Saturday, October 10, 2015

International Legal NGO Honors Jailed Azerbaijani Lawyer


The Vienna-based International Bar Association has bestowed its 2015 Human Rights Award on jailed Azerbaijani lawyer Intigam Aliyev.

The group made the announcement on October 9, saying the award was "well-deserved recognition of Mr. Aliyev and the instrumental role he has played in promoting human rights and the rule of law in Azerbaijan for more than two decades."

Aliyev founded the Legal Education Society in 1998 to provide legal assistance to marginalized groups. He has represented many Azerbaijani activists and human rights defenders.

In an acceptance letter read on his behalf by his children, Aliyev said he was honored but also sad because "today, in my country, colleagues, conscientious people are facing prosecutions, pressures, and imprisonment."

He was arrested in August 2014 and convicted of illegal business activity, tax evasion, abuse of authority, and other charges in April 2015. He is serving a 7 1/2-year prison term.

Russian Activists Dedicate Monument To Slain Boris Nemtsov

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 09.10.2015 12:21

RFE/RL's Russian Service

Opposition activists in Moscow have unveiled a monument to slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

The monument at Nemtsov's grave in Moscow's Troyekurovsky Cemetery was unveiled on October 9 to mark what would have been his 56th birthday.

The monument is in the form of a stone with Nemtsov's name inscribed on it and five bullet holes spread across it.

The Andrei Zverev Arts Center in Moscow opened a photo gallery devoted to Nemtsov's supporters, who have been maintaining a makeshift memorial site on the bridge near the Kremlin where Nemtsov was shot dead in February. 

In Basel, Switzerland, Russian musicians Andrei Gavrilov, Andrei Makarevich, and Svyatoslav Vakarchuk will give a memorial concert -- the same program that was banned by Russian authorities when they tried to hold it in Moscow to mark 40 days after the killing. 

Five men have been arrested and charged in connection with the shooting of Nemtsov, who was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.​


Video Alexievich Says Nobel Literature Prize Awards Entire Belarusian Nation

Belarus's Svetlana Alexievich On Receiving Nobel Prizei
October 08, 2015
Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich was announced as the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature on October 8. At a press conference in Minsk, she said that her work is an accumulation of many influences, and spoke about her connections to Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian culture. (RFE/RL's Belarusian Service)
WATCH: Belarus's Svetlana Alexievich On Receiving Nobel Prize

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 08.10.2015 18:15


Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich, a vocal critic of totalitarianism whose writing has chronicled the lives of ordinary people crushed in some of the 20th century's most tragic events, has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.

The Swedish Academy announced on October 8 that it had awarded the prize to Alexievich, calling her works "a monument to suffering and courage in our time."  

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Alexievich proudly described herself as part of the broader “Russian world” but not that of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This is not my world,” she told reporters in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Alexievich, 67, was born in Soviet Ukraine to a Belarusian father and Ukrainian mother and writes in Russian.

Her works have not been published in Belarus since authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994.

"They pretend I don't exist," Alexievich told an October 8 news conference. "I am not published [in Belarus], and I cannot speak publicly anywhere."

She said that the award is not “for me but for our culture, for our small country, which has been caught in a grinder throughout history."

ALSO READ: What She's Written And What She's Said

Alexievich has used her journalistic skills to explore major tragedies that have impacted Belarus throughout the 20th century. Some of her more notable works include testimonials from victims of the Nazi occupation, the nuclear disaster at Chornobyl, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  

The Swedish Academy commended her "polyphonic writings" and said that "by means of her extraordinary method -- a carefully composed collage of human voices -- Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era." 

The academy's permanent secretary, Sara Danius, said Alexievich had "mapped the soul" of the Soviet and post-Soviet people, and called her work "absolutely brilliant."

Alexievich's first novel, War's Unwomanly Face, is based on previously untold stories of women who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II.

WATCH: The director of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Alexander Lukashuk, who published Alexievich's books in the 1980s and '90s, says she was "like a confessor" who provided answers to people facing existential questions over the war in Afghanistan, the Chornobyl disaster, and the collapse of the Soviet Union:

'She Was Like A Confessor,' Says Alexievich's Ex-Publisheri
October 08, 2015
Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, who has won the Nobel Prize in literature, was "like a confessor" who provided answers to people facing existential questions over the war in Afghanistan, the Chornobyl disaster, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Alexander Lukashuk, the director of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, who published her books in the 1980s and '90s.

It was published in 1985 under the perestroika reforms after being barred from publication for years because it highlighted personal tragedies rather than the role of the Communist Party.

It has since sold more than 2 million copies. 

"These people were already old," she told RFE/RL earlier this year about the women she interviewed for her book. "But they didn't want to depart without fully expressing themselves."

One of her most famous novels, Voices From Chernobyl, published in 1998, details the psychological and physical ordeal of people who took part in the clean-up of the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Although the nuclear accident took place in Ukraine, its fallout affected Belarus more than any other country.

Her most recent book, Second-Hand Time, examines the post-Soviet mentality two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It was awarded France's prestigious Prix Medicis essai in 2013.

WATCH: Nobel-Winning Author Offers Readers 'A History Of The Soul'

Nobel-Winning Author Offers Readers 'A History Of The Soul'i
October 08, 2015
Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish Academy praised her ability to penetrate the Soviet and post-Soviet psyche, saying her books offer readers a "history of emotions." (

Alexievich's novels have been published in 19 countries. She also has written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.

Alexievich has periodically lived abroad in a number of European cities but is now based in Minsk.

Like many intellectuals in Belarus, she is strongly critical of Lukashenka, who is widely expected to win a fifth presidential term on October 11. 

