Thursday, May 05, 2016


Rights Groups Demand Immediate Release Of Tajik Lawyers

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) have urged authorities in Tajikistan to "immediately and unconditionally release" a group of jailed human rights lawyers. 

A joint statement from the rights groups on May 4 said that lawyers Shuhrat Qudratov, Buzurgmehr Yorov, Nuriddin Mahkamov, and Dilbar Dodojonova, as well two sons of the prominent lawyer Ishok Tabarov, had been "imprisoned or detained on politically motivated charges... in retaliation for representing political opponents or their willingness to take on politically sensitive cases."

The statement also says other prominent human rights lawyers in Tajikistan "have received death threats and have been threatened with trumped-up charges."

Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher atHuman Rights Watch, said Tajikistan's government is putting pressure on "lawyers it deems trouble" by "locking up those who represent the opposition alongside its political foes."
 


Video RFE/RL Azerbaijani Contributor Awarded UN Press Freedom Honor

Amanpour Calls On Azerbaijan To Release Khadija Ismayilovai
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May 03, 2016
CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, has called on Azerbaijan's government to free investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Amanpour spoke on behalf of the imprisoned RFE/RL contributor at a UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event in Helsinki on May 3.
WATCH: CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, has called on Azerbaijan's government to free investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Amanpour spoke on behalf of the imprisoned RFE/RL contributor at a UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event in Helsinki on May 3.
RFE/RL

The mother of imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has accepted the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on her daughter's behalf.

"Humanity suffers when journalists are silenced. Therefore, some people believe that the killing of journalists constitutes a crime against humanity," Elmira Ismayilova told attendees at the ceremony in Helsinki, reading from a speech written by her daughter that included references to Elmar Huseynov, an independent Azerbaijani journalist and government critic who was shot dead in 2005.

"As you gather here tonight," the elder Ismayilova relayed, "I ask you not to laud my work or my courage, but to dedicate yourself to the work each one of you can do on behalf of press freedom and justice."

Khadija Ismayilova was sentenced in September to 7 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges that have been widely denounced as retaliation for her reporting.
Khadija Ismayilova was sentenced in September to 7 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges that have been widely denounced as retaliation for her reporting.

Khadija Ismayilova, a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, was arrested in December 2014. In September, she was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges that have been widely denounced as retaliation for her reporting linking members of President Ilham Aliyev's family to allegedly corrupt business practices.

"Today is her 516th day in prison," CNN senior international correspondent and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Christiane Amanpour told a press conference in Helsinki before the award ceremony. "And here, from this stage, I'm personally calling on...the Azerbaijan government to free her."

RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic welcomed the prize, calling it "powerful recognition of Khadija's work and her undeniable right to freedom."

READ: Ismayilova's Words Of Defiance
 

The $25,000 prize is named to honor Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was killed outside his newspaper's offices in Bogota on December 17, 1986. It was established in 1997 to honor a person or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the defense of press freedom. 

Past laureates include Russia's Anna Politkovskaya in 2007, Iran's Ahmad Zeidabadi in 2011, and Azerbaijan's Eynulla Fatullayev in 2012.

The award presentation is held on May 3 to mark World Press Freedom Day.

The UNESCO prize is one of many international awards that Ismayilova, 39, has garnered both before and after her arrest. In 2012, she won the Courage in Journalism Award of the International Women's Media Foundation.

On May 27, a group of nongovernmental organizations plans to hold support rallies in 40 different cities to mark Ismayilova's 40th birthday.


'Stand Up For The Truth' -- Ismayilova's Words Of Defiance At Press Freedom Award Ceremony

Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova (file photo)

Jailed Azerbaijani investigative Khadija Ismayilova has been awarded the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. 

Ismayilova, a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, was arrested in December 2014.

In September 2015, she was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges that have been widely denounced as retaliation for her reporting, which linked members of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's family to allegedly corrupt business practices.

The $25,000 prize, named in honor of a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in 1986, was presented on May 3 during the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.

Ismayilova's mother, Elmira, picked up the award on Khadija's behalf and read out this speech that her daughter had written for the occasion:

Dear ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues,

You have graciously and generously gathered tonight on the occasion of the award of the annual Guillermo Cano award for press freedom. If you don’t mind, I will take a minute to pay tribute to Mr. Cano, since the award is very much about him, a person, as much as it is about press freedom, a principle.

