Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two Sentenced For Second Time For Daghestani Journalist's Murder

At the time of his death, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted one of Abdulmalik Akhmedilov's colleagues as saying he had acquired a reputation for critical reporting on how the federal security forces sought to suppress political and religious dissent under the guise of cracking down on "extremism."

Liz Fuller

A Makhachkala district court has sentenced two men for the killing in August 2009 of Avar journalist Abdulmalik Akhmedilov. The two accused, Murad Shuaibov and Isa Abdurakhmanov, were jailed for 10 1/2 and eight years respectively.

They had been found guilty and sentenced to those same terms in late March 2015. Four months later, however, Daghestan's Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict, citing procedural violations, and ordered a retrial, which began in early September.

Akhmedilov, who was 32 when he died, was editor of the local Avar-language newspaper Sogratl (named for the eponymous village where he was born) and deputy chief editor of the republican Avar-language paper Hakikat (Truth). At the time of his death, the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted one of Akhmedilov's colleagues as saying he had acquired a reputation for critical reporting on how the federal security forces sought to suppress political and religious dissent under the guise of cracking down on "extremism."

Akhmedilov was shot twice from a sawed-off hunting rifle on August 11, 2009, as he was driving away from his house on the outskirts of Makhachkala. He died almost immediately.

Shuaibov was arrested in late January 2013 and Abdurakhmanov some two months later. Like Akhmedilov, both were born in Sogratl. By December 2013, prosecutors had reportedly established that Shuaibov fired the murder weapon and Abdurakhmanov drove the getaway car.

During the pretrial investigation, Shuaibov was said to have admitted to having killed Akhmedilov out of personal animosity after being informed by Magomed Abigasanov, a distant cousin of then-Republic of Daghestan parliament deputy Shamil Isayev, that Akhmedilov had circulated leaflets falsely branding him an adherent of Salafi Islam. But once the investigation was completed, Shuaibov formally requested that the charge against him be changed to manslaughter. And during the first trial, which lasted 11 months, Shuaibov said he confessed to the murder only under torture, and was not in Makhachkala on the day Akhmedilov was killed. Both Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov pleaded not guilty.

When sentence on the two men was pronounced in March 2015, Ali Kamalov, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Daghestan, complained that they were simply the perpetrators of the murder, while the person or people who had commissioned it remained at large. In that context, Kamalov recalled that Isayev had demanded on more than one occasion that Kamalov have Akhmedilov fired for publishing an article critical of him.

After the repeat verdict was handed down on May 30, Kamalov again declared that Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov were merely the hired perpetrators of the killing. He alleged that investigators know the identity of those who commissioned Akhmedilov’s murder but "don't have the courage to take them into custody."

Moscow-based journalist Orkhan Dzhemal had previously undertaken his own investigation of the slayings of both Akhmedilov and Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder and chief editor of the independent Daghestani Russian-language weekly Chernovik and the son of Ali Kamalov's first cousin. In three articles published in April 2013, June 2013, and May 2014, Dzhemal summarized the circumstantial evidence implicating Isayev, who has since been appointed a deputy prime minister, in both murders.

Specifically, Dzhemal said Shuaibov told investigators that he and Abdurakhmanov (Isayev's former driver) killed Akhmedilov on orders from Abigasanov, the head of Isayev's bodyguards. Dzhemal further explained that there was ill will between the parliament deputy and Akhmedilov, who criticized in print the unseemly and drunken behavior of a group of construction workers engaged in building a house in Sogratl for Isayev's brother Rizvan.

The repeat trial of Shuaibov and Abdurakhmanov got under way in early September. Unlike the first, it was open to the media. Lawyer Biyakai Magomedov, representing Akhmedilov's family, was quoted as saying the prosecution's case against the accused left no possible doubt of their guilt.

But Abdurakhmanov in his final statement last week again pleaded not guilty and declared that there is no concrete proof of his involvement in the murder, only circumstantial evidence. Shuaibov for his part stressed that his rights had been violated during the pretrial investigation. Lawyers for the two men nonetheless again applied unsuccessfully last month for the charge against them to be changed from murder to manslaughter, on the grounds that the accused had sought only to intimidate their victim, not to kill him. They plan to appeal the new verdict.


Sausage-Wielding Extremists Attack Vegan Cafe In Tbilisi

Kiwi Cafe is a counterculture-style gathering place that opened in Tbilisi about a year ago. It is popular with foreigners and employs foreign, English-speaking staff as well as Georgians.

Ron Synovitz

A vegan cafe in the historic center of Tbilisi was forced to cancel an English-language video screening over the weekend when a group described by witnesses as far-right extremists threw meat into patrons' vegan dinners and started a brawl.

The staff at Tbilisi's Kiwi Cafe called police on the evening of May 29 after more than a dozen men carrying meat attacked restaurant customers and staff.

The clash spilled onto the street outside and neighbors joined in the brawl -- some reportedly fighting against the restaurant's staff and customers, as well as the meat eaters. Minor injuries were reported.

The attackers fled before police arrived and no arrests were made. Police briefly detained some cafe staff members for interrogation.

