Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Russian Rights Ombudsman Criticizes Treatment Of Navalny's Brother

Russia's rights ombudsman says the jailed brother of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny urgently needs dental surgery outside the penitentiary where he is being detained.

Ella Pamfilova said on November 17 that she had requested the state agency monitoring Russia's penitentiaries to allow Oleg Navalny to have a surgery in a decent clinic.

Pamfilova said she also asked the agency to check whether Navalny's recent placement in solitary confinement and other disciplinary measures against him in the penitentiary in the Oryol region were legal. 

Navalny is serving a 3 1/2-year jail term after a court in December found him and his brother, Aleksei, guilty of defrauding a French cosmetics company.

Aleksei Navalny, the key driving force behind the 2011-12 mass protests in Moscow, received a suspended sentence in the same case.

Both brothers rejected the charges as politically motivated.

Based on reporting by rbc.ru and Interfax

HRW Urges Pakistan To End Abuses Against Afghans

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistan's government to take steps to end “rampant police harassment, threats, and violence” against Afghans.

Some 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees and 1 million undocumented Afghans are estimated to be living in Pakistan.

In a report published on November 18, the New York-based group said they are viewed with deep suspicion inside Pakistan and are routinely accused by authorities of harboring militants.

"The Pakistani police's outrageous mistreatment of Afghans over the past year calls for an immediate government response," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW. "The Pakistani government should press the police to apprehend perpetrators of atrocities instead of scapegoating the entire Afghan community." 

Police abuses have prompted fearful Afghans to restrict their movements, leading to economic hardship and curtailing access to education and employment, HRW said.

With reporting by AFP

Nemtsov Honored Posthumously With New Magnitsky Human Rights Award

People gather earlier this year at the site where Boris Nemtsov was murdered in central Moscow in February.


Slain Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has been posthumously honored with a new human rights award named for Sergei Magnitsky, the whistleblowing Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after accusing officials in large-scale fraud.
Nemtsov, a critic of President Vladimir Putin who was gunned down near the Kremlin in February, was among several activists, journalists, and politicians honored at a November 16 ceremony in London as winners of the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards.
His special award in the category of “Campaigning for Democracy” was presented by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Russian oil company Yukos who served more than 10 years in jail on financial-crimes convictions that he says were politically motivated.
“Boris Nemtsov fought his entire life for a democratic future for Russia, and he, too, died in this struggle,” Khodorkovsky, who fled to Switzerland after he was pardoned by Putin in December 2013, said in a short speech.
“Russia will be a democratic country. But for that to happen, there always have to be people who, despite the risks, will continue this fight,” Khodorkovsky said. 
The ceremony was held on the sixth anniversary of Magnitsky’s death, which occurred during his incarceration at Moscow's Butyrskaya detention center, where he was being held on charges of tax fraud.

Magnitsky's friends and family say he was incarcerated, tortured, and denied medical treatment that could have saved his life as retribution for accusing law enforcement and tax officials of stealing $230 million from Russian coffers. Magnitsky had worked for Hermitage Capital, an investment firm headed by Britain-based businessman William Browder, who launched a global campaign for sanctions against Russian officials implicated in the lawyer’s death.
Browder’s lobbying push helped lead to a 2012 U.S. law punishing Russian citizens deemed by Washington to be complict in Magnitsky’s death and other alleged human rights abuses. So far, at least 34 Russian nationals have been hit with financial sanctions and U.S. visa bans under the law, widely referred to as the Magnitsky Act. 
The law -- which allows for a second, classified list of sanctioned individuals -- has enraged Moscow, which responded with its own blacklist targeting American officials it accuses of rights abuses. 

Putin has publicly called Magnitsky’s death a “tragedy” but said it was not the result of criminal actions. 

In 2013, a Russian court posthumously convicted Magnitsky on tax fraud charges in a case denounced by rights groups and Western governments.

The new human rights awards in Magnitsky’s name were launched this year by the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign, which is led by Browder.

Browder initially supported the 2003 arrest of Khodorkovsky, a ruthless businessman who became Russia's richest man through his Yukos empire, as a sign that Putin was tackling oligarchs' control of the country. Two years later, Browder was barred from entering Russia, and he now regrets his earlier position on Khodorkovsky, saying he failed to understand the direction Putin's government was moving in at the time.

Nine awards were presented in a range of categories, including for media coverage of the Magnitsky case, campaigning by European Union and U.S. politicians, and campaigning for sanctions related to Magnitsky’s death and other rights abuses to be enacted throughout the world.

Recipients included U.S. Representative Jim McGovern in the category of campaigning by a U.S. politician, as well as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, currently a member of the European Parliament, for campaigning by an EU politician.

McGovern was a co-sponsor of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, and earlier this year he introduced a bill modeled after that legislation that would target human rights abusers worldwide with similar sanctions.

Accepting his award, McGovern called on the EU to “walk the walk” when it comes to human rights and to adopt its own Magnitsky Act.

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin who is now an opposition politician, presented the award to Verhofstadt. Kasyanov co-founded an opposition party with Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.

Nemtsov was assassinated on Moscow’s Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin on February 27. He was shot dead hours after appealing to the public to support a march against Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

A lawyer for Nemtsov’s family said on November 9 that investigators have charged a member of Chechnya’s security forces in connection with the murder. Five other suspects from Russia's North Caucasus who have been implicated in the case remain in custody under court order. 

Nemtsov’s assassination was met by widespread international condemnation and has raised concerns about the situation for Russia’s opposition.

Khodorkovsky presented the award to Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, who moved to Germany after her father’s murder. She has said that received threats in Russia as she pressed for further investigations.

