Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: June 5, 2002

5 June 2002, Volume 3, Number 23
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNS TORTURE, DISAPPEARANCES IN FORMER SOVIET COUNTRIES. Amnesty International (AI), a worldwide movement of more than 1 million members in 140 countries, released its annual report for 2001 on 28 May, condemning torture, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The human rights organization also found that East and Central European nations continued to tolerate racist attacks and discrimination, especially against Roma.

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 11 September 2001, AI says opportunistic violations of human rights abound throughout the world under the guise of fighting terrorism. "Governments were so keen to build a 'global coalition against terrorism,' as they called it, that they were ready to condone grave abuses of human rights committed by their allies, so countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Russia escaped international scrutiny, undermining the universality of human rights," AI Secretary-General Irene Khan said at a press conference in London, reported RFE/RL on 28 May. Even before 11 September, Chechnya's second war and its numerous victims had little international attention; attacks on the press and humanitarians have discouraged outside observers. Still, observers agree that the situation has worsened in Chechnya as Russia has felt emboldened by praise for its cooperation in the international coalition and has launched repeated sweeps of Chechen villages, leaving many traumatized and wounded and hundreds detained arbitrarily, and even killed.

Many of the worst abuses documented by AI occur right at the intersection between crackdowns against extremists -- supported by the public and perceived as necessary because they threaten the ordinary population -- and the need to protect civil rights of individuals. "Amnesty International recognizes the right, indeed the duty, of states to protect their citizens, but we believe that governments can and must take effective action within the framework of human rights [law], not at the expense of it. Security and human rights are not incompatible," explained Kahn.

Members of the Uighur population throughout Central Asia, for example, were increasingly accused of sympathizing with, and even supporting, banned Islamist opposition movements, AI reported. Uighurs had been frequently arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and ill-treated by the authorities in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, and forcibly deported to China, where they faced ill-treatment, torture, and the death penalty. AI also expressed concern that Uzbekistan would further clamp down on the country's internal opposition after 11 September. Its 2001 report does not appear to bear out this claim, as arrests of devout Muslims active outside the bounds of state-sponsored Islam continue unabated, accompanied by a few token cases resolved under Western pressure.

Much of the worst violations noted in AI's entire annual report occur in the zones of armed conflict in the former Soviet Union. Still, new NATO members with good records of reform do not escape AI's scrutiny. Czech police still abuse detainees, and police offer insufficient protection to the Romany minority, which continues to be the target of racially motivated violence and even police violence. Slovak police use torture against the Roma, leading to at least one death, CTK reported. As in the Czech case, the report points out that police refuse to extend protection to Roma who are threatened with violence. Hungarian police mistreatment of Roma in Hungary was also exposed in the report, which mentioned several specific examples of abuse, "Nepszabadsag" reported. These include a February 2001 incident in which 80 police officers attacked Roma attending an all-night funeral wake in the village of Bag, Pest County. The report also cites instances of discrimination against Afghan refugees in Hungary. (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002).

Regional governments, even those well used by now to accepting criticism from human rights groups and admitting their faults even as they attempt to correct them, bristled at AI's frank assessments. Czech Interior Ministry spokeswoman Marie Masarikova reacted by saying, "We may respect the opinions of Amnesty International, but we do not agree with them," CTK reported. Romania also overreacted to AI's report. President Ion Iliescu said on 29 May that the criticism of Romania included in AI's annual report released the previous day is "exaggerated" and must be part of an attempt to discredit his country, "as the NATO summit in Prague is approaching," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Cozmin Gusa, secretary-general of the ruling Social Democratic Party, said the report is "poorly documented."

AI focused on lack of independence of the judiciary in particular in Romania. The Justice Ministry denied the judiciary is in any way subordinate to the government or carrying out its orders, but admitted that there are "economic, not political pressures" on judges. At the same time, the ministry's State Secretary Ioan Alexandru said the ministry will "suggest" to Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu that Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase be dismissed. Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu said the report uses "general terminology" and provides no "concrete exemplification" of any interference by the government in the independence of the judiciary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002)

The Slovak Interior Ministry denied on 29 May that it refused to provide information to Amnesty International human rights monitors about incidents involving police abuse of Romany detainees, CTK reported. Reacting to the annual report issued by Amnesty International (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002), the ministry said the organization requested information about a case in which seven policemen were charged after the death of Rom Karol Sendrei last year from Justice Ministry officials, not the Interior Ministry. It said the two officials, in turn, requested the information from the ministry, which supplied it.

Responding to AI's reports on military atrocities in Chechnya, Russia said flatly that AI was engaged in a "disinformation campaign," reported AFP on 30 May. Russia is targeted for a special AI campaign this year. "Their sources of information often only represent one side of the coin," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax, "They rely on people linked to extremists, who serve the interests of [rebel leader Aslan] Maskhadov." AI further aroused Russia's ire with comments that few of those guilty of severe human rights violations are ever brought to trial. "Everything that Amnesty International says is seen as gospel truth," said Yastrzhembskii "But what the [Russian] federal authorities report has doubts cast on it and is criticized." While AI said only "a few" cases had been tried of those guilty of atrocities in Chechnya, Yastrzhembskii claimed more than 30 members of the military, including four officers, were tried for crimes committed in Chechnya," without providing any details. Human rights activists say not all of these offenses are war crimes, and while soldiers may have been tried, some charged with brutalities against civilians -- like Colonel Yurii Budanov, accused of raping and murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman -- have been acquitted, or received light penalties. AI's latest report said violations by Russian forces included torture, "disappearances," extra-judicial executions, and arbitrary detention in unofficial prisons that "often amounted to little more than pits in the ground" -- a claim Russian officials continue to deny, despite footage of such pits shown on Russian television.

East European leaders will not be the only ones irked by AI's naming and shaming. In the regional summary for Europe (which includes Eastern Europe and Eurasia), Italy, Spain, and Sweden were singled out for their use of force against demonstrators, while Belarus and Azerbaijan were not mentioned there, despite brutal beatings and detentions of hundreds of protesters last year. The United Kingdom's post-11 September antiterrorism crackdowns and its status as the only European nation said to deploy soldiers under 18 years of age garnered it as many lines of criticism as Russia, where both federal troops and Chechen fighters attacked civilians and mistreated prisoners, leading to thousands of casualties. The full text of the annual report for Europe in available at CAF

SENIOR LAWMAKER SAYS IMPEACHMENT BID VALID. Viktor Dallakian, who chairs the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs, said on 1 June that the attempt by six opposition deputies to convene a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian is legally grounded, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That initiative is based on a recently adopted parliament statute that entitles any deputy to table a motion on the issue under discussion. Pro-presidential deputies argued on 30 May that no such valid connection exists between the debate on the report submitted by a parliament commission monitoring the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings and the impeachment demands. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

POLICE FORCIBLY DISPERSE UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION. Police on 26 May used force to disperse several hundred would-be participants in an unsanctioned protest demonstration convened by the United Azerbaijani Opposition (BMH), Turan and Interfax reported. Police detained some 30 people, including Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Arif Hadjiev and the deputy chairman of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Ali Masimov. Two previous attempts by the BMH to stage unsanctioned demonstrations were likewise forcibly suppressed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

POLICE LAUNCH SPECIAL OPERATIONS IN NORTH. Hundreds of police and Interior Ministry troops cordoned off the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku on 3 June for reasons that are unclear, Turan reported. The villagers staged several protests earlier this year against appalling socioeconomic conditions. Police, army, and border troops have also launched a special operation in northern Azerbaijan, the objective of which is unclear, according to "Hurriyet" on 31 May, as cited by Groong. One man has been arrested so far. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

PRESIDENT PARDONS PRISONERS. In a gesture pegged to the 1918 independence anniversary, President Heidar Aliyev has signed a decree on clemency for 83 prisoners, 43 of whom are included on a list of 716 persons whom Azerbaijani human rights organizations consider political prisoners, Turan and Russian agencies reported on 27 May. Seventy-three prisoners were released from jail, and 10 more had their sentences reduced by half. The beneficiaries include some persons jailed on charges of crimes against the state for their participation in the failed coup of October 1994 and the Interior Ministry troops mutiny of March 1995. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

KGB ACCUSES OSCE MISSION HEAD OF UNDERMINING TIES WITH WEST. The KGB said in a statement on 28 May that Hans-Georg Wieck, the former head of the OSCE Minsk Advisory and Monitoring Group, has placed a "time bomb" under Belarus's relations with the West, Belapan reported. The KGB statement said the United States exercised "extremely intense pressure" on the group with the aim of changing Belarus's "foreign-policy priorities and encouraging internal reforms beneficial to the West and the United States." According to the KGB, Wieck succumbed to this pressure by reporting to the OSCE primarily on human rights violations in Belarus in order to increase the country's international isolation. The KGB also charged Wieck with transforming the OSCE group into a coordination center of the Belarusian opposition and with interfering in Belarus's "political processes" during parliamentary elections in 2000 and the presidential election in 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

GOVERNMENT EXPELS OSCE MISSION CHIEF. The OSCE said on 3 June that Belarus has ordered Andrew Carpenter, the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, to leave the country, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Carpenter is the third OSCE diplomat to be barred from the country this year. An OSCE spokesman said Minsk declined to extend Carpenter's visa. He has been in Belarus for the past two years. Carpenter's visa expired on 31 May but he has not left Minsk as expected, Belapan reported. Carpenter's diplomatic accreditation is valid until 14 August and the OSCE hopes that he will be allowed to remain in Belarus until that time. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

INTERIOR MINISTER DEFENDS DEATH PENALTY. Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau said on 28 May that he considers it premature to abolish the death penalty, Belapan reported. Navumau added that last year Belarusian courts handed down 40 sentences of life in prison compared to just seven death sentences, illustrating that the application of the death penalty was an exception. The Chamber of Representatives on 30 May held a hearing on the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus but did not adopt any resolutions, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Most speakers at the hearing stressed that Belarusian society is not prepared for the abrogation of capital punishment. According to a government poll, 85.8 percent of Belarusians oppose the abolition of the death penalty. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mikhail Snyahir argued that capital punishment is a lesser evil than life imprisonment, ITAR-TASS reported. "We can get nearer to Europe in other ways than crawling on our bellies asking to be admitted to European structures," Snyahir said in reference to the requirement that Belarus abolish the death penalty before it may be admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

PETRITSCH TAKES A PARTING SHOT. Before leaving office, Wolfgang Petritsch made one last use of the high representative's sweeping powers, issuing a ruling on 24 May aimed at freeing judges from the control of local politicians, Reuters reported from Sarajevo. He said that the reforms will provide "a backbone for a modern society." The news agency reported that his "measures include constitutional amendments introducing councils made up of local and international legal experts, which will ensure independent appointments of judges and prosecutors, which have until now been the task of politicians. [The councils will] also be able to take disciplinary action against judges and prosecutors." Petritsch issued a total of 42 decisions during his mandate, which began when he succeeded Spain's Carlos Westendorp in 1999. Petritsch, who is a trained Balkan affairs specialist with a career in Austria's Social Democratic Party (SPO), will represent his country at the UN in Geneva. His long-term plans remain a matter of media speculation. Angered at the decision, on 27 May, Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said that he wants a special session of the Bosnian Serb parliament to pass a resolution on Petritsch's ruling, which he said was one-sided and aimed at undermining the authority of the Republika Srpska. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

COURT SENTENCES FORMER SECRET POLICE OFFICERS. A court in Prague on 28 May sentenced Jiri Simak and Zbynek Dudek, former officers in the communist-era secret police, to five years in prison for abuse of power. They were found guilty of torturing dissidents as part of the 1978-84 "Asanace" operation aimed at causing regime opponents to move into exile. The two were sentenced by a lower court to three years in jail on the same charge but appealed the sentence. The court said it found the previous verdict to be "inappropriately lenient." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

