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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 2, 2004

2 March 2004
Tatar Prosecutor Files Complaint Against Law On Latin-Based Tatar Script...
The Tatar Supreme Court on 2 March will hear a complaint by Tatarstan's Prosecutor Kafil Emirov against the republic's law on restoring the Latin Tatar script as contradicting the federal law on languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 March. The November 2002 amendment to the federal law makes the use of Cyrillic-based alphabets mandatory for all state languages in Russia, while the introduction of any other script must be confirmed by federal law.

When Tatarstan's laws were being harmonized with federal legislation, similar protests by the republic's prosecutor were always upheld. However, the Tatar State Council at its last session on 26 February passed an appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court to rule whether the Cyrillic-only provision of the federal law conforms to the Russian Constitution. The appeal refers to the verdict by the Tatar Constitutional Court, which ruled in December that the Tatar language's script is within Tatarstan's jurisdiction. If the Russian Constitutional Court disagrees with the Tatar court, deputies will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

According to the 1999 law on restoration of the Latin script of the Tatar language, the Latin script was to be introduced in all secondary schools as of September 2001 but it is still taught only as an experiment in several schools.

...As Shaimiev Says Cyrillic-Only Legislation Legal Dead End
At a meeting with foreign reporters on 27 February, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said that the ban on the use of any other script but Cyrillic in Russia is a political decision and "in legal respects, this is a dead end." "Nobody can deprive a people of the right to speak its native language," he added. He said that when the decision was passed, those promoting the Latin script were dominant. But their numbers decreased as the more than 3 million Tatars in Russia outside Tatarstan prefer the Cyrillic script. However, the Tatar diaspora abroad uses the Latin script, Shaimiev said, adding that the issue requires a careful approach and considered solution.

Russian Guantanamo Prisoners Extradited
The United States extradited to Russia seven of the eight Russian citizens who had been kept at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba, Interfax, RIA-Novosti, and other Russian news agencies reported on 1 March. They were detained in Afghanistan where they allegedly collaborated with the Taliban against the U.S. troops during the U.S.-led antiterrorist operation in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 June and 3 December 2002). One of the Russian detainees is still at the base but his name is not available, according to RIA-Novosti.

Among the prisoners are Rawil Minkhajev and Airat Wakhitov from Tatarstan and Shamil Khajiev and Rawil Gomerov from Bashkortostan. According to the Russian Federal Security Service's (FSB) Tatar office, Wakhitov and Gomerov were students at the Chally Yoldyz maddrassah that has been closed for spreading Wahhabism, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 March. Wakhitov, after he became imam of Tauba mosque, Chally's biggest, was soon arrested by local securities on suspicion of participation in Chechen military units but was then released. He went to Chechnya and then to Afghanistan where the Taliban took him for an FSB agent and imprisoned him.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the mothers of Wakhitov and Rasul Kudaev of Kabardino-Balkar Republic were strongly against the return of their sons to Russia. Emine Khesenova, Wakhitov's mother, said that her son wrote that the conditions at Guantanamo Bay are better than in Russia's health resorts (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 December 2002 and 1 August 2003).

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii told the daily that a criminal case has been filed accusing the Russian Guantanamo prisoners of illegal crossing the state border and serving as mercenaries. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 March quoted "Soldat udachi" magazine Editor in Chief Mikhail Boltunov as saying there are a lot of mercenaries with Russian citizenship both in and outside Russia, but not one of them has been prosecuted since they did not fight against their own country. According to investigators, before crossing the Russian border, most of the "Russian Taliban" were members of Islamist organizations established in Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Rakhimov Gives New Russian Prime Minister Vote Of Confidence
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov said on 1 March that Russian President Vladimir Putin's nominee for prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, will help the president "conduct a strict and professional struggle against corruption," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today. Rakhimov said that Putin's decision to appoint Fradkov "was unexpected for many, because not all [of us] are fully aware of Mikhail Fradkov's work." Rakhimov added that he thinks the "candidacy seems very decent" and that he is personally acquainted with the nominee, who has "vast professional experience and knowledge of the country's potential." He emphasized that Fradkov not being connected with any political groups was "most important" for the future struggle against corruption. "Fradkov knows how our oligarchs get their billions and I'm convinced that the president's rearrangements will be for Russia's benefit," the Bashkir president said.

Russian Citizen Arrested In Air-Traffic Controller Murder
The Russian Embassy in Bern, Switzerland confirmed on 1 March that Swiss police had charged a 48-year-old Russian man Vitalii Kaloev with the murder of air-traffic controller Peter Nielsen on 24 February. Nielsen, who worked for the Skyguide company, was on duty when Bashkir Airlines and DHL cargo jets collided over southern Germany in July 2002. The crash claimed the lives of 71 people, most of them children of high- ranking Bashkir officials (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 1 March 2004). Kaloev, a resident of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, lost his wife and two children in the accident. He is currently undergoing a mental examination.

Tatar Activist Sues State-Owned Daily
On 1 March, Ufa's Soviet Raion court heard the case of Zegyr Khekimov, head of the Ufa Tatar national-cultural autonomy, who is filing a defamation suit against Bashkortostan's major Tatar-language daily "Kyzyl Tang," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Khekimov is seeking 1 million rubles ($30,000) for moral damages. Khekimov has said that a August 2003 article published in the paper was intended to undermine his reputation among Bashkortostan's Tatars before the December elections for the Russian State Duma. In court, the judge postponed the hearing until 3 March as the parties involved failed to submit a Russian translation of the controversial article. On 3 March, the state-owned daily will also have to reveal the actual writer of the article, who used the female pseudonym of Fendide Gyimadieva.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi