Thursday, May 28, 2015

Kyrgyz Antigay Activists Charged With Hooliganism

An antigay rally in front of the government headquarters in the capital, Bishkek, on February 5

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

BISHKEK -- Several antigay activists in Kyrgyzstan have been charged with hooliganism after they disrupted an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community event in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Interior Ministry officials told RFE/RL on May 19 that the Kyrgyz capital's Birinchi Mai district police department is investigating the May 17 incident.

Antigay activists reportedly raided a gathering at a Bishkek restaurant to mark International Day Against Homophobia, attacking LGBT activists and supporters.

Although police arrived in time to prevent more serious clashes between gay-rights activists and the antigay group members, the event was disrupted.

Now, the antigay activists involved in the incident may face up to five years in jail if found guilty of the hooliganism charges.

Right groups say homophobia is widespread in Kyrgyzstan, where a leader of the Kyrgyz Muslims' Spiritual Directorate issued a fatwa in 2014 against same-sex relations.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said Kyrgyz police have extorted, threatened, arbitrarily detained, beaten, and sexually abused gay and bisexual men.

Kyrgyzstan has also come under criticism for a pending bill that would criminalize "gay propaganda." The HRW has called the draft law a "blatantly discriminatory antigay 'propaganda' bill." 

In March, the HRW urged Kyrgyzstan's parliament to "stay true to the principle of nondiscrimination that is enshrined in the country's constitution."

The bill was introduced to parliament in October and approved by the country's parliamentary Committee on Law, Order, and Fighting Crime in February.

It provides for criminal and administrative sanctions for the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and bans any information promoting "nontraditional sexual relations" or "homosexual relations" in a "positive" way.

The bill calls for "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to be punishable by up to one year in jail.

It says journalists found guilty of "propagating" homosexual relations will be held accountable.

National Press Club To Honor Ismayilova, Rezaian


The Washington, D.C.-based National Press Club has announced that it will honor Azerbaijani reporter Khadija Ismayilova with a press freedom award in July.

Ismayilova, who has reported for RFE/RL, has been jailed since December 2014 on charges that independent observers such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have called bogus.

A second award will go to Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter based in Tehran, who has been jailed for nine months without trial.

Ismayilova is well known for hard-hitting reporting on the financial dealings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and alleged corruption in his government.

She is one of nine reporters being held in Azerbaijan on trumped-up charges, according to human rights groups.

Club President John Hughes noted that Azerbaijan will draw world attention as it hosts the European Games in June.

"We hope the world will be mindful...of the plight of reporters and others in Azerbaijan who are merely exercising basic human rights of self-expression," he said.

Russian Reporter Flees Chechnya Citing Safety Concerns

Prize-winning journalist Elena Milashina has fled Chechnya amid fears for her safety, after writing that a teenage girl was being forced to marry a police commander much older than her.

Milashina had written that a local police head, Nazhud Guchigov, who was already married, had threatened reprisals against the girl's family if she was not handed over.

Milashina's employer, Novaya Gazeta, Russia's leading independent newspaper, said she fled after she received a warning from police as she was doing more research on the forced marriage story.

Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied that the police officer was putting pressure on the 17-year-old girl or her family and defended the marriage.

"The girl's parents gave their blessing to this marriage," he said on his Instagram account.

Although polygamy is banned under Russian law, as is the abduction of brides and underage marriage, Kadyrov has shown tolerance for all three practices.

Based on reporting by AP and BBC

Crimean Prosecutors Seek Four-Year Prison Term For Maidan Activist

Maidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko


Crimea's prosecutors are seeking more than four years in prison for a man accused of attacking a Ukrainian security officer in Kyiv during the February 2014 protests in Kyiv against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Natalya Poklonskaya, prosecutor-general of the Ukrainian territory that was annexed by Russia last year, asked a court in Simferopol to convict local resident Oleksandr Kostenko and sentence him to four years and three months in prison, her office said on May 14.

Prosecutors on the Black Sea peninsula have charged Kostenko with intentionally inflicting bodily harm on the security officer during the so-called "Euromaidan" protests.

The court is scheduled to hand down its verdict on May 15.

The alleged crime took place more than a month before Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, which a majority of UN member nations consider illegal.

Jailed Journalist Ismayilova's Pretrial Detention Prolonged

Khadija Ismayilova has been held in custody since December.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has prolonged the pretrial detention period for Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL who has been behind bars since December.

The Nasimi District Court in Baku ruled on May 14 that Ismayilova's pretrial detention period will be extended for three months.  

Ismayilova, whose investigative reporting has exposed corruption by Azerbaijani government officials, was arrested on December 5 and initially charged with inciting a man to attempt suicide. 

The man who levelled the accusation later sought to withdraw his complaint, but prosecutors have not responded publicly to that request and Ismayilova was handed additional charges in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

She denies wrongdoing and says all the charges are politically motivated.

The May 14 ruling came two days after another setback for Ismayilova, who remains in jail despite calls from rights groups and foreign governments for her release.

