Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jailed Kazakh Lawyer 'On Hunger Strike'

Yevgeny Tankov is serving a three-year sentence for "assaulting a judge." (file photo)

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

QARAGHANDY, Kazakhstan -- The mother of a Kazakh lawyer jailed for hitting a judge with a fly swatter says her son has been on hunger strike since January 13.

Yevgeny Tankov's mother, Valentina Tankova, told RFE/RL on February 12 that her son is demanding that inmates' rights are respected. This includes receiving proper meals, having access to information, and being allowed regular phone calls with relatives.

Tankov made headlines in March 2014 after he put a fly swatter on the desk of a judge during a trial in the Qaraghandy region. He then hit the judge on the head a few times with another swatter.

The lawyer said he offered the judge "a duel with fly swatters" to show that the justice system in Kazakhstan is "a joke."

Tankov was later found guilty of "assaulting a judge" and sentenced to three years in jail.

Police In Crimea Arrest Crimean Tatars After Home Raids


Russian authorities that control Crimea have arrested at least nine Crimean Tatars after a series of raids on their homes on the Russian-occupied peninsula.

Prosecutors in the Russia-imposed government, said four had been charged with belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Sunni political organization that is banned across Central Asia and Russia. 

The detentions come after 12 homes of Crimean Tatars were raided by police in the city of Yalta and the town of Bakhchesaray earlier on February 11. 

Reports say some of the individuals whose homes were targeted had met with a delegation from the Council of Europe that recently visited Crimea to assess the human rights situation there. 

Emil Kurbedinov, a local human rights activist, accused the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of fabricating new "terrorist cases" against Crimean Tatars. 

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after a referendum dismissed in the West as bogus.

Since Russia's land grab, fundamental freedoms have "deteriorated radically" for many in Crimea, especially for pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and the Crimean Tatar community. 

That was the finding of a report issued in September 2015 by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

Video HRW: Hundreds Of Schools Destroyed In Ukraine War, Military Use Must Stop

A Ukrainian serviceman walks through a destroyed school in the village of Pisky near Donetsk late last year.

Eugen Tomiuc

Hundreds of schools have been destroyed during the war in eastern Ukraine, including many that were used for military purposes by both sides in the conflict, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.

Schools that have survived the war operate in dangerous and often overcrowded conditions, while many children have been forced to stop attending school altogether, says the report titled Studying Under Fire: Attacks On Schools, Military Use Of Schools During the Armed Conflict In Eastern Ukraine.

It urges the sides in the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists to take steps to protect children's safety and access to education and to prevent the use of schools for military purposes.

"All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to protect children and to make sure that their hostilities don't cause further harm to their safety and education," New York-based HRW says in the report released on February 11.

During visits to 41 schools and kindergartens and interviews with 62 students, teachers, principals, and witnesses, HRW documented attacks on schools located in both government-controlled and separatist-held areas.

Yulia Gorbunova, Ukraine researcher at HRW, told RFE/RL that both sides have used schools for military activities, deploying forces and armaments in and near schools.

"Using those schools for military purposes led to them basically turning into legitimate military targets and increasing the possibility of them being attacked and destroyed," Gorbunova said. 

Other schools damaged during the conflict were not occupied or used by the fighting forces, and therefore did not appear to be "legitimate" military targets.

"We've found cases which we documented in the report also very clearly showing indiscriminate attacks, which is a very common [occurrence] in this conflict where the combatants did not distinguish between military and civilian targets," Gorbunova said. 

WATCH: Schoolkids Stay At Home As Ukraine Conflict Simmers

As Ukraine Conflict Simmers, Kids Are Stuck At Homei
February 03, 2016
In the eastern Ukrainian village of Zaytseve, 11-year-old Edik has to cross military checkpoints and enter separatist territory just to go to school. It's a dangerous trip, so Edik and other schoolchildren have stopped going to class, and instead do their schoolwork at home. (Zenovia Stefanyuk, RFE/RL's Current Time TV)

More than 9,000 civilians and combatants have been killed since the war erupted in April 2014. Fighting has diminished markedly under a cease-fire that took effect in September 2015, but violations are frequent and a deal aimed at resolving the conflict has gone largely unimplemented.

The report describes an artillery attack from the direction of rebel-controlled areas which caused extended damage to a school in Krasnohorivka, a government-controlled town in the Donetsk region, in June 2015. School No. 3 was located some 700 meters from a Ukrainian military checkpoint.

"Well, there was a very heavy artillery attack in which that school was hit many times -- repeatedly, and the military checkpoint was not hit at all, not even once. So that either shows very, very bad aiming [skills], or it shows that the school was targeted deliberately," Gorbunova told RFE/RL.

Safe Schools Declaration

The report warns that targeting such institutions is prohibited under the laws of war, and can be prosecuted as a war crime.
It also documents cases when the Ukrainian military occupied schools, and "frequently broke or burned school furniture, including classroom doors, chairs, and desks."

It says that, on several occasions, troops left behind heavy artillery or unused ammunition.

The report says Ukraine's Ministry of Education and Science has acknowledged in meetings with HRW that government troops have used schools for military purposes.

In urging both sides to protect children's safety and access to education and deter military use of schools, HRW says Ukrainian authorities should do that by endorsing and adhering to the international Safe Schools Declaration -- a statement that was opened for endorsement by countries at a conference in Norway in May 2015. So far, 51 states have signed it.

Gorbunova told RFE/RL that Kyiv had shown openness and a willingness to endorse the declaration. "We do not have a clear time frame [for the signing] yet, but we will continue working with the government toward it and hope that it will happen in the very near future."

The report also urges the separatists to follow the principles of the Safe Schools Declaration's Guidelines For Protecting Schools And Universities From Military Use During Armed Conflict.

Gorbunova said that, in the separatists' case, adherence to the guidelines should be proven by concrete action.

"While we cannot call on the militants to actually officially endorse the declaration because they are nonstate actors, we can definitely call on them to follow best practices laid out in the guidelines, and issue very clear orders to all the forces under their command to stop using schools for military purposes," she said.

Tatar Official Regrets Court Order To Close Rights Group

Saria Saburskaya (file photo)

The ombudswoman for the Russian republic of Tatarstan says it is premature to carry out a court order closing down a popular human rights group.

Saria Saburskaya, Tatarstan's human rights commissioner, said on February 10 in Kazan that a ruling by Tatarstan's Supreme Court to close the Agora human rights group had not yet come into effect and it was "too early" to put an end to the group's work.

She said it would be regrettable to shut down Agora, which is very popular among human rights groups due to its work in defending rights activists in court.

Agora lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliyev said the Supreme Court ruling -- which upheld an order by Russia's Justice Ministry -- would be appealed at the Russian Supreme Court.

Human Rights Watch's Russia Program Director Tatyana Lokshina expressed concern over the Supreme Court decision, saying the liquidation of Agora was a "blow to civil society."

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova said the decision against Agora was part of an "alarming trend" that could lead to all human rights NGOs to soon "be extinct in Russia."

The Justice Ministry said Agora had violated financial regulations required of NGOs deemed to be "foreign agents" under controversial legislation.

Based on reporting by Interfax and

UN Envoy: No Changes In Belarus's 'Dismal' Human Rights Situation


The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, has warned that "no changes" have been initiated in the country to alter the "oppressive laws and practices" since the October presidential election.

"Unfortunately, the dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in the country," Haraszti said in a February 9 statement.

"The authorities have not ceased the systematic harassment of those who attempted to practice their individual, civil, political, and other rights, despite the partial suspension of EU and US sanctions, decided in anticipation of further advancement of human rights," the UN special rapporteur said.

"Neither have they shown any willingness to reform the entrenched, highly oppressive legal system."

The upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for September, will be an opportunity for the authorities to "attest of their commitment to reform," Haraszti added.

