22 September 2005, Volume 6, Number 14
IRANIS THERE AN ANTI-HOMOSEXUAL CAMPAIGN? According to Islamic law, homosexuality is a capital crime. The execution of two Iranian males in July and current allegations that two more Iranian men are on death row because they are gay has led to allegations of an anti-homosexual campaign in Iran. But homosexuality is just part of the laundry list of charges leveled against people caught up in the Iranian justice system, and in a country with such a reprehensible human rights record, the actual charges rarely have a connection with reality.
Some legal punishments in Iran, such as the amputation of limbs and stoning, even when not universally enforced, are frequently commented on and condemned by human rights activists. Iran, furthermore, has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world. Islam condemns homosexuality and, according to Iranian law, sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime.
Several recent cases have garnered a great deal of attention in this regard, but they appear to be overshadowed by concern over the execution of minors. The freshest allegations are that a homosexual was executed in the city of Arak in mid-August, and that two more men there are awaiting execution on similar charges.
Arak prosecutor Hamzeh Pakbin denied these reports on 28 August, ISNA and Islamic Republic News Agency reported, and he described two current cases that may be related to the allegations. He said Ahmad Choqa, who is 25 and worked as a taxi driver, took a 22-year-old male passenger at knifepoint to his home, and he and two confederates kept the man there from midnight until 9 a.m. During this time they allegedly raped the man. The 22-year-old man escaped and made it to the police, who subsequently arrested Choqa and his cohorts. Choqa has a lengthy criminal record that includes fighting with police, drinking, rape, highway robbery, and petty theft. The only "criminal" behavior on his record that could relate to his sexual preference is, according to the Arak official, sexual relations with a man (lavat in Persian) and "tajavoz be onf" (rape). He has not been sentenced yet.
The other case relates to the 25-year-old Mahbod Kurd Afshar, who stabbed somebody to death, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2002 and has served three years of his sentence, according to Pakbin.
In July, two males -- one of them reportedly a minor -- were hanged after being found guilty of raping a 13-year-old boy. However, exile sources claimed that the execution of the two, Mahmud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, related to their engagement in homosexual activities. Human Rights Watch, in a 27 July letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, expressed concern with the execution of juvenile offenders, but did not refer to any other aspect of the case.
In an earlier case, Mohammad Bijeh was accused of killing 20 boys in the poor neighborhood of Pakdasht in Karaj near Tehran. Many of the victims were poor Afghans and their families, some of whom were immigrants who feared deportation, did not bring any charges against Bijeh. Nevertheless, Bijeh was convicted for raping and killing 16 children and was hanged on 16 March. His accomplice, Ali Gholampur (aka Ali Baqi), was flogged and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Tehran-based lawyer Farideh Ghayrat is a prominent human-rights advocate and the spokeswoman for the Association for the Defense of Prisoners Rights. She also is the lawyer for the families of the victims in the latter legal case. While she is not an advocate of the death penalty, she noted the inconsistency of the legal system and questioned why just one of the defendants was executed. Ghayrat told Radio Farda that there is no reason for Ali Baqi not to be executed (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2005/01/9CB7E950-DF61-4BCD-B01E-6BEEF8138FA1.html). Even if all the killings he was involved in are ignored, the numerous rapes of boys -- lavat in other words -- are inexcusable, according to the lawyer.
A different perspective, and one that seem to reflect the official attitude, came from Shahpur Ismailian, a lawyer and retired judge in Iran. Even if the victims' families in the Pakdasht case had not filed complaints, he said, the charge of homosexuality would have justified the death penalty for Ali Baqi, "Hamshahri" reported on 16 October 2004. According to some sources of Islamic law, Ismailian said, the punishments for homosexuality include being thrown from a mountain, immolation, or execution by sword.
Official Iranian sources occasionally express hostility to homosexual practices. A state radio commentary on 7 March 2005 criticized gay marriages in Western countries. Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini said in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom that gay and lesbian marriages reflect a weakness of Western culture, state television reported on 13 July 2002. Ayatollah Ali Meshkini in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom criticized the German Green Party for being pro-homosexual, state television reported on 29 April 2000.
It is clear that officially and in practice, there is discrimination against homosexuals in Iran. However, systematic repression of homosexuals does not seem to be an issue. The most recent cases of capital punishment for homosexuality are connected with rapes, but the official terminology, Iran's system of retribution as a form of Islamic punishment (qesas), and the country's terrible human-rights record make it very difficult to determine the true nature of a so-called crime. (Fatemeh Aman and Bill Samii)
RUSSIAARE SOCCER HOOLIGANS BEING USED BY KREMLIN? Russian politicians' love affair with youth movements continues to deepen with the emergence of new youth groups seemingly every other month. Parallel with this trend has been a growing -- but less visible -- cooperation with soccer fan clubs.
At the formal level, a Moscow city government committee approved a decree last week providing an estimated $3.5 billion rubles ($123 million) in 2006 for the creation of an association of fans of various sports clubs, the Civil Transition patriotic youth movement, and a youth TV channel. At an informal level, the pro-Kremlin youth movements Walking Together and its successor Nashi have been linked with various soccer fan clubs, whose members they reportedly use for security and other purposes.
Why soccer? One reason is that soccer attracts a young following, while politics in Russia does not. Most sociological research has shown over the past 10 years that less than 1 percent of Russian youth participate in public movements, according to "Profil" of 20 December 2004.
With their courtship of soccer fan clubs, Russian political authorities may be stepping where earlier counterparts feared to tread. In the early 1980s, Soviet law-enforcement officials were so alarmed by the growing zeal of Russian soccer fans and their adoration of British soccer hooligans that they started to crack down on any emotional displays by audiences during games. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 15 April, during matches, fans were banned not only from chanting or singing songs, but even applauding too fervently. Young people wearing the scarves of the clubs they favored were immediately under suspicion by the law-enforcement agencies. The disintegration of the Soviet Union helped dampen any remaining passion for soccer until the mid-1990s, when fan clubs experienced a rebirth.
One of the first Russian political leaders to see the political possibilities for an alliance with soccer fans was Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of Liberal Democratic Party of the Russia (LDPR). Speaking on the basis of anonymity, a young Moscow-based soccer hooligan identified only as Vasilii told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 December 2004 that Zhirinovskii's team actively courted devotees of Dynamo Moscow. "They financed trips for out-of-town matches, published several fan books, paid for parties," Vasilii said. "LDPR figured that attracting Dynamo fans to their enterprise would raise their party's rating among youth." Vasilii said that LDPR never tried to use the fan club to provide security, although Walking Together did.
According to Vasilii, fans of CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) participated for money in the riot that occurred in central Moscow in June 2002 following Russia's loss to Japan in the World Cup. The riot happened just before the first reading in the State Duma of the law on political extremism. "The media was full of talk about youth extremism. And suddenly before the second reading there was disorder on Manezh Square with attempt to break into the State Duma building," Vasilii said.
Of course, Vasilii, if he indeed exists, was speaking anonymously, but suspicions about the violence have been voiced from any variety of different people. Soon after the incident, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called the event a "well-planned escapade" and Communist legislator Vasilii Shandybin said that he believed the riot was a "specially planned action, timed to coincide with the Duma's discussion of the law on political extremism. "Izvestiya" on 11 June 2002 reported comments by a police officer, who was on the scene during the rioting, in which he wondered where rioters procured the sledgehammers and gasoline that they used to vandalize cars and storefronts. "Who brings a sledgehammer to watch a soccer match?" the unnamed officer said.
And suspicions persist two years later. In a talk show on Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, soccer trainer and player Aleksandr Shmurnov said he felt the incident "was to some measure a planned political action." "If it had only been about soccer, then it would have continued for 15 minutes and then everything would have dispersed or run out of steam."
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 September, Oleg Pilshchikov, director the Moscow city's Committee for Family and Youth Affairs, dismissed any possibility that Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's government wants to use soccer fans for any nefarious purpose. "There were suspicions that we are gathering soccer fanatics under our banner in order use them as fighters during the [upcoming] Moscow City Duma elections," he admitted. However, he explained that their goal is more innocent. "Our aim is to make every young Muscovite an active member of society," he said.
Meanwhile, officials from the Nashi youth movement and its predecessor, Walking Together, deny having any connection to soccer fans at all. Konstantin Lebedev, press secretary for Walking Together, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" in December 2004 that his organization "does not cooperate with any kind of fan grouping." However, Aleksei Mitrushin, leader of the CSKA fan group Gallant Steed, has been identified in a number of articles as the director of the northeast branch of Walking Together and as a Nashi coordinator ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 April, "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 14 March, and "Ekspert," on 5 September).
