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Watch List: March 25, 1999

25 March 1999, Volume 1, Number 11

RUSSIANS DON'T BLAME NON-RUSSIANS FOR THEIR PROBLEMS. Only 20 percent of Russians hold non-Russians in the country responsible for the country's troubles; 71 percent reject such a view, according to a poll taken last month by the All-Russian Public Opinion Institute, as reported by Interfax news agency. And despite all of Moscow's posturing on the issue, only 5 percent of those polled thought that the Russian government should concentrate on protecting the rights of ethnic Russians living in other republics of the former USSR.

PRIMAKOV SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM. Hours before his departure for Washington on March 22, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told a delegation representing the American-Jewish community that he condemned rising anti-Semitism in Russia. In welcoming the statement, Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman pointed out that in the past Primakov's voice speaking up against anti-Semitism had been missing. Earlier in the day, Primakov told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he supported anti-extremist legislation now under consideration in the Duma.

RACISM CONDEMNED IN CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY. Speaking after a visit to the Museum of Romany Culture in Brno on March 19, Czech President Vaclav Havel told the news agency CTK that many Roma live in fear, especially of skinhead violence, and that "we still have to do something to improve the situation." But a poll by STEM agency suggests that 82 percent of Czechs are opposed to more respect for Romany rights. Addressing a forum in Budapest on March 21, the UN's International Day Against Racism, Jeno Kaltenbach, Hungarian omboudsman for minorities, described anti-Roma attitudes as Hungary's "plague."

UZBEK POLICE ROUNDUP EXTENDS TO KAZAKHSTAN AND UKRAINE. In a joint operation with Uzbek authorities, on March 16 Kazakh police in the capital Almaty detained seven Uzbek citizens suspected of complicity in the bombings in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on February 16. All the detainees were promptly extradited to Uzbekistan, an official told Interfax-Kazakhstan. In Kyiv, two members of the Uzbek opposition, residents since 1994, were arrested in their apartments on March 15 in a joint Uzbek-Ukrainian police raid, which Amnesty International described as part of the clampdown ordered by Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Yusif Ruzimuradov and Muhammad Bekzhon, both of the banned party Erk, face forcible repatriation, as do two more Uzbeks detained the same day. AI believes that the four Uzbeks would face violations of their basic human rights if returned to Uzbekistan: They would not have a fair trial, and they would probably be tortured. AI concludes: "International agreements to which Ukraine is a party forbid extradition in such cases."

TASHKENT MOVES AGAINST CHRISTIANS. Uzbek authorities are also cracking down on Protestants trying to register their churches with the state, according to Compass Direct, a Christian news service. In two separate incidents in March, three Christians, one in Bukhara and two in Nukus, were arrested and charged with possession of drugs the police claimed to have found in their homes. The Bukharan belonged to a group in the process of applying for registration, and the pair in Nukus had just had their Full Gospel Church church registered. In a third incident in March reported by Compass Direct, Tashkent Christian Ibrahim Yusupov was fined for holding illegal gatherings. His previous attempts to register his church had failed.

LEADING INDEPENDENT LAWYER DISBARRED IN AZERBAIJAN. A prominent independent attorney in Baku, Aslan Ismailov, has been stripped of his right to practice law, apparently in retaliation for comments he made during a visit to the U.S. between February 21 and March 4. Ismailov criticized the Azerbaijani Justice Ministry for banning some one hundred independent lawyers from representing clients in court. The International League for Human Rights, a New York-based nongovernmental organization, characterized Ismailov's expulsion from the country's bar association, the Collegium of Lawyers, as "the latest blow in a series of strikes at independent lawyers in Azerbaijan." Because the Collegium refused to give Ismailov a written explanation for his expulsion, he is unable to file a suit to be reinstated.

LEADING CHINESE WRITER ATTACKS BEIJING'S ETHNIC POLICIES... Wang Lixiong, perhaps China's best-known writer, has urged his government to consider "letting ethnic minorities shake off the guidance of their elites and choosing their own future." Writing in the magazine "Strategy and Management," Wang suggested that nationalism was growing in the Himalayan region and could split China. Wang, 45, is now back in his Beijing home. On March 11 Xinjiang police released him after a detention of one month on the strange charge of revealing state secrets. He had been collecting material on Xinjiang's Muslim Uighur majority.

...BUT EU DECIDES AGAINST COMMON CONDEMNATION OF BEIJING. The foreign ministers of the European Union decided against a formal joint condemnation of Chinese violations of human rights at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. However, addressing that body, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer demanded that China improve its human rights record.


By Charles Fenyvesi

With presidential elections set for October 1999, Ukrainian authorities are targeting the country's independent news media, according to the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontiers. Since December 1998, these attacks have ranged from physical assaults to detention and shutdown, a pattern that recalls the harassment of dissidents during the Brezhnev Era.

The current campaign began with the municipal tribunal in Kyiv ordering the arrest of Oleh Liashko, chief editor of the opposition weekly "Polityka." The charges were "slander" and "abuse of power," and they appear to have been prompted by his publication of articles questioning the activities of three high-ranking police officials. But Liashko has not been arrested. A court froze the weekly's bank account following the publication of a series of articles on the corruption of persons close to President Leonid Kuchma. In December last year, the weekly appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled that the freezing of the bank account was illegal, and "Polityka" was authorized to reappear in mid-February. But it took Liashko several weeks to find a press willing to print "Polityka." The best-equipped presses in Kyiv are state-owned, and they refused to work with an opposition paper.

On January 13, Vladimir Efremov, editor-in-chief of the daily "Sobor," was arrested and taken to Dnipropetrovsk prison, where he was accused of irregularities in securing a loan for his newspaper in 1995. Efremov said the loan had been entirely repaid. He was released on January 15 but was ordered not to leave the city.

Efremov believes that his arrest was connected to the broadcast on TV 11 of a speech by Pavlo Lazarenko, Kuchma's chief opponent and former prime minister. (Lazarenko is now in the United States fighting extradition and seeking political asylum.) Efremov is also a senior manager of TV 11.

On January 26, in the staircase of his apartment building, Sergei Gorogeankin, director of the television network TV 7 in Mariupil, was attacked by a man wielding a baseball bat. Gorogeankin underwent surgery, and his condition is described as "worrisome."

On February 22, one of the country's most influential privately-owned dailies, the "Kievskie Viedomosty," was unable to pay what it termed as "unreasonably high compensation" for court cases. The paper's finances deteriorated dramatically after it lost a case over its allegations of abuse of power on the part of Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Kravchenko. The shutdown followed a freezing of the newspaper's bank account last year and the imposition of numerous fines on its journalists.

On February 28, a program critical of the government, aired by the independent television station Vikna, was suspended after the authorities maneuvered a personnel change in the station's management.

On March 1, a fire of suspicious origin erupted in the apartment of Mykola Kniazhytskyi, president of the independent television station STB, well known for its investigative reports on corruption and misappropriation of government funds. A few days earlier, STB cameraman Sergei Korenev was attacked in a railway station, and his camera and tapes were taken away.

On March 3, two masked persons burst into the home of Dmytro Dakhno, STB's business manager, and threatened him and his pregnant wife with a knife, then forced the couple to lie on the floor while they searched the apartment. They left without taking any of the money that happened to be on the table.

And most recently, on March 17, the authorities in Dnipropetrovsk seized the transmitters of television station TV 11. Staffers were ordered to leave the station's offices.

STB director Kniazhytskyi told a press conference on March 4 that the separate acts of violence that targeted his station, which may have included the murder of a man loosely associated with STP, are not accidental. He believes that an effort is under way by one of the country's "financial-political clans" to muzzle the media.

Besides Reporters sans Frontieres, the English-language "Ukrainian Weekly," published in New Jersey, has also followed the trail of violence against the news media. Its correspondent in Kyiv, Roman Woronowycz, has suggested that the incidents fall into a pattern.

Whether the sponsor is the Kyiv government, freelancing elements within it, or one or another of the powerful "financial-political clans" Kniazhytskyi cited, all such actions represent a regrettable backsliding from Ukraine's democratic development. By calling attention to them, Reporters sans Frontieres hopes to prevent the repetition of such acts in the future.