11 February 2005, Volume 6, Number 3
IN FOCUSAFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT SPARKS INTERNAL DEBATE
By Amin Tarzi
The report on human rights abuses issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on 29 January, which claimed that the majority of Afghans want people who have violated human rights in the past to be declared ineligible for public office, has generated a heated debate in the Afghan media and official circles.
The AIHRC report stated that 69 percent of respondents identified themselves as victims of human rights violations during the past 23 years of international and internal conflict in Afghanistan. The majority of respondents -- 90 percent -- called for the removal of human rights violators from public office, while 40 percent wanted the prosecution of notorious perpetrators (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 February 2005).
Claims Report Biased Against Mujahedin
In an unattributed article on 5 February, the independent Kabul weekly "Thabat" criticized the AIHRC report for its finding regarding human rights abuses during the "mujahedin period" -- when various anticommunist resistance groups (known as the mujahedin) and some former communist henchmen took control of the country from 1992 to 1996 and fought for power.
The "Thabat" article begins by calling into question the independence of the AIHRC and asks how one can "accept the views of a person who does not believe in God's orders on human rights?" The article does not refer to any specific person on the AIHRC by name.
Additionally, the article criticizes the AIHRC's scope of survey in proportion to the total Afghan population. According to "Thabat," 4,000 Afghans out of a population of 30 million were interviewed by the AIHRC, and the paper argues this is an inadequate number to claim that the views expressed represent those of a majority of Afghans.
The article calls on the Afghan government and the United Nations to "form a truly independent commission that can safeguard human rights and whose members themselves are not involved in crimes against humanity." "Thabat" bases its last argument on the allegation that some members of the AIHRC, while having a "strong bias against the mujahedin," have sympathies with the former communists who ruled Afghanistan from 1978 until 1992 and caused the deaths of "2 million compatriots."
The article in "Thabat" concludes by focusing on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, commenting that the AIHRC report "will create another obstacle" to holding the polls (the election were scheduled to be held before 21 May, but have been delayed; see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). According to the weekly, the aim of AIHRC report is to prevent the mujahedin from winning an "adequate number of seats in parliament."
Call For Trials Of Violators Before Elections
In an editorial on 7 February, the Kabul independent daily "Erada" focuses on the timing of the AIHRC report and the upcoming parliamentary elections. Saying that the elections will play a key role in determining the fate of the Afghan people, "Erada" notes that those guilty of human rights abuses may be preparing to run for parliament.
According to "Erada," Afghans have recently been disclosing names of those involved in human rights violations over the past 23 years. These people "should be prosecuted under the supervision of the members of [the AIHRC and the UN] ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary election," the paper suggests.
The editorial recommends that if convicted, these individuals "should not only be sacked from their government posts [if they are currently employed as such] and barred from taking part in the election, but they should face severe punishment before the people."
Let Bygones Be Bygones
In an interview with the Afghan Voice Agency on 9 February, the chief of the criminal court for domestic and foreign security, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, said that the people of Afghanistan have already left the pain of the last 23 years behind them, and the AIHRC reports will lead "Afghanistan toward a new crisis."
Bakhtyari added that it's "not a proper time to bring the human rights violators and war criminals to court, because those who have had a hand in civil wars" are now powerful people or religious leaders. Thus, if convicted, "they will play a significant role in destabilizing the country," he added. According to Bakhtyari, some of the same individuals seen by one group as war criminals are regarded by others as national leaders and heroes.
Discussing various dimensions of human rights, such as freedom of speech, belief, security, and so on, Bakhtyari argued that if violations of all of these are considered, "more than 90 percent of the people of Afghanistan are violators of human rights."
Undoubtedly, the issue of human rights violations is a very sensitive subject in Afghanistan, and as Bakhtyari has pointed out, some of the alleged perpetrators of these crimes hold great power in Afghan social and political life. However, the very fact that Afghanistan has developed to a stage where its own indigenous human rights commission dares to discuss the horrors committed by powerful forces in the country, some of which continue to yield much power; and that this is done without the use of guns is in itself a major step in the country's progress toward the establishment of a civil society based on laws, accountability, and responsibility.
