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Watch List: February 11, 1999

11 February 1999, Volume 1, Number 5

FASCIST GROUP ATTACKS BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION. About 20 thugs shouting anti-Semitic epithets and wearing the swastika-like armbands of the extreme-right Russian National Unity Party attacked activists of the Belarusian human rights movement Charter 97 on Feb. 5, according to the New York-based International League for Human Rights. Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Sannykov was beaten unconscious, and two of his colleagues were badly bruised. State-run Belarus TV did not mention the attack.

TURKMENISTAN EXPELS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH STAFFER. On Feb. 2, Turkmenistan state security agents detained, interrogated, and then expelled Aleksandr Petrov, a staff member of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch who had been engaged in a fact-finding mission. HRW director Kenneth Roth, who led the mission but had left Ashgabat 24 hours before Petrov's arrest, issued a statement reminding Turkmenistan that while it has an open-door policy regarding billions of dollars in U.S. investment, "it slams the door shut on any effort to bring to light its shameful human rights record." The Foreign Ministry replied by charging Petrov with working for Russia. HRW calls him a loyal employee since 1991 and demands that the government guarantee his reentry.

NIKITIN CASE AGAIN RETURNED TO PROSECUTOR. On Jan 26, Russia's Supreme Court upheld an earlier St. Petersburg court decision to send back the case of Aleksandr Nikitin for additional investigation. Nikitin was first charged with treason in December 1996 for his contributions to the report of the Norwegian environmentalist group Bellona on radioactive contamination by Russian nuclear submarines. He was released after ten months of detention but could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for what Amnesty International calls the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Nikitin appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

LITTLE PROGRESS IN MOLDOVA, HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT SAYS. While the Moldovan government has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, its efforts to comply with that document's provisions have been hampered by "weakness of the rule of law" and "lack of democratic experience," according to the 1998 annual report of the Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. The report calls for a new penal code, a nondiscriminatory attitude on religious freedom, and a policy on national minorities. It also criticizes Russia for failing to withdraw its forces from Moldova and thus breaking its promise to the Council of Europe.

CZECH CABINET TO DISCUSS RISE OF HATE CRIMES. Czech courts reported sentencing 130 people for crimes motivated by racial intolerance last year, a slight decrease over 1997. Most of the attacks targeted members of the Romany minority, and now the Czech cabinet has announced that this issue will be taken up during its next meeting. In a recent petition for stronger laws against hate crimes, the Czech human rights group "For A Tolerant Society" charges that racially-motivated crimes often go unpunished or the culprits get light sentences, as in the recent case of three murdered Roma.

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS DECRY CZECH INACTION. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and ranking member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) recently told Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous that while President Vaclav Havel has been carrying the burden of reacting to xenophobic attacks, it is time for other leaders, including Prime Minister Milos Zeman, "to be equally assertive in condemning hate crimes." On Feb. 4, the two Congressional leaders also expressed regret over the parliament's rejection of an amendment to drop Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. They called for working out "an alternative mechanism" to those victims of Nazism and communism who have thus far been excluded from restitution because they lack current Czech citizenship.

EVICTIONS IN SLOVENIA PROTESTED. Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia is protesting the evictions of families of former Yugoslav People's Army officers and employees, as ordered by Slovenia's Ministry of Defense. In this way, the Helsinki Monitor report says, the authorities plan to free 1,200 apartments. Some families have already been evicted by court order or fled following anonymous phone threats.

BEIJING VOWS TO CRUSH UIGHUR DISSENT. According to the Chinese provincial press, Beijing has arrested hundreds of Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uighurs and sent elite troops to quash protests in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Amnesty International argues that this crackdown has "exacerbated ethnic tensions and contributed to the escalation of violence" in Central Asia. According to "The Xinjiang Legal Daily," in Yicheng County, police arrested more than 80 people last year for involvement in 15 bomb attacks over a 5-month period. In Beijing, the city razed a street of Muslim eateries known as "Xinjiang Village."