She has called his 2010 reelection "a humanitarian catastrophe for the entire Belarusian society" and said that she would not vote in the upcoming presidential election.

"I will not vote in the elections because we know who will win, that Lukashenko will win," Alexievich told reporters in Minsk. 

She called on people not to submit to totalitarian systems.

"In our time it is difficult to be an honest person," she said. "There is no need to give in to the compromise that totalitarian regimes always count on."

Hours after Alexievich spoke following the announcement of her award, Lukashenka offered his official congratulations to the author.

"Your work has touched not only Belarusians, but also readers in many countries of the world,” Lukashenka said in a statement released by his press office. “I am sincerely happy for your success. I truly hope that your award will serve our state and the people of Belarus.”

The free-speech writers' group English PEN welcomed Alexievich's Nobel victory and voiced hope it would "further highlight the civil and political injustices in Belarus and go some way to bringing about the restitution of free speech and freedom of expression for all Belarusians."

Alexievich has also backed the pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and openly criticized Russia's democratic backslide under Putin, whom she has accused of overseeing a revival of Stalinism.

Question image

Quiz: The Nobel Prizes

This year's Nobel Prizes are being announced this week. How much do you know about these prestigious awards?

"I love the Russian world, but the kind, humane Russian world," she told journalists in Minsk. "I do not love Beria, Stalin, low they let Russia sink," she said, referring to the former Soviet leader and the head of his feared secret police.

At the October 8 news conference, Alexievich denounced Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was annexed by the Kremlin last year and where Russian-backed separatists have fought Kyiv’s forces in the east of the country in a war that has killed more than 7,900 people since April 2014.

She said that she had wept when she saw photographs of those shot dead during the February 2014 street protests in Kyiv against then-President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally who subsequently fled the country.

"It is occupation, a foreign invasion," Alexievich said of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s current pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, congratulated Alexievich in a Facebook post, noting that she is a native of Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

"Wherever we are, whatever language we speak or write, we always remain Ukrainians! Congratulations!" Poroshenko wrote.

The free-speech writers' group English PEN welcomed Alexievich's Nobel victory and voiced hope it would "further highlight the civil and political injustices in Belarus and go some way to bringing about the restitution of free speech and freedom of expression for all Belarusians."

The 8 million-Swedish-crown ($972,000) literature prize was the fourth of this year's Nobel prizes. 

Last year's literature award went to French writer Patrick Modiano.

The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature, and peace in accordance with his will.

With reporting by Reuters. AP, AFP, and dpa

Amnesty: Two Representatives Expelled From Azerbaijan

Amnesty International says two of its delegates have been detained when trying to enter Azerbaijan and then expelled from the country.

The London-based group said the two Georgian nationals were deported from the country by immigration officials upon their arrival at the airport in Baku on October 7.

Azerbaijan has come under growing criticism for a deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders and a crackdown on opposition.

Amnesty said the deportation of its staff "adds to a sad litany of journalists and human rights defenders being targeted, detained, and jailed simply for carrying out their work."

"There is no let-up in the government's repressive campaign to stifle all criticism and dissent," the advocacy group added.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Council Of Europe Leaves Azerbaijan Human Rights Working Group


The Council of Europe's secretary-general, Thorbjorn Jagland, has decided to withdraw the council's participation in the joint working group on human rights issues in Azerbaijan.

Jagland informed the Council of Europe's committee of ministers, the organization's decision-making body, of his decision on October 7.

Since October 2014, a council representative had been attending meetings in Baku intended to revive the dialogue between Azerbaijan's authorities and civil society.

The working group included human rights defenders, members of Azerbaijan's parliament, and officials of the presidential administration.

Despite this initiative, the Council of Europe said, "the overall situation of human rights defenders in the country has deteriorated dramatically."

"An increasing number of human right defenders has recently been imprisoned, and the Council of Europe has received worrying reports about unacceptable detention conditions, the statement added.

U.S. Urges Russia To Find Masterminds Of Politkovskaya Murder


The U.S. State Department has urged Russian authorities to find those who ordered the murder of prominent Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

In the statement issued on October 7 -- the ninth anniversary of her killing -- the State Department said "impunity for her murder, and that of other recent years, contributes to a climate of fear and self-censorship and puts journalists’ safety at risk."

Politkovskaya, a critic of President Vladimir Putin whose reporting exposed high-level corruption in Russia and rights abuses in its North Caucasus region, was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.

Last year, two men were sentenced to life and three others to long prison terms for their involvement in the crime.

Relatives and colleagues said on October 7 that justice will not be done until those who ordered her killing are identified and convicted.

Politkovskaya was killed on Putin's birthday, prompting speculation that her murder was meant as a "gift" to the president.

With reporting by Interfax

Jailed Russian Environmental Activist On Hunger Strike

Environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko

Imprisoned Russian environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko has started a hunger strike.

Vitishko's lawyer, Sergei Loktev, said on October 6 that his client had been drinking only water since September 29 in demand for an early release from his prison term.

On September 29, a court in the Tambov region had again rejected Vitishko's request to be released.

Vitishko was jailed after raising concerns about the environmental impact of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

He was handed a three-year suspended sentence in 2012 for spray-painting a fence in a forest near Sochi to protest what he said was illegal construction.

In December 2013, a court ruled that he had violated the terms of his sentence and sent him to prison.

Amnesty International has urged Russian authorities to immediately release Vitishko after he began another hunger strike in April.

Amnesty has named Vitishko a "prisoner of conscience" and the prominent Moscow-based human rights group Memorial considers him a political prisoner.

Based on reporting by and Interfax

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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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