To continue this progress, Afghans deserve recognition of their untold suffering, not necessarily by putting more people in jail and creating chaos, but perhaps by following the example of post-apartheid South Africa.
RUSSIAN PENSIONER HAS HER DAY IN EUROPEAN COURT
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The landmark case of a Russian pensioner who took her grievances over a pension shortfall all the way to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg has empowered elderly Russians and younger activists trying to hold the Putin government to account on social welfare. The Strasbourg court's ruling in favor of Novosibirsk pensioner Lidiya Pravednaya could compel the Russian government to pay compensation to thousands of pensioners across the country, RFE/RL reported 27 January, citing REN-TV on 26 January.
Yet unless more diplomatic efforts are mounted, stonewalling on the implementation on this and other European Court of Human Rights decisions could nullify the efforts of lawyers to use international mechanisms to overcome obstacles in the dysfunctional Russian justice system, lawyers say.
Pravednaya convinced the court that in the late 1990s the Pension Fund improperly shorted her pension, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 January. It was the first case of a Russian pensioner being able to obtain a pension with the help of the European Court, "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. Pravednaya's case has been watched closely by thousands of pensioners facing both declining real pensions and poorly compensated cuts in in-kind benefits. Her court struggle had further symbolic meaning for Russians because her last name "Pravednaya" literally means "righteous" or "pious" in the Russian language.
The case hinged on a 1 February 1998 law providing for the increase of state pensions using a formula based on the citizen's salary at the time of retirement and on the average salary throughout the country, using a ratio of 0.75. Pravednaya discovered, however, that pensions were being calculated at a maximum rate of just 0.50, and that she was being cheated out of about 200-250 rubles a month, pravda.ru reported 27 January.
The move triggered thousands of lawsuits against the Pension Fund, and local courts, in fact, took the side of the pensioners. Already in 1998, the Zayeltsov Raion Court of Novosibirsk ruled in Pravednaya's favor, instructing the local office of the Pension Fund to pay her the lost pension amounts. However, bureaucrats stalled and in 1999, the Labor Ministry issued an internal instruction to use the figure of 0.525 in calculating pensions. The Supreme Court then ruled that district courts had to review all the court decisions already made in favor of pensioners, the kind of heavy-handed action that illustrates the pressure of the executive on the judicial branch in Russia. Courts began to overturn their own decisions on pension lawsuits one by one, citing "newly-discovered circumstances." Not only did the courts then affirm the Labor Ministry new formula, which contradicted the law, they began to go after pensioners for purportedly "overpaid" pensions.
Pravednaya filed her Strasbourg suit in April 2001 with the help of attorney Igor Novikov. The case hinged on the notion of "retroactive force," i.e., under generally accepted universal notions of the rule of law, a court cannot review a case already decided and apply a penalty from laws introduced after the original case was heard.
The European Court will now hand its decision in Pravednaya v Russia to the Russian government, but it remains to be seen if it will be enforced. Pravednaya vows to follow up with another suit in the European Court for Human Rights seeking moral and material damages.
The European court has received an estimated 16,000 complaints from Russian citizens seeking justice, uralpress.ru reported 24 January. Russia leads the 50 members of the Council of Europe in the number of complaints filed against its government with the court. Like other international institutions, the court has been inundated with such requests due to the intense belief of Russians that justice can only be found outside their own court system. Yet only a fraction of cases submitted clear all the requirements to reach review, and still fewer reach the decision stage, to say nothing of enforcement. While some Russian officials believe appeals to international courts are a sign of progress, since Soviet-era dissidents were often punished for such appeals, in fact persistent Russian reliance on justice meted out by foreigners is a sign of the deep dysfunction of the Russian courts. Although the concept of retroactive force is fairly widespread and established even in Russia, it appears no higher Russian court could grapple with it and face the political fallout of millions of angry pensioners.
