Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Russia Says Reporter's Expulsion From Ukraine 'Unacceptable'

The Kremlin has denounced as "completely unacceptable" the actions of Ukrainian authorities toward a reporter with Russia’s Channel One television.

Ukraine deported Aleksandra Cherepnina on July 1 for allegedly running "destructive" stories about Ukraine.

The State Security Service (SBU) said on July 2 it decided to "block the destructive actions” of Cherepnina and bar her from reentering the country for three years.

In a report about the deportation aired by Channel One, Cherepnina described being deprived by the SBU of a chance to call anyone after being detained.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukraine had “long turned into a place where it is both hard and dangerous for reporters to work." 

And Russia’s Investigative Committee announced it had launched an "illegal deprivation of liberty" probe into the incident.

Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Ukrainian authorities “will never understand that you cannot conceal the truth by intimidating and killing reporters." 

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS

European Court Says Will Consider Beslan Case Against Russia

People mourn inside School Number One during a ceremony commemorating the victims of the 2004 hostage crisis in the southern Russian town of Beslan, September 1, 2014.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to consider two central parts of a case filed against Russia for its handling of the bloody school hostage taking in Beslan over 10 years ago that claimed 334 lives.

The case was brought against Russia by 447 nationals who maintain the state violated several articles of the European Convention in its resolution of the crisis.

The court in Strasbourg said on July 2 it will consider their case with relation to two articles, including Article 2 on the “right to life,” seen by plaintiffs as central to their case.

In September 2004, militants stormed a school in Beslan, in the southern province of North Ossetia and took more than 1,100 children and teachers hostage.

The school was surrounded by security forces, culminating on September 3 in explosions and a hail of bullets.

Questions have persisted over whether the militants or Russian security forces initiated the final firefight.

From Burning Hearts To Civil Unions: The Unlikely Evolution Of Dmitry Kiselyov

"Love can work miracles," says Dmitry Kiselyov. "Who is against that?"


Somewhere around the 98th minute of his weekly news roundup and commentary for Russia's Rossiya television channel this week, Dmitry Kiselyov got around to saying something truly unexpected.

In his coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages, the head of Rossia Segodnya, Russia's massive state-controlled media conglomerate, came out in favor of same-sex civil unions:

"We can figure out how to make life easier for adult people who want to take upon themselves -- including in a contractual way -- the obligations to care for one another."

"After all, love can work miracles," he added. "Who is against that?"

To be sure, it was a tepid statement from someone who is more famous for colorful pronouncements such as his March 2014 reminder that Russia is capable of turning the United States into "radioactive dust."

In April 2012, Kiselyov raised eyebrows with this now-notorious declaration on homosexuals: "[Gays] should be prohibited from donating blood or sperm. And their hearts, in case they die in a car accident, should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone's life."

During the June 28 edition of his weekly Vesti Nedeli, Kiselyov urged people not to think about homosexual relationships in terms of sex and compared his vision of civil unions to existing laws that cover cases of guardianship. After all, it doesn't matter what gender the guardian or the ward is, he argued.

Marriage, he said, must remain exclusively between a man and a woman.

"But civil unions are a different thing, a different level," Kiselyov said. "And we don't need to see men wearing white lace to weddings or throwing bouquets over their shoulders."

Russia has been harshly criticized for its record on gay rights, especially since it passed a 2013 law banning the "propaganda" of alternative lifestyles to minors. Activists say that law has provoked a sharp increase in antigay attacks and vigilantism and a spike in Russians seeking asylum abroad fearing such violence. 

In comments to Interfax on June 28,  Konstantin Dobrynin, a member of the Federation Council from Arkhangelsk Oblast, also struck a surprising note, urging Russia to "try to find a legal form that would ensure a social balance on this topic between the conservative part of society and all the rest."

Dobrinin said "don't ask, don't tell" might just be "the optimal formulation" for the near future.

Asked about an initiative by St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov to ban Facebook because it allows users to decorate their profiles with the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Dobrinin was particularly blunt:

"We need to remove from the political sphere and from our lives these quasi-politicians who are openly speculating on homophobia and generating legislative spam -- and the sooner, the better," Dobryinin said. "It is precisely them -- and not gays -- who present a clear and present threat to Russian security and the government should fight against them."

Afghanistan Nominates First Female Judge To Supreme Court

leading lawyer Anisa Rasooli is the first ever woman to be nominated Afghan woman to be nominated for the Supreme Court. (file photo)


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has nominated a leading lawyer to become the country's first ever female Supreme Court judge.

Anisa Rasooli, the head of the Afghan Women Judges Association and a former juvenile court judge, was the only female nominated to the nine-member bench.

Ghani made the announcement during a June 30 gathering of diplomats and women's rights activists.

The nomination requires approval by parliament.  

The move has sparked some criticism in the conservative country. 

Earlier this month, a group of clerics in Kabul protested against the possible appointment of a female judge to the Supreme Court.  

As part of government efforts to promote more women to high-ranking positions, Ghani has already appointed two females as governors of the provinces of Ghor and Daikundi,

In April, lawmakers approved four female nominees for cabinet positions.

Ghani also said on June 30 that he wanted all ministries to appoint female deputy ministers.

With reporting by AFP and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Russia Doesn't Quite Know How To React To U.S. 'Gayification' Movement

Gay-rights activists hold rainbow flags during a protest in central Moscow in May 2014.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- One lawmaker wants Facebook banned for being rainbow-flag friendly.

Another suggests that now is the time to move toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community.

And a prominent Russian Orthodox priest is warning that the United States is out to "steal your soul."

