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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 22, 2005

22 February 2005
Former Duma Deputy From Tatarstan Faces Trial
Sergei Shashurin, a former Russian State Duma deputy representing Tatarstan, faces six charges of fraud in the Vakhitov Raion Court of Kazan in hearings that began on 14 February, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. According to police, the illegal deals allegedly brought Shashurin 37 million rubles ($1.3 million). Shashurin was already convicted on 2 February of defaming Tatar Interior Minister Esget Seferov. In public statements, Shashurin speculated on the minister's alleged involvement in the kidnapping and murder of KamAZ-Metallurgiya General Director Viktor Faber. He also claimed that Seferov was involved in stealing state-owned gold and other crimes. Shashurin was sentenced to 20 months in prison on that charge. A member of the People's Party, Shashurin served as a deputy chairman of the Duma's Environment Committee and was a member of commissions on corruption and geopolitics. He failed to regain his deputy's status, which could give him legal immunity, in the December 2003 elections when a court disqualified him for bribing voters.

House Of Lords Delegation Meets Tatar Parliament Speaker
Tatarstan's State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin on 14 February met with a delegation from Great Britain's House of Lords led by William Wallace, who is a specialist in Russia and CIS affairs, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. The delegation also included specialists in economics, human rights, media law, international relations, and cultural affairs. Guests were interested in general information about Tatarstan and its treaty-based relations with Moscow. Later the same day, the British delegation met with Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov.

Dutch Ambassador Interested In Tatarstan's Islamic Affairs
Tiddo Peter Hofstee, Netherlands' ambassador to the Russian Federation, visited the Kazan-based Russian Islamic University on 14 February to meet with Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate Gosman-khezret Iskhaq, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. The ambassador expressed his interest in Islamic culture and education in Tatarstan, confirming that these issues are becoming more topical in his country and Europe. He said that often the spread of Islam is accompanied by the spread of tensions, while Iskhaq described Tatarstan as an example of a tolerance-guided, multiethnic, and multiconfessional society.

Anniversary Of Kazan-Moscow Treaty Remains Unremembered
The 11th anniversary of the signing of the bilateral power-sharing treaty between Kazan and Moscow passed unnoticed by most republican officials and media, RFE/RL�s Kazan bureau reported on 15 February. On that day in 1994, Presidents Mintimer Shaimiev and Boris Yeltsin exchanged powers between the republican and federal governments, thus confirming Tatarstan�s status within the Russian Federation and initiating a policy that was later taken by other ethnic republics in Russia. However, the 11-year-old treaty was not extended by the government of President Vladimir Putin and currently has no legal force.

Since the late 1990s, a bilateral working group of federal and republic legal experts has been working on a new treaty, the terms of which have yet to be made public.

Shaimiev Wants Regions To Have Power To Distribute Medication
Speaking with Interfax-Povolzhie on 16 February, Mintimer Shaimiev said that he believes that regional authorities should be responsible for distributing medicine to those who qualify under federal social benefits.

He said that the handover of these powers from Moscow to the regions will inevitably take place, and that it is important to ensure that it is a quick transition in order to alleviate difficulties that those who depend on the medicine might encounter.

Shaimiev reportedly opposed the new, strongly centralized, distribution scheme that was established by Russia's Health Ministry, saying it created new complications and risks creating a new crisis.

Tatar Education Minister Meets Muslim Leader To Discuss Ways Of Improving Education
Reis Sheikhelislamov met with the chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board, Gosman khezret Iskhaq, on 16 February to discuss youth morality issues and ways of improving the teaching of the Tatar language in schools, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. During the meeting, the minister also suggested that students at religious schools should more actively participate in the ministry's scientific contests with students of secular schools.

Kazan Resident Charged In 'Coup' Attempt By Bolsheviks
Moscow Prosecutor's Office charged Kazan resident and National Bolshevik Party member Lira Guskova with an attempted forcible takeover of power, "Vechernyaya Kazan" wrote on 18 February.

Guskova, who along with other party activists broke into the reception office of the Russian presidential administration in Moscow on 14 December, is currently being held in that city's Pechatniki prison. She is 22 years old. During the incident Bolsheviks hung a placard demanding the retirement of Russian President Vladimir Putin from the building's windows and shouted antigovernment and antimonarchic statements. After some 40 minutes the federal guard service detained the protesters and handed them over to police.

