18 July 2005, Volume 6, Number 11
IN FOCUSIS GEORGIA BECOMING PROGRESSIVELY LESS DEMOCRATIC?
By Liz Fuller
Two developments in recent weeks have further tarnished Georgia's claim to be the trailblazer of liberal democracy within the CIS. The first was the launch of a process to staff the Central Election Commission and its lower-level equivalents with people known to be loyal to the ruling elite. That process also effectively excluded many Armenians and Azerbaijanis from southern and eastern Georgia from serving on such commissions. The second was the national legislature's initial backing of an amendment to empower the Tbilisi municipal council to elect the city mayor. Together, they beg questions about the dedication to democracy of the "democrats" who came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution.
The Georgian Example
The claim of Georgia's pioneering democratic role derives from the advent to power in the so-called Rose Revolution in November 2003 of a team of young, pro-Western politicians who proclaimed their shared determination to put an end to the corruption and graft that had been the hallmarks of the Shevardnadze era. The opposition movements that subsequently brought about the fall of the incumbent leaderships in Ukraine in December 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in March 2005 both acknowledged they were inspired and empowered by the Georgian example, and U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly hailed the Georgian example, most recently during his visit to Tbilisi in early May.
While the new Georgian leadership lost no time in dismissing and arresting -- sometimes in front of television cameras -- Shevardnadze-era officials suspected of corruption and mismanagement, skepticism swiftly surfaced over the depth of the new government's commitment to true democratization and far-reaching reform. In a lengthy and detailed analysis of the aftermath of the 2003 Rose Revolution published in December, one London-based analyst suggested that the transition from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili (who was elected president in early January 2004 with 96 percent of the vote) was one from "democracy without democrats" to "democrats without democracy."
The first development that supports that implicit contradiction was the selection by President Saakashvili of the 13 members of the new Central Election Commission from a shortlist of 30 compiled by his staffers. At its first session on 7 June, the new Central Election Commission solicited applications from persons wishing to serve on the 75 five-member district election commissions. Applicants must be over 21, have a higher education, and speak fluent Georgian. That latter requirement automatically excludes thousands of Armenians and Azerbaijanis who grew up in regions of southern and eastern Georgia where there are no schools with Georgian as the language of instruction. On 14 June, the parliamentary opposition accused deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani and other leaders of the parliamentary majority of systematically summoning regional governors to Tbilisi and ordering them to ensure that local election commissions are dominated by members of the ruling National Movement, rustavi2.com reported. Machavariani conceded that regional governors are being summoned to Tbilisi to discuss preparations for upcoming midterm elections, but he denied that the leadership is plotting to determine the outcome of that ballot to its own advantage. "We are all eager to hold free and fair elections," rustavi2.com quoted Machavariani as saying.
The second potentially troubling event was the approval by parliament in the first reading on 23 June of amendments to the law on Tbilisi that provide for the city's mayor to be chosen by members of the municipal council, rather than directly elected. Until now, the president has appointed the mayor of Tbilisi, just as in neighboring Armenia the president names the mayor of Yerevan. Armenia has for months been under considerable pressure from the Council of Europe to include in a package of proposed constitutional amendments provision for the direct election of the Yerevan mayor, and last week agreed to that demand.
Pro-Saakashvili legislators and Saakashvili himself have sought to rationalize that procedure by arguing that the election of a mayor whose political affiliation differs from that of the majority of municipal council members could paralyze the city legislature. But opposition politicians protested that the legislation would pave the way for the ruling party to dominate the city council on a permanent basis. Koba Davitashvili (Conservative) termed it the first step toward abolishing all mayoral elections in all towns and predicted that it could trigger a serious civic crisis. Even before that amendment was unveiled in parliament, the opposition Conservative party raised the possibility of seeking to impeach President Saakashvili on the grounds that he has violated the constitution by failing to introduce direct elections for the post of mayor in the towns of Batumi, Poti, and Zestafoni, Caucasus Press reported on 14 April.
Another protest situation stems from a recent decree promulgated by Saakashvili that strips Georgia's universities of their autonomy and augments the power of the rector, who is appointed by the president. Faculty members at Tbilisi State University launched a protest on 27 June against the decision by acting rector Rusudan Lortkipanidze to reduce the number of faculties from 22 to six and to dismiss 800 staff. Lortkipanidze responded to that protest action by declaring that anyone who dislikes her planned reforms is free to resign.