Nemtsova said that her father made a “specific contribution” to the U.S. Magnitsky Act by lobbying American lawmakers to pass the legislation. She said Nemtsov was “very proud” when U.S. President Barack Obama signed it into law in December 2012.

Well-Known Iranian Cartoonist Arrested In Tehran

Iranian cartoonist Hadi Heidari


A well-known Iranian cartoonist, Hadi Heidari, has been arrested in Tehran.

The reason for Heidari’s arrest and the charges against him are not clear.

Heidari, who worked with reformist publications, was also arrested in the 2009 crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

His arrest comes about two weeks after authorities arrested five journalists, including former Culture Ministry official Issa Saharkhiz. 

Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian remains in jail in Tehran following his trial earlier this year, on espionage charges, dismissed by his paper and family. 

The U.S.-based Committee To Protect Journalists says Iran is consistently one of the worst jailers of journalists.

"Iran's jails are already packed with journalists who are facing spurious charges for the simple act of voicing criticism or independent views," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, on November 4 in reaction to the new arrests.  

Video EU Welcomes Baku Court Ruling To Release Yunus On Health Grounds

Azerbaijani Activist Arif Yunus Released From Jaili
November 12, 2015
Azerbaijani human rights activist Arif Yunus was released from jail because of his failing health. But his 59-year-old wife Leyla, who is also in poor condition, remains behind bars. (RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

The European Union has welcomed the decision of a Baku court to release human rights activist Arif Yunus on health grounds, calling the ruling "a welcome and positive humanitarian gesture."

The EU on November 13 issued a statement praising the ruling by the Baku Court of Appeals, saying that it hopes "further steps will follow."

The statement also says the EU "is ready to further deepen and broaden" its dialogue and cooperation with Azerbaijan.

Yunus was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of spying for Armenia.

In August, he was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion.

His wife, Leyla Yunus, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in jail on the same charges.

Their cases relating to charges of treason are still pending.

Yunus's legal situation remains unchanged despite his release, and before leaving the courthouse he was required to sign a document that bars him from leaving Baku.

The sentences for the couple, both of whom suffer from health problems and who had worked for the unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku, were denounced as a travesty of justice by international human rights groups.

Video Jailed Azerbaijani Activist Arif Yunus Released From Jail, But Can't Leave Baku

Azerbaijani Activist Arif Yunus Released From Jaili
November 12, 2015
Azerbaijani human rights activist Arif Yunus was released from jail because of his failing health. But his 59-year-old wife Leyla, who is also in poor condition, remains behind bars. (RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)
WATCH: Azerbaijani Activist Arif Yunus Released From Jail
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- Human rights defender Arif Yunus, whose case attracted worldwide attention when he and his wife were arrested in Azerbaijan in 2014 on suspicion of spying for Armenia, has been released from jail due to his deteriorating health.

The Baku Court of Appeals on November 12 granted Yunus's release at the request of his lawyers.

In August, Yunus was sentenced by a Baku court to seven years in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. His wife, Leyla Yunus, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison on the same charges.

Neither has begun serving their sentences, although they remained jailed, and their cases relating to charges of treason are still pending.

Yunus's legal situation remains unchanged despite his release. Before leaving the courthouse, he was required to sign a document that bars him from leaving Baku.

The sentencings of the couple, both of whom suffer from health problems and worked for the unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku, were denounced as a travesty of justice by international human rights groups. 

The request for Arif Yunus's release was based on results of a medical examination conducted by German physicians that said his extremely high blood pressure could cause a heart attack.

Arif Yunus after his release on November 12
Arif Yunus after his release on November 12

After leaving the courthouse in Baku, Yunus told journalists that his wife's medical condition was even worse than his. He said that Leyla Yunus has hepatitis C, diabetes, and kidney stones.

"If they send her to the prison for women, it will kill her," Arif Yunus said, addressing the prospect that his wife could be ordered to begin serving the sentence handed down to her in August.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a November 12 statement that the release of Arif Yunus was a "positive step" but did not mention or allude to allegations that the Azerbaijani authorities are targeting the couple due to their political beliefs. 

"We hope the Azerbaijani government will give similar consideration to other prisoners reportedly facing severe health challenges," Kirby said.

Leyla Yunus, 59, is the founding director of the Peace and Democracy Institute and a vocal critic of Azerbaijan's human rights record. Prior to her arrest in July 2014, she had been working on a project documenting political prisoners in the country.

Leyla Yunus (file photo)Leyla Yunus (file photo)
Leyla Yunus (file photo)
Leyla Yunus (file photo)

Arif, 60, is a well-known historian and researcher of conflicts across the Caucasus, focusing mainly on the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated region that Armenian-backed separatists seized from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s.

Both of the Yunuses are advocates of peace and reconciliation between neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been in conflict for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Yunuses, who deny guilt, say all the charges against them are politically motivated. 

Leyla Yunus is among several activists, journalists, and government critics who are behind bars in Azerbaijan, where rights groups say President Ilham Aliyev has assiduously pursued a campaign to silence dissent.

Ukraine's Parliament Passes Antidiscrimination Rules For LGBT Community

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Ukraine's parliament has voted for changes to the country's Labor Code that include protection against discrimination for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

The amendments prohibit any discrimination in the workplace on the basis of "race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social and foreign origin, age, health, disability, or suspected presence of HIV/AIDS, family and property status, family responsibilities, place of residence, or participation in a strike."

The legislation says, "The idea is that, if a person is working, we cannot discriminate" against them.

The protections for members of the LGBT community were adopted on a sixth vote, only after parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroysman announced that lawmakers "stand for family values and will never support gay marriage."

The adoption of the antidiscrimination rules is required by the European Union in a package of so-called "visa-free reforms."

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