But there is a limit to how much justice even an international venue can provide for Russian citizens. In Pravednaya's case, the court ruled that the Russian government must pay her the amount shorted from her pension from 1998-2000. However, three months after the court's ruling, the authorities evidently have still not responded or compensated Pravednaya's loss.
The Russian government is stalling, gzt.ru wrote on 2 February, clearly fearing the precedent of such cases and the huge demand for compensation. The European Court is due to hear another case involving Russian pensioners who were allegedly denied a hardship bonus for living in the Far North. The court also expects a huge influx of cases regarding recent changes in the social-benefits laws that replace most in-kind benefits with cash compensation payments.
The 68-year-old Pravednaya is a retired chemical engineer who worked for 40 years at a Novosibirsk factory, 22 as shop foreman. The cut in her pension cost her approximately 25,000 rubles, gzt.ru reported. "There was a sense of futility that no one understood you, no one listened, and the courts ignore pensioners," Pravednaya told the website.
Attorney Novikov told gzt.ru that such cases are not easily accepted by the court. "We had thoroughly to prepare all the papers, exhaustively cite our arguments, refer to precedents, look at similar cases reviewed by the European Court, and had to pull up all the cases of the court," Novikov said. The court does not become involved in establishing the amounts of member states' pensions, but it ruled on the legal matter of retroactive force and found that the Russian courts had deprived Pravednaya of a fair trial, based on international human rights law. The court demonstrated that the citing of "new circumstances" referenced by local courts was unlawful.
"We had a long road but we proved we were right," Pravednaya told gzt.ru. However, gzt.ru contacted the Novosibirsk Pension Fund office and found that officials still had not paid Pravednaya. "We are waiting instructions from Moscow," an official of the Novosibirsk Pension Fund office told the site. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities have made no formal acknowledgement of the European Court's ruling.
A handful of court victories have been enough to inspire still more Russian citizens to turn to the European Court. One successful case was that of Anatolii Plaksin, a resident of Pyatigorsk who attempted to sue the Stravropol Tobacco Company for compensation of damages caused by a fire in his apartment that was found to have been started by a company employee. He was awarded 2,400 euros ($3,089). Anatolii Burdov, a member of a Chernobyl clean-up crew whose health has suffered as a result of that experience, was able to demonstrate that he has not been lawfully compensated and was awarded 3,000 euros. A librarian from Belgorod, Anna Ryabykh, won a lawsuit against the state-owned Sberbank for having lost her savings of 11,674 rubles, and she was awarded $27,300.
Lidiya Tumasova, a pensioner from St. Petersburg, was able to get the court to agree to review her case involving disputed common space in her apartment building to determine if she could continue to use the building's attic to dry her laundry.
Human rights activists say European institutions have little leverage to compel the Russian authorities to implement their decisions. "These problems are resolved through diplomatic means," lawyer Pavel Astakhov told gzt.ru. "The Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly will be regularly noting the failure to implement the court's decisions, and in an extreme case could threaten expulsion from the Council of Europe."
UN, HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CALL ON TEHRAN TO END EXECUTIONS OF MINORS IN IRAN
By Golnaz Esfandiari
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights are calling on Iranian authorities to stop executing minors. Iran, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United States are among a handful of countries that impose the death penalty on juveniles convicted of capital crimes. According to Amnesty International, at least 10 people have been executed either while they were minors, or for crimes committed while they were minors.
Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, which prohibits the execution of people under the age of 18.
To get around this, the Islamic Republic's judiciary often issues death sentences for minors and executes them once they turn 18 -- although there have been cases where criminal offenders have been executed while they are still minors.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Iran in a report on 28 January to take the necessary steps to immediately suspend death sentences imposed on persons convicted of crimes before the age of 18.