From its very beginning, stories about Nashi have been heavy with references to brawny soccer hooligans, and activists at competing organizations have been more than willing to name names. Sergei Shagrunov, head of the Motherland party's youth group ,and Vladimir Abel, a top official with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), both identified Roman Verbitskii, the head of Spartak Moscow's Gladiator fan club, as the head of Nashi's regional-development department in articles in "Kommersant-Daily," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Vedomosti." "Ekspert" reported on 5 September that Verbitskii and another leader of the Gladiators, Vasilii Stepanov, aka Vasya the Killer, have attended meetings at the Kremlin with other Nashi members. However, Nashi press secretary Ivan Mostovich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that he does not know any Roman Verbitskii.
Despite these denials, media stories alleging a connection between soccer hooligans and Nashi continue to proliferate. Verbitskii's name in particular has featured in recent stories about a 29 August incident in central Moscow. About 30-40 masked men armed with baseball bats and some wearing symbols of the Nashi youth organization attacked members of the NBP, Avant-Garde Red Youth, and youth organizations from the Motherland and Communist parties. Aleksandr Averin, an NBP activist who was a victim in the incident, said he saw Verbitskii among the attackers. NBP official Abel told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that this is not the first attack on the NBP in which Verbitskii has played a part. "Criminal charges involving a certain Roman Verbitskii have been filed in connection with three previous incidents," he said. The daily also cited an anonymous police source that Verbitskii was present at the attack.
So far, neither Verbitskii nor anyone else has been charged in this attack. Also, reports in gazeta.ru and "Novaya gazeta" this week suggested that they are not likely to be. Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 68, Yabloko youth-branch head Ilya Yashin, citing an anonymous police source, reported that presidential-administration official Nikita Ivanov visited the police station where the group of men suspected of taking part in the attack were being held and arranged for them to be quickly released without following regular police procedures. According to Yashin, Ivanov, 31, is nominally the deputy head of the administration for interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries at the presidential administration, but his department is in fact primarily concerned with youth policy and preventing an Orange Revolution. So far, only gazeta.ru has echoed Yashin's claims about Ivanov's activities that day, and Ivanov's office has declined to comment.
According to most detailed accounts of the Russian soccer fan clubs, the young men share certain prejudices, such as a hatred for persons from the Caucasus, but they lack any broader political agenda. Their role models are British soccer hooligans. Bill Buford, an American journalist who went undercover with fans of Manchester United's Red Devils, suggested that British hooligans seek an ecstatic, sex-like release from mass violence. Similarly, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote that Russian soccer fanatics "are directed not by political convictions but by the search for strong sensations." In their search for an adrenaline rush, they aren't likely to be easily controlled by anyone -- regardless of their bureaucratic rank within the Kremlin or without. (Julie A. Corwin)
GEORGIAWASHINGTON SIGNS $300 MILLION AID PACT WITH TBILISI. U.S. and Georgian officials have hailed what they called an intensified partnership following the signing of the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) on 12 September. The $295.3 million aid grant seeks to make infrastructure improvement the catalyst for development in some of Georgia's poorest areas.
At a signing ceremony in New York, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the grant signals Washington's long-term commitment to Georgia. "Our partnership will only to grow stronger as Georgia continues to establish the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, an independent media, a free economy and accountable, effective institutions of government at all levels," Rice said.
Two-thirds of the funds will go to infrastructure improvements, including the rehabilitation of about 245 kilometers of road traversing the southern Samtskhe-Djavakheti region. Another plan is to use MCC funds to rehabilitate the north-south gas pipeline from Russia. It also includes municipal infrastructure development for water, sanitation, irrigation, and roads in regions outside the capital.
They were among the recommendations Georgian civilians and community groups made in a nearly countrywide consultative process.
Rice said U.S. officials expect the program to benefit hundreds of thousands of Georgians, particularly in the impoverished south. She explained how the program was intended to work in the region: "The country will rebuild a regional thoroughfare that will cut the average travel time from rural areas to Tbilisi by 43 percent. This will make it easier for farmers and small-business owners to transport their goods to market and will enable more citizens to gain access to social services."
Some preparatory work for the road and pipeline projects has already begun and major work is expected to begin next spring.
Georgia became the fifth country to sign a compact with Washington under the Millennium Challenge program. The plan has drawn some criticism in the U.S. Congress for the time it has taken to disburse aid.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush set up the program to give money to poor countries with proper governance. Local officials decide how to use the grants but must show some impact on economic growth. The timing of this latest compact comes just days ahead of the UN summit, in which member states are having difficulty agreeing on aid commitments to reduce poverty.
Washington has traditionally opposed setting aid targets pegged to gross domestic product, as favored by European states. The new Millennium Challenge grant process of rewarding reformist states is its preferred initiative.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said at the signing ceremony that his government was worthy because its moves to clamp down on corruption and limit bureaucracy. "It's another example of how free, democratic government can provide basic needs to its citizens because it's accountable to the people, because it's under daily scrutiny from our media, from our political organizations, from civil society, from population in general," Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili called the Millennium Challenge process the most efficient, targeted approach he has seen to aid and predicted positive results. He said the aid comes at a time of essential reconstruction for Georgia.
"The whole country is under reconstruction. I mean we are building roads all over the place, we are fixing the energy system. We are building hospitals, schools, water sewage systems, and all the infrastructure that was so desperately needed," Saakashvili said.
In addition to the road and pipeline projects, about $32 million will be channeled to an independently managed investment fund for enterprises outside Tbilisi. Another fund of $15 million will supply grants to farmers and agribusinesses.
Georgia has been recipient in the past of hundreds of millions in poverty-reduction aid but corruption was a major impediment. Post-Soviet Georgia has been known as one of the most corrupt states in the region. U.S. officials say the Millennium Challenge grant process has safeguards for limiting corruption.
The U.S. Congress has funded the Millennium Challenge program with almost $2.5 billion. The administration has requested an additional $3 billion for the next fiscal year beginning next month. (Robert McMahon)
KAZAKHSTANNAZARBAEV WARNS FOREIGN NGOS AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Speaking to a gathering of civic groups in Astana on 12 September, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev devoted a good portion of speech to the work of foreign NGOs.
In particular, the Kazakh president emphasized the negative roles he said such groups played in recent changes of power in Georgia, Ukraine, and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Nazarbaev said that in the wake of the so-called colored revolutions in those countries, Kazakhstan's parliament has sought to pass new legislation placing strict guidelines on the work of foreign NGOs. The proposed law on the activities of NGOs in Kazakhstan was overruled by the Constitutional Council last month, but Nazarbaev said members of parliament were justified in seeking to further regulate the role of NGOs.
"They [parliament] have seen the dangers that arose in neighboring countries when foreign NGOs insolently pumped in money and destabilized society. The state was defenseless against this and what is happening now in these countries you all know very well," Nazarbaev said.
Nazarbaev said NGOs, particularly foreign-based, have no right to finance political parties, especially during election campaigns. He warned that authorities would be paying special attention to NGOs ahead of December's presidential vote. "Our parliament and government will follow closely foreign and Kazakh NGOs' activities to see if they observe our laws and our constitution," Nazarbaev said.
Kazakhstan is not the only country in Central Asia to try to restrict or regulate the activities of NGOs, but it is the next country in the region to hold elections.
Nazarbaev was among the leading critics of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution in March and has said he believes foreign NGOs helped overthrow the government there.
Some in Kazakhstan, such as independent politician Zhaqsybay Bazylbay, see the issue of NGOs and their activities as a security matter. Bazylbay hopes to run in the upcoming elections and he sees nothing wrong with placing restrictions on NGOs in Kazakhstan. "I consider the idea of stopping the flow of [international] grants [to NGOs] as a very correct move," he told RFE/RL. "Why do you think the president is not right here? If he [the president] has some good and strong points we have to name them also. I have always supported and I will support the idea of strengthening of our national security."
But not everyone sees it that way. Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, an independent political analyst in Almaty told RFE/RL that the monitoring of NGOs has less to do with security and more to do with keeping the current regime in place. "Now, all those statements and ideas made by the president, all those thoughts put forward by his team, are nothing more than an attempt to save their power. They are trying to shut the mouths of the NGOs by questioning the legitimacy of their activities," Quttyqadam said.
Dos Koshim, the director of the Independent Observers Network of Kazakhstan, has supported measures to keep foreign groups from meddling in Kazakhstan's internal affairs, but he did not agree that NGOs were responsible for such intrusions.
"Of course, we have to prevent any interference in our internal affairs, but the stance of authorities that domestic and foreign NGOs in our country and elsewhere in the world should be put under [their] control is an inconvenient position. We monitored directly the elections in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and I personally did not see any international NGO spending -- as they [Kazakh authorities] say -- 'tons of money' to bring people out in the streets," Koshim said.
