Saturday, May 23, 2015


HRW Calls On Kyrgyz To Reject 'Foreign Agents' Bill

RFE/RL

By RFE/RL

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Kyrgyz lawmakers to reject a bill requiring domestic NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in "political activities" to register as "foreign agents."

In a statement issued on May 21, the New York-based group said, "Such inappropriate and unjustified interference would be incompatible with the right to freedom of association." 

It said the bill “blatantly flouts” Kyrgyzstan’s national and international human rights commitments.

If adopted, HRW added, the bill will “only stigmatize” NGOs working in Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz parliamentary human rights committee voted on May 19 to send the bill to full parliament for debate, and its first reading is expected in the coming days. 

In 2012, Russia passed similar legislation which human rights defenders and Western governments say has been used to crack down on independent groups.


Russian Lawmakers Pass 'Undesirable' NGOs Bill

RFE/RL

Russia's lower house of parliament has given final approval to a bill on so-called "undesirable organizations" that critics say will deal a fresh blow to a nongovernmental sector that already faces considerable pressure.

In a third and final reading on May 19, the heavily pro-Kremlin State Duma overwhelmingly approved the legislation, which would give Russian prosecutors the right to list as "undesirable" foreign organizations "posing a threat to Russia's defense capabilities, security, public order, [or] public health."

It must now be approved by the upper house in what precedent suggests will be little more than a formality, and then sent to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.

Under the bill, which the Kremlin's own human rights ombudsman has opposed, individuals who work for such organizations inside Russia could be slapped with hefty fines or handed prison sentences of up to six years.

Human rights watchdogs have denounced the legislation. In a joint statement last week, when the Duma passed the bill in a crucial second reading, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said it would "bolster an ongoing draconian crackdown which is squeezing the life out of civil society."

In 2012, Russia passed legislation that grants broad leeway for authorities to define nongovernmental groups that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents."

The law on "undesirable organizations "puts those who don't fall under the 'foreign agents' law on a knife edge," veteran Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told the Russian website Snob.ru.

Putin, who is accused of clamping down on NGOs with restrictive laws during his third term, recently repeated his accusation that Western secret services use nongovernmental organizations to "destabilize Russia."

"The attempts by the Western secret services to use public, nongovernmental organizations and nonpolitical bodies to discredit the authorities and destabilize Russia's internal situation continue," he said at a March 26 meeting with senior officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor of the Soviet KGB.

Under the legislation passed by the Duma on May 19, the decision to deem a foreign organization undesirable must be coordinated with Russia’s Foreign Ministry on the basis of materials and documents obtained from the Interior Ministry and security agencies.

The Justice Ministry would be tasked with compiling the "blacklist."

Aleksandr Cherkasov, the head of Russia's Memorial human rights center, told Snob.ru that the bill was written in such a "blurry" fashion that foreign organizations, media outlets, and NGOs already deemed "foreign agents" could be impacted.

"This law allows you to declare McDonald's an 'undesirable organization' and fine anyone who cooperates with it, anyone who eats hamburgers," Cherkasov said.

With reporting by AFP, Meduza.io, and Snob.ru

Kyrgyz Antigay Activists Charged With Hooliganism

An antigay rally in front of the government headquarters in the capital, Bishkek, on February 5

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

BISHKEK -- Several antigay activists in Kyrgyzstan have been charged with hooliganism after they disrupted an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community event in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Interior Ministry officials told RFE/RL on May 19 that the Kyrgyz capital's Birinchi Mai district police department is investigating the May 17 incident.

Antigay activists reportedly raided a gathering at a Bishkek restaurant to mark International Day Against Homophobia, attacking LGBT activists and supporters.

Although police arrived in time to prevent more serious clashes between gay-rights activists and the antigay group members, the event was disrupted.

Now, the antigay activists involved in the incident may face up to five years in jail if found guilty of the hooliganism charges.

Right groups say homophobia is widespread in Kyrgyzstan, where a leader of the Kyrgyz Muslims' Spiritual Directorate issued a fatwa in 2014 against same-sex relations.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said Kyrgyz police have extorted, threatened, arbitrarily detained, beaten, and sexually abused gay and bisexual men.

Kyrgyzstan has also come under criticism for a pending bill that would criminalize "gay propaganda." The HRW has called the draft law a "blatantly discriminatory antigay 'propaganda' bill." 

In March, the HRW urged Kyrgyzstan's parliament to "stay true to the principle of nondiscrimination that is enshrined in the country's constitution."

The bill was introduced to parliament in October and approved by the country's parliamentary Committee on Law, Order, and Fighting Crime in February.

It provides for criminal and administrative sanctions for the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and bans any information promoting "nontraditional sexual relations" or "homosexual relations" in a "positive" way.

The bill calls for "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to be punishable by up to one year in jail.

It says journalists found guilty of "propagating" homosexual relations will be held accountable.


National Press Club To Honor Ismayilova, Rezaian

RFE/RL

The Washington, D.C.-based National Press Club has announced that it will honor Azerbaijani reporter Khadija Ismayilova with a press freedom award in July.

Ismayilova, who has reported for RFE/RL, has been jailed since December 2014 on charges that independent observers such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have called bogus.

A second award will go to Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter based in Tehran, who has been jailed for nine months without trial.

Ismayilova is well known for hard-hitting reporting on the financial dealings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and alleged corruption in his government.

She is one of nine reporters being held in Azerbaijan on trumped-up charges, according to human rights groups.

Club President John Hughes noted that Azerbaijan will draw world attention as it hosts the European Games in June.

"We hope the world will be mindful...of the plight of reporters and others in Azerbaijan who are merely exercising basic human rights of self-expression," he said.


Russian Reporter Flees Chechnya Citing Safety Concerns

Prize-winning journalist Elena Milashina has fled Chechnya amid fears for her safety, after writing that a teenage girl was being forced to marry a police commander much older than her.

Milashina had written that a local police head, Nazhud Guchigov, who was already married, had threatened reprisals against the girl's family if she was not handed over.

Milashina's employer, Novaya Gazeta, Russia's leading independent newspaper, said she fled after she received a warning from police as she was doing more research on the forced marriage story.

Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied that the police officer was putting pressure on the 17-year-old girl or her family and defended the marriage.

"The girl's parents gave their blessing to this marriage," he said on his Instagram account.

Although polygamy is banned under Russian law, as is the abduction of brides and underage marriage, Kadyrov has shown tolerance for all three practices.

Based on reporting by AP and BBC

Crimean Prosecutors Seek Four-Year Prison Term For Maidan Activist

Maidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko

RFE/RL

Crimea's prosecutors are seeking more than four years in prison for a man accused of attacking a Ukrainian security officer in Kyiv during the February 2014 protests in Kyiv against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Natalya Poklonskaya, prosecutor-general of the Ukrainian territory that was annexed by Russia last year, asked a court in Simferopol to convict local resident Oleksandr Kostenko and sentence him to four years and three months in prison, her office said on May 14.

Prosecutors on the Black Sea peninsula have charged Kostenko with intentionally inflicting bodily harm on the security officer during the so-called "Euromaidan" protests.

The court is scheduled to hand down its verdict on May 15.

The alleged crime took place more than a month before Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, which a majority of UN member nations consider illegal.


Jailed Journalist Ismayilova's Pretrial Detention Prolonged

Khadija Ismayilova has been held in custody since December.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has prolonged the pretrial detention period for Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL who has been behind bars since December.

The Nasimi District Court in Baku ruled on May 14 that Ismayilova's pretrial detention period will be extended for three months.  

Ismayilova, whose investigative reporting has exposed corruption by Azerbaijani government officials, was arrested on December 5 and initially charged with inciting a man to attempt suicide. 

The man who levelled the accusation later sought to withdraw his complaint, but prosecutors have not responded publicly to that request and Ismayilova was handed additional charges in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

She denies wrongdoing and says all the charges are politically motivated.

The May 14 ruling came two days after another setback for Ismayilova, who remains in jail despite calls from rights groups and foreign governments for her release.

On May 12, a separate court started a hearing into Ismayilova's appeal against a libel conviction in February, but adjourned it indefinitely.

That decision came a week after Ismayilova was honored with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for what PEN said were "hard-hitting investigations [that] have revealed corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan."

Accepting the award on her behalf at a ceremony in New York, Emin Milli -- an Azerbaijani writer who himself was jailed in 2009 -- urged journalists and activists to "spread the word about her courage and struggle for freedom all over the world."

On the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to release Ismayilova.

The United States "is deeply concerned by the incarceration of all of those detained in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms," he said.

Representatives of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees RFE/RL and Voice of America, have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest Ismayilova's incarceration.

In June, Azerbaijan will host the first-ever European Games. A group of prominent writers and editors, including many American, have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, urging him to demand Ismayilova's release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

With reporting by Voice of America

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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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