-pride event ended in tear gas and violence on 28 June after the marchers were attacked by groups of screaming skinheads, some giving Nazi salutes, Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported from Osijek. Police were forced to intervene, making 26 arrests, and 10 of the participants were taken to hospital. The display of public intolerance -- which was broadcast around the world -- occurred in spite of Interior Minister Simo Lucin's involvement in the 28 June procession and his calls for marchers to "love yourselves and fight for your rights." Viktor Ivancic, editor of the "Feral Tribune," a leftwing newspaper based in Split, said the resulting furore exposed Croatia's self-image as a caring nation as a sham. "What occurred during this peaceful march of homosexuals, who had dared to come out of the closet after so many decades, has dispelled the illusion of a humane nation," he said. ("IWPR Balkans Report," 12 July)
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ENDORSES LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES.
Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court ruled on 11 July that the new law on political parties does not contravene the constitution, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. President Nursultan Nazarbaev submitted the law to the court after opposition parties and international organizations protested that it is undemocratic and could result in the closure of most of the currently registered 19 parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 26, 27, and 28 June 2002). The court's ruling may not be appealed, but President Nazarbaev still has the right to object to specific clauses and return the law to the Constitutional Court, court Chairman Yurii Khitrin told journalists on 11 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
CIVIC FORUM MEETS.
Leaders of political parties and NGOs attended a civic forum in Bishkek on 13 July with the aim of defining ways to reach a compromise between the government and the opposition and overcome the current political and economic crisis in the country, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber), admitted at the forum that the country's leadership has condoned a "retreat" from democratic principles, but at the same time he rejected opposition demands for the resignation of President Askar Akaev as too extreme. Former Prime Ministers Kurmanbek Bakiev and Amangeldi MurAliyev declined to attend the forum, as did prominent human rights activists Ramazan Dyryldaev and Tursunbek Akunov. Opposition party leaders are preparing to hold a "people's congress" in Kerben, southern Kyrgyzstan, on 17 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
OPPOSITION DEPUTY TO REQUEST POLITICAL ASYLUM?
Valeriu Plesca, a deputy representing the opposition Braghis Alliance in parliament, announced in Brussels on 12 July that he will not return home because he has reason to believe his personal safety is endangered by the government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and AP reported. Plesca was in Brussels as a member of a parliamentary delegation that visited NATO headquarters. In a letter faxed to BASA-press, Plesca hinted that he may seek political asylum, stating that he "reserves the right to take cautionary measures of self-protection" and will "return to Chisinau when the government stops persecuting me and my family." Plesca claimed that, after he accused government officials of profiting from illegal business, articles in the pro-government media have falsely accused him of illegal dealing and the government has sent auditors to companies run by members of his family. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDED BILL ON CHURCH REGISTRATION.
The parliament on 12 July approved a government-sponsored amendment of the law on registering religious denominations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The amendment will make possible the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church in line with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The amended law stipulates that the government may refuse registration only in cases where the activity of a cult endangers "the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of the state or public order," or if it engages in "political activities." Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov welcomed the approval of the amendment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)
STRIKING WORKERS SET UP NATIONAL COMMITTEE, DEMAND MEETING WITH GOVERNMENT...
Striking shipyard workers in Szczecin were at the forefront of a National Protest Committee (OKP) set up in the city on 13 July, Polish media reported. Inspired by Marian Jurczyk, one of the 1980 strike leaders from the Solidarity movement, the OKP has demanded a meeting with the government, government action to rescue bankrupt companies, and a halt to privatization and changes to the Labor Code. Two protests were announced for 18 July in Szczecin and on 23 July nationwide. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)...AS FORMER SOLIDARITY LEADER ANNOUNCES RETURN TO POLITICS.