Meanwhile, Nazarbaev had very different words for Kazakh NGOs yesterday. Noting that the government already provides $3.4 million annually to the country's more than 5,000 NGOs, Nazarbaev said that by 2011 that figure would be "not less" than $7.5 million per year. (Bruce Pannier, with contributions by Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service)
AFGHANISTANWATCHDOG SAYS ELECTION CLIMATE MARKED BY FEAR. New York-based Human Rights Watch released a survey on 15 September suggesting that Afghans are concerned that alleged war criminals and human-rights abusers are running in the 18 September elections, AFP reported. Such individuals include Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoi, a parliamentary candidate from Khost Province who served in a senior position under the Soviet-backed regime. Former high-level leaders in the Taliban regime are also running, including Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the Taliban's foreign minister, and Qalamuddin, the former minister for the prevention of vice and the promotion of virtue. Human Rights Watch also said that some of the candidates had censured themselves during the campaign in order to avoid conflict with local commanders or warlords. "When we give a speech, we don't name these people, or criticize them, we just make veiled references to them, and to warlordism," a candidate told the rights group. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
ALBANIAWESTERN PRAISE FOR SMOOTH TRANSITION. U.S. President George W. Bush said in a message to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha that he should be proud of the recent peaceful transition of power from the Socialists to the Democrats, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July and 9 and 12 September 2005). The EU's British presidency said in a statement in London on 12 September that "the EU welcomes the conclusion of the election process in Albania, which has resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power since the fall of communism." The statement added that Brussels "calls on the new parliament and the new government to advance Albania's progress towards EU integration by beginning work without delay and with genuine commitment on a clear and strong reform agenda." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
AZERBAIJANUKRAINIAN YOUTH ACTIVIST DEPORTED. Azerbaijani authorities expelled late on 16 September Serhiy Yevtushenko, an activist of the opposition Ukrainian youth movement Pora who was detained at Baku airport on 15 September, Turan reported. Initial reports tentatively but erroneously identified Yevtushenko as a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). Yevtushenko and Estonian Andrei Popov were invited to Baku by the opposition election alliance Azadlyg to attend a conference. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)
YOUTH ACTIVIST RELEASED FROM DETENTION. The deputy chairman of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), Said Nuriev, was released from detention late on 14 September, Turan reported. Although formally released from police custody, Nuriev remains hospitalized for anemia and other health problems exacerbated by his detention. Nuriev was arrested on 12 September and was the second of three opposition youth activists recently arrested by Azerbaijani security forces. Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Bashirli was arrested last month on charges of treason and accepting money from Armenian intelligence agents, and Ramin Tagiev was detained earlier on 14 September and charged with activities against the state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 August 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
OPPOSITION STAGES DEMONSTRATION IN BAKU. The opposition Azadlyg (Freedom) election bloc comprising the Musavat party, the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) convened a march and rally in Baku on 10 September, Azerbaijani media reported. Participants, many of them carrying orange banners or wearing orange clothing, demanded guarantees that the 6 November parliamentary election will be free and fair and the resignation of the present Azerbaijani leadership. They also demanded that DPA Chairman Rasul Guliev, who faces arrest on embezzlement charges, be permitted to return to Azerbaijan. Reuters estimated participation at 20,000; opposition representatives claimed up to 40,000 people were present. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
BELARUSOPPOSITION COMMEMORATES MISSING POLITICIANS. Some 100 people staged an unsanctioned rally on a square in downtown Minsk on 16 September to mark the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Riot police made several attempts to break up the demonstration, but the people forced out of the square repeatedly returned to it. In June 2001, media outlets in Belarus received a videotaped interview with former investigators who accused the authorities of sponsoring a death squad to eliminate political opponents. The squad allegedly killed their victims with a pistol used for executing people on death row. Aleh Alkayeu, former chief of a death row prison who was granted political asylum in Germany in 2001, testified that he had issued the pistol to Dzmitry Paulichenka, commander of an elite police unit, shortly before the disappearances of Hanchar and Krasouski. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)
PRESIDENT WANTS OPPOSITION TO HOLD CONGRESS AT HOME. Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 9 September that he has advised the authorities in Minsk to assist the opposition in organizing a congress to nominate a presidential candidate for the 2006 presidential election, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka's announcement came in the wake of the opposition's complaints that it cannot find a venue in Belarus for holding such a convention and is considering the possibility of holding it abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2005). "I have been informed that our opposition wants to be denied a place for holding the gathering in Belarus," Lukashenka said. "It is better for them to conduct it somewhere in Ukraine or Russia. The Russians have expressly refused, that is why they wanted to hold the congress in Ukraine. Kyiv agreed to host the gathering. As soon as I received the information, I recommended that our authorities offer them assistance in conducting the event, so that they will not make fuss abroad, in Ukraine, or Lithuania, or Poland that they are stifled here [and] not allowed to hold [the congress]." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
GEORGIAOPPOSITION SLAMS STATE 'TERROR'. The opposition New Conservatives (aka the New Right Wing) have addressed an appeal to the OSCE, the EU, NATO, and the U.S. government protesting what they term state-sponsored "terror" against the Georgian media, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported on 9 September. Such reprisals constitute a threat to democracy in Georgia, the statement argues, and it calls on the international community to protect opposition views and the democratic media from "government violence." Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 9 September, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili denied that the authorities seek to control the media, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. He argued that the greater the number of newspapers and television channels in Georgia, the better the population will be informed about the work of the government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
IRANNO JAIL VISITS FOR DISSIDENT, SAYS WIFE. Masumeh Shafii, the wife of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, currently held in a Tehran jail, told Radio Farda on 11 September that she has not been allowed to visit her husband or speak to him for a week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2005). She said she now believes he is being kept in a special wing outside the prison chief's authority, though prison authorities have told her he is being held in an ordinary cell. Every time she calls, she said, she is told "he is in a meeting, or in the wing, unavailable, or ring in half an hour...tomorrow morning, or in the afternoon." She said she would "no longer keep quiet," and has written a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging him to ask visiting President Ahmadinejad "to respect justice regarding [dissident prisoners], including Mr. Ganji." She handed the letter to the UN representative office in Tehran on 11 September, Radio Farda reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September)
MINISTRY TO INCREASE DOMESTIC SECURITY... Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in Tehran on 11 September that Iran is "one of the safest countries in the world," but his ministry intends to further raise security levels and also promote decent social behavior, Radio Farda and ILNA reported the same day. Radio Farda added that the renewed formation of judicial police units heralds a return to tighter social controls and street patrols, which were lessened during the eight-year presidency of the reformist Mohammad Khatami. On 10 September, Mahmud Mirkuhi, a deputy head of the Tehran judiciary, said that once the judicial police is equipped, financed, and ready to work, it will be charged with maintaining public security in Tehran, Radio Farda reported, adding that the force enjoys greater powers than the ordinary police force. Judicial police patrols include a judge who can convict and sentence a person on the spot, and oversee his or her punishment, Radio Farda reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
...AS POLICE VOW TO STAMP OUT STREET CELEBRATIONS. Police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam has ordered police to dissuade verbally, or act against "joy caravans" -- cars filled with celebrating relatives driving behind a newly wed couple -- and termed the celebrants "louts" and a traffic nuisance, Radio Farda reported on 11 September. It cited Moqaddam as telling the daily "Jomhuri-ye Islami" that such celebrations block Tehran traffic and lead to acts of "moral corruption" like dancing and alcohol consumption. Separately, Musa al-Reza Servati, a member of parliament's Social Affairs Committee, has urged Iranians to show a certain "balance" when celebrating, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. "Unfortunately in Iran people go beyond accepted norms for the slightest celebration," he said, adding that the Culture Ministry should define what type of celebrations are acceptable. But social-affairs committee head Abdulreza Mesri said "it is much more necessary" for police to deal with armed criminals that block city streets than with "joy caravans." People can wait a little for a street celebration, and "share in the joy of people around them, but waiting in traffic for hours because a man with a knife has blocked the street is impossible," "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
KAZAKHSTANPOLICE REPORTEDLY BREAK UP EXTREMIST RALLY. Police in Pavlodar detained 10 suspected activists from the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir during an unsanctioned demonstration at the city's main mosque on 2 September, Interfax reported the next day, citing an unidentified police source. The report said that the demonstration, at which young people distributed leaflets and called on Muslims to "unite against U.S. aggression," drew up to 100 people, although some of them may have arrived to worship at the mosque. The 10 suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir activists are currently under investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September)
