Wednesday, April 16, 2014


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..

Belarusian Opposition Activists, Journalists Detained In Minsk

Opposition United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka during a court appearance in Minsk last month

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
MINSK -- Police in Belarus have detained eight activists, including the leader of the opposition United Civic Party, Anatol Lyabedzka, and two journalists.

The activists were detained at Minsk’s central Kamarouka marketplace on March 16 while campaigning for seats in next week’s local elections.

They were wearing T-shirts bearing the photographs of political prisoners.

Lyabedzka and four other activists spent the night in custody.

The remaining five were released.

All were expected to be tried on March 17.

The exact charges are not known.

Pakistani Teen In Rape Case Dies After Setting Herself Ablaze

Amina Bibi set herself alight on March 13.

A woman who said she had been the victim of a gang rape in Pakistan has died after setting herself on fire.

Amina Bibi succumbed to her injuries on March 14 after setting herself alight with petrol outside a police station in Punjab Province the previous day.

Bibi, who was believed to be 17 or 18, said she had been assaulted by a gang of men, including a family member, in January.

A court dropped the case on March 13 following the issuance of a police report that said she had not been raped.

Bibi's brother said the decision had been too much for Bibi to cope with.

The Punjab police chief's spokeswoman said an investigation team had been sent to the area to investigate.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the government take steps to ensure rapists are brought to justice.

Sexual assault and domestic violence are widespread in deeply conservative Pakistan.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Tajik Independent Newspaper's License Annulled

RFE/RL's Tajik Service
DUSHANBE -- The license of an independent newspaper has been withdrawn in Tajikistan.

The chief editor of "Hafta" (The Week) weekly, Hikmatyor Hikmatzoda, told RFE/RL on February 17 that the Culture Ministry had withdrawn the license because the newspaper has covered issues that were not outlined in the periodical's charter.

According to the ministry, the newspaper was registered last autumn as a new media outlet focusing on culture and education topics, while its first issue in mid-January carried articles with different content.

The newspaper published several articles and interviews on issues related to the social, economic, and political situation in the country.

Uzbek President Karimov Postpones Contentious Czech Visit

Uzbek President Islam Karimov (right) on his arrival last week in Sochi for the start of the Winter Olympics

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has postponed a widely criticized official visit to the Czech Republic next week, Czech sources have confirmed.

The visit had been criticized by rights group and others, upset over charges of Uzbek torture, the jailing of political opponents and journalists, and other rights offenses.

Hynek Kmonicek, a foreign-policy adviser to Czech President Milos Zeman, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on February 13, "It's not a cancellation, it's a postponing."

He said the Uzbek side had cited a scheduling conflict, noting that the planned date of February 20-22 came during a spring holiday and "not all the people we expected were present," including Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and "five of six ministers slated to sign bilateral agreements with the Uzbek side."

A growing list of Czech national and local officials saying they were unavailable to meet with the Uzbek delegation reportedly did not sit well with Tashkent.

"Simply, these were way too many changes to be explained, for the Uzbek side," Kmonicek said.

No new date has been set, he added.

RELATED: Czech President Defends Right To Host Uzbekistan's Karimov

Czech-based humanitarian group People in Need (Clovek v Tisni) had joined dozens of other international organizations to urge Zeman to withdraw his invitation to the Uzbek leader.

On February 13, a group of 31 trade unions, investors, and rights organizations published an open letter, urging Zeman to cancel the visit.

Zeman had publicly defended the overture, saying his predecessor, Vaclav Klaus, had extended the invite.

The Czech president also called critics of the visit "hypocritical," claiming that there had been no complaints about Karimov's meetings with leading EU officials or the fact that Washington viewed him as an ally in the fight against terrorism.

People in Need responded by saying Karimov had only been to the EU twice in the past five years, and that several senior officials, including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, had declined to meet him. 

"International organizations have long noted imprisonment of political opponents and journalists, systematic torture including rape and submerging victims in boiling water, and the failure to investigate the case of hundreds of murdered demonstrators in Andijon," the group said on its website.

Andrew Stroehlein of Human Rights Watch welcomed the postponement of Karimov's visit. Stroehlein was one of the signatories to the open letter urging Zeman to cancel the visit.

"This is good news," he said. "We have been campaigning for this meeting not to happen and now it seems that it's not happening and that's good for a couple of reasons. First of all, [Uzbek] President [Islam] Karimov will not be able to use the images of him meeting Western leaders. He does visits like this and he tries to show his people back home that he is respected and treated as an important person. And he won't have those television images to show and that's an incredibly important thing." 

Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service earlier this week that while Prague had "quite considerable interests" in the region, nothing prevented Czech authorities from discussing human rights issues with Karimov in Prague.

"The job of the president is to foster the interests of the Czech Republic," he said. "Of course, I would be very glad if President [Milos Zeman], when he meets [Uzbek President Islam Karimov], [goes on] to discuss with him the problems of the people in jail in Uzbekistan and all these questions. But you can't exclude existing governments of important states. We have quite considerable interests in Central Asia."

"Respekt" broke the news of the postponement earlier on February 13, quoting Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek as saying, "Yes, that's so."

The European Union imposed sanctions against Tashkent in 2005 following the Andijon massacre of hundreds of demonstrators by government forces.

OSCE Media Envoy Hails Macedonia Reforms, Waits For Results

Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative on freedom of the media (file photo)

RFE/RL's Balkan Service
SKOPJE -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, has hailed Macedonia's recently adopted media laws.

Talking to journalists in Skopje on February 12, Mijatovic welcomed Macedonia's attention to the OSCE's recommendations but urged the government to implement the adopted laws to see real results.

Mijatovic said she discussed with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski the issue of defamation.

According to Mijatovic, the fines proposed by the law are too high and would likely affect media pluralism.

Mijatovic, who had been in Macedonia for three days, also met with journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, who was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in jail in October 2013 for revealing a witness's data in a high-profile criminal case and later transferred to house arrest.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Macedonia 123rd among 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index released on February 12.

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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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