Guillermo Cano was killed on December 17, 1986, in front of his paper's office. (Cano was a victim of drug-trafficking mafias, which he fearlessly denounced and about whose harmful effects on Colombian society he cautioned). In all of his work, he refused to compromise and sought justice.

As the recipient of the 2016 prize, I want to take this opportunity tonight, to present you with Mr. Cano's career and accomplishments, not as a cause for celebration, but as a call to action. His legacy remains profoundly incomplete. For all of us here tonight, there is much work that remains to be done.

Let me explain. Have you heard of Elmar Huseynov? He is Azerbaijan’s Guillermo Cano, and I believe his work and his sacrifice must be honored here tonight. Elmar was the editor of an independent human rights magazine called The Monitor, which was unique in its simple journalistic mission to tell the truth about domestic developments in Azerbaijan. 

Elmar was gunned down in front of his apartment on March 2, 2005. His wife and child were home when the shots were fired.

There has been no investigation into his murder, no prosecution, no assignment of blame. Elmar Huseynov's murder was one of the countless crimes against journalists that have met with impunity in Azerbaijan. As we memorialize Guillermo Cano, we must remember Elmar Huseynov, and their shared service to the truth must not be in vain.
 
And now me. As you know, I speak to you from my prison cell, on the occasion of an award I cannot claim. My crime? Investigative journalism -- exposing corruption linked to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and members of his family. My conviction? Seven and a half years in prison as the result of a trial in which there was no incriminating evidence or a single witness who testified against me. I remain alive to fight for justice, unlike my colleague and dear friend Elmar; but it is a challenge I cannot accomplish on my own.
 
Which brings me to you. 

Humanity suffers when journalists are silenced. This is why some people believe that the killing of journalists constitutes a crime against humanity. As you gather here tonight, I ask you not to laud my work or my courage, but to dedicate yourself to the work each one of you can do on behalf of press freedom and justice. 

You now have a relationship to Guillermo Cano, to Elmar Huseynov, and to me. We are all degraded and dehumanized by attacks on our fundamental rights, by contempt for justice, by disdain for fairness and denial of the truth. We, globally, brought together tonight to honor press freedom, must pledge to fight for it.

It is fitting that, UNESCO, the world's protector of human civilization and achievement, has united us in this mission. So what does tonight's call to action involve? For all of us – individuals, organizations, and states, it means:

-- Stand up for the truth, and dare to ask questions and be critically minded;

-- Accept no excuse for political prisoners. Societies cannot develop without scrutiny and public criticism. Dissent is not grounds for jail;

-- Fight corruption and demand integrity and the rule of law from your governments and allies. Corruption is evil and profoundly degenerative. Don't ignore it, or abet it;
 
-- Expect no security without trust, and no meaningful strategic alliance with partners that hold international standards and commitments in contempt;

-- Don't be afraid. Your sacrifice is worth it.

I accept tonight's award with humility, in view of the work and sacrifice that has preceded me and the work that remains to be done. 

Fight with me for freedom, and for truth.


Report Says Worldwide Religious Freedom Deteriorates

The latest report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says religious freedom across the world deteriorated in 2015.

According to the report released on May 2, the global refugee crisis, political strife, and economic dislocation have contributed to an increase in "societal intolerance." 
 
The commission identified 17 countries as "Tier One" concerns, meaning they have "particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious." Among countries listed in that category are Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia were among 10 countries categorized as "Tier Two," meaning religious-freedom violations in those countries are serious enough to require close monitoring.
 


RFE/RL Contributor Jailed In Azerbaijan To Receive UN Award

Azerbaijan. Baku. Journalist Khadija Ismayilova

RFE/RL

Imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova will receive a UN press award on May 3 for "her outstanding contribution to press freedom in difficult circumstances."

Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor, was selected last month to receive the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

"Khadija Ismayilova highly deserves the prize and I am happy to see that her courage and professionalism are recognized," said Ljiljana Zurovac, president of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016 Jury, on April 8.

The $25,000 prize is named in honor of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogota on December 17, 1986.