It is unclear whether and to what extent Saakashvili's quasi-authoritarian approach has contributed to the growing perception that the level of democracy in Georgia is on the decline. On 27 June, Caucasus Press cited the findings of a recent poll of 500 people conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" in which 26.6 percent of respondents said they believe the level of democracy has declined over the past 12 months. By contrast, 49.4 percent of respondents considered that the level of democracy has not changed over that period.
Nor is its apparent reluctance to promote top-down democratization the only perceived failing of the new Georgian leadership. Some of its senior members have been accused of criminal activities. For example, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and his protege, Mikheil Kareli, governor of the Shida Kartli region that encompasses the disputed unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, are both believed to be implicated in smuggling, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Caucasus Reporting Service on 21 April. On 24 June, the opposition New Conservative (aka New Rightist) parliamentary faction accused Kareli of creating obstacles to private business, rustavi2.com reported. Okruashvili has further been accused of single-handedly determining how budget funds allocated for the Georgian armed forces should be spent, according to the daily "Rezonansi" on 13 May.
To date, the fractured Georgian opposition has not shown any readiness to close ranks and coalesce in a single, powerful antigovernment force. There have, however, been reports that some members of the present leadership might be considering switching to the opposition camp. On 24 June, rustavi2.com quoted parliamentary speaker Burdjanadze as saying she is unaware whether some former close associates of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who died in February under circumstances that have still not been completely clarified, intend to join the Republican Party. At a congress on 27 June, that party elected as its new chairman legal expert David Usupashvili. Outgoing Chairman David Berdzenishvili told congress delegates that he believes Usupashvili is capable of transforming the party into a qualitatively new force with strong chances of emerging among the winners of the next elections.
WEST MAINTAINING STRONG PRESSURE FOR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
By Antoine Blua
Ilham Aliyev, who took over Azerbaijan's presidency from his father, Heidar Aliyev, in controversial 2003 elections, has only recently allowed opposition protests to take place, amid heavy international pressure. As the two-day visit to Baku of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggests, pressure is mounting on Aliyev's administration to oversee free and fair parliamentary elections in November, or risk international isolation.
Thousands of opposition supporters have staged three rallies in Baku in the past few weeks to demand free and fair parliamentary elections on 6 November.
Speaking on 10 July at the latest rally, Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, insisted that democracy must be pushed forward peacefully. "We will struggle by completely peaceful means, without any exception," he said. "And we will let everybody know this clear position of Azerbaijani democrats."
Recent regime changes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan are seen as having reinvigorated civil-society groups in Azerbaijan, while also serving to remind the authorities of what could happen if the polls are not democratic.
Western envoys and delegations from international organizations have crisscrossed the country ahead of the polls in an effort to monitor preparations. One of those envoys is former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is chairwoman of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute and is in Baku for a two-day visit.
"My meetings here would indicate that the United States and nongovernmental organizations and the National Democratic Institute is very interested in moving forward on democratic parliamentary elections. It's the most important thing that Azerbaijan can do to give the people the opportunity to state their views," Albright told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.
Albright -- who was due to hold talks with Aliyev -- added that the "most stable government is a democratic government." She said a country where the population doesn't have the right to express itself and where very large oil wealth is widely distributed enjoys "false stability."
Visiting the capital earlier last week, Heikki Talvitie, the European Union's special envoy for the South Caucasus, said Azerbaijan will remain in Brussels' sights throughout its election process. Anthonius de Wries, the European Commission's special representative in Azerbaijan, has suggested that failure to ensure democratic elections would impact cooperation plans between Baku and Brussels. Rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have recommended canceling Azerbaijan's mandate in the body if the elections are not fair and democratic.
However, as visiting PACE rapporteur Andreas Gross pointed out on 8 July, the West wants any change to come through the ballot box. "Today, we have to speak about elections," he said. "And those who would like to change anything should engage in elections and not speak about revolution."
Azerbaijan's government has made several concessions to the opposition ahead of the elections. These include the right to hold peaceful opposition rallies and the release of more than 200 political prisoners since the beginning of the year.
Nevertheless, observers say Azerbaijani leaders appear inclined to block further reforms. They note that parliament on 28 June passed amendments to the country's electoral law that did not include changes to the makeup of the country's election commissions. The election commissions are seen as leaning too far in the government's favor.
Speaking after meetings with the Azerbaijani opposition, Albright highlighted this issue: "There has been a very consistent message, and the message is the necessity for the [Central] Electoral Commission to be a truly independent commission that can help in making clear that the elections are free and fair and open, and a desire for there to be greater diversity in political participation."