If convicted of the charges the Bolshevik members face up to 20 years in prison. They are likely to be charged with more lenient crimes such as mass violations of public order, stipulating a penalty of three to eight years in prison.

The Kazan daily also reported that due to being harshly treated by the police, Guskova was hospitalized for two weeks after the arrest.

Pensioners Continue Protests...
An estimated 300 pensioners staged a picket on Kazan's Theater Square on 20 February to protest price increases in housing and municipal services and other social reforms, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported the same day. The Communist Party, Labor Russia, and the Tatar Public Center organized the demonstration. Protesters also argued that the number of buses that accept the subsidized transport passes meant to soften the blow of the reforms has fallen in Kazan, with commercial buses replacing them.

...Despite Crackdown Against Organizers
Tatarstan's Interior Ministry has filed 16 administrative cases against the accused organizers of recent public protests that targeted the social-benefits reform in January, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 18 February. The news agency quoted ministry press-service deputy head Valerii Myakishev as saying the cases include alleged violations of public order and blocking traffic, which can be punished with a fine of 10-25 times the minimum wage or up to 15 days of incarceration. Myakishev said some courts have already concluded cases, limiting punishment to warnings. During the meetings organized by the Republican Committee for People's Control (RKRK) with the support of the Tatar Public Center in Kazan on 15, 17, 18, and 19 January, protesters shut down Tatarstan street for several hours. Accusations of violating public order were leveled at RKRK Chairman Gennadii Zakharov and Trudovaya Rossiya Tatarstan's branch Chairwoman Mariya Kapranova, among others.

Russian Newspaper Predicts Shaimiev's Reappointment
"Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote on 16 February that Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, unlike many political veterans, has every chance of being reappointed to head the republican administration.

However, the newspaper also cited a "leak" suggesting that Shaimiev might be replaced by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev.

Meanwhile, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 February quoted Institute of Regional Issues Director Maksim Dianov commenting that "Tatarstan needs a more astute leader who can act within the stream of oriental policy."

Observers questioned by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" said they considered the selection of Nurgaliev unlikely due to the public reception it would receive. Some of the same people suggested that a Nurgaliev administration would embark on a sizable redistribution of assets despite opposition from the "Shaimiev clan." Makarkin said Nurgaliev's ability to "curb regional opposition" and his manageability make him an attractive candidate to the Kremlin.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkir Interior Ministry Files Defamation Suits Against Press...
Bashkir Interior Ministry (MVD) press service head Ruslan Sherefetdinov told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 11 February that the ministry has filed several suits against "Novaya gazeta" and is preparing to file suits against "Otechestvo" and "Zerkalo" for articles published about the December 2004 police raid in Blagoveshchensk (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004, 3, 6, 7, 10-14, 17-21, and 24 January 2005). The ministry has accused those newspapers of "defaming the business reputation of the Bashkir MVD." "Otechestvo" Editor in Chief Sergei Kuznetsov commented that "the Bashkir MVD has no business reputation so nothing can be defamed. The police have defamed themselves by their attitude to residents so newspapers had only to ascertain facts." "Zerkalo" Executive Secretary Veronika Shakhova told the daily that her employees "are absolutely sure that the facts [they] reported are true and are not afraid of a trial." "Novaya gazeta."

...Induced By Republic's Leaders
At a Bashkir State Council session on 10 February devoted to the Blagoveshchensk events, Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov blamed journalists and media for spreading false information and trying to defame law-enforcement bodies. Rakhimov said that the Bashkir MVD should sue them and that someone is behind such publications. "The so-called human rights defenders, they don't work anywhere, what money do they live on?" Rakhimov asked. "It is necessary to clarify whom do they receive money from, including for publishing newspapers." Bashkortostan's acting prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin also criticized the media for misinformation about the Blagoveshchensk events, saying "freedom of speech turned into irresponsibility...and often the deliberate deception of readers," for instance when outlets reported "mass rape of Bashkir girls, bucketfuls of used condoms, and piles of knocked-out teeth." "I state with full responsibility that no similar facts took place," Zelepukin added.

