Sunday, August 28, 2016

Russia Pledges To Work With U.S. On Response To Syria Chemical Attacks

Russia says it will work with the United States on a response after a UN investigation concluded that the Syrian regime had carried out chemical weapons attacks.

"We have a joint interest in discouraging such things from happening, preventing such things from happening even in the fog of war," Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on August 25.

An investigative panel set up by the UN Security Council said in a report that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally, used chlorine gas in at least two attacks and that Islamic State militants carried out an attack using mustard gas.

The White House and its NATO allies vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Describing the report as "very thorough," Churkin said he and his U.S. counterpart, Samantha Power, had agreed to work together to follow up on the findings, which he said were "not as simple as that."

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS

HRW Calls On Merkel To Challenge Turkmen Leader On Human Rights

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (file photo)


Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the German government to urge Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov "to end enforced disappearances and address other serious human rights problems in the country."

In a statement issued on August 25, the New York-based rights monitor called on Chancellor Angela Merkel "to stand up for those in Turkmenistan who cannot engage their own government" during meetings with Berdymukhammedov in Berlin scheduled for August 29.

The statement specifically mentions RFE/RL's freelance correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who was tried and imprisoned "on bogus drug charges," according to HRW. 

"[Turkmenistan's] government forced three other Radio Liberty correspondents to cease working for the service," the statement said.

Natural-gas rich Turkmenistan is considered one of the world's most repressive states and has been listed near the bottom of all freedom and democracy surveys since gaining independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Jailed Tajik Opposition Politician's Lawyer Detained

Tajik lawyer Jamshed Yorov

RFE/RL's Tajik Service

The lawyer of a jailed Tajik opposition politician has been detained, his relatives say.

Jamshed Yorov's relatives told RFE/RL that the lawyer was detained on August 22 on suspicion of disclosing a closed-door Supreme Court ruling on members of the banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). 

Yorov represented Muhammadali Hayit, the deputy chairman of the IRPT, at a closed-door trial held earlier this summer.

On August 23, Hayit's relatives said that the politician's wife and 17-year-old son had gone missing after several men in civilian clothes took them from their home in Dushanbe.

Hayit and another party deputy, Saidumar Husaini, were sentenced to life in prison in June.

A court in Dushanbe found them and several other members of the party guilty of conspiring with former Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in a supposed armed bid to seize power in September 2015.

The IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who now lives in exile, has rejected the accusations.

Leading Armenian Opposition Party Member Released On Bail

Armenian opposition politician Hovsep Khurshudian (file photo)

RFE/RL's Armenian Service

A court in Yerevan has granted bail to a leading member of the opposition Heritage party, who was charged in connection with a recent rally.

The court on August 25 ordered Hovsep Khurshudian to pay 1 million drams (about $2,100) before being freed pending his trial. 

Khurshudian was arrested on July 29 along with two other leading members of the party and an opposition activist on charges of organizing mass disturbances during public protests on that day and remanded in pretrial detention earlier this month.

Last week, Armen Martirosian, the deputy chairman of the Heritage party, and a member of an opposition faction in Yerevan’s Municipal Assembly, David Sanasarian, were also released on bail. 

A day earlier, the Heritage party announced it was pulling out of local elections scheduled for later this year because of the arrests of its leading members.

UN/OPCW Inquiry Blames Syria Government, Islamic State For Chemical Attacks

A joint investigation by the United Nations and the global chemical weapons watchdog has established that President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the Islamic State (IS) group have carried out three chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

According to a report seen by the Reuters and AFP news agencies, Syrian government forces are responsible for two toxic gas attacks in Idlib province – in April 2014 and March 2015. Both cases involved the use of chlorine.

The panel also determined there was sufficient information to conclude that IS militants used sulfur mustard gas in Marea, north of Aleppo, in August 2015.

However, the year-long inquiry by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was authorized by the UN Security Council, was unable to draw any conclusions in the other six cases that it has been investigating.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

RSF Calls For Withdrawal Of Charges Against Azerbaijani Politician

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrest of Faiq Amirov, a leading member of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan party.

Amirov, who is also the financial director of the daily Azadlig, was arrested this month, charged with "inciting religious hatred" as well as with "violating the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rites," and ordered held provisionally for three months.

In an August 24 statement, RSF called for the withdrawal of the "ludicrous charges" brought against Amirov.

Azerbaijani police said that Amirov had books by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government has accused of masterminding the July 15 botched coup. Gulen denies involvement.

"By borrowing Erdogan's 'hunt for Gulenists' leitmotiv, the Azerbaijani authorities have found a great pretext for launching a new crackdown against their own critics, even if it is completely absurd," said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

Azerbaijan, a Turkic nation, shares strong ties with Turkey. 

It has voiced a strong support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following the failed coup.

Punitive Medicine? Crimean Tatars Shaken By Leader's Confinement To Mental Asylum

The forced admission of Crimean Tatar activist Ilmi Umerov to a psychiatric clinic has stunned has colleagues and supporters, who say the 59-year-old community leader is anything but mentally unbalanced. (file photo)

Charles Recknagel and Merhat Sharipzhan

When a court in Russian-annexed Crimea ordered activist Ilmi Umerov to a psychiatric clinic for a month of assessment tests, the decision sent shock waves through the peninsula's indigenous ethnic Tatar minority.

For two and a half decades, authorities in Crimea have refrained from the routine Soviet-era practice of declaring dissidents mentally ill, condemning them to life in an insane asylum. But now, Umerov's sentencing and subsequent confinement to a psychiatric clinic in Simferopol suggests a return to the practice.

Crimean prosecutors first charged Umerov, the former deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body -- the Mejlis -- with separatism in May after he made public statements opposing Moscow's seizure of the peninsula from Ukraine. Then, on August 11, while he was under home detention during his trial, a court ordered Umerov to undergo psychiatric testing. A week later, he was forcibly committed to Simferopol's Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 for a 28-day period.

The forced admission to the clinic stunned Umerov's colleagues and supporters, who say the 59-year-old community leader is anything but mentally unbalanced.

"I have known him for 30 years, I know him well," Abdureshit Dzhepparov, coordinator of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, told RFE/RL on August 22. "I may not be an expert psychiatrist, but on the eve of his removal to the psychiatric clinic, I know that he was without a doubt in full mental health." 

Umerov's sudden dispatch to a mental institution, where for the first several days he was denied visitors or the use of a telephone, reminded many of the dark days when dissidents in the Soviet Union simply disappeared into asylums, never to be seen or heard from again.

"This is the first case in [post-Soviet] Crimea where they have placed a normal person in a psychiatric hospital," said Dzhepparov. "If you do not fight against it now, and try to change it, there could be second, third, and fourth cases...until it becomes a conveyor belt."

Echoes Of The Past

Umerov's daughter, Aishe, told RFE/RL on August 21 that she believes the court's intention is to break her father's spirit even before his trial is completed.

"Their major goal is to break the man to make him betray his principles," she said. "In other words, all in the 'best' tradition of the Soviet punitive medicine. But he holds on."

Fears that Russia could be reviving the practice of committing dissidents to asylums are fueled by other, similar cases. In one prominent example, Russian activist Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants in the "Bolotnaya Square Case," was sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment in October 2013. His crime was participating in a protest that turned violent in Moscow's central Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, over Russian President Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a third term. Kosenko remained in a closed psychiatric institution for eight months.

Umerov's sudden confinement comes despite the fact he suffers serious illnesses that require regular medical attention -- care that reportedly he is not receiving in the asylum. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Relatives say that, in the clinic, Umerov is allowed to have medication only once a day, despite his need for more frequent doses. When his daughter visited him recently, she found him suffering from high blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting spells. She said the food provided by the clinic is not suitable for her father's illnesses and he is only able to eat what relatives bring, despite the fact that their visits can be up to 17 hours apart, depending on the clinic's admission schedule.

'Politically Motivated'
Human rights groups have protested against Umerov's detention in the asylum.
The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center called the case against Umerov "illegal and politically motivated" as he was sentenced to the psychological tests earlier this month.

The Kharkiv Rights Protection Group, based in the Ukrainian city of the same name, argued on August 22 that "there are no grounds at all for the criminal charges Russia has brought against him, nor for the supposed 'psychiatric assessment.'" 
Moscow claims that Umerov fomented separatism in an interview he gave to the Crimean Tatar television station ATR on March 19 in Kyiv. In the interview, he said Ukraine must not change its view on Crimea and that "Russia must be forced to leave Crimea and Donbas," a reference to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.
Supporters said that Umerov has never called for armed resistance within Crimea to Russia's occupation. They also noted that his views are in line with those of most Crimean Tatars, the majority of whom opposed the peninsula's occupation and annexation by Moscow in March 2014. 
More than 1,000 Crimean Tatars attended a prayer service for Umerov at his home in Bakhchysarai in southern Crimea on August 22. His family reported that those in attendance came from all corners of the peninsula.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

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