Sunday, September 21, 2014

Iraqis, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian Movement Among Sakharov Prize Nominees

Leyla Yunus in a May 2013 photo


A law professor and a Christian religious leader in Iraq, an Azerbaijani rights defender, and Ukraine's pro-Western Euromaidan movement are among the nominees for the European Parliament’s 2014 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

The two Iraqi nominees -- Mahmud Al 'Asali and the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael Sako -- have both spoken out against anti-Christian persecution in Iraq. Asali was killed in July.

Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus, who has been involved in people-to-people diplomacy with Armenian rights activists, is currently in pretrial detention on high treason charges.  

The Euromaidan movement derived from a wave of pro-EU demonstrations across Ukraine that led to President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster in February.

Two European Parliament committees will shortlist three finalists next month.

The 50,000 euro ($64,200) Sakharov Prize is awarded annually to honor defenders of human rights and freedom of expression.

Gay Rights Event Attacked In St. Petersburg

RFE/RL's Russian Service

Anti-gay activists led by a city lawmaker have disrupted a gay rights festival in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, dousing participants with green liquid and releasing a gas that made many feel sick.

St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, his aide Anatoly Artyukh, and activists who associate themselves with the Russian Orthodox faith interrupted the opening ceremony of the "KviroFest-2014" event at a cafe on September 18.

The visitors splashed an indelible green antiseptic on participants and released an unidentified gas that sickened many..

The 10-day festival opened despite the attack.

Russia decriminalized homosexual relations after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but such harassment is common.

Rights defenders and Western governments including the United States say a 2013 law  banning the dissemination of gay "propaganda" to minors is discriminatory and encourages ill-treatment of LGBT people.

OSCE Condemns Death Threats Against Kosovar Journalist


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has condemned a series of death threats against Artan Haraqija, an RFE/RL journalist who has been reporting on radical Islamic groups in Kosovo.

Jean-Claude Schlumberger, the OSCE mission chief in Kosovo, called on September 18 for authorities in Pristina to bring to justice those who have threatened Haraqija and other journalists in Kosovo.

Haraqija, who also works for the Indeksonline website, received the latest in a series of death threats after appearing on a Kosovar TV program called “Rubikon” on September 16.

Haraqija worked on a joint report about Kosovo’s radical Muslims with “GazetaExpress” journalist Visar Duriqi, who also has received death threats for his work.

On September 17, police arrested 15 Muslim leaders across Kosovo for allegedly recruiting fighters for Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group.

Uyghur Scholar Goes On Trial In China

Ilham Tohti


A scholar from China's Uyghur minority who often criticized the country's ethnic policies has pleaded not guilty at his trial on separatism charges.

Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor in Beijing, entered his plea at the trial that began in the provincial capital Urumqi on September 17.

Tohti is accused of activities aimed at overthrowing Chinese rule in the restive Xinjiang region, which is home to some 8 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs.

The trial is expected to last two days, but it is unclear when a verdict will be announced.

Foreign journalists were not allowed inside the courthouse and court officials announced no details at the end of the business day.

Police marked a several-block perimeter around the venue with tape, keeping away journalists, bystanders, and several Western diplomats who traveled to Urumqi in an attempt to observe the trial.

Tohti's lawyer, Li Fangping, said during a trial break that his client had never called for separatism and was against any breakup of China.

At least four of Tohti's relatives -- including his wife, Guzel Nur -- were allowed to attend the proceedings.

"He's never done anything illegal," Nur said during the afternoon break. "He's never talked about separating the country. He's never opposed the government. He's never opposed the people. He's a scholar."

European Union diplomat Raphael Droszewski said the EU had expressed its deep concern over the indictment of Tohti and that the bloc had "urged China's government to release him and offer health care," noting that he had worked "peacefully within China's laws."

Predicted Chinese Overreaction

Tohti has long been a critic of what he has called the systematic exclusion of Uyghurs from the economic benefits brought to Xinjiang by incoming members of China's Han majority, and has sought to prevent the Turkic Uyghur language and culture from being marginalized.

He was arrested in Beijing earlier this year amid violence in Xinjiang linked to separatist militants, and the authorities have blamed him for fomenting some of the unrest.

More than 300 people have been killed over the past 18 months, nearly half of them suspects shot dead by police in a "strike-hard" campaign launched by the government to fight what it calls terrorist cells in the region.

Tohti had in the past warned that Chinese authorities might overdo their antiterrorism measures to conceal the incompetence of local governments in Xinjiang.

Last October, when three Uyghurs killed six people, including themselves, in a fiery car crash at central Beijing's Tiananmen Gate, Tohti urged the authorities to make public their evidence corroborating findings that it was a terrorist attack, and he voiced concerns that a crackdown on Uyghurs would become overly harsh.

The trial will continue on September 18.

With reporting by, AFP, and AP

Police Search Belarusian Activists' Homes For 'Pornography'

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Belarusian police have searched apartments linked to members of the opposition Malady Front (Youth Front).

Police in the central city of Salihorsk searched the apartments of activist Andrus Tychyna and Uladzimer Shyla, the father of two Malady Front members, on September 16.

Shyla said police told apartment owners that the searches were linked to investigations into Internet pornography.

He told RFE/RL that police confiscated a computer disc drive and modem from his apartment and told him they were looking for evidence supporting suspicions that Tychyna had distributed pornography via a social network.

Several days ago, police summoned Tychyna and questioned him about the appearance in downtown Salihorsk of a 15-meter-long historic national flag.

The white-red-white flag is banned in Belarus, whose longtime president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, displays nostalgia for the Soviet Union

Second Kazakh Penitentiary Picketed By Inmates' Relatives

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

Dozens of relatives of inmates have picketed a prison in the Kazakh city of Pavlodar, demanding to see their loved ones in the second such incident in the Central Asian nation this month.

Relatives told RFE/RL that riot police forces had been brought to AP-162/4 penal colony in the northern city early in the morning on September 15 to quash the inmates' protest.

An official at AP-162/4 declined to confirm or deny the relatives' statement, saying that a commission was working in the penitentiary.

A similar situation was reported earlier this month at a prison in the southern town of Zarechnoye, where relatives said police quashed a protest by inmates.

Prisoners in Kazakhstan have rioted frequently in recent years to protest conditions, often maiming themselves to draw attention to their plight.

Islamic Group Member Said Beaten By Police in Kyrgyzstan

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Relatives say security forces severely beat a member of a banned Islamic group while arresting him in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Members of Dilyar Jumabaev's family told RFE/RL that security forces attacked the Hizb ut-Tahrir member after he refused to allow them to enter his house and demanded a search warrant.

Dilyar Jumabaev after his beating, allegedly by security forcesDilyar Jumabaev after his beating, allegedly by security forces
Dilyar Jumabaev after his beating, allegedly by security forces
Dilyar Jumabaev after his beating, allegedly by security forces

They said he lost several teeth and suffered an open head injury.

Police declined to comment.

Jumabaev is in custody in the regional capital, Osh.

He does not conceal his membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a London-based Sunni political organization that seeks to unite all Muslim countries into an Islamic caliphate.

The Kyrgyz government has banned the group, branding its members and supporters "extremists."

Hizb ut-Tahrir is also banned in other former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and in Russia.

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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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