Human Rights Leader Calls For Punishment Of Officials Who Ordered Blagoveshchensk Police Operation
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva on 14 February expressed dissatisfaction with the results of an investigation by Bashkortostan authorities of a controversial December police operation in Blagoveshchensk (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 24 January 2005), Interfax reported the same day. Alekseeva said human rights activists plan to complete their own investigation of the event some time after 20 February. She added that activists will demand that those officials deemed responsible for violating the rights of Blagoveshchensk residents be punished. "Not only those who took part in the raid but first of all those who issued orders must be punished," Alekseeva said.

Blagoveshchensk Raid Victims Hold Pickets In Moscow
Thirty-six Blagoveshchensk residents who have been identified as victims of the December police raids arrived in Moscow on 13 February to hold pickets outside the federal Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office demanding that Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev be dismissed, "Gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 and 15 February, respectively. If their demand is not met, protesters plan to begin a hunger strike. For Human Rights movement head Lev Ponomarev told "Gazeta" that pickets will be held on 15-17 February in reaction to attempts by police to conceal from the public the true scope of the Blagoveshchensk incidents. Ponomarev said that in addition to Divaev, who issued the order for the operation, his deputy Aleksei Smirnov, who supervised it, and Blagoveshchensk Mayor Anfas Nurtdinov must be held responsible for the raid. Victims also argue that Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov should bear personal responsibility for the incident. In all, 72 Blagoveshchensk residents have been recognized as victims of violations by police during the December raid.

Blagoveshchensk Raid Victims Stage Hunger Strike In Moscow...
Five victims of a 10-14 December interior special troops operation in Blagoveshchensk declared a hunger strike on 17 December, Ekho Moskvy, Regnum, and RosBalt reported the same day. They demanded that the investigation of the Blagoveshchensk raid be conducted by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office and that Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev and the republic's acting prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin be dismissed. They also demanded that people who have been recognized as raid victims by the investigation be provided official documents testifying to this and prosecutions of reporters and human rights defenders who reported about the Blagoveshchensk events be stopped.

For Human Rights Bashkortostan branch head Ildar Isengulov told Regnum that strike participants informed the Moscow Central Administrative District Prefecture that they will hold pickets on 21-25 February on Pushkin Square. "Novaya gazeta" on 17 February reported that the Bashkir prosecutor's office investigators refuse to give Blagoveshchensk victims documents confirming that they were officially identified as victims and the people cannot appeal either to court or for medical examination without such a document.

...As Human Rights Leader Says Russian President Calls For Punishing Officials Responsible
Presidential Council on Human Rights head Ella Pamfilova told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 February that Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a thorough investigation of the Blagoveshchensk operation and punishment of all officials guilty, irrespective of their posts. Pamfilova said the issue was on the agenda of her recent meeting with Putin. Pamfilova added that "all insinuations in this respect are groundless and the Kremlin is not going to protect anyone." Pamfilova also said human rights representatives' investigation into the incident determined that the order to send in special forces was unfounded and inexpedient and the Bashkir interior minister and his deputies bear primary responsibility. The Blagoveshchensk incident is not an isolated event, but a display of existing practice by the Bashkir law enforcement, Pamfilova said, adding that "If federal bodies do not interfere and high-ranking officials of Bashkortostan's law-enforcement bodies are not punished, there will be no guarantee a new wave of arbitrariness will not take place" in the republic.

Tatar Organizations Expelled From Premises
Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress and the republic's 12 other Tatar civic groups were expelled on 3 February from their premises after employees of the Ufa municipal Property Committee broke in the doors to their offices and installed new locks on them, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 13 February. On 2 February, the committee sent a letter to the Tatar Congress demanding that those premises be vacated. No reason for the order, however, was given in the letter. Bashkortostan's Tatar National Cultural Autonomy Deputy Chairman Mejit Khujin told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 13 February that the move came in reaction to the considerable political activity of Tatar organizations in recent months.

Moscow Court Refuses To Permit Same-Sex Marriage
Moscow's Ostankino Court has rejected a lawsuit by Bashkir State Assembly Deputy Edvard Murzin against the Moscow Butyrskii registry office that refused to register his same-sex marriage with the editor in chief of "Queer" magazine, Eduard Mishin (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 and 21 January and 2 February 2005). In his appeal, Murzin demanded that the Family Code be amended to bring it into line with the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

A representative of the registry office said during the hearing that the office is prepared to register the marriage as soon as appropriate legislation is enacted. The court ruled that Russian legislation does not contain any direct prohibition of same-sex marriages and rejected the suit, adding that the issue is to be resolved at the legislative level, not in court.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Health Of Draftees, Schoolchildren On Decline
The Marii El Enlistment Office's Medical Commission said that only 3 percent of young men of military age are completely healthy, Regnum reported on 15 February. Commission Chairman Ilya Fedorov said mental illness top the list of diseases followed by underweight.