Ismayilova is currently in prison on embezzlement and tax-evasion charges that rights groups and Western governments have criticized as political retribution for her reports on corruption involving senior government officials and their relatives.


RFE/RL Contributor In Crimea Accused Of Calls For Separatism

Crimean-based journalist Mykola Semena

Crimean Desk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Officials in Russia-annexed Crimea have charged Mykola Semena, a contributor to a news site about Crimea run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), with calling for separatism.

Semena's lawyer Emil Kuberdinov told RFE/RL on April 29 that Crimea's Moscow-backed Prosecutor-General's Office made the charge against the journalist on April 28.

Kuberdinov added that Semena refused to answer investigators' questions, citing his rights under Russian law not to testify against himself. 

The Moscow-backed Prosecutor-General's Office said on April 19 that Semena was being investigated over alleged "calls for undermining Russian territorial integrity via mass media."

Police then detained Semena for questioning and subsequently released him. 

However, he was ordered not to leave Crimea while investigations are underway.

The United States, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media-freedom organizations have expressed concerns over Semena's case and condemned a clampdown on independent media on the annexed peninsula. 

After Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, the Russian parliament passed a law making it a criminal offense to question Russia's territorial integrity.
 


Video Russian Nationalists Attack Event For High-School History Students

Russian nationalists are pictured after their attack against attendees of a ceremony for high school history students. The protesters reportedly yelled that the competition's participants were "whores, not students."

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 28.04.2016 17:58

RFE/RL

Russian nationalists attacked attendees of an awards ceremony for high school history students in Moscow on April 28, spraying them with a green antiseptic liquid and hurling eggs at them for what the activists called a foreign-sponsored attempt to rewrite Russia's history.

Some 50 high school students had arrived in Moscow from all over Russia to be honored for essays they wrote on 20th-century history for a contest jointly organized by the prominent Russian historical society Memorial.

As participants arrived at Moscow's House of Cinematography on the morning of April 28, organizers and participants say they were met by around 20 nationalist activists -- some wearing military-style uniforms -- who berated them for allegedly diminishing the Soviet Union's role in the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Activists threw eggs at those arriving for the event and sprayed several of them with zelyonka, a popular Soviet-era topical antiseptic that leaves a deep green stain.

Among those doused with the green liquid was Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a renowned Russian novelist who chaired the jury for the contest. (The tweet below shows Ulitskaya after she had washed off most of the zelyonka.)

Russian-language news website Meduza quoted one of the activists as saying: "We're exorcising demons from these Jewish kids. These kids have been converted. They're off their rockers. They need medical help."

Jury member Irina Yasina, a prominent Russian liberal activist, said the protesters yelled that the competition's participants are "whores, not teachers."

The nationalist activists and pro-Kremlin media also implied the event served as a vehicle for the ominous intentions of its sponsors, which included billionaire Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov and several German nongovernmental organizations, including the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

Protesters standing outside the building where the event was staged held placards that read "We don't need history bought with foreign money" and "Stop abusing history."

In an apparent reference to Stalin-era repressions, the activists at one point chanted in unison: "Purges, purges, purges."

The Interfax news agency reported that police arrested one man in connection with the incident and charged him with "minor hooliganism," a misdemeanor.

Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, groups together more than 50 bodies nationwide.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Russian Service reports from the scene (in Russian):

Founded in 1989 under the auspices of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, it has led efforts to uncover communist-era repressions and fight discrimination in modern-day Russia.

Nationalist groups have long accused Memorial of attempting to tar the Soviet Union's history, including the crucial role in played in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Justice Ministry last year placed the organization's human rights center on the Russian government's register of "foreign agents" and accused it of calling for regime change for calling Russia's actions in the Ukraine conflict "aggression."

The award-ceremony incident drew widespread criticism on Russian-language social media, particularly because schoolchildren were involved.

Ksenia Larina, a well-known Russian journalist who also served on the jury, said that "as a Muscovite, I'd like to ask for the kids' forgiveness for what happened on the street."

"For many of them, a trip to Moscow is a big event," Larina told the event. "I'd like to say that what happened here -- that is not who we are, this is not our face. This is a pimple that sooner or later we will pick off. And for you it's a baptism by fire."

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Meduza, and TV Rain

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.

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