Former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa announced his return to politics on 14 July, dpa reported, citing PAP. Walesa intends to run for president again, after losing in 2000 to incumbent Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is now in his second term. Kwasniewski cannot run again. Walesa garnered a mere 1 percent in the 2000 race, but said the current situation in Poland leaves him no recourse but to run again. "I have proposals to make, and I know they are good ones," he said. "Perhaps I will be rejected, but I have to make myself available." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
MINORITIES DECREASES OVERALL, WHILE ROMANY SEGMENT INCREASES.
National minorities represent 10.5 percent of Romania's population, representing 2.2 million people, according to preliminary results of the March census announced last week by the government and cited on 8 July by "Divers," a weekly news bulletin edited by the Mediafax News Agency. The number of people belonging to ethnic minorities fell by 4.9 percent compared to 1992, the last year a census was taken. By contrast, the Romany population increased by nearly 135,000, while the number of those who identified themselves as Turkish, Greek, Croatian, or Italian also increased in the decade. Magyars figures are fewer at 190,000. The number of Germans, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Jews also decreased. ("Divers," 8 July)
LAW ON EXTREMISM PASSES.
The Federation Council approved a controversial bill on extremism that has aroused the concern of many human rights activists, polit.ru reported on 10 July. Although the final version drops the words "and other types of activity" from the original definition of extremism, it remains quite broad and could be used against almost any type of political expression, the website added. The bill preserves potentially arbitrary and supralegal norms for closing down political and religious organizations. It is widely expected that President Vladimir Putin, who initiated the bill, will sign it into law, most likely before the end of the month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK PARTY LEADERS GO ON TRIAL.
Court proceedings against National Bolshevik Party leader and writer Eduard Savenko, commonly known by his literary pseudonym "Limonov," and five of his colleagues were held on 8 and 9 July in Saratov, Russian news agencies reported. Limonov and his colleagues are accused of acquiring weapons with the goal of preparing terrorist acts and creating illegal armed formations. Limonov and one of his colleagues, Sergei Aksenov, editor of the party's newspaper, are also charged with calling for a change in Russia's constitutional order, "Vremya novostei" reported on 9 July. Both court sessions were closed to the public. Following the hearing on 9 July, the judge ruled that the next session will be open and will take place on 9 September, giving Limonov's attorney, Sergei Belyak, additional time to prepare his case. Belyak argued that open sessions will be more beneficial for his client, gazeta.ru reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)SENATORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR KRASNODAR KRAI AUTHORITIES.
Also on 10 July, members of the upper chamber adopted a special resolution on the migration situation in Krasnodar Krai, Interfax reported. According to the agency, the resolution notes the large number of foreign citizens and persons without citizenship in the krai and laments the "unjustified delay in repatriating [Meskhetians], who are living temporarily in the Russian Federation, back to Georgia." The members also called on the government to adopt this fall a draft law on state regulation of migration to the Russian Federation that would establish quotas limiting the number of migrants in regions and create the possibility of a temporary resettlement of separate categories of citizens, foreigners, and persons without citizenship out of regions plagued by conflict. A group of Meskhetians in the krai recently ended a hunger strike in protest of their status in the region. Given a choice, at least some of them would prefer to emigrate to Turkey, rather than settle in Georgia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)BEREZOVSKII PARTY DENIED REGISTRATION.
The Justice Ministry confirmed on 13 July that it has decided not to register Liberal Russia as a political party, Interfax reported. Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko said the group's documents "were inconsistent with legal requirements." Liberal Russia co-Chairman and Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov told Ekho Moskvy that the grounds for the refusal were "laughable" and that the group plans to appeal the ministry's action to the Supreme Court. Exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii is another of the group's co-chairmen. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)ANTI-ARMENIAN ACTIONS CONTINUE.