According to current law, opposition members must make up one-third of the election commissions, and any decisions taken must be approved by two-thirds of its members.
Albright's visit to Baku is being compared to former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's trip to Georgia in 2003. Baker is credited with helping to persuade then President Eduard Shevardnadze to change the makeup of the country's election commission. The Rose Revolution followed later that year and swept Shevardnadze from office.
(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.)
RUSSIAN PRISON DIRECTOR SACKED AFTER HUNDREDS OF CASES OF SELF-MUTILATION
By Claire Bigg
Hundreds of inmates have slashed their bodies with razor blades to protest mistreatment and beatings by guards at a prison camp in the city of Lgov, 500 kilometers south of Moscow. The prison director and his two deputies were sacked on 4 July after an investigation backed the inmates' claims of abuse. The unprecedented mass mutilation has outraged human rights groups and drawn attention to the nightmarish conditions that plague many Russian prisons.
During the night of 26 to 27 June, hundreds of inmates at the Lgov jail slashed their wrists, stomachs, necks, and limbs with razor blades. Some of them swallowed blades and metal hooks. The mass mutilation was followed by a hunger strike.
Mutilation and hunger strikes are not rare in Russian prisons -- inmates often have to resort to desperate actions to make their protests heard.
But the scale of this mutilation is unprecedented in Russia. While the authorities say some 300 inmates inflicted wounds on themselves, human rights groups put this figure at around 800.
Aleksandr Malygin, 23, was among those who slashed their bodies, although he then had only three more days to serve. Speaking to reporters in Moscow this week, he said the rebellion broke out when some inmates were beaten up for refusing to become members of special units responsible for helping guards enforce order in the prison.
"Of course, the guys started to refuse," Malygin said. "They were then beaten up, three of them straight away. They began cutting their veins. No one was brought from the medical unit, they were all sent to the solitary confinement cell. They cut their bellies, their necks, their arms. People say there were 200, 300 hundred of them? More than 800 people slashed themselves there, and 1,300 are on hunger strike. They drove nails into their lungs, some swallowed blades, others swallowed hooks."
Malygin showed reporters several cuts on his forearms and stomach. Although the cuts appeared to be deep, they had not been closed with stitches.
An investigation into the incident confirmed that inmates had been beaten up by prison guards. On 4 July, the prison director, Yurii Bushin, was sacked together with his two deputies.
For Human Rights, a rights group that has actively helped the Lgov inmates, has hailed the dismissals as a small victory. But this has done little to appease the families of the inmates, many of whom are still without news from their imprisoned relatives.
Representatives of For Human Rights say dozens of prisoners have been taken to unknown destinations.
Tatyana Nikitina's son Nikolai was transferred to the Lgov jail in early June. She has managed to see him since the start of the protest, but she says he had severe wounds and was not receiving any medical care.
"He showed his hand to me, his left hand was cut in five places, two cuts were very deep and still bleeding," she said. "No treatment had been given. I asked: 'Kolya, why did you cut yourself?' He said: 'I have very strong stomach pains, we are on hunger strike.' I started crying and said: 'Kolya, for God's sake, stop the hunger strike.' He answered: 'Mom, I can't. We won't stop until they get rid of Bushin.'"
Lev Ponomarev is the executive director of For Human Rights in Moscow. He says his group has received hundreds of letters from inmates describing how prison staff beat and humiliate them. Ponomarev says cases have been reported to his organization where inmates were forced to march and sing at the sound of drums and undress collectively to undergo humiliating body searches.
According to him, it is not rare that bodies of inmates who allegedly committed suicide are returned to their relatives with contusions and broken limbs. "The conditions in Russian prisons and preliminary detention centers are monstrous," Ponomarev said. "Recently I saw a report on a detention center which has three times more people than it should. People have to take turns to sleep. Conditions are changing very slowly and remain close to torture."
The mass mutilation that took place in Lgov has created outrage in Russia. And Ponomarev said it is now threatening to spark similar violent protests in other Russian prisons: "Our employees are in a state of panic. People are calling from everywhere to say: 'Should we also slash ourselves so that you come and restore order? A similar sadist heads our prison, we are beaten up.' Our phones are simply jammed [with complaints]."
Russian and foreign rights groups regularly criticize Russia over the dire conditions in its prisons. Despite recent progress, many Russian jails remain overcrowded and disease-ridden, with soaring HIV and tuberculosis infection rates.