KOSOVAKOSOVARS CONCERNED OVER ALLEGED UN ROLE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Several top government officials in Kosova told the "Financial Times" of 16 September in Prishtina that the recent arrest of three members of the UN police on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking are "not isolated cases" of such activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). Avni Arifi, who is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi, told the London daily that "there are probably other cases, too," adding that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) quietly dealt with "several" similar cases in recent years. The daily noted that "UN police refuse to release details of suspects, and UN personnel operate [there] with blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, to the dismay of local human rights lawyers." Kosumi has called on the UN to acknowledge what he called its "failure" in law enforcement work and hand over more responsibility to elected Kosovar authorities. "Unfortunately, we do not have exact data about human trafficking here. But I can say that the citizens of Kosova do not trust UNMIK's structures in some fields," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
SERBIAN PUPILS TO BOYCOTT ETHNICALLY MIXED SCHOOL. Parents of about 250 Serbian elementary school pupils and high school students of the St. Sava School in Fushe Kosova announced on 14 September that their children will no longer attend classes there, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The parents said that the children fear for their safety following the recent ruling by Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), to allow about 400 ethnic Albanian pupils and students to attend the school starting in the fall semester (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April 2004 and 20 May 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)
KYRGYZSTANOMBUDSMAN BLASTS NEPOTISM, CRONYISM. Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a news conference in Bishkek on 13 September that he has appealed to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, and other officials to condemn nepotism and cronyism in diplomatic appointments, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakir-uulu said that the practice of appointing individuals who are close to the ruling "family" needs to end. Bakir-uulu said that handing out diplomatic postings to officials, ex-deputies, and businessmen who "don't know how to hold a knife and a fork and don't know a single foreign language...only harms the image of Kyrgyzstan's young state and ancient people." His remarks come against the backdrop of critical reactions to President Bakiev's recent decision to appoint his brother as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)
MACEDONIAJAIL SENTENCE AGAINST SERBIAN BISHOP UPHELD. The Macedonian Supreme Court turned down an appeal on 16 September from Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan against his 18-month prison sentence for inciting ethnic and religious hatred, which he is currently serving, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005). The Macedonian authorities consider Jovan to be acting on behalf of Serbian nationalist groups in Belgrade against the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Some Montenegrin authorities have similarly accused the Serbian Orthodox Church in that republic to be the stalking horse of Serbian nationalist forces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)
BIG OPPOSITION PROTEST HELD. A large but unspecified number of supporters of Macedonia's opposition parties gathered on 15 September outside government offices in Skopje to demand the cabinet's resignation and new elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The protesters charged that the government has brought the country to "economic collapse" and reduced countless citizens to poverty (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 6 May 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)
MOLDOVAETHNIC RUSSIANS SLAM GOVERNMENT FOR 'ANTI-RUSSIAN HYSTERIA'. The Congress of Russian Communities in Moldova will not take part in an ethnic cultural festival scheduled for 18 September, Infotag reported on 7 September, quoting congress head Valerii Klimenko. He told journalists that this participation is impossible in view of the "barefaced and totally unfounded anti-Russian hysteria continuing in Moldova with the connivance of and often with direct support from the country's leadership." Klimenko demanded that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and "his puppet mass media" stop their "malicious attacks" against Russia. Klimenko warned that any further aggravation of relations with Moscow "will be disastrous first and foremost to ordinary Moldovans -- those hundreds of thousands of them who have found jobs in Russia and whose remittances have in fact ensured the survival of Voronin's anti-Russian government." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September)
RUSSIACORRECTIONS SERVICE CHIEF SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ARE FUNDED BY CRIMINALS AND FOREIGNERS. Federal Corrections Service head Yurii Kalinin told Radio Mayak on 14 September that there are "too many" human-rights organizations and committees, and accused member of those entities of not working in their professions and of receiving money from dubious sources. "We know that money comes to them from thieves' slush funds," Kalinin claimed. Some human-rights organizations rely on foreign funding and do not defend human rights, he added, saying they "take a destructive position, trying to press and blackmail." In response to Kalinin's accusations, Lev Ponamarev, who heads the group Human Rights, said that his organization and others receive a large number of complaints regarding the abuse of prisoners' rights, newsru.com reported. He added that the claims are scrutinized for to ensure they are valid. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September)
MOSCOW BOOK FAIR REPORTEDLY FEATURES ANTI-SEMITIC TRACTS. REN-TV reported on 13 September that Moscow's annual International Book Fair featured numerous xenophobic and anti-Semitic publications. According to the station, the Algoritm publishing house offered books such as "Russophobia," "Notes By A Russian Extremist," and "The Jewish Issue in Russia." According to a public-relations director for the company, Algoritm has a "conspiracy of lawlessness" series, the third book of which deals with "Zionist plots" in Russia. The Russian Jewish Congress and the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights sent an open letter to the Russian Union of Book Publishers noting that publishing such literature is against Russian law, PRIMA-News reported on 12 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)
NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK LEADER APPEALS TO PUTIN ABOUT ATTACKS. National Bolshevik Party (NBP) leader Eduard Limonov has sent an open letter to President Putin accusing Russian authorities of using repressive measures against his party, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 11 September. As an example, he cited an incident in which members of the pro-Putin movement Nashi beat up NBP members. "I do not believe the president will meet with me, but I need to voice my position," Limonov said. "A state criminal organization has been created. Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of this organization. Then it beat people up with baseball bats and used firearms," Limonov said, referring to Nashi. The National Bolshevik Party numbers about 17,500 activists with an average age of 20. Limonov himself was detained in 2001 on charges of planning terrorist acts and establishing armed units. He spent several months in prison in 2003. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September)
UZBEKISTANPROSECUTOR PREVIEWS ANDIJON TRIAL, CHARGES KYRGYZ LINK... First Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev briefed journalists in Tashkent on 15 September on the upcoming trial of 15 alleged organizers of violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, UzA reported. The 15 individuals, who include three Kyrgyz citizens, will go on trial at the Supreme Court on 20 September, Interfax reported. Charging that militants who aimed to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan trained at three locations in Kyrgyzstan, Nabiev said, "Doesn't this testify to the fact that the Kyrgyz authorities knew about the planned attacks?" Reuters reported. Nabiev said that unidentified sponsors provided $300,000 to fund the unrest, with $200,000 coming from Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tohir Yoldosh, ITAR-TASS reported. Nabiev also said that 25 officials in Andijon face criminal charges for their failure to prevent the violence, while 106 suspects remain under investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
...AND SLAMS FOREIGN MEDIA... Nabiev blasted foreign media for their coverage of the Andijon events, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. He said, "Specially assigned members of the extremist organization deliberately gave false information favorable to the masterminds of foreign mass media and human rights activists. Correspondents of such media outlets as the BBC, the Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, Ozodlik [RFE/RL's Uzbek Service] and other news agencies, by order from external forces, blatantly and dishonestly circulated biased and slanderous information about the events in foreign mass media, including on the Internet." He continued, "Even those correspondents who saw with their own eyes the brutalities and outrage of the terrorists in the local government building deliberately kept silent, contrary to the generally accepted norms of journalistic ethics, about the evil deeds of the criminals. Strangely enough, bandits running around with guns in their hands became the heroes of their interviews and were presented as peaceful citizens." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
...AS KYRGYZ OFFICIALS DENY ALLEGATIONS. Valerii Khan, deputy secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, and Deputy Foreign Minister Erkin Mamkulov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 15 September that the Uzbek allegations are not true. Khan said, "All these accusations are absolutely groundless. As I have already said, we do not have any information today that militants were trained on Kyrgyz territory. We have neither official nor operational information that they were trained on Kyrgyz territory. The accusations that the leadership of our country connived at that are all the more groundless." Khan noted, however, that Kyrgyzstan is willing to check any information that Uzbek investigators may have. Mamkulov made a similar point, saying, "When such serious issues are at hand there should be cooperation between our law enforcement agencies. This should be a two-way street. We are ready to cooperate in resolving all issues on the agenda, however Uzbekistan should raise these issues officially." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September)
COURT SUSPENDS U.S. EXCHANGE ORGANIZATION FOR SIX MONTHS. A civil court in Tashkent ruled on 12 September to suspend for six months the activities of U.S.-based exchange organization IREX, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The court argued that IREX had engaged in activities and pursued goals not covered by the organization's charter. In a press release published on IREX's website on 13 September, President Mark G. Pomar stated, "Suspending the activities of IREX in Uzbekistan is an unfortunate step that will impede the development of Uzbek civil society and the strengthening of higher education." The press release called the move "part of a broader trend by the Uzbek government to close down both international and local nongovernmental organizations." Other international organizations that have been forced by court decisions to curtail or end their operations in Uzbekistan include the Open Society Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) and, only days ago, Internews (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September)