Taken out of the context of recent events in Tbilisi, the incident could be dismissed by some as part of a backlash that has emerged on social media recently against anticarnivorous vegan rhetoric in Western counterculture. (That reaction is illustrated by a trending YouTube clip called If Meat Eaters Acted Like Vegans.)

But within the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and considering the angry nature of the violence at Kiwi Cafe, there are darker concerns.

A statement issued on May 30 through Kiwi Cafe's Facebook page described the incident as "an antivegan provocative action" and called the attackers "neo-Nazis" who support "fascist ideas."

The statement said the same group had come to the neighborhood a month earlier and asked a nearby shopkeeper whether foreigners or members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community frequented the cafe.

Kiwi Cafe is a counterculture-style gathering place that opened in Tbilisi about a year ago. It is popular with foreigners and employs foreign, English-speaking staff as well as Georgians.

On May 29, the cafe was screening English-language episodes of an American animated, sci-fi sitcom called Rick And Morty when the confrontation began.

Customers said the group of rowdy Georgian men entered the cafe as the screening was under way, wearing sausages around their necks and carrying slabs of meat on skewers.

According to the Kiwi Cafe statement, "they pulled out some grilled meat, sausages, and fish and started eating them and throwing them at us, and finally they started to smoke.... They were just trying to provoke our friends and disrespect us."

Witnesses said the brawl broke out after the men were told to calm down and leave the cafe, which is designated as a "no smoking" area.

'Georgians For Georgia'

Just three days before the attack at Kiwi Cafe, during Georgia's May 26 celebrations marking independence from the former Soviet Union, a group of Georgian nationalist extremists marched in the streets of Tbilisi chanting and carrying banners with the slogan "Georgians for Georgia."

For Georgians, that slogan is an obvious twist on a catchphrase that has specific, dark connotations in the country: "Georgia for Georgians." The phrase was among the anti-Soviet slogans that emerged from Georgia's chaotic rebirth as an independent post-Soviet republic.

For many Georgians, the slogan brings back memories of policies and declarations by Georgia's first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, that were aimed at protecting the Georgian state and ethnic Georgians.

It also recalls the atmosphere that led ethnic minorities, supported by Russia, to declare independence in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The slogan also stirs memories of the tense atmosphere in the newly independent Caucasus country when Georgia's armed ethnic conflicts broke out during the early 1990s.

In 2005, then-President Mikheil Saakashvili declared that "Georgia for Georgians" was a "poisonous nationalistic slogan."

But since 2013, when violent threats against gay activists in Tbilisi forced them to cancel a gay-pride parade in the Georgian capital, the slogan has appeared as spray-painted graffiti near Heroes Square in the city center alongside Nazi swastikas and racist slogans.

Kiwi Cafe said on May 30 that it was continuing to work and was "ready to accept all customers regardless of their nationality, race, appearance, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious views."

For now, it remains unclear whether the premeditated meat assault against the vegan cafe was merely a prank against an alternative culture hangout that turned violent.

But some Tbilisi residents are concerned that the xenophobic overtones of the violence at Kiwi Cafe, taken together with the march by right-wing nationalists in Tbilisi just three days earlier, could mark the emergence of organized political actions by Georgian ultranationalists.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian Service

Two Sentenced For Journalist's Killing In Daghestan

RFE/RL's Russian Service

Two local men in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan have been sentenced to prison over the killing of a journalist.

A court in the regional capital, Makhachkala, found Murad Shuaibov and Isa Abdurakhmanov guilty on May 30 of killing Malik Akhmedilov, and sentenced them to 10 1/2 years and eight years in prison, respectively.

The two were sentenced in March 2015 to the same prison terms but their case was later reviewed by a court.

Akhmedilov, chief editor of the Sogratl newspaper, was shot dead in August 2009 near his home in Makhachkala.

Daghestan has become the epicenter of violence by armed criminal groups and militants seeking to establish an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

Police, journalists, and government officials are regularly targeted in attacks.

With reporting by Caucasian Knot

New Russian App: When A Rainbow Is Not Just A Rainbow

Sofia Kornienko

A group of Dutch political-protest artists have launched a new project intended to give Russians a subtle -- and legal -- way to protest against the country’s notorious law against gay "propaganda."

Their new app, called Raduga (Rainbow, in Russian), simply tracks weather forecasts across Russia and sends users an alert when a rainbow is expected in their area. Users can then photograph the rainbow and post it on social media, a seemingly nonprosecutable way of expressing solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community that has adopted the rainbow as its symbol of tolerance and inclusion.

“The beauty of the project is that it can provoke commentary on the political situation, but it does so with humor, without nailing one’s scrotum to the pavement of Red Square,” says one of the project’s creators, Cecilia Hendrikx, referring to a 2013 political protest by Pyotr Pavlensky against indifference in modern Russian society.

“It is more poetic,” Hendrikx adds, “and less dangerous.”

The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.
The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.
The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.

In 2013, Russia adopted a law making it illegal to expose minors to materials promoting “nontraditional sexual relations” or presenting “distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”

The Raduga project was conceived shortly after the law passed. In 2014, Hendrikx and fellow Dutch artist Tara Karpinski were invited to create a public art performance in St. Petersburg as part of the bilateral Netherlands-Russia Year of Friendship marked that year. 