KYRGYZ YOUTH PLAYING KEY ROLE IN PRO-BAKIEV POLITICAL MOVEMENT
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
Young people played a significant role in the so-called colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. And several youth organizations -- including Kel-Kel and Birge -- emerged in Kyrgyzstan ahead of the March unrest there as well.
The pro-Bakiev youth team is headquartered on Gorky Square in central Bishkek. About 10 people, mainly young men, are standing under the tent, looking at computer monitors and talking. Traditional Kyrgyz rugs line the floor inside the nomadic tent, or yurt. There is also music equipment, national costumes, and T-shirts and baseball caps printed with slogans like "We are for Bakiev!"
Two of the men, Ryskul Jumabaev and Aleksandr Ivanov, introduce themselves as the leaders of the youth center. They offer black tea and sary mai -- a concoction made from melted butter, honey, raisins, and bread.
Jumabaev, a 32-year-old university instructor from southern Kyrgyzstan -- Bakiev 's native region -- explains his decision to join the youth movement. "We in our [region] have known him for many years," Jumbaev told RFE/RL. "Kurmanbek Salievich Bakiev was the only person who united the opposition and fought against the regime [of ousted President Askar Akaev]. There were many opposition groups, but only he was able to unite all of them and lead them and the people. That’s why we support him."
Ivanov, who is 29, told RFE/RL how he came up with the idea of organizing a pro-Bakiev youth center. He says the group's primary goal is raising the political awareness of the country's young people ahead of the elections.
"We are on the eve of a very important political and historical event -- the presidential election," Ivanov said. "In this particular case, we needed to have a different approach to the election. That's how we got the idea to do something unusual that capitalizes on the wave of revolution and inspiration we got from the popular revolts in Ukraine and Georgia. Youth were the main movers behind those revolutions. They were sitting [on the central Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv] and fighting for their rights, their position, and their president. So we got the idea to base ourselves at this square."
Ivanov might dream of seeing comparisons between Kyiv's Independence Square and Bishkek's Gorky Square. Three days before the presidential election, however, there are few noticeable similarities. Gorky Square is not only much smaller, it is also empty. The Bakiev supporters say they hope to see more people turn out after the hot midday sun begins to fade.
Their publicity methods also seem to differ from those of Viktor Yushchenko's supporters in Ukraine.
Ivanov says his group is showing movies and organizing concerts in Gorky Square to attract young audiences. This week, young Kyrgyz were treated to a free showing of the Hollywood movie "Troy," as well as "The Turkish Gambit," a Russian blockbuster about the 19th-century Russo-Turkish war.
But what else can be done to attract young voters to Bakiev's cause? Ivanov says he helped the interim president think of ways to bring in the youth vote.
"If you look at the program, it's very broad, but there is a shorter version for voters. And unfortunately, it doesn’t say much about youth," Ivanov said. "We pointed this out [to Bakiev]. The program is about general economic and political development. It doesn’t pay particular attention to the youth as a separate group. Then we worked out a separate program for youth. It is Bakiev's program now."
But it may take more than a youth platform to attract young voters. The pro-Bakiev tent received few visitors that day, and Gorky Square remained largely empty. When asked, several young people in the area said they had never heard about the youth headquarters.
AFGHANISTANIMPORTANT PERSONALITIES IMPLICATED IN WAR CRIMES... Numerous high-level officials and advisors in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government are implicated in major war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in the early 1990s, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 7 July press release. The evidence is contained in a 133-page report, "Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity" (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/afghanistan0605), which is based on extensive research by HRW since 2003, including more than 150 interviews with witnesses, survivors, government officials, and combatants. According to HRW, although some perpetrators are dead or currently in hiding, many leaders implicated in the abuses are now officials in Afghanistan's Defense or Interior ministries, or are advisors to Karzai. Some are running for office in parliamentary and local elections scheduled for September 2005. Others operate as warlords or regional strongmen, directing subordinates in official positions. "This report isn't just a history lesson," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of HRW. "These atrocities were among some of the gravest in Afghanistan's history, yet today many of the perpetrators still wield power." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
...AS REPORT AUTHOR RECOMMENDS SPECIAL COURT. HRW recommends that a special court -- made up of both Afghan and international judges, with an international majority, and with an international prosecutor -- be established to guarantee a fair trial for those implicated, who include Afghanistan's current Second Vice-President Karim Khalili. "Perpetrators of past abuses who go unpunished are more likely to commit new abuses and use violence to get their way," said Adams. "They pose a continuing threat to Afghanistan's future." Despite more than two decades of human rights abuse, starting with the communist governments in the late 1970s, no one has been formally charged or faced trial for such crimes in Afghanistan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
ARMENIAINDEPENDENT REPORT CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENTS IN PRISONS. An independent monitoring group comprised of representatives of a dozen NGOs and the Armenian Apostolic Church issued a report on 30 June calling on the Armenian government to address the "unsatisfactory" conditions in the country's penal institutions, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The report, based on a year long series of inspections of Armenian prisons, found that prisoners are forced to endure overcrowding and often deplorable living conditions, including inadequate food, water, and lighting, and an overall lack of proper sanitation. Oversight and management of Armenian prisons were transferred from the jurisdiction of the police to the Justice Ministry in 2002 in accordance with the recommendations of the Council of Europe. A Justice Ministry official responsible for penal conditions, Samvel Hovannisian, noted that the report's findings were generally accurate but explained that the Armenian government lacks the necessary funding needed to introduce serious improvements in living conditions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July)
AZERBAIJANTHOUSANDS ATTEND OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION. The Azadlyg (Liberty) election bloc, which comprises the opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, convened a demonstration in Baku on 10 July with the permission of the municipal authorities, Azerbaijani and Western news agencies reported. Participants demanded amendments to the election law to ensure that the 6 November parliamentary election is free and fair; the creation of equal conditions for opposition and pro-government candidates, including permission for DPA Chairman Rasul Guliev to return from exile in the U.S. to participate in the ballot; the release of all political prisoners; and the arrest of those persons responsible for the 2 March murder of journalist Elmar Huseinov. Addressing the demonstrators, Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar pledged that "this year we will free the country" from the regime of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev, AFP reported. Qambar predicted on 8 July that up to 50,000 people would turn out for the demonstration; day.az estimated turnout at 6,000, AFP at 10,000, and Turan at between 35,000-40,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
COURTS ANNUL VERDICT AGAINST ANOTHER OPPOSITION LEADER. Baku's Nasimi District Court annulled on 8 July the guilty verdict handed down in October 2004 to DPA First Deputy Chairman Serdar Djalaloglu on charges resulting from the clashes in Baku between police and opposition protesters in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election, echo-az.com reported on 9 July. Djalaloglu is the fifth of the seven oppositionists sentenced in that case to be exonerated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). However, the Sabail District Court on 8 July declined an appeal by National Democratic Movement Chairman Iskander Hamidov to annul the charges of abuse of power and embezzlement on which he was sentenced in 1995 to 14 years' imprisonment, Turan reported. Hamidov was pardoned and released from jail in December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). Also on 8 July, Hamidov and Party of Great Creation head Fazil Gazanfaroglu signed a cooperation agreement under which neither party will field a candidate in the 6 November parliamentary ballot in a constituency where the other has already nominated a candidate, echo-az.com reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
BELARUSWOMAN HIT BY POLICEMAN SEEKS JUSTICE. Svyatlana Zavadskaya, the wife of missing Belarusian cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, has asked the Minsk City Prosecutor's Office to open a criminal investigation into the actions of a riot policeman who hit her during a rally husband in Minsk last week to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. A video of the incident that was broadcast by Russia's Channel One showed a man clad in a riot-police uniform punching Zavadskaya hard in the face twice as she held a portrait of her husband on a square in downtown Minsk. Meanwhile, the Minsk city police department said the policeman slapped Zavadskaya incidentally, adding that the woman used abusive language, behaved aggressively, and attacked first. "He was not ordered [to hit Zavadskaya], he just showed what he is capable of doing," former special-forces commander Uladzimir Baradach commented on the incident to RFE/RL. "This shows the level of his world view. And, consequently, the level of his unit in general." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
MINSK SLAMS RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP FOR 'DOUBLE STANDARDS.' The Belarusian Embassy in Moscow has blasted the Council for Promoting Civil Society and Human Rights under Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in "the internal affairs of a sovereign country," Belapan reported on 30 June. "The anti-Belarusian initiatives of Ella Panfilova [head of the council] and co. exemplify double standards used by well-known opponents of our country," the embassy said in a statement. The embassy was reacting to last week's open letter of the council to President Lukashenka, in which the Russian group condemned the Belarusian authorities' crackdown on nongovernmental and human rights organizations, reluctance to bring electoral laws into line with CIS standards, and alleged violations of the rights of Russian citizens in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2005). "There is hardly any other country in the world where Russians feel as comfortable as in Belarus. The decent and kind-hearted attitude to the brotherly Russians is a sort of litmus test of Belarusian national dignity," the Belarusian mission's statement reads. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July)
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINAMOSQUE RECONSTRUCTION COMPLETED IN EASTERN HERZEGOVINA. Husein Hodzic, chief imam in Trebinje in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the Croatian news agency Hina on 13 July that the reconstruction of the historical Osman Pasha mosque has been completed. The mosque was one of 10 in the region destroyed by Serbian forces during the 1992-95 conflict as part of their policy of removing all traces of the area's Ottoman heritage and transforming it into a "historic Serbian space." Hodzic said that the Osman Pasha mosque was supposed to have been rebuilt in 2001 but Serbian extremists forced a delay in the work. The reconstruction of two of the remaining nine mosques is expected to begin soon. Eastern Herzegovina was know as a center of Serbian nationalism in World War II and during the more recent conflict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
GEORGIAMINISTER ALLEGES HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ABKHAZIA. Giorgi Khaindrava, who is Georgian minister for conflict resolution, has addressed an appeal to the international community and the members of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group calling for "international intervention" in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, which he described as a hotbed of crime and human rights violations, Caucasus Press reported on 14 July. Khaindrava said the hijack on 9 July of four buses in which local Georgians were traveling shows that the Abkhaz government is incapable of controlling the situation in Gali. But Gali local council head Yurii Kvekveskiri said on 14 July that after discussing the incident with those involved he has concluded that the hijack was staged -- he did not specify by whom -- in an attempt to discredit local Abkhaz police. On 13 July, an Abkhaz government spokesman denied Georgian press reports that the Abkhaz leadership has agreed to demands for the creation of a Georgian administration in Gali, Caucasus Press reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July)
ACADEMICIANS JOIN UNIVERSITY PROTEST. Several members of Georgia's Academy of Sciences expressed solidarity at a 7 July press conference with faculty members at Tbilisi State University who have announced a strike to call for the dismissal of university rector Rusudan Lortkipanidze, Caucasus Press reported. Lortkipanidze has incurred her colleagues' ire with plans to abolish many positions and reduce the total number of faculties (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 June 2005). A 40-year-old woman collapsed and died of heart failure on 4 July after learning of her dismissal from the archaeology faculty. Lortkipanidze assured staff later on 4 July that those dismissed will receive an unspecified amount of financial compensation over a period of three years, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 4 July, opposition Labor Party activist professor Nestan Kirtadze filed suit with the Tbilisi Circuit Court demanding the annulment of what she termed President Mikheil Saakashvili's "illegal" decree abolishing the university's governing council and transferring its powers to the rector. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
IRANKURDS RIOT AFTER ACTIVIST IS SLAIN. Kurds living in Mahabad in western Iran clashed with police after a local activist was reported killed by state security agents, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 12 July, quoting local journalist Masud Kordpur. Kordpur alleged to Radio Farda that "security agents" killed activist Shavaneh Qader, whose death provoked clashes on 11 July between police and residents in Mahabad. One person might have been killed in the unrest, Kordpur suggested. Kordpur said that Qader was arrested for unspecified political activities and the violent police response to the subsequent protest gathering shows that the Iranian government is hardening its attitude to protests. "Unfortunately, now that the elections are over and Mr. Khatami's government is coming to an end, this is a new type of approach that has led to deaths," Kordpur said. "Most gatherings so far were tolerated." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
HUNDREDS PROTEST DISSIDENT'S DETENTION IN TEHRAN. An estimated 200 people gathered near Tehran University on 12 July to urge the release of jailed dissident Akbar Ganji, ISNA reported the same day. Police later beat dozens with batons to disperse the crowd, Reuters and ISNA reported. Authorities also arrested some participants who were distributing unspecified leaflets, ILNA reported. Ganji is reportedly in poor health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2005), and the protest was attended by family members and activists including Hashem Aqajari, who has previously criticized Iran's senior clergy, and Abdullah Momeni of the Office for Strengthening Unity, a student group. Separately, the mother of another detainee, Manuchehr Mohammadi, told ISNA on 12 July that she is worried about her son's well-being, as he might have launched a hunger strike. Mohammadi is in prison for alleged involvement in 1999 riots in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 July 2004). Mohammadi's mother suggested he begun a hunger strike after prison officials told him he would "absolutely" not be given prison leave. But the head of Evin prison, identified only as Khamizadeh, countered that Mohammadi is neither on hunger strike nor has he been denied leave, ISNA reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
IRAQNGO SAYS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF IRAQIS LACK SHELTER. The Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a report released on 11 July that hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis lack adequate shelter, making them vulnerable amid the insecurity that prevails in large parts of the country (http://www.idpproject.org). The report said there are over 1 million internally displaced Iraqis, calling the country "home to one of the world's largest internal displacement crises." Many internally displaced people are living in squalid conditions in makeshift settlements on the outskirts of towns and cities, in overcrowded conditions marked by poor hygiene and lack of clean drinking water, the report said. "Many of those displaced under the previous regime have returned to their areas of origin but remain displaced because they do not have a home or land to go back to. Other displaced cannot return because their homes have been destroyed or occupied," the report said. The organization estimates that 2 million homes need to be built to alleviate the housing crisis, which also affects the nondisplaced. The report calls for an extension of a now-expired Property Claims Commission deadline for families to apply for compensation for land or homes confiscated by the Hussein regime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)
KYRGYZSTANOMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR END TO BAN ON HIZB UT-TAHRIR... Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu called for an end to the official ban on the activities of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, adding that the organization is "not harmful to society" and that "its supporters are suffering unjustified persecution," Kyrgyz public television reported. Commenting on the 10 July Kyrgyz presidential election in which he finished a distant second to President-elect Bakiev, Bakir uulu accused the Kyrgyz National Security Service of "persecuting and exerting pressure" on his supporters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
...WHILE AUTHORITIES COUNTER THAT ISLAMIST GROUP THREATENS SECURITY. Officials of a Kyrgyz state commission for religious affairs argued on 12 July that Hizb ut-Tahrir poses a significant "threat to national security," according to the Kabar news agency. The state commission, which includes representatives from the Spiritual Directorate of Kyrgyzstan's Muslims and the state commission for religious affairs, works with the staff of the Interior Ministry and National Security Service and routinely provides "analysis of Islamist" leaflets and materials for use in court proceedings against suspects detained for links to the Islamist group. Commission members said on 12 July that Hizb ut-Tahrir currently has 2,000-2,500 followers in Kyrgyzstan and warned that the group's activities are increasing, especially in the south of the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
RUSSIAOPPOSITIONIST KILLED IN CAR CRASH IN MARII-EL. Prominent Finno-Ugric scholar Yurii Anduganov was killed in a car crash in the Republic of Marii-El on 6 July, mari.ee reported the following day. Anduganov was the moving spirit behind the creation at the Mari State University of a faculty of Mari language and literature, but he was constrained to leave Marii-El to live in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug after coming under pressure for his criticisms of Marii-El President Leonid Markelov. Anduganov was elected president of the 10th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, scheduled to take place next month in Marii-El's capital, Yoshkar-Ola, but lobbied against the congress taking place in the Republic of Marii-El because of Markelov's repression of the Mari opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
PROSECUTORS FIND NO CRIME COMMITTED BY AUTHORS OF ANTI-SEMITIC LETTER. Prosecutors will not open a criminal case against those who earlier this year accused Jewish groups of spreading extremism, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 July, citing First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov. He said that the Moscow Prosecutor's Office reviewed the evidence and concluded that a letter asking the Prosecutor-General's Office to ban some Jewish organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February and 25 March 2005) did not fall under the Criminal Code's prohibition of "inciting ethnic and religious hatred." Nevertheless, the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia plans to file civil lawsuits against the letter's authors, a spokesman for the group told "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Slutsker, who is a Federation Council member from Chavashia, has already filed a civil defamation lawsuit in St. Petersburg against the editor in chief of the newspaper "Rus pravoslavnaya," which first published the letter in January. Meanwhile, the European Jewish Congress is seeking to bar State Duma deputies who signed the letter from entering countries in the European Union's Schengen zone, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
SERBIABOSNIAN MASSACRE COMMEMORATION TAKES PLACE... About 50,000 people attended ceremonies on 11 July in Srebrenica and nearby Potocari in Bosnia-Herzegovina to mark the 10th anniversary of the killing of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces in the worst single atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II, international and regional media reported. A central aspect of the ceremony was the reburial of 610 massacre victims who have been recently identified from remains found in mass graves elsewhere. The memorial cemetery already contained the remains of 1,327 victims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). Muslim women dressed in white stood alongside the green-draped coffins to lead mourning for their relatives. About 7,000 body bags still await analysis, and about 20 additional mass graves have yet to be exhumed. Srebrenica is now a largely Serbian town with a fraction of its prewar population. Most young Serbs have left because there is little work to be had in what was once a center of mining and tourism. Some local residents blame unnamed "vested interests" in Banja Luka for preventing the relaunching of the town's potentially lucrative mineral-water business. One local journalist told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Srebrenica today is "the only town in Bosnia so poor that no Chinese traders will go to it." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