Ren-TV reported on 12 July that an anti-Armenian rally was held in the town of Krasnoarmeisk in Moscow Oblast. According to the station, "some aggressive youths" were chanting anti-Armenian slogans and about 500 people were gathered at one point in the town's square. Earlier, 12 ethnic Armenian were beaten, and seven of them were hospitalized. According to polit.ru, the majority of the people participating in the rally on 12 July were relatives of the youths who participated in the earlier violence. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 July, some representatives of the nationalist group Russian National Unity were noticed in the crowd, including seven youths in black uniforms. Meanwhile, the central office of the Union of Armenians of Russia issued a statement saying, "Evidence of a crisis in Russia's law-enforcement systems is abundant." It then went on to note four actions against Armenians or Armenian entities since March. Some two dozen Armenian intellectuals picketed the Russian Embassy in Yerevan on 10 July to protest the violent attacks three days earlier on Armenians in the town of Krasnoarmeisk in Moscow Oblast, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)PUTIN NAMES NEW HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER FOR CHECHNYA.
President Putin on 12 July named Abdul-Khakim Sultygov to succeed Vladimir Kalamanov as human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. Sultygov, who is 42 and a graduate of the Tolstoy State University in Ingushetia, served most recently as head of the State Duma's commission for Chechnya. He has authored several proposals for ending the Chechen conflict peacefully. Sultygov immediately called for stricter observance by the Russian military of the guidelines for search operations issued in March by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya. Sultygov also argued that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov should publicly accept responsibility for the "catastrophe" he precipitated in Chechnya. He added that after elections take place in Chechnya, Maskhadov should be tried by a Chechen court in a "political" rather than a criminal trial, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS HALT DIALOGUE WITH OFFICIALS.
Russian human rights organizations, including Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group, have announced that they are no longer prepared to participate in discussions in Grozny with representatives of the Russian government and military, Interfax reported on 10 July. A series of such discussions of the human rights situation in Chechnya has taken place over the past six months. But the human rights groups claim that the dialogue is being used to deflect attention from flagrant human rights violations by the Russian military. The groups also cast doubt on recent Russian official statements that displaced persons are returning voluntarily to Chechnya from Ingushetia. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 12 July, Kalamanov expressed regret at the decision by Russian human rights organizations not to participate further in what he termed the "invaluable" dialogue with the authorities on human rights violations in Chechnya that began in January of this year, Interfax reported. Representatives of such organizations have said there is no point in doing so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 July).LIBERAL TAKES OVER HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION.
Respected activist and former Duma Deputy Ella Pamfilova has been appointed chairwoman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 12 July. Pamfilova, who is well-known for her outspoken criticism of the 1994-96 campaign in Chechnya, replaces Vladimir Kartashkin. After meeting with President Putin in the Kremlin, Pamfilova told reporters that her main task is to help people "defend their rights in a civilized manner and to protect them from the caprices of bureaucrats and other people," ntvru.com reported. She added that she will invite nongovernmental, human rights organizations, "including regional ones," to assist in her work. Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov told Ekho Moskvy that he endorses Pamfilova's appointment and that he "is confident we will establish normal working relations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SPAR OVER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYA.
At a meeting on 11 July in Moscow with Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, Lord Frank Judd, who is co-chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe-Russian State Duma Joint Working Group on Chechnya, complained that Russian authorities have failed to complete their investigations of mass graves in Novye Aldy, Chernoreche, Khankala, and Alkhan-Yurt that are believed to contain the bodies of civilians killed by Russian troops during "sweep" operations, Interfax reported. Ustinov said investigations are continuing and that it has not yet been established for certain the Russian troops were responsible for the killings, rather than Chechen fighters dressed in Russian army uniforms. Judd accepted an invitation from Ustinov to accompany him to Chechnya to see for himself the conditions under which such investigations are being conducted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)RIVERBOAT PROTEST AGAINST THE WAR.
A small but vocal political group that opposes the government's war in Chechnya used a riverboat to deliver an antiwar message to its direct address: the Kremlin, "Moscow Times" reported 16 July. Members of the Transnational Radical Party, a Rome-based group with chapters throughout Europe, including in Moscow, boarded one of the ferries that takes tourists on cruises along the Moscow River. As the boat chugged past the crenelated red brick wall of the Kremlin, they unfurled a banner calling for immediate peace talks between President Putin and Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. There was no visible reaction from the Kremlin, where Putin's office is located, and the Kremlin press service declined to comment. ("The Moscow Times," 16 July)
FILES FROM COMMUNIST AND NAZI ERAS MADE PUBLIC.
The Slovak parliament adopted a "national memory bill" on 10 July that regulates access to secret documents from the communist and Nazi eras, SITA reported the same day. The bill establishes the Institute of the Memory of the Nation, which will collect, archive, and systematize information from both eras. The institute has been granted the power to initiate prosecution for crimes committed during the communist and fascist periods, and the law grants Slovak citizens access to files compiled by the communist secret police that concern them or their families. Slovakia is the last postcommunist country to approve such a law. On 9 July, the parliament adopted a law that will provide compensation to political prisoners and their surviving relatives. The law should apply to over 2,300 living former political prisoners and their nearly 5,000 relatives. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)HUMAN RIGHTS COURT RECEIVES HIGHEST NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS FROM SLOVAKIA.
Slovakia holds first place in the number of complaints per million inhabitants that have been received by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, SITA reported on July 10. According to Laszlo Nagy, the chairman of parliament's Committee for Human Rights and Nationalities, the statistics indicate that legal guarantees for Slovaks have not improved. Slovakia's representative to the Strasbourg-based court, Peter Vrsansky, said that out of 43 countries, Slovakia is in ninth place in terms of the number of overall complaints. The court in Strasbourg received 487 complaints from Slovak citizens in 2001, of which it registered 343 and rejected 159. The court last year handed down five verdicts against Slovakia, and in three cases the country reached an agreement with the complainant. The most frequent reason cited by Slovaks for turning to the European court is delays in court procedures. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)SKINHEADS SENTENCED FOR RACIST ATTACK IN SLOVAKIA.
A district court in Skalica sentenced three skinheads from Holic, western Slovakia, to 4 1/2 years in prison after finding them guilty of a racially motivated crime that caused serious bodily harm, SITA reported on 9 July. In August, the three men brutally attacked a Romany man from Holic, leaving the victim permanently disabled. The Romany community in Holic protested police apathy following the attack, and claim that skinheads terrorize them on a daily basis. Some of Holic's Roma have warned that if the aggression does not stop they will implement the "eye for an eye" principle in retaliation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
PRESIDENT AGAIN WARNS AGAINST ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS.
Speaking on 13 July at a congress of the National Unity and Revival Movement of which he is chairman, President Imomali Rakhmonov accused members of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan of engaging in "ideological work of an extremist persuasion that may lead to a schism in society," AP reported. Visiting the northern region of Isfara four days earlier, Rakhmonov had similarly criticized local officials for failing to take action to curb the activities of militant Islamic groups. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)PRESIDENT SLAMS SHORTCOMINGS IN SUGHD.
Visiting the district of Isfara in Sughd (former Leninabad) Oblast in northern Tajikistan on 9 July, Rakhmonov criticized local officials for failing to take action to curb the activities of militant Islamic groups, and for failing to implement presidential and government decrees on political parties, religious organizations, and the role of women in society, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 10 July. Rakhmonov specifically noted that three residents of Sughd who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan are currently being held in Guantanamo Bay. A government delegation that visited Sughd last month registered a 1.2 million somoni ($425,532) shortfall in tax collection that has led to delays in the payment of wages and pensions, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 10 June. Sughd is nonetheless the most economically developed and stable region of Tajikistan, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 July reported that there is no backlog of unpaid wages and pensions. During the 1980s, cadres from Leninabad dominated the leadership of the Tajik SSR; Rakhmonov and most of the present leadership are from Kulyab, southeast of Dushanbe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
MILOSEVIC'S EX-AIDE TAKEN TO THE HAGUE.
Zoran Lilic, who served as figurehead president of Yugoslavia while Slobodan Milosevic was Serbian president from 1993 to 1997, was taken from his office in Belgrade on 11 July by officials of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" reported. He was then flown to The Hague to testify against his former boss regarding the command and control structure during Milosevic's years in power. Lilic told Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 9 July that he would not go to The Hague voluntarily but only under a summons from the Yugoslav government. In related news, a Belgrade court has called on police to arrest former Bosnian Serb General Dragomir Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 11 July. The tribunal has indicted the Yugoslav citizen for war crimes stemming from the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH WARNS ABOUT RIGHTS ABUSE IN YUGOSLAVIA.
In a report released in New York on 11 July, Human Rights Watch said that Belgrade's further integration into European institutions should be made contingent on improvements in its observance of human rights (see http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/07/yugo0711.htm). The report notes that there have been obvious improvements since the fall of Milosevic at the end of 2000, but also that the current authorities have yet to display a "true commitment" to human rights. Problem areas include war crimes impunity, illegal behavior by the police, and discrimination against Roma.("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
PRESIDENTS CONVENE IN SARAJEVO.
Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Yugoslav counterpart Vojislav Kostunica arrived in Sarajevo on 15 July at the invitation of the three members of the Bosnian joint Presidency: Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic, and Jozo Krizanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They are expected to discuss mutual cooperation, including work against organized crime and human trafficking, as well as measures to facilitate refugee return. The gathering is being officially hailed as the most important diplomatic event in Sarajevo for several years. But observers note that real power in the three countries does not lie with their respective presidencies, and that Kostunica has dismissed Belkic's call for an apology for Serbian aggression against Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 as "empty talk." Perhaps a more important event for peace and cooperation in the Balkans was the huge music festival in Novi Sad over the weekend, which drew thousands of mainly young people from across the region and beyond. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)NGOS PROTEST CONTINUED DISCRIMINATION.
In an open letter dated 12 July circulated on the Balkans Human Rights List and addressed to Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, nine leaders of Belgrade-based and other Balkans human rights organizations have protested the ongoing practices of ethnic-based discrimination by Serbian authorities in differentiating among citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina on the basis of ethnicity and place of residence. The activists say discriminatory practices affect travel and transport, use of hotels and telephone services, and recognition of diplomas and degrees. Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina who reside in the Republika Srpska need only their identity cards when traveling to Serbia, while federation citizens are required to have passports. In addition, when their stay in Serbia exceeds 30 days, federation citizens must apply for a residence visa. Regular bus lines connect the Republika Srpska and Serbia, yet no buses travel from Belgrade to Sarajevo, the largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Degrees obtained from institutions of higher learning in the Republika Srpska are equated with the degrees of Serbian and Montenegrin universities, while those from institutions in the Federation must be validated. The activists called for action at a federal level to ensure equal treatment of all citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. CAF
HARTMANN CAUTIOUS ON WAR CRIMES TRIALS IN SERBIA OR CROATIA.
Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in a telephone interview on 12 July that no persons already indicted for war crimes will be tried in Serbia or Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Hartmann stressed that she sees no possibility of trying high-ranking war criminals in Serbia or Croatia, but did not rule out trying some less-important individuals in Bosnia. Both Zagreb and Belgrade want as many cases as possible to be tried at home. The tribunal, however, has doubts about the independence of their judicial systems and about their ability to protect witnesses. Meanwhile, in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb government refused to provide The Hague with materials it has requested regarding the alleged roles of more than 20 police in Prijedor in the murder of Roman Catholic Rev. Tomislav Matanovic during the Bosnian conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July)GROUP PLANS ANTI-AMERICAN MARCH; PROTESTS DEATH OF MEMBER.
The London office of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic movement seeking establishment of a caliphate (see "End Note," below), plans a march against U.S. policy in Central Asia culminating in pickets in front of the Uzbekistani Embassy in London and other world capitals, and are expecting "thousands" to join, the group said in a press release issued 17 July. Hizb ut-Tahrir says it eschews violence and advocates a peaceful transition to an Islamic state and Sharia law, but vehemently blames the U.S. for the longstanding oppressive policies of the Uzbekistani government. Angered at what it views as U.S. complicity in Uzbekistan's repression against devout Muslims outside state control, the group claims "the real motive for waging 'War Against Terrorism' is not to counter terrorism." While not citing any evidence for their claims, the group characterizes the international effort to combat terrorism as a means "to establish and strengthen U.S. hegemony and influence over the Islamic lands, their people, and their resources in order to repress any semblance of Islamic political resurgence," said the press release. "Uzbekistan is a prime example of the war America is waging against the Muslims. With the support of her crooked ally [President Islam] Karimov, thousands have been arrested, tortured and murdered," said the group, which is campaigning for an investigation into the death of Farhad Usmanov, killed while in custody in 1999. Imran Waheed, leader of Hizb ut-Tahririn in the U.K., says according to the release that the purpose of the march is to bring a focus to "the true reality of the 'war on terrorism' which is in fact a cover for a war on Islam and the Muslims." The mass arrests began after a bombing in Tashkent in 2000, before American bases were installed following agreements with the government after the terrorist attack on the U.S. on 11 September. Since his first speech at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., on 17 September, President George Bush has reiterated that the war is not aimed at Muslims or Islam but at terrorism. U.S. polls show a majority of Muslim Americans share his views. CAF
UZBEKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN DIFFER IN APPROACHES TO HEZB UT-TAHIR
By Zamira Eshanova
With reports that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has been dealt a blow by the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, the fight against radical Islamic groups in the region has shifted its focus. Hezb ut-Tahrir, a movement advocating the creation of a regionwide Islamic caliphate and a return to Islam in its pure, original form, has now become a prime target of Central Asian law enforcement. The Uzbek government recently declared that its tough policies have paid off and that the group's activities in Uzbekistan have been weakened.
Unlike the IMU, characterized by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, Hezb ut-Tahrir denounces violence. Hezb ut-Tahrir says it wants to achieve its aims through dialogue and debate, by leading a strong propaganda campaign against secularism and enlightening Muslims about the advantages of living under Islam.
The Uzbek government believes such descriptions are deceitful and that it is wrong to think of Hezb ut-Tahrir as a peaceful ideological organization. Uzbek officials accuse Hezb ut-Tahrir, whose ideological and financial center is suspected of being in Jordan, of wanting to overthrow the secular states in Central Asia and take power by any means, including violence.
Imran Waheed is a spokesman for Hezb ut-Tahrir in London. He took issue with that statement: "Certainly, when our members in Uzbekistan have been tried [on charges of] trying to overthrow the state, nobody had denied that we are working to establish an Islamic state in the Islamic world, whether that be in Uzbekistan or in another country in the Islamic world. This is not something secret. We believe the people of Uzbekistan and our support in Central Asia and Uzbekistan is a clear reflection of that fact that people desire to live under the rules of Islam, not under the rules of secularism," Waheed said.
Ilya Pyagay is deputy head of the antiterrorism department in the Uzbek Interior Ministry. Pyagay said the reality in Uzbekistan is different, and that Uzbeks do not want an Islamic state. He also noted a decrease in the number of arrests of Hezb ut-Tahrir members -- a clear indication, he said, that the group's activities have been weakened due to the government crackdown. "They themselves [members of Hezb ut-Tahrir] admit that their activity has declined. Arrested and detained members with whom we talk [are] giving such evidence. People don't want them. People understand that this is wrong and absolutely alien to us in Uzbekistan. [Those who were] mistakenly involved with them [are] now refusing them," Pyagay said.
