Friday, August 28, 2015

Wikipedia Avoids Closure In Russia

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 25.08.2015 08:52


Russia's media watchdog Roskomnadzor has excluded a Wikipedia article from a blacklist, ending the threat of a possible closure of the Russian version of the website in the country.

Roskomnadzor announced its decision on August 25, a day after it ordered Internet providers to block access to a page on Russian Wikipedia because it contained banned information on a type of cannabis.

Wikimedia RU, the organization that supports the local version of Wikipedia, had said that the move could lead to the Russian-language version of Wikipedia becoming totally inaccessible, adding that providers cannot block separate pages on the same site.

Developers of the Russian version of Wikipedia posted a black banner at the top of the webpage saying the website could be blocked "in the near future."

Roskomnadzor said on August 25 that the article in question had been edited and excluded from the register of banned information.

Since President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012, Russia has passed legislation banning sites that contain child pornography, drug-related or militant material, or which advocate suicide.

Critics say the legislation restricts Internet freedoms and can lead to bans on more general content, but the government says it is aimed mainly at protecting children from indecent content.

Detained RFE/RL Turkmen Journalist Denied Access To Family, Lawyer

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

The mother of a detained RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan says she has not been able to see her son since his arrest in July.

Raysina Nepeskulieva told RFE/RL on August 24 that authorities at the detention center have refused to accept food she brings to her son, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, adding that his requests to have a lawyer have also been rejected.

Nepeskuliev, 35, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, went missing in July while visiting the Caspian coastal resort area of Avaza.

His relatives later tracked him down at a detention center in the settlement of Akdash near Avaza.

Authorities at the detention center told Nepeskuliev's relatives that he was being held for possessing "narcotic" pills.  

Nepeskuliev's colleagues and mother dismiss the charges, arguing he has never had any drug-related problems. 

International rights organizations and the OSCE have called on Turkmen authorities to free Nepeskuliev or at least allow him access to a lawyer of his choice. 

Pardoned 'Tattoo Protester' In Belarus Calls Clemency A 'Trick'

Tatooed activist Yury Rubtsou in his native city of Homel on August 23 after being released from prison

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

A pardoned Belarusian rights activist who famously stripped off his shirt during his trial to reveal a "Lukashenka Go Away" message to the country's president has called the presidential clemency "a trick." 

Yury Rubtsou told journalists in his native city of Homel on August 23 that "Lukashenka performed another trick, as he released people he had first taken hostage."

Rubtsou was among six political prisoners freed overnight on August 22-23 after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a surprise order citing "the principle of humanism." 

The group includes a former presidential candidate, Mikalay Statkevich.

Rubtsou said he was unaware of any planned release until prison guards pulled him out of solitary confinement at a penal colony in the eastern city of Babruysk on August 22.

He was taken to the gates of the prison colony without explanation, handed his clothes and personal belongings, and told he was free based on a presidential pardon.

Home in Homel, Rubtsou objected to the clemency, telling reporters that because his imprisonment was politically motivated and he never pleaded guilty, he should have been fully exonerated.

Rubtsou originally received a 25-day jail sentence in 2014 for wearing a T-shirt that had the identical "Lukashenka Go Away" phrase on it, but was ordered to perform manual labor for having allegedly insulted a judge at one of the related hearings. 

In May 2014, he was given a two-year sentence for refusing to perform that forced labor, at a state-run facility, in a protest against the country's low salaries.

After his release, Rubtsou displayed to journalists the large "Lukashenko Go Away" tattoo on his chest and a shirt on which he had embroidered in jail the inscription: "By sentencing me they have deprived you of protesting your miserable salaries. Rubtsou."

The Belarusian government has said the average monthly salary in the country is $600, but Rubtsou says that figure is inflated.

Rubtsou was on hunger strike for 50 days, demanding higher average monthly salaries for ordinary Belarusians and calling on Lukashenka's government to release all political prisoners.

Lukashenka has tolerated little dissent or political opposition in his more than 20 years as president. 

His order to pardon the six political prisoners came amid preparations for a presidential election scheduled for October 11. 

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and its enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, issued a statement on August 23 calling the releases a sign of "important progress towards the improvement of relations between the EU and Belarus."

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called the releases a "positive event for the people of Belarus and an important step toward normalizing relations with the United States."

In addition to Rubtsou, and Statkevich, Belarusian authorities released Mikalay Dzyadok, Ihar Olinevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, and Artsyom Prokopenko.

Russia Puts Chechen Rights Group On 'Foreign-Agent' List

Russian officials have added the Human Rights Defense Center based in Chechnya to the country's list of "foreign agents."

The Justice Ministry said on August 21 that an inspection showed that "the nature of the center's functions allows us to add the organization to the list."

Based in the Chechen capital, Grozny, the rights organization became the 87th NGO listed by the ministry as a "foreign agent" since President Vladimir Putin signed the 2012 law enabling NGOs to be branded "foreign agents" if they have foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in political activities.

Kremlin critics say the law is part of a crackdown on civil society that has grown since Putin returned as president three years ago.

The Russian region of Chechnya is led by the Kremlin-backed authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been criticized for the systematic violation of human rights for years.

Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS

Ismayilova's Trial Continues In Baku Amid Protests

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- A Baku court resumed the trial of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on August 19.

Journalists, once again, were not allowed to attend the hearing.

Several journalists brought helium-filled green and red balloons -- the colors of the Azerbaijani national flag -- tied on Ismayilova's photograph, and let the balloons fly near the Baku City Court for Serious Crimes, where the trial is being held.

READ MORE: Excerpts From Ismayilova's Testimony

Ismayilova’s supporters chanted: "Freedom to Khadija!"

The 39-year-old Ismayilova, an RFE/RL contributor who has won awards for her coverage of official corruption in oil-rich Azerbaijan, is accused of embezzlement, tax evasion, and abuse of power.

Rights groups and Western governments have echoed Ismayilova's charge that the case is politically motivated.

On August 18, the court dismissed several defense motions – including a call for an additional week of talks with her lawyers, courtroom testimony from a man registered as a witness, and breaks from daily hearings to allow her a minimum of two-hours of daily exercise.

Video Ukrainian Filmmaker Defiant As Russian Prosecutors Demand 23-Year Sentence

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov in court in the Russian town of Rostov-on-Don

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 19.08.2015 16:39


Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov has offered a defiant concluding statement to a Russian court trying him for alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism in forcibly annexed Crimea, rejecting a path of "cowardice," and condemning a Crimea "governed by criminals." 

Prosecutors earlier asked the court to sentence the acclaimed director to 23 years in jail for allegedly organizing a terrorist group, planning terrorist attacks, and illegally acquiring explosives 

The prosecution of Sentsov, a Crimean native who was a vocal opponent of the March 2014 annexation, has been condemned by a who's who of international filmmakers. 

He is facing trial along with a co-defendant, Oleksandr Kolchenko, in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border. Prosecutors are seeking a 12-year jail term for Kolchenko.

Both deny any wrongdoing, and critics dismiss the charges as retaliation for their pro-Ukrainian positions.

In court on August 19, Sentsov said that like Kolchenko, "I am not going to ask for anything from you -- to expect consideration here, well everyone understands that...a court of occupiers by definition cannot be just."

ALSO READ: Transcript Of Sentsov's Impassioned Final Statement

He quoted a reflection by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, who suggested that "the greatest sin on earth is cowardice." 

Sentsov also mocked Russian propaganda, saying that while it is "working excellently" with "most of the Russian population," there are "people who are smarter -- such as you, for instance, here -- who support the [Russian] government. You perfectly well understand that there are no fascists in Ukraine. That Crimea was annexed illegally. That your troops are fighting in Donbas. Even I -- sitting here in prison -- know that your troops are fighting in Donbas," a reference to the embattled eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

He added that "there is yet another part of the Russian population that knows perfectly well what is going on, that does not believe in the tales of your agitprop," using a common term for propaganda aimed at agitation. 

WATCH: Oleh Sentsov Speaks Out Against Russian 'Crimes' 

Jailed Ukrainian Filmmaker Speaks Out Against Russian 'Crimes'i
August 19, 2015
Russian prosecutors are seeking a 23-year prison sentence for Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia's annexation of Crimea, on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks. Speaking during his trial in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Sentsov described the Russian government as "a criminal regime." (RFE/RL's Russian Service)

Sentsov's lawyer, Vladimir Samokhin, called for acquittal -- saying all the charges are groundless.

Sentsov and Kolchenko were arrested with two other Ukrainian citizens -- Oleksiy Chyrniy and Hennadiy Afanasyev -- in May 2014 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Earlier, Chyrniy and Afanasyev were found guilty of participating in the group and sentenced to seven years each in prison.

A fresh appeal by the European Film Academy on August 19 included the signatures of 15 filmmakers, such as Britain's Ken Loach and Germany's Wim Wenders, saying they were "deeply worried" by the prosecutions.

"We are shocked that the accusation of Oleg Sentsov having committed 'crimes of a terrorist nature' is still being upheld," the letter, addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said.

Kyiv and NATO have accused Russia of direct military intervention in Ukraine, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has killed at least 6,400 people since March 2014.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and

HRW Urges Moldova Not To Extradite Activist To Tajikistan

RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

Human Rights Watch is urging Moldova not to extradite opposition activist Sobir Valiev to Tajikistan because he could be face abuse and/or torture.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that "there is clear evidence that there's a risk that Mr. Valiev would face torture or ill-treatment if he was returned to Tajikistan, and therefore we believe this is the responsibility of Moldova to adhere to its international human rights commitments and not return him to Tajikistan."

He added that it is "no secret" that Tajik authorities are "actively hunting down political opposition figures."

Valiev, 27, is deputy head of the Congress of Constructive Forces of Tajikistan, a peaceful opposition group.

He was detained by Moldovan officials on August 11 at the request of Tajik authorities at the airport in Chisinau as he was boarding a flight to Istanbul.

Valiev is also the deputy head of Group 24, a political opposition group that was led by Umarali Kuvvatov, who was shot dead in Istanbul on March 5.

Group 24 says Kuvvatov was killed on orders by Tajik officials.

Group 24 was declared an "extremist group" by Tajikistan's Supreme Court in October after its members called for an opposition rally to be held in Dushanbe.

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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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