...AS SERBS REMAIN DIVIDED... Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the memorial ceremonies in Srebrenica on 11 July despite earlier statements by some survivors that he is not welcome and by some Serbs that he should stay away, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Before leaving Belgrade, he said that he wants to pay his respects to the victims, stressing that "Serbia's future depends" on the extent to which that country distances itself from war crimes committed in its name in the 1990s (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June and 1 July 2005). On 9 July, about 4,000 Serbs attended a Belgrade rally hosted by the hard-line Serbian Radical Party (SRS), at which a film was shown that portrays Serbs as victims of the conflicts of the 1990s. Those present in the audience included top leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as leading defenders of former Bosnian Serb leaders and fugitive war crimes indictees Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
...IN SERBIA AND IN BOSNIA. Stasa Zajovic, who is one of the co-founders of Belgrade's antinationalist and antiwar movement known as Women in Black, told Berlin's "Die Welt" of 11 July that members of her group have been repeatedly threatened by SRS activists but do not let themselves be intimidated. She added that the Women in Black plan to send representatives to the commemorative meeting in Srebrenica. Zajovic charged that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has effectively assumed leadership of the "fascist" tendencies in Serbia dating back to the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from the late 1980s to 2000. She stressed that Kostunica refuses to recognize that what took place in Srebrenica was genocide organized by the Serbian state. In Srebrenica, one young local Serb told London's "The Guardian" of 11 July that the commemoration is a "publicity stunt" based on "figures [that] are exaggerated," adding that the commemoration takes no note of the "3,600 Serbs killed here." Another young Serb said that he has a picture of Mladic on his wall because "he's our military leader.... There's not a single document to show that Mladic ordered the killings." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July)
GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS ALL WAR CRIMES IN YUGOSLAVIA. The Serbian government on 7 July condemned all war crimes committed in wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia, dpa reported the same day. The government placed special emphasis on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and the 1992 killings of Serbs in Bratunac. "The condemnation of war crimes should not include distinctions based on ethnicity or religion. The government strongly and indubitably condemns massacres committed in Srebrenica and Bratunac," the Serbian government said in a statement. The condemnation came after months of debate in Serbia over whether Belgrade should condemn the killing of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, or condemn all war crimes committed during the decade of Balkan conflicts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July)
TAJIKISTANCASE AGAINST OPPOSITION LEADER GOES TO COURT. Tajik prosecutors have completed the investigation of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov and handed his case over to the Supreme Court, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 6 July. Iskandarov, who faces charges ranging from terrorism to corruption, maintains his innocence, his lawyers said. Iskandarov, who is also the former head of the state gas company Tojikgaz, was arrested in Russia in December 2004 but later released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004 and 8 April 2005). He was transported to Tajikistan and arrested in April 2005 under unclear circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July)
UKRAINEPRESIDENT CREATES INSTITUTE OF NATIONAL MEMORY. President Viktor Yushchenko has ordered that the government set up an Institute of National Memory by 26 November, when Ukraine will observe the Day of Remembrance of Famine Victims to memorialize millions of Ukrainians who died in an artificially induced famine in the Soviet Union in 1933, UNIAN reported on 12 July. The government is obliged to decide on the planned structure of the institute and main areas of its research by 15 September, after consultations with the National Academy of Sciences and nongovernmental organizations studying political repression in Ukraine and the 1933 famine (Holodomor). By virtue of another decree, Yushchenko instructed the government to draft a bill on increasing social support for victims of political repression and their families. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July)
UZBEKISTANOFFICIAL RAISES OFFICIAL ANDIJON DEATH TOLL TO 187. Bahodir Dehqonov, the prosecutor of Uzbekistan's Andijon Province, told a press conference in Andijon on 11 July that the official death toll from violent unrest in the city on 13 May has risen from 176 to 187, RIA-Novosti and fergana.ru reported. Dehqonov said that 94 terrorists, 20 law-enforcement officials, 11 soldiers, 57 ordinary residents, and five unidentified individuals died. Dehqonov also played excerpts from a videotape that he said was seized from armed militants and showed them seizing hostages in Andijon on 13 May. Dehqonov blamed the violence on the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (another incarnation of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Akramiya, which he described as an offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July)