Wednesday, April 23, 2014


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Russians Detained For Holding Up 'Invisible Placards'

Moscow police detain Russians holding "invisible placards" of protest near the Kremlin on April 6.

In Russia, even raising your hands in public can get you detained these days, as protesters in Moscow discovered over the weekend.
 
Police in the capital detained a group of demonstrators near the Kremlin on April 6, several of whom were holding up what they called “invisible placards” calling for the release of seven demonstrators sentenced to prison in the Bolotanaya protest case in February.
 
After some of the protesters holding actual signs were hauled off by police, one of six demonstrators holding her arms up explained to the small crowd on Manezhnaya Square that police could not detain them because their placards were invisible.
It was the latest in a number of protests by Kremlin opponents who have turned to borderline absurdist demonstrations seemingly to dare authorities to arrest them for innocuous and legal public activities.
 
One prominent practitioner of this tactic is opposition activist Roman Dobrokhotov. He was detained along with fellow demonstrators in January 2009 while holding up a blank piece of paper with his mouth taped shut outside the Russian government’s headquarters in central Moscow.
In August of that year, Dobrokhotov was detained with his guitar at a protest on Moscow’s Mayakovsky Square while playing and singing “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles, despite his claim that he had come to the demonstration only to play music.

The “invisible placards” tactic did little to assuage police, who dragged the demonstrators away.
 
In total, 10 protesters were detained on suspicion of staging an unsanctioned demonstration and released later that night, Ekho Moskvy reported. Other Russian news reports put the number of detainees at 12.

-- Carl Schreck

Body Of Ukrainian Nationalist Activist Found In Woods

Ukrainian nationalist activist Vasyl Sergiyenko helped organize protests that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. (file photo)

The body of a nationalist Ukrainian activist and reporter who played a role in protests that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych has been found in a forest outside Kyiv a day after his abduction.
 
In a statement, the Svoboda (Freedom) nationalist party said the body of one of its members Vasyl Sergiyenko bore marks of torture and was hidden under rubbish in the woods near the village of Vygrayev, 120 kilometers southeast of the capital.
 
The statement said Sergiyenko's head was bashed in, his kneecaps mangled, and there were stab wounds near his heart and neck.
 
Sergiyenko helped organize the protests against Yanukovych in February and was a member of one of the nationalist opposition's self-defense groups that periodically clashed with the police.
 
The local prosecutor's office confirmed the discovery of the body.
 
Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax

Iran Rights Lawyer Ignores Intelligence Ministry Summons

Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh speaks on the phone alongside her husband, Reza Khandan, at their house in Tehran in 2013.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent and widely respected human rights lawyer in Iran, has turned a deaf ear to a telephone call in which she was ordered to appear at the Intelligence Ministry on short notice.

There has been no public reaction from Iranian authorities.

Sotoudeh was summoned to Iran's Intelligence Ministry on March 30, according to an account by her husband that was posted on his Facebook page, which Reza Khandan has used to keep his wife's supporters informed about her situation.

Khandan wrote that the summons was delivered during a trip to the province of Khuzestan.

"A few minutes ago, we were shopping in the bazaar of the city of Dezful when the Intelligence Ministry called and summoned Nasrin and our host in an illegal and impolite manner," Khandan wrote on Facebook on March 30. "They were told to present themselves to the Intelligence Ministry within an hour."

A few hours later, he wrote that because the summoning -- from the Dezful office of the Intelligence Ministry -- was done "illegally," via telephone, she decided to ignore it.

Instead, he said, the couple went horseback riding. He later posted a picture of himself and his wife on horseback. 
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In an interview with RFE/RL, Khandan explained more fully why Sotoudeh decided to ignore the call: "Lawyers have always said that summoning via telephone is illegal and no one should abide by those calls," Khandan said. "Summoning may only take place through the judiciary; it should be done via an official written summons."

The reason for the summons is not clear. It followed by just a few days the posting of a speech by Sotoudeh in which she referred to the Islamic republic as a "big prison" and which was shared on social media and news sites.

In the speech, Sotoudeh criticized the house arrest of Iranian opposition figures. "We seem to be free. But our heart is always, always divided between two groups -- those who are under arrest in their owns homes, [Zahra] Rahnavard, [Mir Hossein] Musavi, and [Mehdi] Karrubi, they are prisoners of conscience...[and] those who are serving their terms in prisons in different cities of Iran," she told a cultural gathering. 

Sotoudeh is one of a small number of human rights lawyers who take on sensitive political cases in Iranian courts.

In her speech, Sotoudeh mentioned two colleagues -- Abdol Fatah Soltani and Mohammad Seifzadeh -- who have ended up in jail over their defense of political activists and students. 

It is unclear when Sotoudeh made the speech. A video of her comments was posted online on March 28.
Sotoudeh was among a dozen political prisoners freed in September ahead of a trip by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2010 after her conviction on a number of charges, including acting against national security. An appeals court later reduced her sentence to six years. 

Her defense of activists, opposition members, and juvenile offenders on death row and her outspokenness are thought to be the reason for the state pressure she has been facing. 

While in prison, she refused to be silenced. She reportedly launched several hunger strikes to protest her condition and alleged state harassment of her family. 

Sotoudeh and dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi were awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012.

To many Iranians, Sotoudeh, a mother of two, has become a symbol of resistance against repression in their country.
 
-- Golnaz Esfandiari with contributions by Radio Farda correspondent Hossein Ghavimi

Kazakh Journalist Flees To Ukraine, Fearing Prosecution

Natalya Sadyqova in Kyiv on March 24

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
ASTANA -- A Kazakh journalist says she has fled Kazakhstan with her husband and two young children to avoid prosecution.

Natalya Sadyqova told RFE/RL on March 27 that she and her family were currently in Ukraine.

Sadyqova said investigators in her native city of Aqtobe questioned her last month regarding an article published in the opposition "Respublika" online news portal about corruption among local officials.

Investigators told Sadyqova they suspected she was the author and informed her that former lawmaker Marat Itegulov had filed a libel suit against the author, who was listed as Bakhyt Ilyasova.

Sadyqova insists she had nothing to do with the article.

She said she left Kazakhstan on March 9 after police sources informed her she might be arrested.

A court in Aqtobe issued a warrant for her arrest on March 17.

Kazakh Judge Who Released Russian Businessman On Trial Herself

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh judge who freed a Russian businessman who had been convicted of ordering a murder is on trial herself.
 
Kuplash Otemisova, 56, was arrested in September and charged with issuing a "wrong ruling" after she decided in August that a 12-year sentence imposed against Aleksandr Sutyaginsky in March 2013 should be replaced by a suspended sentence of six years since the killing never took place.
 
Sutyaginsky, a businessman from the Siberian city of Omsk, was an active presence in Kazakhstan and often seen at ceremonies with top Kazakh and Russian officials.
 
Sutyaginsky fled to Russia after his release.
 
Otemisova, whose trial started March 26, faces up to seven years in jail if found guilty.
 
Otemisova's lawyer, Vladimir Popov, told RFE/RL that the charges against Otemisova violate her rights as a judge.

Retired Armenian Officer's Fraud Trial Starts

Retired Armenian Colonel Volodya Avetisian (left) and other war veterans at a demonstration in support of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans in May last year.

YEREVAN -- The trial of a retired Armenian military officer who achieved prominence for his activities on behalf of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans is starting in Yerevan on March 26.
 
Retired Colonel Volodya Avetisian, who took part in the war over Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in the 1990s, was arrested in September and charged with fraud and bribe-taking.
 
Avetisian's supporters have staged several protest actions since his arrest, demanding his immediate release.
 
They insist Avetisian's arrest and the charges against him are in retaliation for protests he launched in May 2013 on Yerevan's Liberty Square to demand the government solve social problems faced by Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans.

Belarusian Activist Sentenced For Taking Part In Pro-Ukraine Demo

Belarusian opposition protesters share blue and yellow balloons to show their solidarity with Ukraine, during a rally marking the unofficial Freedom Day in Minsk on March 25.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
MINSK -- A Belarusian opposition activist has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for taking part in a pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia demonstration in Minsk.
 
Maksim Vinyarski of the European Belarus movement was found guilty on March 26 of chanting extremist slogans and using vulgar words.

He was arrested along with about a dozen other activists on March 25 when more than 1,500 protesters marched through downtown Minsk in an annual opposition rally.
 
The march -- called Freedom Day -- marks the anniversary of the short-lived Belarusian Popular Republic in 1919.
 
This year's rally attracted the largest public crowds in Belarus since protests against the country's disputed presidential election in 2011.
 
Hundreds were arrested then.
 
Protesters at the march carried Ukrainian and Belarusian flags and held posters saying "Russia Means War!", "Glory To Ukraine!", and "Death To The Kremlin Occupants!"
 
Almost all of the arrested activists were released hours later..

About This Blog

"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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