Meanwhile, the Orenburg State Sanitary and Epidemiology Supervision Center announced that the proportion of secondary-school pupils with various health problems has risen to 80 percent, Regnum reported on 14 February. Children obtain diseases of the motor system, cardiovascular system, and eyesight. Insufficient lighting, poor water quality, and improper equipment in school canteens are cited as causes.

Police Act Against Pensioners In Perm
Some 30 pensioners blocked an intersection near the Perm Oblast Legislative Assembly building in Perm on 17 February, Novyi region (Perm) reported the same day. Protesters were invited to a plenary session of the Perm Legislative Assembly that was held the same day, where they took part in discussion.

Oblast human rights representative Tatyana Margolina on 18 February criticized an Interior Ministry special-troops detachment for their rough treatment of demonstrators. She said that the troops' harsh, violent actions against pensioners led to a dozen people falling into the highway. Margolina asked Interior Ministry heads to hold an investigation of the incident.

Reporter Assaulted In Saratov
Saratov's "Bogatei" newspaper journalist Sergei Lyubimov was assaulted on 19 February in Saratov, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 21 February, citing newspaper employees. Two unknown people beat Lyubimov with a metal pipe near his apartment building as he was returning home in the evening. The attackers took a parcel with Lyubimov's documents but left his wallet and cell phone. Lyubimov was hospitalized with fractures of both legs. "Bogatei" employees believe the assault is connected to Lyubimov's work. Another reporter for the newspaper, Aleksandr Krutov, has been attacked twice before.

Thirty-Nine Hold Hunger Strike At Sverdlovsk Oblast Plant
Thirty-nine workers of the Ural auto plant in Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, began a hunger strike on 18 February demanding that they be paid severance pay, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The plant owes each of the strikers 15,000 rubles ($537). A total of 500 employees dismissed after the plant went bankrupt have not been paid severance pay. Most of the strikers are women. On 20 February, two participants in the hunger strike were hospitalized.

Official Dissatisfied With Medicines Supply
Sverdlovsk Oblast deputy chief sanitary doctor Viktor Romanenko told a press conference in Yekaterinburg on 15 February that patients suffering from tuberculosis and HIV have had trouble getting required medicines as a result of the reform replacing in-kind social benefits with cash payments, Regnum reported on 15 February. Romanenko said inspections revealed that patients who are to be supplied with medicines under the state program do not receive them in the full amount.

Nizhnii Novgorod Legislative Assembly speaker Yevgenii Lyulin told reporters on 15 February that the supply of medicines remains tight in the oblast, Regnum reported the same day. He said vital medicines, including those for treating cardiovascular diseases, are in short supply in the oblast and the situation will not be remedied before April. "It is simply impossible to refer to implementation of the reforms in such a disgraceful manner," he said.

Incumbent Governor Reappointed In Tyumen Oblast...
The Tyumen Oblast Duma approved on 17 February the reappointment of Sergei Sobyanin as oblast governor, reported the same day. Twenty-four deputies backed Sobyanin, who was nominated by the Russian president, while one voted against. Sobyanin is the first governor in the Ural Federal District nominated to his post through the new procedure that replaced the direct elections of heads of regions with the approval by local legislative bodies of candidates proposed by the Russian president.

...And Proposed For Another Term In Khanty-Mansii Okrug
Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated incumbent okrug head Aleksandr Filipenko on 21 February to the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug Duma as a candidate for governor, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 February. Filipenko's second term expires in April. Filipenko is the fifth incumbent governor proposed as a candidate by the Russian president for reappointment by the regional legislative body.

Senior Managers Of Petrol, Gas Companies Arrested
Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev told a ministry meeting on 16 February that the general directors of the Khanty-Mansii Oil Company and the Nazym Oil and Gas Prospecting Company were arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, Interfax reported the same day. They were accused of stealing over 1.5 billion rubles allocated for the revival of stocks of minerals and raw materials. Nurgaliev said an investigation is under way into the sale by the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug leadership of 461 oil wells at very low prices and causing harm of 500 million rubles to the state.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova