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Watch List: February 18, 1999

18 February 1999, Volume 1, Number 6

KAZAKH DEPORTATION OF UIGHURS VIOLATES UN TREATY. Kazakhstan has deported to China three young Uighurs who fled across the border and sought political asylum late last year, according to Kazakh television. Amnesty International (AI) says that China wanted the three men -- Hemit Memet, Kasim Mahpir, and Ilyas Zordun -- as suspected Muslim separatists. AI protests their forcible return as a violation of Kazakhstan's obligations under a UN treaty which prohibits a refugee's deportation to a country where he or she may face human rights violations. AI adds that the deportation heightens concerns that Kazakhstan may be complying with China's request to Central Asian republics to help fight what it calls "ethnic separatism" in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Aliyev DROPS SLANDER CHARGE... After a two-week trial, President Heidar Aliyev halted the lawsuit against Abulfaz Elchibey, elected in 1992 as independent Azerbaijan's first president but ousted in a military coup a year later. The charge, which could have sent him to jail for six years, was that opposition leader Elchibey had "insulted" Aliyev by asserting that as the Communist boss in the 1970s, Aliyev helped set up the Kurdistan Workers Party that is outlawed in Turkey. An unidentified Western diplomat told Reuters that international protest prompted Aliev's turnaround.

...BUT SEVEN PROTESTERS GET PRISON TERMS. Two days before the Elchibey slander case was dropped, seven supporters of the opposition Party for National Independence of Azerbaijan were sentenced to suspended prison terms and hard labor of two to three years. The charges were "hooliganism" and "insulting" President Aliev. Last November in Baku the seven men took part in an unlicensed demonstration to protest cheating in the presidential elections, criticized around the world as seriously flawed.

ATTACKED FROM ALL SIDES. The extraordinary difficulty of developing free and unbiased media in countries where all groups appear to expect the press to reflect only their views was highlighted this week by twin attacks on RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service. On Feb. 13, an opposition newspaper, "Muhalefet," sharply criticized RFE/RL for not supporting its position, and then, on Feb. 16, a pro-government paper, "Nakhichevan," denounced the Azerbaijani service for its pro-opposition, anti-government line.

PACE HEAD: ARMENIANS, AZERBAIJANIS NOT READY TO JOIN EUROPE. At a briefing in Tbilisi, Lord Russell-Johnston, chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said that it is hard to say when Armenia and Azerbaijan might be admitted to PACE as the two countries did not meet European standards, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Russell-Johnston explained that in its admission policies, PACE pays special attention to human rights.

GEORGIAN LEADER RULES OUT REPATRIATION. Lord Russell-Johnston cautioned Georgia, the first country in the southern Caucasus to be invited to join the Council of Europe, that it will need to address itself to the repatriation demands of Meshketian Turks deported by Stalin if it hopes to remain in the Council. Such repatriation is "unacceptable," declared Nino Burdjanadze, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Committee on Law and Justice, because with 300,000 refugees in the country, such a task is beyond Georgia's power.

MOSCOW COURT CASE THREATENS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. All faiths other than the four recognized as "traditional" -- Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism -- will suffer in Russia if a Moscow district court rules against the Jehovah's Witnesses, says Human Rights Watch and the Keston Institute, the British-based monitor of religious freedom. Under a controversial 1997 statute, the prosecutor is seeking to curb the Jehovah's Witnesses for things such as promoting itself as the only true faith and "insulting" others, and for encouraging suicides by forbidding its members to accept blood transfusions.

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL TARGETS BAPTIST CHURCH. American Baptist Pastor Dan Pollard is fighting local authorities to keep the church he built in Vanino, a town 5,000 miles east of Moscow, according to the Keston News Service, an organization monitoring religious freedom. Viktor Nikulnikov, an official dealing with cults in Khabarovsk Province, argues that Pollard, who registered as a Baptist in 1996, should reregister because he recently joined a Pentacostal umbrella group in Moscow. Pollard fears that Nikulnikov is delaying the review of his registration in order to force the church out of existence after the original registration deadline runs out on Dec. 31, 1999.

VLADIVOSTOK JOURNALIST TRIED IN SECRET. In a closed trial, a Vladivostok military court indicted a Russian journalist, former naval officer Grigorii Pasko, for high treason, according to news agency reports. His lawyers deny charges by the Federal Security Service that he handed military secrets to Japanese television, including details on the dumping of radioactive waste. But the judges are outraged that someone put his eight-page indictment on the Internet, and military counterintelligence is investigating. Pasko, 34, has been under arrest since 1997 and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Amnesty International declared Pasko "a prisoner of conscience."