On May 12, a separate court started a hearing into Ismayilova's appeal against a libel conviction in February, but adjourned it indefinitely.

That decision came a week after Ismayilova was honored with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for what PEN said were "hard-hitting investigations [that] have revealed corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan."

Accepting the award on her behalf at a ceremony in New York, Emin Milli -- an Azerbaijani writer who himself was jailed in 2009 -- urged journalists and activists to "spread the word about her courage and struggle for freedom all over the world."

On the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to release Ismayilova.

The United States "is deeply concerned by the incarceration of all of those detained in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms," he said.

Representatives of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees RFE/RL and Voice of America, have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest Ismayilova's incarceration.

In June, Azerbaijan will host the first-ever European Games. A group of prominent writers and editors, including many American, have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, urging him to demand Ismayilova's release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

With reporting by Voice of America

EU Lawmakers Call On Baku To Free Critics Ahead Of European Games

The human rights record of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is under scrutiny ahead of the European Games.

Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS -- EU lawmakers have called on Azerbaijan to release individuals widely seen as political prisoners ahead of the inaugural European Games and urged European leaders to skip the event’s June 12 opening ceremony in Baku.

European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said on May 12 that the Azerbaijani government “should fully grant its citizens all the freedoms that are laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights, which it adheres to,” and in line with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Olympic Charter.

Lambsdorff spoke at a European Parliament event titled Baku Games: Run For Human Rights, hosted by all of the chamber’s main political parties.

The European Parliament is likely to vote on a resolution on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in June, and several members of the chamber plan to write to the Azerbaijani government in the coming weeks calling for the release of jailed journalists and others whom rights activists consider political prisoners.

The lawmakers say they hope President Ilham Aliyev will pardon these individuals on the occasion of Azerbaijan’s Independence Day celebrations on May 28.

Azerbaijan’s record on civil society and media freedoms has faced increasing international scrutiny in the run-up to the European Games, an Olympics-style event limited to athletes from Europe that is set to be held in June in Baku.

The games will bring some 6,000 athletes from 50 European nations to the Azerbaijani capital for two weeks.

Giorgi Gogia, a senior South Caucasus researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told the event that numerous individuals he has worked with in Azerbaijan over the past 15 years are either in jail, in hiding, or have fled abroad.

He noted that the Azerbaijani government has tightened restrictions on nongovernmental organizations.

“The space for civil society is really gone in the country,” Gogia said.

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

Baku has repeatedly rebuffed accusations by Western officials and international rights groups that it is stifling dissent and jailing people for their political beliefs.

Dinara Yunus, daughter of the Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus and historian Arif Yunus -- both of whom were jailed in 2014 -- told the event that her mother is suffering from both hepatitis C and diabetes, has lost 16 kilograms during her incarceration and is slowly going blind. 

She added that she has not heard anything from her father since his arrest last year.

“I don't know anything about my dad since August 5,” Yunus said. “He is just buried alive.”

She described Western nations’ approach to Baku’s rights record as “silent diplomacy” that is doing little to improve the situation in Azerbaijan. 

“So far I don't see any improvements. I am losing hope to see [my parents] alive,” Yunus said. “It is not about now only calling for their freedom, it is calling for saving their lives. They need hospitalization abroad; they need medical treatments.”

Georgian Gay-Rights Defenders Win Strasbourg Case

A gay rights activist clashes with an Orthodox Christian activist in Tbilisi on May 17, 2012.


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has ruled that Georgian authorities failed to adequately protect gay-rights activists and should compensate victims of attacks aimed at blocking a gay-pride event three years ago.

The ECHR issued its ruling on May 12, according to which the Tbilisi-based LGBT (lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender) group Identoba and more than a dozen activists were found eligible for compensation of between 1,500 and 4,000 euros ($1,675 to $4,465) from the Georgian government for its "failure to provide adequate protection."

The case stems from an incident in Tbilisi in May 2012, when activists tried to hold Georgia's first-ever gay-pride march to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.

Orthodox activists blocked their way, and some of the gay activists were verbally and physically assaulted. 

In addition to a violation of the right to free assembly, the ECHR also ruled that there was a violation of Article 3, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment, in conjunction with the European Convention on Human Rights' Article 14 banning discriminatioin.

In 2013, a group of LGBT rights activists faced larger-scale violence when thousands of antigay demonstrators, led by Orthodox clerics, attacked a small group of LGBT activists who wanted to mark May 17 in an area adjacent to Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi. At least 28 people were injured in that incident. 

Fearing homophobic violence, LGBT rights groups in Georgia have since avoided public events to mark UN-sponsored International Day Against Homophobia. 

In an apparent attempt to counter International Day Against Homophobia, the Georgian Orthodox Church introduced what it calls Family Day, also on May 17. 

In 2014, the day was marked with a large rally, led by the Orthodox clerics, which took on an antigay tone and challenged newly adopted domestic legislation against discrimination.

With reporting by

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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