Wednesday, June 29, 2016

160 New Laws? Russian Upper House Set For 'World Record' In Marathon Last Day

The speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko: "These 160 laws are not new to us. We know them." (file photo)

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- The Federation Council planned to consider a whopping 160 new laws on June 29, setting the Russian upper house up for what one daily dubbed a possible "world record" as it scrambled to wrap things up before summer recess.

What's more, the hectic last day was likely to see senators approve one of the most controversial items of legislation to pass through the State Duma in recent times: the "counterterrorism bill" drafted by lawmaker Irina Yarovaya that was approved in the lower house on June 24. 

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko told local media on June 27 that the fierce rhythm of the upper chamber's last working day might elicit "ironic quips" from critics, but said it did not mean that discussion was not taking place. It's just that it was happening out of the public view. 

"These 160 laws are not new to us," she said. "We know them."

Matviyenko said senators are in a position to handle the deluge of documents because of what are known as "zero" readings, which take place before formal readings in the parliament.

Matviyenko said senators had either been party to discussion of the 160 bills in the State Duma before they reached a first reading or had considered with the "utmost attention" texts of the bills sent to the Federation Council. 

To put the task of considering 160 bills in a single day into perspective, it is worth noting that the Federation Council has examined just 223 since returning from winter recess. Out of those 223, it rejected only two, Moskovsky Komsomolets reports.

The daily wrote that passing 160 laws in a day would probably amount to some kind of a "world record." The Russian parliament has been characterized by the liberal democratic opposition as a "possessed printer," spewing out Kremlin laws with little regard.

Matviyenko said "this session is unusual," however. "The State Duma finished its work because of the upcoming elections for the State Duma and there was a need for extremely intense work to adopt those laws -- which we cannot postpone until fall, and are needed by our country, society." 

Among them is contentious counterterrorism legislation that human rights workers, telecoms operators, businesses, and even some influential regional politicians have called on the authorities to quash. 

The bill beefs up punishments for extremism and terrorism, ramps up state surveillance capabilities, criminalizes the act of not informing authorities of certain crimes, restricts the activities of religious preachers, and increases the number of crimes 14-year-olds can be prosecuted for. 

The law requires all telephone conversations, text messages, and picture messages to be stored for six months by telecoms companies and made accessible to the authorities. It requires messenger services to help authorities decode any encrypted messages. Metadata is to be held for three years. 

The head of the Kremlin Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, has called for the bill to be rejected. The influential business daily Vedomosti, however, wrote this morning that the decision has already been made to pass it.

Russian Activist Faces 'Foreign Agent' Charges


A human rights activist in Russia is facing criminal charges for allegedly failing to comply with a controversial “foreign agents” law that critics say is part of a Kremlin crackdown on civil society. 

According to Human Rights Watch, Valentina Cherevatenko was notified by authorities in Rostov-on-Don on June 27 that she was being charged with “malicious evasion” of requirements spelled out in the 2012 law. 

Cherevatenko serves as chairperson of the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development.

“The case against Valentina Cherevatenko is the first time a criminal proceeding for noncompliance with the ‘foreign agents’ law has been brought against a human rights defender,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

If found guilty, Cherevatenko faces up to two years in prison.

In 2012, Russia’s parliament adopted a law that required nongovernmental organizations to register as "foreign agents" with the Ministry of Justice if they engage in “political activity” and receive foreign funding. 

The Ministry of Justice has designated 133 groups as “foreign agents.”

IS Video Shows Killing Of Syrian Media Activists

The extremist Islamic State (IS) organization on June 26 published a video showing the execution-style killing of five Syrian media activists captured by the group's militants last year.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the victims seen in the graphic footage, which was posted on the blog of the extremist organization's Al-Bayan radio, were abducted in October and are believed to have been killed in December.

The monitor's head, Rami Abdurrahman, said they were believed to have been killed for their coverage of the Syrian conflict in the city of Deir el-Zour, around half of which is controlled by IS forces.

He said one of those killed supplied information to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One of the activists says in the video that he contributed to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, while another said he had done work for Al-Jazeera.

Neither of those organizations had commented publicly on the video as of June 26.

IS militants have previously claimed to have killed several media activists working secretly in IS-controlled areas in Syria, where almost no international media organizations have journalists due to the dangers of reporting there.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Turkish Police Break Up Gay-Pride Rally, Detain German Lawmakers


Turkish police fired tear gas to break up a gay-rights rally in Istanbul on June 26 and detained several activists, including two German lawmakers.

Dozens of activists gathered in Istanbul to mark the annual gay-pride march, despite the fact that organizers had called off the event after Istanbul's governor's office last week announced that it had been banned due to concerns over public order.

They were met by a large deployment of riot police, who fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and reportedly detained more than a dozen activists.

Those detained included German lawmakers Terry Reintke, a member of the European Parliament, and Volker Beck, a member of the Bundestag and an outspoken gay-rights activist.

Both lawmakers said on Twitter that they were released shortly after their detentions.

Turkish police in recent days have repeatedly prevented activists from participating in rallies to support LGBT rights.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Belarusian Activist Forcibly Held By Police Without Charge

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- A civil rights activist in Belarus, Tamara Syarhey, says she was forcibly taken to a police station on June 23 without being charged in order to prevent her from attending a protest rally in Minsk.

Syarhey told RFE/RL by telephone while in police custody on June 23 that several plainclothes police detained her in the morning near her home as she tried to travel to a pensioners' rally against "lawlessness in Belarus courts."

Syarhey said the men forced her into a police car and brought her to a police station.

She said they explained that she was detained as a result of a lawsuit she filed in May against the chief of the Minsk City Police, Alyaksandr Barsukou.

Syarhey was still being held by police hours after being detained.

She said her detention was illegal because it violated her right to free movement.

Video 'We Were Only On Gruel': Interview Sheds Light On Conditions Endured By Missing RFE/RL Turkmen Journalist

RFE/RL Turkmen Journalist Held Incommunicadoi
|| 0:00:00
June 22, 2016
Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) interviewed a man who claimed he shared a jail cell with Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a contributor to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and other independent outlets who has been held on fabricated charges at an undisclosed location for over a year.
WATCH: Kazakh man describes spending time in a Turkmen jail with correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliev.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 23.06.2016 09:27

Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), based in the Netherlands, has interviewed a Kazakh man who claimed he shared a jail cell with Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a contributor to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and other independent outlets, who has been held at an undisclosed location for almost a year on charges that are widely believed to have been fabricated.

Nepeskuliev, 35, went missing in July while visiting the Caspian coastal resort area of Avaza.

His relatives later tracked him down at a detention center in a settlement near Avaza. 

Saparmamed NepeskulievSaparmamed Nepeskuliev
Saparmamed Nepeskuliev
Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

Authorities at the facility said he was being held for possessing "narcotic" pills. 

Nepeskuliev's relatives told RFE/RL in September 2015 that they had learned that he had been sentenced to three years in prison on August 31.

The man in the video -- whose name is given as Yerik Supushev -- said that he had been charged with contraband by a Turkmen court in 2015 before being released in January.

He says that he and Nepeskuliev were treated harshly in prison because of Nepeskuliev's work as a journalist for RFE/RL and that Nepeskuliev failed a drugs test because he had been set up by authorities after innocently taking medicine for a stomachache.

(The full video can be seen here.)

Reporters Without Borders has long called on Turkmen authorities to provide full details about Nepeskuliev's current status "and to free him without delay."

Turkmenistan consistently ranks at the bottom of world rankings for press freedom.


Kyrgyz Parliament Approves Bill Banning Foreign Media Ownership

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's parliament has given initial approval to a bill banning foreign individuals and organizations from owning and establishing media outlets in the country.

The proposed legislation also bans activities in the country of media outlets financially supported by foreign countries.

Lawmakers approved the first reading of the bill on June 22 by a vote of 79-30.

The text needs to be approved by parliament in its second and third readings and signed by the president before coming into force.

Civil right activists have protested the bill, saying its main goal is to close RFE/RL's bureau in Bishkek, which has been a major independent source of information in the Central Asian country for decades and is also broadcast by the country's main state broadcaster.

RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress.

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