The UN says earlier that month, Iranian officials issued a study saying such executions had been suspended. But on the same day that study was issued, a minor was executed in Iran. "International pressure has always been effective, even though the Islamic Republic denies it."
The International Federation of Human Rights and Amnesty International say it is time for Iran to bring its law and practice in line with its international obligations.
Doctor Abdol-Karim Lahidji is the vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights.
"The Islamic Republic, since its establishment 25 or 26 years ago, has only joined one international convention and that is the Convention on the Rights of Child, and it should be committed to its obligations under it. The UN committee made many recommendations to Iran in regard to children's rights and topping them is the issue of child execution," Lahidji said.
Under the UN convention, any person under the age of 18 is considered a child. Last year Amnesty International recorded three executions of child offenders in Iran.
One of them was a 16-year-old girl who was hanged in public for having what was termed "illegitimate sexual relations."
Lahidji says real figures about the cases of juvenile execution could be higher.
"In light of the fact that there are no official figures from the Islamic Republic and the figures we get are from the Center of Human Rights Defenders or other sources in Iran, unfortunately we can't categorically say if there were other cases during the last year, especially in remote provinces where such things don't get any coverage even in the few newspapers that -- under the current conditions of censorship by the judiciary -- [are able to] publish such news," Lahidji said.
Last October, some 20 Iran-based human-rights groups, including the Center of Human Rights Defenders, founded by Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, called on the head of Iran's judiciary not to sentence minors to death.
Ebadi, who has been fighting for the improvement of women's and children's rights in Iran, had called for a rally to protest against the practice -- but the demonstration was banned by authorities.
The International Federation for Human Rights say 25 juvenile offenders currently held in Iranian prisons are facing execution. Iran's judiciary announced last fall that death penalties for convicted criminals younger than 18 years will be banned.
Shiva Dolatabadi is the director of the Society for the Rights of Children in Tehran. She says a bill outlawing juvenile execution has been sent for review to the parliament.
"As far as we have been able to follow the issue, the bill has been sent to the parliament, but we haven't heard about it being finalized. It seems that the good news we heard -- that these things are not going to happen anymore -- was when the bill was sent to the parliament, but it hasn't become a law yet," Dolatabadi said.
Experts say that if the bill becomes law it should clearly prohibit juvenile execution and not give judges the power to choose whether or not to assign such a sentence.
The UN Committee on the Rights of Child has also called on Iran to suspend the imposition and execution of all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, such as flogging and stoning for crimes committed by underage people.
Dolatabadi says flogging sentences are being issued for boys and girls who socialize with each other.
"Most of it is connected with relations between girls and boys, which according to [legal] definitions here can easily become a crime. We hear a lot about sentences [of flogging] being issued in connection with people going to parties and such things. However, we don't know to what extent [the sentences] are being applied. We don't have enough figures," Dolatabadi says.
In recent months, international pressure has been growing on Iran to end the execution of minors. In October, the EU parliament condemned Iran for issuing death sentences for minors.
Lahidji, from the International Federation of Human Rights, believes such pressure will help convince Tehran to halt the practice.
"International pressure has always been effective, even though the Islamic Republic denies it. Three young people accused of hijacking a plane were due to be executed two weeks ago, but because of [international] campaigns their execution was fortunately halted," Lahidji said.
Iranian officials have not yet reacted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report.
MAJOR EFFORT TO END ROMANY EXCLUSION LAUNCHED IN SOFIA
By Ulrich Buechsenschuetz
The leaders of eight east-central and southeastern European countries -- Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia -- met in Sofia on 2 February to officially launch an ambitious program aimed at overcoming the social exclusion of ethnic Roma.
The idea for the program, called the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, emerged from a conference on the situation of the Roma in the expanding Europe held in Budapest in June 2003. The main sponsors of the new program are the World Bank and the Open Society Institute (OSI). Both World Bank President James Wolfensohn and OSI Chairman George Soros lauded the launch of the Decade for Roma Inclusion as a real change in the international efforts and a major step forward in tackling the problems of the estimated 7 million-9 million Roma, who make up roughly 2 percent of the population of Europe.
The concept of the Decade of Roma Inclusion is quite simple. Each of the participating governments will set goals for improvements in four key areas: education, employment, health, and housing. The main bodies of The Decade of Roma Inclusion -- the International Steering Committee, which is made up of government representatives, Roma from each country, and international organizations -- will help plan those efforts. The program will also provide a framework for monitoring the improvements on the national levels.
At present, a large majority of the Roma in the participating countries is trapped in a vicious circle. Marginalized and often discriminated against by the majority populations, Roma often lack the elementary education that would qualify them for jobs to help overcome poverty. Recent studies by the UNDP, the International Labor Organization, and the World Bank also show that the lack of qualification is -- at least in part -- also responsible for the poor health of many Roma. Higher-than-average birthrates, high infant mortality, and a low average life expectancy are only part of this problem. The studies also indicate that the shortcomings in the education of Roma also resulted in their lagging participation in politics.
The new program can indeed be a major change for the better if the governments involved fully and conscientiously implement the goals set by the programs and their national action plans. The fact that the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Council of Europe, and other international organizations are participating in the program as partners gives grounds for optimism.
Over the past 15 years, there have been numerous efforts and programs aimed at improving the situation of the Roma in postcommunist countries. Such programs have sought to improve their qualifications, improve infrastructure and housing conditions, and tackle discrimination, for instance. The EU, the World Bank, the UNDP, NGOs, and charities all sponsored such projects. There was, however, little coordination among all these programs, with the exception the Informal Contact Group of International Organizations on Roma, Sinti and Travelers, where representatives of the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE met on a more or less regular basis from 1999.
Apart from coordination, earlier efforts to improve the situation of the Roma also lacked a sober assessment of their effectiveness. One such assessment was commissioned by the European Commission. The "Review of the European Union Phare Assistance to Roma Minorities," published in December, examined EU-sponsored programs for Roma in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. This report showed clearly that much Phare assistance was spent on education or education-related programs. However, it also demonstrated that a large share of EU assistance was spent on infrastructure projects that had little or no impact. Health programs and health information together made up only about 1.2 percent of all the projects.
In a way, the Decade of the Roma Inclusion is also the result of a growing political consciousness among the Roma themselves. Not only were Romany representatives actively involved in drafting the program; they will also be involved in their respective governments' efforts to implement national plans to improve the social inclusion of Romany minorities. This can prove difficult, however, in light of the fact that a number of Romany NGOs from Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have already criticized their governments' lack of cooperation with representatives of the Roma.
"Some governments are demonstrating fundamental misunderstandings of the Roma Decade as a political process," the Prague-based Dzeno Association warned in a written statement on 2 February. "During the next ten years, the countries involved in the Roma Decade will simply continue in the same policies that were started before the Decade. It doesn't seem that the Decade will increase the participation of Roma in the decision making process.... At least in the Czech Republic, the government has failed to make the ideas of the Decade publicly known and really to involve Roma in the preparation process for the so-called Roma Decade Action Plan."
An open letter to the Bulgarian government by Roma NGOs stated on 8 February, "We don't take part in the decision-making concerning us in any way," adding, "And when the decisions are made by others, the responsibility is also not ours."
On an international political level, the coordinating and monitoring functions of the Decade of Roma Inclusion is mirrored to a certain extent by the recent foundation of the European Roma and Travelers Forum (ERTF), which will serve as an umbrella organization representing Romany interests on the European level. After its official launch in December, the ERTF was recognized by the Council of Europe as a partner organization, and it plans to become a partner organization of the EU as well.