Merkel 'Horrified' At Russia's Syria Campaign As HRW Reports Cluster-Bomb Use

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ankara on February 8

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 08.02.2016 18:05


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is "horrified" by the suffering being caused by Russian and Syrian air strikes.
Merkel, who was in Ankara for talks with Turkish officials, said on February 8 that "tens of thousands" of people are being affected by the bombing campaign that is coming "primarily from the Russian side."
She added that Germany and Turkey will insist on compliance with a UN resolution passed in December that calls for an end to the bombing of civilians.
Western nations have repeatedly accused Russia -- which began its Syria bombing campaign in September -- of targeting moderate opposition groups instead of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) fighters, and of killing hundreds of civilians in the western and northern parts of Syria.
The Kremlin denies the charges and says it is only bombing terrorist groups.
Russian air strikes have helped Syrian forces recapture some territory lost to extremist groups and other opposition fighters in central and western Syria.
Syrian forces in recent days have made gains in areas surrounding Aleppo, the country's largest city that has been divided between government forces and opposition fighters.
The growing siege of the city -- which had a prewar population of more than 2 million people -- has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee north toward the Turkish border, about 40 kilometers away.
Merkel's comments came the same day that Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian military operation has used cluster munitions in at least 14 attacks since January 26.
It said those attacks had killed 37 civilians -- including six women and nine children -- and wounded dozens of others.

The use of cluster bombs has been banned by 118 countries, but not by Russia or Syria.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian military, said in December that there are no cluster munitions "at the Russian air base in Syria."
HRW says cluster munitions have been identified in photos and video taken at Russian's Hmeymim Air Base in Syria.
Nadim Houry, the deputy director of HRW's Middle East division, said that "any solution of the Syrian crisis needs to address ongoing indiscriminate attacks. A good place to start would be a commitment by Russia and Syria to stop using cluster munitions."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after meeting with Merkel on February 8 that some 30,000 Syrians from Aleppo are waiting at the border and would be allowed in "when necessary."
Davutoglu also blamed Russia for the new wave of refugees to Turkey, which has already taken in some 2.5 million Syrians since the civil war began in 2011.
At least 250,000 people have died in the conflict, and several million have fled their homes.
Davutoglu added that Turkey and Germany have agreed on a joint diplomatic initiative to end the Russian-Syrian offensive against Aleppo.
The EU has agreed to give Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in exchange for its efforts in stemming the tide of migrants coming to Europe.
Meanwhile, Davutoglu said Turkey and Germany will ask NATO at a February 11 meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers to become involved with "the flow of refugees from Syria."
"We will make a joint effort on the effective use of NATO's observation and monitoring mechanisms on the border and in the Aegean," he said.
More than 900,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece last year, with hundreds of others drowning during the attempt.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Video Uzbek President Calls Homosexuality 'Vulgar' Western Habit

Uzbekistan's Karimov On Gays And 'Vulgar' Western Culturei
February 08, 2016
In comments broadcast on state television, Uzbek President Islam Karimov spoke disparagingly of homosexuality, saying that "something must be wrong" with men or women in same-sex relationships. (Uzbek State TV, via RFE/RL's Uzbek Service)
Uzbekistan's Karimov On Gays And 'Vulgar' Western Culture: In comments broadcast on state television, Uzbek President Islam Karimov spoke disparagingly of homosexuality, saying that "something must be wrong" with men or women in same-sex relationships.
Eugen Tomiuc

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has lashed out at homosexuality, calling it a "vulgar" manifestation of Western culture, in a new attack against gays in the former Soviet Union.

Uzbekistan punishes homosexual acts by prison terms of up to three years.

Karimov made the remarks during a televised meeting of people's deputies of the Tashkent region on February 5, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

"We talk about so-called Western culture. We call it vulgar culture. You know what I mean. It's inappropriate even to speak about this in front of women. When men live with men and women live with women, I think there must be something wrong up here," Karimov said, pointing to his head, before adding, "Something is broken here. There is a saying: When God wants to reveal someone's vulgarity, he first takes his reason away."

Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet state where male homosexuality is illegal, although recent efforts to ostracize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities have been taken or are under way in other ex-Soviet republics.

A law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 banned the spread of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament is expected later this month to easily adopt a similar measure, dubbed "the anti-LGBT propaganda" bill, after passing it in its first two readings. 

The Kyrgyz measure would ban promoting nontraditional sexual relations among minors or equating same-sex relations with heterosexual ones.

Those violating the law could face prison terms of six months to a year.

Sirojiddin Tolibov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report

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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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