14 September 2000, Volume
OPPOSITION LEADER CONSIDERS ELECTION LAWS FLAWED.
Vazgen Manukian, chairman of the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), told journalists in Yerevan on 7 September that he is against pre-term parliamentary elections on the grounds that the country's leading parties are not ready for them and the elections laws are seriously flawed, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)
U.S. URGES BAKU TO ENSURE POLL IS DEMOCRATIC.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker called on the leadership of Azerbaijan to implement the remaining OSCE proposals aimed at creating conditions that will ensure that the 5 November parliamentary poll is free and fair, Turan reported. Those proposals include guaranteeing access to polling stations by independent domestic election observers and allowing the functioning of free media. The statement also encouraged the Azerbaijani leadership to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition in the run up to the ballot. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)BAKU REJECTS REQUEST TO HOLD PROTEST DEMO.
The Baku municipal authorities have rejected a request by the independent Union of Editors to convene a picket outside the Prosecutor-General's Office to protest the arrest of opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper editor Rauf Arifoglu, Turan reported on 7 September. Deputy Mayor Gabil Abbasoglu said such a protest could be construed as pressure intended to influence the conduct of the investigation. Arifoglu is accused of terrorism, illegal possession of a firearm, and complicity in an abortive plane hijack attempt last month. Also on 7 September, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told a news conference in Baku that Arifoglu's arrest does not constitute oppression of the independent media and that he will be released if found not guilty. The Baku city authorities again denied a picket request on 12-13 September, Turan reported on 11 September ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 12 September)OPPOSITIONISTS FINED FOR 'HOOLIGANISM.'
A Baku district court on 7 September handed down fines of $600 each to four members of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) charged with hooliganism after picketing the home of parliamentary deputy Shamil Gurbanov, Turan reported. The four were protesting what they termed slanderous statements Gurbanov had made in the parliament on 21 July about AMIP chairman Etibar Mamedov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)COUNCIL OF EUROPE WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER JOURNALIST'S ARREST.
Lord Russell Johnston, who is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has written to Azerbaijan's parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov to inform him that the 22 August arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," may delay Azerbaijan's admittance as a full member of the council, Turan and AP reported on 8 and 9 September. But on 7 September, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov said it would not be "a tragedy" if Azerbaijan were not admitted to full membership in the Council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS JOURNALIST SATISFIED WITH JAIL CONDITIONS.
National Security Ministry press secretary Araz Gurbanov told journalists on 9 September that there is no truth to claims by Arifoglu's lawyer that the detained journalist's rights are being infringed or that an attempt has been made to poison him, Turan reported. Gurbanov said that Arifoglu is allowed to receive books, newspapers, and food brought by his relatives and to hold unlimited meetings with his lawyer, Vidadi Mahmudov. Mahmudov had quoted Arifoglu as saying that he is strip-searched both before and after his meetings with Mahmudov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)
AUTHORITIES THREATEN ELECTION BOYCOTTERS WITH IMPRISONMENT.
Mikhail Sukhinin, a department chief at the Justice Ministry, told Reuters on 11 September that calls to boycott the 15 October legislative polls can be regarded as an attempt to "hamper the right to vote guaranteed by the constitution." He added that "law enforcement bodies, if they want, may qualify this as a criminal act." His aide said that under the law such actions are punishable by up to two years in jail. The opposition responded by saying the authorities aim to intimidate the population by such statements. "We are confident that we are acting according to the law," Viktar Ivashkevich, an organizer of the boycott campaign, told the news agency. Opposition activists currently visit private households, asking citizens to boycott the vote and distributing leaflets featuring a kissing couple along with the headline "No to Farce!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)AUTHORITIES DISRUPT GAY FESTIVAL IN MINSK.
Shortly after the "Gay Pride-2000" festival got under way at a Minsk club on 7 September, electricity to the club was cut off and the club's owner asked the participants to leave, saying he was under pressure from the authorities, Belapan and AP reported. Police sent by the mayor's office kicked participants out of the club and disrupted seminars and film screenings, festival spokeswoman Tsina Klykouskaya told AP. The organizers of the festival--the Belarusian Lambda Gay and Lesbian League--had applied for permission to march through Minsk on 10 September but failed to obtain it because the group is not registered with the Justice Ministry. The group earlier had failed in its attempt to register because of "technicalities." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)
ESTONIANS SPLIT OVER ETHNIC MINORITY ISSUE.
A public opinion poll taken last spring but released on 11 September showed that 46 percent of ethnic Estonian respondents "agreed with the statement that the departure of non-Estonians would benefit Estonia," the German press agency dpa reported on 11 September.
PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST PROTEST DEMOS...
Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 September that protests such as that by residents of the west Georgian town of Tkibuli risk destabilizing the domestic political situation and jeopardizing international financial aid, AP reported. (RFE/RL Newsline, 12 September)JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AGAIN ATTACKED...
Georgian police and security officials fired blank anti-tank shells and used force to disperse an outdoor gathering of some 700 Jehovah's Witnesses in the town of Natuliki in northwestern Georgia on 8 September, AP and Caucasus Press reported. A security official told AP the congregation had been warned not to assemble in the town, which lies in the security zone on the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)...AS LOCAL MAYOR GIVES GREEN LIGHT.
The police action against the Jehovah's Witnesses' meeting also included attacks on journalists, Rustavi 2 television reported on 8 September. The mayor of Zugdidi, military and police officials had warned the meeting organizers that they would not allow the convention to proceed, an eyewitness reported. Despite several requests, the officials failed to provide any written confirmation of a law prohibiting the proposed convention. (Jehovah's Witnesses Current Affairs Office)POLICE PENSIONERS PLAN PROTESTS.
Some 13,000 former Georgian police officers vowed on 8 September to stage countrywide protests if they do not receive pension arrears for the past 10 months totaling 8 million lari ($4 million), Caucasus Press reported. Also on 8 September, a senior pension fund official told Caucasus Press that total pension arrears amount to 18 million lari and that it is unlikely that arrears for last year will be paid. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 September)
SLOVAK ADMINISTRATIVE REORGANIZATION WORRIES BUDAPEST.
Hungary is concerned about Bratislava's plan to revise Slovakia's territorial administrative divisions, MTI reported on 9 September, citing a Foreign Ministry press release. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told Stefan Markus, Slovakia's ambassador to Budapest, that Budapest believes that the change would worsen the chance of ethnic Magyars to "influence their own affairs and use their mother-tongue in contacts with the authorities" and would thus negatively impact Hungarian-Slovak relations. Markus replied that the envisaged revision is only "in the draft phase" and that the Slovak government is examining ways to meet the Hungarian minority's demands. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 September)
PRETRIAL DETENTION DEEMED 'STALINIST.'
A seminar in Almaty, organized by human rights organizations and the Justice Ministry, discussed the country's 'Stalinist-style' penitentiary system on 10 September. Some seminar participants said that when 20-30 suspects are detained in tiny pre-trial detention cells intended for several prisoners, their treatment might be defined as torture. (RFE/RL Kazakh Service, 11 September)ELECTRONIC NEWS BULLETIN ON THE MEDIA.
Internews Network Kazakhstan has published a Russian-language weekly electronic bulletin since January 1998. The project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development. A complete archive can be found at Internews' Kazakh website: http://www.internews.kz/rus/bulletin/index.htm
COURT OVERTURNS ACQUITTAL OF OPPOSITION LEADER...
Kyrgyzstan's Military Court on 11 September annulled the acquittal of former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The court called for Kulov to be retried, this time by the Bishkek City Court, and for him to give a written pledge not to leave Bishkek. After a six-week trial, the court last month found Kulov not guilty of abusing his official position as national security minister. Kulov has formally stated his intention to contest the 29 October Kyrgyz presidential poll. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)...AS OFFICIAL HINTS AT CLEMENCY FOR A SECOND OPPOSITIONIST...
Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Osmonakun Ibraimov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 11 September that he considers the 16-year jail sentence handed down to opposition politician Topchubek TurgunAliyev too severe, but he added that neither the government nor the presidential administration is empowered to infringe on the independence of the judiciary. TurgunAliyev was found guilty of having recruited semi-literate herdsmen to assassinate President Askar Akaev last year. The verdict was based on testimony given by one man, who later withdrew his statements. Ibraimov hinted that Akaev may soon make "a special statement" on the TurgunAliyev case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
OFFICIALS DEFEND BREAK-UP OF 'ILLEGAL' BAPTIST MEETING.
The local police, procurator and officials have defended their decision to break up a meeting on private land last month by a Baptist group in the town of Limbazi. Officials told Keston News Service that the group does not have state registration and cannot hold public events. They added that the Baptists had failed to apply to local authorities for the necessary permit to hold the meetings. (Keston News Service, 8 September)PRISONERS ON SYMPATHY HUNGER STRIKE WITH JAILED BANKER.
Six people being held in pre-trial detention announced on 6 September a 10-day hunger strike to protest the treatment of ex-banker Aleksandr Lavent, who has been in jail for some 62 months, despite an ongoing trial. Police officials confirmed the hunger strike, saying the six are under medical supervision but declined to make known their identity or other details, BNS reported. Lavent, who was taken to a prison hospital after suffering an angina attack in court, is likely to remain in hospital for at least a week, according to doctors. His trial is scheduled to resume on 7 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)
THREE NEO-NAZIS REGISTERED TO TAKE PART IN ELECTIONS.
Zenonas Vaigauskas, head of Lithuania's Central Electoral Commission, confirmed on 8 September that three members of the illegal National Social Union have registered to run in the 8 October general elections. Vaigauskas said, "If we had refused to register their candidacies, we would have been taken to the higher court and would have undoubtedly lost the case," BNS reported. The State Security Service said earlier it has evidence that the three candidates forged some of the 1,000 signatures necessary to be registered. Vaigauskas said that despite charges being levied against the three neo-Nazis, they remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The three are running in individual constituencies, thus their party affiliation does not play a role in the registration process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)
MEDIA REGULATIONS AND PRACTICE WORKSHOP.
The European Institute for the Media (EIM) and ANEM (Association of Independent Electronic Media) will run a workshop on media regulations and judicial practice in Sveti Stefan, on 16 and 17 September 2000 for local judges, lawyers, editors, and students of law and journalism with Western European professionals to discuss media regulation and practice. More information: email@example.com
(EIM, ANEM Press Release, 11 September)
SOLIDARITY LEADER'S TEAM SAYS MEDIA 'DISTORT' CAMPAIGN.
The election staff of Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski accused public television on 6 September of "distorting the presidential election campaign" by devoting too much airtime to the re-election bid of President Aleksander Kwasniewski, PAP reported. Krzaklewski's election staff cited results of monitoring carried out by a "well-known, independent firm" according to which Kwasniewski appeared on the two public television channels in August for a total of 524 seconds, while Polish Peasant Party candidate Jaroslaw Kalinowski chalked up 100 seconds and Krzaklewski 59 seconds. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)
FINAL VICTORY FOR NIKITIN.
The Supreme Court Presidium dismissed an appeal from the General Prosecutor's Office on 13 September and the prosecution has used up all possibilities to reverse the acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin. The case has been ongoing for nearly five years. Nikitin was charged with high treason and disclosure of state secrets by the Russian Security Police, or FSB, for co-authoring a Bellona report on nuclear waste hazards in the Russian Northern Fleet. Nikitin was fully acquitted in December 1999. The acquittal verdict was upheld by the Russian Supreme Court in April 2000. In May, the Prosecutor-General's Office appealed the acquittal to the Presidium of the Supreme Court.BEREZOVSKY NAMES HIS 'TRUSTEES'...
At a press conference on 7 September, Boris Berezovsky named more than 20 people to whom he will transfer management of his shares in Russian Public Television (ORT). Included on his list were "Kommersant-Daily" journalist Natalya Gevorkian, "Novye izvestiya" editor Igor Golembiovsky and commentator Otto Latsis; "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor Vitali Tretyakov, ORT journalists Sergei Dorenko, Kirill Kleimenov, Leonid Yakubovich, and Vladimir Pozner; former ORT General-Director and former deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov, TV-Tsentr journalist Igor Flyarkovsky, "Obshchaya gazeta" editor Yegor Yakovlev, RFE/RL journalist Anna Kachkaeva, "Segodnya" editor Mikhail Berger, "Itogi" editor Sergei Parkhomenko, NTV Director Yevgenii Kiselev, and Ekho Moskvy Director Aleksei Venediktov, attorney Genri Reznik, novelists Vasili Asenov, Fazil Iskander, and Viktor Pelevin, film director Rustam Khamdamov, and theater director Yuri Lyubimov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)...HALF OF WHOM WORK AT HIS COMPANIES.
"Kommersant-Daily," "Novye izvestiya," and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" are all publications controlled by Berezovskii. "Segodnya," "Itogi," NTV, and Ekho Moskvy are owned by Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST Group. The attorney Reznik has represented Berezovsky, Gusinsky, and RFE/RL reporter Andrei Babitsky among others. Berezovsky said the list of trustees is still not complete and suggested that he is giving "serious thought" to the possibility of transferring his stakes in other media, such as TV-6 and "Kommersant-Daily." On 7 September, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Sergei Goryachev has been named ORT's new director. He is former deputy chairman of the All Russia Television and Radio Company. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)PUTIN SAYS ORT 'TRUSTEES' MUST BE INDEPENDENT.
Speaking at a news conference in New York, where he is attending the UN Millennium Summit, Russian President Vladimir President welcomed Berezovsky's plans to hand over his share in ORT to intellectuals but stressed that those people "must be independent," Reuters reported on 8 September. "If we find that the shares are turned over to other people subject to [Berezovsky's] control, then we will see no effects from the move," the president said, noting that he does yet know what and how much is being transferred and under what conditions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)PUTIN COMMENTS ON GUSINSKY, BEREZOVSKY...
In an interview with CNN's Larry King broadcast on 8 September, President Vladimir Putin declined to characterize the arrest of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky and the transfer of Boris Berezovsky's shares in Russian Public Television (ORT) as issues of freedom of the press, suggesting instead that the Russian government is simply implementing existing laws. Media-MOST, according to Putin, "has been in the red, with credit and debts, and has not returned, according to creditors...$300 billion worth of debt." With regard to ORT, he said that freedom of expression is not the issue because "the owner of 51 percent, the government, by the charter, already has any right to define the policies of that company." ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 September)...AS BEREZOVSKY PROTEGE LOSES TV FORUM.
Russian Public Television pulled the weekly controversial Sergei Dorenko Show off the air on 9 September--just two days after Boris Berezovsky named Dorenko, along with some 20 other people, as a trustee to manage his shares in ORT. Konstantin Ernst, ORT general director, issued a press release explaining that the decision was taken because Dorenko refused to stop commenting on the conflict "between the state and private shareholders of ORT," according to Interfax. Dorenko, for his part, insisted that President Putin was himself behind the decision to cancel his show: "I meet with the president once a month, and without his decision, nobody can touch a hair on my head." In an interview with NTV on 8 September, Berezovsky praised Putin's response to his naming of trustees to manage his shares, saying that a "constructive dialogue with those in authority" has begun. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)...AND CONSIDERS 'NEW' CAREER IN POLITICS.
At a press conference on 11 September, Russian Public Television (ORT) anchorman Sergei Dorenko, whose show was recently pulled off the air, declared that "if I am thrown into politics, I will concentrate on it in earnest." Dorenko also said that during a conversation with Vladimir Putin, he told the Russian president that even if there are 100 state television channels, viewers "will still watch one of your channels and one alternative channel." He noted that Putin agreed that "there is such a danger." Commenting on plans to bring leading television channels under state control, Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov declared that "democracy is being castrated" and that "somebody in the Kremlin has come up with the idea of giving this arrangement the beautiful name of guided democracy." Communist Party leader Gennadi Zyuganov took the opposite tack, declaring that state television must serve executive power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)PAYING THE PRICE FOR BEREZOVSKY'S SHARES.
"One cannot help thinking that the real reason for the sacking of the hosts of the two prime-time TV shows, Flyarokovsky's "Nedelya" (Week) and Dorenko's ORT weekly news show, is due to their willingness to accept Berezovsky's offer," http://gazeta.ru
concluded on 11 September. Vladislav Flyarkovsky "could not even conceal his joy," while Dorenko probably was later also denied NTV air-time because NTV General-Director Yevgeni Kiselev was "against catering for his rival." According to gazeta.ru, one TV insider joked, "Why does he need the job anyway, he was paid some one million dollars for [his] anti-Luzhkov campaign..." although "after the anti-Luzhkov campaign" Dorenko's "rating dropped almost twofold, as did his funding." In contrast, "NTV Director-General Yevgeni Kiselev, on his regular Sunday evening political review program 'Itogi,' politely turned down Berezovsky's offer, saying that it would conflict with his interests in NTV," gazeta.ru reports.REGIONAL MEDIA BEARS THE BRUNT.
Although "Moscow newscasters and media barons complain about a Kremlin-ordered press crackdown," a 11 September "Washington Post" article points out that regional media have long felt pressure from local officials. Citing an example reportedly common in other regions, "this summer [30 of 37] media outlets in Volgograd signed an agreement with Russia's domestic security service" agreeing to act as its PR agents. The article also quotes Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, as saying "the media come under attack in Russian regions every day" and that regional officials "will regard the Kremlin's actions as a green light for their own crackdowns."PUTIN HONORS SLAIN JOURNALIST.
President Putin bestowed the Order of Courage on Larisa Yudina, editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmykiya," Interfax reported on 11 September. Yudina was murdered in June 1998 while investigating official corruption in Kalmykia. Valeri Ostanin, State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and leader of Yabloko's parallel investigation into Yudina's murder, told "Segodnya" that he was pleasantly surprised by the decision to bestow the award on Yudina. However, he added that he suspects Putin might simply be trying to change his image from the "suppressor of glasnost" to that of a "defender of journalists." Yudina was a member of Yabloko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)MILITARY OFFICIAL DENIES JOURNALIST DETAINED, BEATEN.
Colonel Georgi Seropyan, commander of the Khankala military base, denied on 7 September that Ruslan Musaev, a Chechen journalist working for AP, was detained in Grozny two days earlier and taken to Khankala, where he was beaten up, ITAR-TASS reported. Musaev claimed he was beaten up, held in a pit overnight, and then driven on 6 September to the border with Ingushetia, where he was released. In Moscow, a spokesman for Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembski said that no journalist named Musaev is accredited to cover the fighting in Chechnya, according to Interfax. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)TATARSTAN PRESIDENT CRITICAL OF MEDIA POLICY BY LOCAL OFFICIALS.
Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev held a governmental meeting on 8 September on the current situation in the republic. He emphasized that "some of Tatarstan's regional administration heads and members of the republican government still cannot or will not build stable relations with the mass media and accept freedom of speech." Shaimiev also indicated that reporters from some regional newspapers only have access to a special list of farms that they can visit to report on Tatarstan's agriculture. ("RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 11 September)ALMOST 1 MILLION PEOPLE BEHIND BARS.
Some 980,000 people are currently serving sentences or are in pre-trail custody in Russia, Interfax reported on 8 September. Kamil Bakhtiarov, acting head of the Justice Ministry's prison department, told the agency that about 120,000 people have been released from prison or pre-trial custody under an amnesty program this year and that the total number might reach 250,000 people by 26 November. As of 1 July, Russia's population totaled 145.1 million, according to the State Statistics Committee. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)MOSCOW PAPER QUESTIONS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS.
Presenting the results of nationwide reporting over the past six months on the March 2000 presidential election, "The Moscow Times" on 9 September concluded that "enough falsification" occurred "to question the legitimacy of the vote." In dispatches written from Saratov, Novosibirsk, Kursk, Nizhni Novgorod, and Kaliningrad oblasts, Primorski Krai, and the republics of Daghestan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Mordova, and Chechnya, the daily documented both blatant and subtle election manipulations. It alleged that in Daghestan alone, it is possible to "definitively document about 88,000 votes stolen from other candidates and given to candidate Putin." And it suggests that many of the 1.3 million new voters in the 2000 elections were mostly fictional. Unidentified long-term OSCE election observers reportedly expressed "disgust" at the "cheery tone of the day-after [election] OSCE commentary" (see http://www.moscowtimes.ru/09-Sep-2000/todays_issue.htm
). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September)VOLUNTEER ELECTION OBSERVERS INVITED.