The official launch of the Decade of Roma Inclusion and the formation of the ERTF suggest that the Roma might one day be accepted as equal among equals in Europe. But in his speech on the occasion of the signing of the agreement between the ERTF and the Council of Europe, Rudko Kawczynski, the ERTF's interim president, warned on 15 December that this will take time.
"I am well aware that we are only at the beginning of a long journey, and that 700 years of prejudice and exclusion of our people cannot be abolished overnight," Kawczynski said. "But with the path we started to pursue today, we have come decisively closer to that goal."
No wonder, then, that George Soros on 2 February warned: "It will require strong and persistent efforts to overcome [the exclusion of the Roma]. Together, we must make sure that the lofty goals announced today do not turn into empty words."
AZERBAIJANOSCE FACT-FINDING MISSION VISITS AZERBAIJAN. An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) delegation tasked with analyzing the situation in the seven districts of Azerbaijan bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh that are currently under Armenian control met in Baku on 28 January with President Ilham Aliyev and with Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry officials, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told journalists after the meeting that the mission members were given maps, documentation, and audio and video materials showing that the Armenian government has settled some 23,000 ethnic Armenians on those territories, and proving that those areas are used for the illegal cultivation of drugs. The OSCE mission traveled on 30 January to Stepanakert, where they met with NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian and with Foreign Minister Armen Melikian, regnum.ru reported. An Azerbaijani request to accompany the mission on its weeklong tour of the occupied territories was rejected, according to echo-az.com on 28 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005)
BELARUSBELARUSIAN OPPOSITION FORCES HOLD RALLY, CONFERENCE. About 190 people formed a human chain in central Minsk on 30 January to express their support for opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, a former foreign trade minister and ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, who was sentenced to five years in prison on 30 December, Belapan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). According to Belapan, similar events were expected to take place in other cities, such as Vitsebsk, the same day. Meanwhile, around 40 representatives of Belarusian pro-democracy political parties and NGOs attended a conference on 28-29 January in Vilnius to discuss a plan to select a common opposition candidate for the next presidential election, Belapan reported. Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, said that the Lithuanian capital had been picked as the venue to avoid interference by Belarus's security services. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005)
IRANEXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN SAYS ACCUSATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES NOT APPRECIATED. Asked about the arrest of web bloggers and their allegations of prison abuse, Expediency Council Chairman and former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 6 February in an exclusive interview with "USA Today" that "I am essentially against any harsh approach to these issues in Iran. There is no need for such actions. Each department and institution has its own authorities and responsibilities, and they act on that basis. It is wrong to even compare such actions to what is done in Guantanamo or elsewhere by the Americans. They do not stand on a high moral platform to preach to others." According to a 28 January release from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Taqi Rahmani has spent the last 19 months in jail without being charged, and he has spent 5,000 days in prison since 1981. Rahmani was tried behind closed doors in May 2003 and given an 11-year prison sentence, plus a 10-year loss of civil rights. RSF has characterized Iran as the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005)
KAZAKHSTANKAZAKH OPPOSITION MEMBERS JAILED, FINED AFTER UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION. Seven members of the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) were arrested on 29 January at an unsanctioned demonstration in Almaty and sentenced to short prison terms and fines on 30 January, "Kazakhstan Today" and Interfax reported. Opposition parties Ak Zhol, DVK, and the Communist Party went ahead with the rally, which drew 1,000-2,000 people, after officials rejected their 19 January application to hold a demonstration. At the rally, leading opposition figures denounced a recent court decision to liquidate the DVK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005) and spoke out against the government of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In a 30 January press release, the DVK said that on 30 January five party activists received jail terms ranging from two to seven days; two others were fined. All were charged with failing to comply with the demands of Interior Ministry officials. A DVK lawyer told "Kazakhstan Today" that the party plans to appeal the sentences on 31 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005)
KYRGYZSTANKYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADERS FINED FOR UNSANCTIONED RALLY. A court in Bishkek on 28 January fined Roza Otunbaeva, cochair of the opposition bloc Ata-Jurt, and Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the party Erkindik, 1,000 soms ($24) for organizing an unauthorized protest in the Kyrgyz capital on 19 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Turgunaliev that the opposition is ready for a lengthy legal struggle. "This [ruling] is a politically motivated order [by the Kyrgyz government]," Turgunaliev told RFE/RL. "We will definitely appeal to the Bishkek city court, then to the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and then to an international court." A number of Kyrgyz NGOs reacted to the fines with an indignant appeal on 29 January to President Askar Akaev, describing the accusations as "fabricated" and calling the court decisions "further illegal and unconstitutional actions by the authorities," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005)
TWIN KYRGYZ STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS GIVE COMPETING NEWS CONFERENCES. Two Kyrgyz student organizations with identical names but varying points of view gave competing press conferences at the news agency Akipress in Bishkek on 27 January, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Aisuluu Aitbaeva, the leader of the Kel-Kel (roughly translated as New Era) that gave the first press conference, explained that the organization is nonpolitical and receives funding from a Kyrgyz entrepreneur identified as Ryspaev; members oppose the export of revolution and the destabilization of Kyrgyz society. Representatives of another student organization called Kel-Kel, led by Chinara Aitbaeva, alleged at a second news conference that the authorities cloned their organization in order to create confusion. Representatives of the second Kel-Kel expressed their support for nonviolent dissent and called attention to dubious pre-election activities by university authorities. Although the organizations deny any political ties, they both emerged amid increasing tension between Kyrgyzstan's authorities and the political opposition in the lead-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2005)
RUSSIAINTERIOR MINISTRY TELLS BASHKIR POLICE TO CLEAN UP THEIR ACT. The Interior Ministry has determined that many "serious violations" were carried out by police in the Bashkortostan city of Blagoveshchensk during a sweep on 10-14 December, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004 and 21 January 2005). A ministry investigation into reports of illegal detention, assault, and rape found that "the measures adopted by the leadership of the republican police to root out shortcomings and to ensure legality and the protection of the constitutional rights and interests of the citizens were insufficient." Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has given Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev 30 days to complete "a principled evaluation of the activity of all leaders of Interior Ministry organs and divisions." Nurgaliev also called on the republic to activate the republican Interior Ministry's moribund public council on human rights and to create analogous councils at the local level throughout the republic. Bashkir police continue to maintain that only 50 people were detained during the December operation, while activists allege that 500-1,000 people were detained and many were beaten or raped at police stations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005)
KREMLIN ENVOY WARNS BESLAN PARENTS. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak met for two hours on 1 February in Rostov-na-Donu with a group of relatives of children killed during the hostage taking in a school in North Ossetia in September, and warned them against any protest actions that violate the law, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. Relatives of those killed in Beslan blocked the main Rostov-na-Donu-Baku highway for several days last month to demand the resignation of North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, whom they accuse of bungling the handling of the crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January 2005). At the same time, Kozak agreed that any official who could have intervened during the crisis but failed to do so should be punished, Interfax reported. He said the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the hostage taking is almost complete, and that officials guilty of dereliction of duty, including unnamed members of the law enforcement agencies, will be brought to trial, kavkazweb.net reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005)
MAJOR CITIES EXPERIENCE WAVE OF PROTESTS OVER RISING GASOLINE PRICES. Protests against higher fuel prices were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Nizhnii Novgorod, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Petrozavodsk, Kursk, and Arkhangelsk on 10 February, NTV, ITAR-TASS, and gazeta.ru reported. According to gazeta.ru, the organizers of the protests, various public associations of car owners, expected around 500,000 people to participate. In the city of Moscow about 400 people took part carrying signs reading "Expensive oil, poor people," and "No to fuel price increases," according to RBK TV and Interfax. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov met with representatives of a transport workers union and promised that their representatives would take party in the drafting of amendments to anti-monopoly legislation. State Duma deputy and leader of the Movement of Russian Motorists issued a press release charging that fuel prices in Russia have surpassed those in the United States and are rapidly approaching those of Europe. At the same time, he noted, Russia is a major energy exporter and its citizens' incomes are incomparably lower than those in the United States and Europe. Gasoline prices in Vladivostok have almost doubled over the past two years, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC
UKRAINEUKRAINIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT DECLARES NEW CAMPAIGN. The youth organization Pora held a ceremony in Kyiv on 30 January to mark its transition from a civic campaign to a public organization and analytical center, "Ukrayinska pravda" and Ukrayinski novini reported. At the ceremony, State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko read a letter of thanks and congratulations from President Yushchenko. According to a 27 January press release, Pora's next stage of activities will be devoted to the "de-Kuchma-ization of Ukraine," the goal of which will be a "cardinal renewal of the authorities," the lustration of cadres and the increase of the authorities' transparency. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Television reported on 28 January that Pora activists threw eggs at the Uzhhorod mayor, who ambulance doctors said sustained a facial injury. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005)
UZBEKISTANPROTESTORS BEATEN IN UZBEKISTAN. A group of unidentified women beat up human rights activists Abdujalil Boimatov and Elena Urlaeva as they were preparing to stage a protest in Tashkent on 9 February, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Urlaeva was hospitalized with a concussion after the incident. "I recognized these women," Boimatov told RFE/RL, "they've tried to disrupt some of our events in the past. They were hired by the government. There were a lot of police in the area, but not one of them tried to protect us." Rights activist Sotvoldi Abdullaev told RFE/RL: "We were standing there peacefully, unarmed, for a protest meeting. Suddenly, five or six women approached us, tore up our signs, and attacked us. They beat and kicked Urlaeva." Boimatov is a member of the Erk opposition party, and Urlaeva is a member of the Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) opposition party; both parties have been unable to obtain registration in Uzbekistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2005)
WOMEN TRADERS PROTEST IN ANDIJON. A group of 100 Uzbek women blocked traffic in Andijon on 4 February to protest new commercial regulations that they say are depriving them of their livelihood, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The women complained that new regulations require them to buy a trading place at the market for up to $5,000, an unrealistic sum for traders whose inventory is only worth $50 to $60. The women say they depend on small-scale trade because there is no other work in the region. The women dispersed after speaking with officials. Andijon Deputy Governor Tohir Tuychiev said the regulations are justified because the women are engaged in illegal trade. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005)
PROTESTERS DON ORANGE IN UZBEKISTAN Demonstrators whose homes have been demolished due to an Uzbek-Kazakh border agreement held a protest at the administrative seat of Tashkent Province on 1 February, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Protesters claim they received no compensation when their homes along the border were torn down to comply with an agreement that prohibits dwellings near the frontier. Pensioner Petr Saykov complained that local authorities destroyed his home without legal cause and ignored his protests, and that border guards threatened him. The 25 demonstrators' orange scarves and banners prompted one official to ask them: "Why are you holding orange banners? Couldn't you hold Uzbek flags?" Nevertheless, Tashkent Governor Kozim Tulaganov received the protesters and promised them that a government commission will visit their village on 4 February to assess property values for future compensation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005)
UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER PROMISES TO DO AWAY WITH DEATH PENALTY Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told a news conference in Brussels on 1 February that Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodiq Safoev has assured him Uzbekistan will abolish the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported. Safoev was speaking at a session of the Uzbekistan-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels. But Ona Jukneviciene, the European Parliament member who chairs the council, told the BBC's Uzbek Service in a 2 February interview that Safoev's assurances are not enough for her. Noting she was the World Bank's senior resident adviser for Uzbekistan in 1997-2000, Jukneviciene said, "I feel that we cannot close our eyes to the human rights situation there. I believe that we cannot forego criticism of the situation, and that it is in precisely this area that we must sit down together and have an open discussion of all the problems." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2005)