“Our goal was to have a group artistic performance in a public space, which was already quite difficult to do in Russia, without directly violating the law and at the same time pointing out their ridiculousness,” Hendrikx says.

So a group of five artists dressed up as well-styled Russia women and rode around in the metro each carrying a large potted plant.

“Everything was perfectly legal, but it looked very strange,” Karpinki says. “After an hour, the police started following us. But there was nothing to arrest us for. It was a game on the border of activism.”

The Raduga project, the artists say, is conceived in the same spirit.

“This is the first time we have taken on homophobia,” Karpinski says. “Basically, we do political art. We are interested in places where there is tension in the relations between society and the authorities -- anywhere in the world.”

The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.

“In all our projects, we leave to the audience the freedom of interpretation,” Hendrikx says.

“The only thing we are being criticized for is not explicitly defining our project as intended to defend gay rights,” Karpinski adds. “But we intentionally don’t talk about this openly -- not because we are embarrassed about anything but because leaving something unsaid seems more beautiful to us.”

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report

Kyrgyz Officials Move To Confiscate House Of Jailed Ethnic Uzbek Activist

Azimjan Askarov is recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials are taking steps to seize a home belonging to Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek political activist who was jailed in 2010 to the dismay of rights watchdogs following ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.
The chairwoman of the Jalal-Abad Regional State Property Foundation Directorate, Gulnara Kojoeva, told RFE/RL on May 29 that Askarov's house in the village of Bazar-Korgon would be confiscated by the government, in accordance with Askarov’s sentence.
Askarov, a Kyrgyz national of Uzbek ethnicity, is currently serving a life sentence after a court in the Jalal-Abad region found him guilty of organizing deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Askarov was convicted of involvement in the murder of a policeman who was killed during the clashes, in which more than 450 people -- mostly ethnic Uzbeks -- were killed. Askarov and his supporters denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

Askarov’s case has been watched closely by human rights groups, with Amnesty International identifying him as a prisoner of conscience. The activist, who has claimed he was tortured while in police custody, was given the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award by the United States.

Askarov's wife, Khadicha Askarova, told RFE/RL that some 20 officials in five cars arrived on May 25 to evaluate the home in question. The move by Jalal-Abad regional officials comes just weeks after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) officially urged Bishkek on April 21 to release Askarov after looking into his official complaint. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has joined the UN demand.

The chairwoman of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, Ainash Tokbaeva, said on April 25 that the Supreme Court's decision in December 2011 to uphold Askarov's conviction by a lower court would have to be revised in order to comply with the OHCHR's call.

But on April 30, Kyrgyz presidential aide Busurmankul Taabaldiev publicly criticized the OHCHR's request to release Askarov, saying the UN body had interfered in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs. Several days later, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev told Russia's Interfax news agency that parts of Kyrgyzstan's constitution were "undermining Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty" and "must be amended."

The Bishkek-based Bir-Duino-Kyrgyzstan (One World-Kyrgyzstan) human rights center has said that Askarov's house cannot legally be confiscated. The center's lawyer, Otkur Japarov, told RFE/RL that, according to Kyrgyz laws, a convicted individual’s house cannot be confiscated if it occupied by relatives.

Kyrgyzstan's constitution allows its citizens to call upon international courts to protect their rights, and it requires that Kyrgyz authorities comply with decisions made by such institutions.

Activists Demand Immediate Release Of Kazakh Land-Law Protesters

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

ALMATY -- Leading rights activists and journalists in Kazakhstan have called on the authorities to immediately release dozens of individuals arrested for taking part in or calling for unsanctioned mass protests against land privatization legislation.

Members of the Arasha (Interference), a committee for the release of land law protesters that was established on May 26, said at a press conference in Almaty on May 30 that the protesters were "illegally arrested" for trying to exercise their right of freedom of assembly.

Hundreds of activists were detained ahead of planned May 21 nationwide protests against new legislation to privatize agricultural land.

The majority of them were released, but some were fined or sent to prison for 10 to 15 days.

Several activists were ordered into pretrial detention as charges of inciting social discord are investigated.

Iran Arrests 8 Over 'Obscene' Music Videos

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves as he arrives to address a crowd in Tehran, April 27, 2016

Iranian authorities have arrested eight people involved in allegedly producing "obscene" music videos. 

Mizan Online, a news agency controlled by Iran's powerful judiciary, quoted Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi on May 28 as saying that the eight were arrested last week in Tehran. They were not identified by name.

He said the videos were "broadcast on a famous anti-revolutionary television channel," an apparent reference to a foreign-based channel in Persian. Dozens of Persian-language television channels, all based outside Iran, are broadcast on satellite. 

Dowlatabadi said a special court for media and culture will review the case and consider raising charges against the eight.

There were no details on the content of the videos. In Iran, it is considered "obscene" and un-Islamic if a woman is filmed singing without a headscarf or together with a man.

The arrests come only days after more than 30 students who partied at a graduation ceremony in northern Iran were arrested and given 99 lashes each for violating the Islamic republic's morality code.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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