These are among the confused and immediate reactions in Russia to the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage on June 26.

As might be expected, the St. Petersburg lawmaker who is considered the architect of Russia's infamous "gay propaganda" law led the charge.
No Time For Celebration 

Vitaly Milonov called for a total ban of Facebook in Russia after many users showed their support for gay marriage by using the site's "Celebrate Pride" tool, which allows them to overlay their profile pictures with the LGBT flag.

In the wake of the U.S. ruling, the thought of Russian children possibly viewing a photograph tinged with the colors of the rainbow spurred Milonov to speak out.

"This is a gross violation of Russian legislation," he told the Russia News Service radio station. "Facebook does not have age restrictions. It's not possible to control how many underage users there are. Therefore, it is entirely normal to cut off Facebook on Russian territory."

It was not the only call to block Facebook.

On June 25, in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, a senator in the Russian Federation Council called on state media watchdog Roskomnadzor to block the social network for circulating "gay propaganda" in the form of emoticons and emojis. 

Senator Mikhail Markhenko told Izvestia that on offer were tiny images -- popularly used by social media users to comment on posts -- showing men with men, women with women, and the rainbow flag. Such subliminal "propaganda" risked subliminally warping the minds of younger generations, he argued, and were thus incompatible with Russian law.

Aleksei Lisovenko, a municipal lawmaker in Moscow, on June 29 called for the rainbow flag to be added to a list of "banned symbols" and outlawed altogether.

"Since last century, the USA has been destroying entire states through color revolutions under the guise of 'democratization'," Lisovenko wrote on Facebook. "Now they've added to their arsenal 'gayification' -- a new method of interfering in the affairs of sovereign states."

Flag Vs. Flag

The Facebook Celebrate Pride feature prompted Rishat Shigapov, director of an Internet marketing company, to try to fight flags with flags. Shigapov's answer was to develop a photo-editing application that can overlay photographs with the white, blue, and red of the Russian tricolor.

"I am a Russian citizen and proud of it," Shigapov announced on his Facebook profile page, complete with a Russian-flag avatar.

The application, pushed on social media under the hashtags #pridetobestraight and #pridetoberussian, has received generous media attention in Russia and plenty of Russians like "Daria" have been signing up  for the initiative on Instagram and other social networks:

The Russian Orthodox Church, however, said that this issue goes far beyond mere patriotism.

Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin took the opportunity to warn of the dangers of "American-style democracy" and decried the Supreme Court ruling as an existential threat to godly Russian values.

"They might not tell you that they want to force you to accept such a godless and sinful thing as single-sex 'marriages'," Chaplin said in comments carried by Interfax.

"Understand that actually they want to take away your right to live according to faith, take away your soul, take away the chance to build the life of our community and state according to eternal and unchanging God-given moral laws."

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Not everyone jumped on the ruling-bashing bandwagon, of course.

Konstantin Dobrynin, a senator in the Federation Council, on June 28 suggested that Russia could benefit by implementing the principles of "don't ask, don't tell," a 1990 approach toward homosexuals serving in the U.S. military that was repealed by President Barack Obama in 2011 on the basis that it was discriminatory.

Dobrynin suggested that, realistically, it is only a matter of time before Russia realizes it must take a more civilized approach on the issue and move toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community.

"For Russia, it is important not to turn away from the realities of time and not to fall into bearded and uncivilized fighting against gays, and to find a legal formulation that will provide balance on this issue between the conservative part of society and all the rest," he said.

Within hours, Milonov had denounced the senator as a "national traitor." He told Govorit Moskva radio station that "the next step will be that homophobia is a crime that people who speak in favor of traditional values must be taken away for."

On Russian-language Twitter, however, Milonov's unrelenting war on gay rights was a source of mirth.

"Deputy Milonov held out with all his strength, but love won," tweeted this user:

A Russian-language Twitter user under the handle StalinGulag offered a popular post noting the excessive media reactions to the thought of gay rights in Russia.

"Most important, is that for the world press the number 1 topic is Greece, not gay marriage. And Russia is the only one continuing to debate the sexual lives of adults."

Russia Slams U.S. State Department Report

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on June 26 that an annual human rights report released by the United States was politically motivated and ignored rights violations by Ukraine.

"As previously [the report] is a creation abounding with politicized evaluations and coarse ideological cliches," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency Interfax.

"The methodology of the report is detached from reality and based on an arbitrary 'ranking' of a state's level of democracy," he said.

The United States released its annual human rights report on June 25, saying that the political system in Russia was becoming "increasingly authoritarian" and that Moscow had passed new measures to suppress dissent.

Based on reporting by Interfax and Reuters

China Slams U.S. Human Rights Record In Annual Report

China has criticized the United States for a "terrible human rights record," denouncing it for police brutality and global surveillance a day after Washington blasted Beijing's own performance.

A report by China's State Council said America was "haunted by spreading guns, frequent occurrence of violent crimes, the excessive use of force by police."

It said that U.S. intelligence had used "indiscriminate" torture against terrorist suspects, while "violating human rights in other countries" with drone strikes and mass surveillance programs.

The report largely cited U.S. domestic media websites, including The New York Times, which is blocked by Beijing as part of its Internet censorship regime.

The document is released each year by China the day after the U.S. State Department issues its annual global human rights report.  

Unlike China, the United States is a multiparty democracy but the report declared: "Money is a deciding factor in the U.S. politics, and the U.S. citizens' political rights were not properly protected."

The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly imprisoned those who openly challenge its right to rule or have protested publicly.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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.

Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More