The International Discussion Club (IDC), a Russian organization active since 1993 in election monitoring, invites volunteers to join official observers at October/December local polls (Novorossiysk; Murmansk Oblast and Krasnodar Krai) and by-elections (St. Petersburg) not usually monitored by international organizations. Application deadline is three weeks before polling dates. Visit http://idc.cis.lead.org/observer/
(Civil Society International, 9 September)
EU WORRIED ABOUT AILING JOURNALIST.
The EU said on 6 September that it is concerned about the condition of imprisoned journalist Miroslav Filipovic, who suffers from a serious heart condition, Reuters reported. Filipovic, 49, was sentenced on 28 July to seven years in prison for espionage. The EU has demanded that "appropriate measures be taken to address his poor health state until he recovers fully." Filipovic worked for the independent daily "Danas," the French press agency AFP, and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 7 September)WRITER'S NEW TRIAL DATE SET.
The Nis District Court will start new proceedings against poet, pediatrician, and women's rights activist, Flora Brovina on 14 September, reports Free92, the independent Serbian news agency. In June, the Serbian Supreme Court overturned Brovina's conviction--sentenced in December 1999 to 12 years in prison on charges of "terrorism"--and recommended the case be returned to the Nis District Court. International PEN considers Brovina to be imprisoned due to her protests of Serbian human rights abuses in Kosova. (PEN Writers in Prison Committee, 7 September)PAPANDREOU ANGERED BY DETENTION OF STUDENT ACTIVISTS.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou issued a demarche on 7 September after four members of the opposition student group Otpor were detained after being forced to leave the Greek ambassador's residence in Belgrade, Reuters reported. One of the four, Slobodan Homen, said the students were kicked out of a reception at the residence by Yugoslav security officials and then detained for two hours by police. They were released after the demarche was issued and later met with Papandreou at his hotel. Papandreou said "we reacted immediately and the issue was rectified." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)POLICE BEAT STUDENTS, RAID ELECTION OFFICE.
Seven members of the student opposition group Otpor (Resistance) were hospitalized in Vladicin Han on 8 September after being beaten by police, Reuters reported. Aljosa Drazovic of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Fund said police held the students for questioning after they were detained for posting banners. Shortly after being released, they were taken back to the station and beaten with batons and chains. The ordeal ended after a few hundred people gathered at the station and demanded their release. In Belgrade on 8 September, police raided the offices of the independent Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), removing computers and other materials. According to the CESID's Sobodanka Nedovic, the police said "they were searching for evidence of possible criminal acts." Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said CESID is "an American outpost" and that it "will not be an observer at the elections." He added that no monitors from Western countries considered hostile to Milosevic will be allowed. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 11 September)JOURNALIST MURDERED.
Shefki Popova, an Albanian Kosovar journalist who worked for the daily "Rilindja" for 25 years, was killed in Vucitrin, near Prishtina, by two unknown assailants on 10 September, the Paris-based journalists' group Reporters without Borders reported. An inquiry has been opened by the UN police. The RSF also noted in a letter to Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosova, that "Popova is the first journalist killed since the United Nations has been in charge of the Kosovo administration." (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 11 September)THREE ORTHODOX CHURCHES LEVELED IN AUGUST.
Between 14 and 22 August, three Serbian Orthodox churches were leveled in Kosova, despite being under KFOR protection., Keston News Service reported on 11 September. The Serbian Orthodox Church has published information on the desecration and destruction of almost 100 churches, monasteries and religious buildings in Kosova since June 1999. The local Serbian Orthodox diocese has alleged that in one of the three destructions, troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) serving with the international force KFOR allowed the destruction to take place.
JOURNALISTS EARN TWO DOLLARS A MONTH.
A seminar on 29 August in the oblast center of Kurgan-Tyube, organized by the Ministry of Culture, publicized survey data about local journalists. On average, local journalists in that region earn from 3,600 to 7,000 Tajik rubles ($1.50 to $3.20). In the interests of safety, the local source of this information must remain anonymous. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 September)JOURNALIST BEATEN.
Nematulloi Nurullo, a reporter for the paper "Dzhumkhuriayat," was beaten by Dushanbe policemen on 27 August, reports the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. The journalist was seized on the street, forced into a car, beaten en route to the militia station, and so badly beaten at the station that he suffered a concussion and a hearing loss in one ear. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 12 September)
RFE/RL LISTENERS CLAIM OSCE MISSION 'DOES LITTLE TO HELP.'
A letter from a group of RFE/RL listeners claims that the OSCE Mission in Ashgabat, opened in 1998, "is not able to provide adequate protection of human rights." While criticizing the OSCE mission overall, the letter praises the efforts of Piotr Iwaszkiewicz, a former Human Rights officer whom the Turkmenistan authorities forced to leave the country. The RFE/RL listeners allege that "the new OSCE officials in Ashgabat do not communicate with anybody, rarely leave their offices, and refuse to meet with people who come to visit," and suggests that "the OSCE mission could achieve more if its leadership would not be changed every year." ("RFE/RL Turkmen Report," 8 September)
UKRAINIAN TRADE UNION LEADER ARRESTED.
Yuri Pyvovarov, leader of the All-Ukrainian Trade Union "Solidarnist," was arrested in Donetsk on 6 September, Interfax reported. Donetsk Prosecutor Oleksandr Almezov told journalists that the Kharkiv Prosecutor's Office had launched a criminal investigation into "Solidarnist" activists on charges of abuse of office and had ordered "Solidarnist" headquarters in Donetsk to be searched. Almezov said Pyvovarov put up resistance to police officers and inflicted serious injuries on three of them when they tried to enter his office. Subsequently Pyvovarov spent eight hours on a window ledge of the "Solidarnist" headquarters' building to protest the search. After finally persuading Pyvovarov to leave his ledge, police interrogated and then arrested him after he had made two attempts to "disappear." Almezov said there is no link between Pyvovarov's arrest and the 29 August protest action in Donetsk, organized by "Solidarnist," among other groups. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September)CABINET REPORTS REPAYMENT OF PENSION ARREARS...
Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 10 September said he has fulfilled his pledge to pay off pension arrears by 15 September. "I want to apologize to all our pensioners for what they had to go through. The government has done everything possible to avoid a repeat of such a situation," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying. At the beginning of this year, wage arrears in Ukraine stood at 1.25 billion hryvni ($230 million). Yushchenko also pledged that the government will seek to increase pensions. The average monthly pension in Ukraine is some 50 hryvni ($9.2). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September)...BUT DONETSK PENSIONERS TAKE TO STREETS AGAIN.
Some 3,000 pensioners in Donetsk took to the streets again on 11 September, less than two weeks after their recent protest action, Interfax reported. The protesters demanded that local authorities grant official status to the Russian language in the region, "stabilize" prices for bread and necessities, lower utility payments, and increase minimum wages and pensions. After staging a picket at the oblast administration building, the protesters blocked traffic in the city center. The Donetsk Oblast Council promised to examine protesters' demands at its emergency session but noted that giving official status to Russian in the region is beyond its powers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE LAUNCHES NEWSLETTER.
The International Press Institute, a leading journalists' organization, is launching a new monthly electronic newsletter which will focus on press freedom and on IPI's work to counter violations. IPI encourages its members and others to draw its attention to relevant stories. For further information, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or sign up on IPI's website: http://www.freemedia.atNEW JOURNAL ON EUROPEAN ETHNO-POLITICS SEEKS CONTRIBUTORS.
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(International Journalists' Network, 4-8 September)
BAKU'S ATTACK ON THE OPPOSITION
By Liz Fuller
On 18 August, Mehti Huseynli, a member of the opposition Musavat party, staged an abortive attempt to hijack an Azerbaijani airlines flight from Nakhichevan to Baku. But before security guards managed to overpower him, Huseynli made a call on his mobile phone to Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the party's newspaper "Yeni Musavat," to dictate a list of his demands. Police searching for a tape of that conversation searched first the editorial premises of "Yeni Musavat," then Arifoglu's apartment, where they claimed to have found a pistol, which Arifoglu insists they planted there. Arifoglu was promptly arrested, and has been charged with terrorism, complicity in the hijack attempt, and illegal possession of a firearm.
The Azerbaijani authorities have parlayed those events into the rationale for a full-scale witch-hunt against the Musavat party. Its chairman, Isa Gambar, was summoned for questioning on 30 August. Since then, the government-controlled media have propagated numerous accounts of stage-managed meetings at schools, hospitals and industrial enterprises, at which, in a manner recalling Soviet agit-prop, participants denounce the Musavat party as a "terrorist organization" and call for its registration to be annulled and for it to be barred from contesting the 5 November parliamentary election.
This is not the first time that the Azerbaijani authorities have sought to justify preventing Musavat from participating in a parliamentary poll. In 1995, the party was excluded from contesting those 25 parliamentary mandates allocated under the proportional system on the grounds--questioned by UN and OSCE observers--that many of the signatures submitted in support of its application for registration were forged.
It is, of course, entirely possible that Huseynli may have been acting (wittingly or unwittingly) as an agent provocateur. On 18 August, the day of the hijack attempt, the Musavat party leadership issued a statement condemning his action as a violation of party statutes, adding that it could not rule out the possibility that the hijack attempt was a "provocation" directed against the party. If indeed Huseynli acted spontaneously, rather than at the prompting of others, he could hardly have inflicted a more damaging blow on the party of which he is a member. And that damage lies not only in the risk that the party could be banned, but in the impact of Arifloglu's arrest on existing differences within the party's ranks.
Arifoglu has a reputation for arrogance and outspokenness. During a discussion of the Azerbaijani media and political landscape two years ago, he told this writer that he considers the leadership of President Heidar Aliyev as the main obstacle to both democratization and media freedom in Azerbaijan, hence his unequivocal opposition to the present regime. Arifoglu said that between January and late September 1998 he was summoned 10 times to the Prosecutor-General's office and once to the Ministry of National Security in connection with articles published in "Yeni Musavat." He also said that the degree of solidarity among editors of various non-government funded media outlets in Azerbaijan is considerably greater than between the leaders of the various opposition parties. His fellow journalists' coordinated protests against his arrest bear out that observation.
Arifoglu is, moreover, said to harbor political ambitions. He made no secret of his dissatisfaction that his name figured only seventh on the Musavat party's list of candidates drawn up in late July to contest the proportional seats in the parliamentary poll, rather than among the top five candidates. The opposition newspaper "Azadlyg" on 28 July quoted him as vowing to oust some members of the party's top leadership. Some observers have even suggested that his long-term aim is to replace Isa Gambar as the party's chairman.
The Azerbaijani authorities could choose to play on those tensions within Musavat, arranging for Arifoglu to be informed in the course of his interrogation that it was Gambar who put Huseynli up to the hijack attempt with the express aim of discrediting Arifoglu. If a decision were subsequently made not to jeopardize Azerbaijan's imminent acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe by banning Musavat outright, but Arifoglu is tried, sentenced and then amnestied within a couple of years, unity within the Musavat party would be next to impossible to restore.
By creating a situation in which Arifoglu is widely perceived both as hero and martyr (Turan on 28 August quoted him as having told his lawyer "I am going to prove there are journalists ready to die for the freedom of expression and the press"), the Azerbaijani authorities have placed Gambar in an unenviable situation. He cannot distance himself from a man whose uncompromising stance could prove a liability without laying himself open to charges of betraying party solidarity. And expressing unconditional support for his party colleague could increase the likelihood of Musavat being banned.
The Central Electoral Commission failed to make good on its threat last month not to register the Azerbaijan Popular Front to contest the 5 November ballot unless the two rival wings of that party reached a reconciliation. But a third prominent opposition party is at risk of being barred from contesting the election. The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, which is headed by exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, was originally excluded from the poll under an article of the election law according to which only parties officially registered with the Ministry of Justice six months prior to the announcement of the date of the poll may participate. The Democratic Party was registered only in February of this year. The parliament recently amended the electoral legislation to remove that prohibition, thus enabling the Democratic Party to register a list of candidates to contest the proportional mandates. That list was headed by Guliev.
On 31 August, however, it was announced that an investigation into Guliev's alleged involvement in the theft between 1992--1994 of oil products worth some $76 million has been completed. If tried in absentia and found guilty before the 5 November election date, Guliev would be ineligible to contest that ballot. Moreover, according to the election law, if one of the first three persons on a party's list of proportional candidates withdraws, the entire list becomes invalid.