Nevertheless, members of Hezb ut-Tahrir say the intensity of their fight for an Islamic caliphate has not diminished in Uzbekistan or elsewhere. "I would say that this is a propaganda. It does not reflect the truth. I think the interior minister of Uzbekistan needs to start living in the real world. The reality on the ground is that the ideas for the return of the Islamic khilafe, caliphate, are growing every day. The number of supporters and the carriers of this call is growing every day. The repression of the Uzbek government against the members of Hezb ut-Tahrir is evidence of that. It's evidence that the Islamic call is a threat," Waheed said.
Furkat Yakvalkhodyaev, an independent journalist in Uzbekistan, has been monitoring the Uzbek government's fight against radical Islamic groups. In an interview with RFE/RL, Yakvalkhodyaev said that the mass arrests of members of Hezb ut-Tahrir have, indeed, impacted the visibility of the group's activities. Conservative estimates by human rights groups say that some 7,000 activists, the majority of them members of Hezb ut-Tahrir, have been put in jail in the past three years in Uzbekistan.
But Yakvalkhodyaev believes the Uzbek government is far from claiming victory over the group. "The current government, to some extent, was able to isolate members and supporters of Hezb ut-Tahrir from society by mass arrests. But this does not mean that all members or supporters of Hezb ut-Tahrir are isolated from society. If you have a clear enemy in front of you, you may destroy and then claim a victory. But the difficulty of the situation is that in front of us is not a foreign enemy, but our own citizens," Yakvalkhodyaev said.
How can a government fight religious extremism orchestrated from outside but implemented from within? This is a dilemma not only faced by Uzbekistan. The government of Kyrgyzstan is facing similar threats to its secular statehood.
If Uzbek authorities believe its tough measures have paid off, the Kyrgyz government is taking a softer approach toward Hezb ut-Tahrir. In Uzbekistan, members of Hezb ut-Tahrir convicted of being members of a banned group or for distributing antigovernment leaflets are often sentenced to long prison terms of 10 to 25 years. For the same charges in Kyrgyzstan, members might receive a maximum of five years in jail, but in most cases are only fined.
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry of Kyrgyzstan, Joldoshbek Busurmankulov, explained the difference in strategy. "I don't think that we will live 20 years without any Hezb ut-Tahrir, if we give them [members of Hezb ut-Tahrir] 30 or 40 years of imprisonment or arrest all of them. It will not happen. I think we may fight by alternative ways, different methods. We should prove their destructiveness. We should fight for the hearts and minds of the people. Because Tashmat was arrested [sic] for 20 years, Eshmat will not stop doing the same activities. Quite the opposite. He will think quietly about why Tashmat was jailed and will look for the same literature," Busurmankulov said.
Busurmankulov added that when members of Hezb ut-Tahrir abuse the more tolerant attitude of the Kyrgyz government and break laws regulating their activities, they are subject to criminal penalties. He cited recent arrests of its members in the Osh, Batkent, and Chuy regions as examples.
Nevertheless, he said he believes Central Asian governments have to find more effective methods in the fight against Hezb ut-Tahrir other than arrests and repression.
In 1999, Uzbek President Islam Karimov suggested that ideas should be fought with ideas. Independent Uzbek journalist Furkat Yakvalkhodyaev said the Uzbek authorities soon showed, however, that they preferred the use of force. "The problem is, fighting thought with thought is much more difficult than using force and requires constant efforts and patience. That's why not everybody [in the government] wants it. As Russians say, 'If you have force, there is no need for brains.' But the most important thing is in order to deny the claims of Hezb ut-Tahrir, the current government, in practice, has to prove to the people that its overall policy is wise and the only right way out. Only then will society itself, not the government, deny any radical calls," Yakvalkhodyaev said.
There is no sign, however, that the Uzbek government intends to change its attitude. Ilya Pyagay of the Uzbek Interior Ministry said law-enforcement bodies will not allow radical groups to destabilize the country. Pyagay said that, just as harsh punishments against car thieves have almost eradicated such crime in Uzbekistan, tough measures can also achieve the same result in the fight against extremist Islamic organizations.