ONE CZECH IN THREE INTOLERANT OF FOREIGNERS. One-third of Czechs do not "always" tolerate foreigners living in the Czech Republic and half of the sample is intolerant of people of a different skin color, CTK reported on 29 May, citing a survey conducted by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM). About three-fourths of those interviewed display tolerance toward Jews and the elderly, but just about half of those sampled are tolerant of the emotionally unstable and homosexuals. The least tolerance is displayed toward those with a criminal record (20 percent), followed by the Roma (some 25 percent), alcoholics, and drug users. A CVVM analyst said that compared with the center's findings for 2000, tolerance has grown toward all groups except the Roma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

FORMER RULING PARTY TROUNCED AMID HIGH TURNOUT, CLAIMS OF FRAUD. According to preliminary returns on 3 June, the opposition National Movement-Democratic Forum and the Labor party each polled 25 percent of the vote in local elections the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. They were followed by the New Rightists (12 percent); the Christian Conservative Party (9 percent), on whose list supporters of former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania ran; Industry Will Save Georgia (7 percent); and the All-Georgian Revival Union (6 percent). The remaining 16 parties, including the pro-presidential Union of Citizens of Georgia, failed to poll over 4 percent. Despite heavy rain and the lure of World Cup soccer on television, some 41 percent of the Georgian electorate turned out to vote on 2 June, Caucasus Press reported. Turnout in the previous local elections five years ago was only marginally over the minimum 33.3 percent required for the poll to be valid. But the vote was declared invalid in the towns of Zugdidi and Khashuri in western Georgia, and in Rustavi. In Zugdidi, half the polling stations closed early because of theft of ballots and pressure on voters, according to ITAR-TASS. In Rustavi, unidentified armed men attacked a van on 2 June and stole some 40,000 ballots. There were numerous other reports of irregularities, including multiple voting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

AZERBAIJANI MINORITY PROTESTS ITS CANDIDATES' EXCLUSION FROM LOCAL ELECTIONS. Residents of Georgia's southeastern Bolnisi Raion, the population of which is overwhelmingly ethnic Azerbaijani, have blocked the highway linking the district with Tbilisi to protest the local authorities' refusal to register 420 Azerbaijanis as candidates in the local elections scheduled for 2 June, Turan reported on 28 May, quoting the independent daily "Zerkalo." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

POLICE DISPERSE UNSCHEDULED RALLIES FOR JAILED OPPOSITION LEADERS, AS ZHAQIYANOV'S HEALTH WORSENS. Police in Almaty broke up a demonstration on 31 May to commemorate the victims of the 1930s famine and Stalin's repressions and to protest the ongoing official crackdown on the independent media and opposition politicians, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Members of a local NGO in Semey, northeastern Kazakhstan, were similarly forced by police to disperse when they tried to demonstrate to demand the release of the arrested leaders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. Zhaqiyanov was placed in intensive care in Pavlodar hospital on 1 June for the second time in two weeks, Interfax reported. He suffered internal bleeding after being given an unidentified medication for a stomach ulcer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

ZYUGANOV DENOUNCES 'POLITICAL PERSECUTION.' Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has written to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev in his capacity as chairman of the secretariat of the Union of Communist Parties-CPSU to convey that organization's "alarm and concern" at the intensification of "political persecution" in Kazakhstan. The text of that letter was published in "Pravda" on 30 May. Zyuganov deplores the reprisals against the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, the arrest of its leaders Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, trials of representatives of Kazakhstan's Russian population who stood up for their rights, and the closure of media outlets that dared criticize the Kazakh leadership. Zyuganov appealed to Nazarbaev to take immediate measures to end "political persecution," "free political prisoners," and arrest those officials responsible for "human rights violations." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

OPPOSITION REJECTS NEW DRAFT LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES. The opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan convened a press conference in Almaty on 28 May to publicize its objections to the new draft law on political parties currently under discussion, reported. The party issued a subsequent statement in which it acknowledged that the current law on political parties does not create conditions for normal political activity and therefore requires drastic amendments. At the same time, it condemned the new draft law, which was prepared by the pro-presidential OTAN party, as undemocratic, unconstitutional, and a violation of the provision of the constitution that guarantees freedom of association. The statement appealed to all democratically minded parliament deputies to boycott the debate and vote on the new bill. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

PARLIAMENT DEPUTY RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE. A court in Kara-Kul handed down a one-year suspended prison sentence on 24 May to Azimbek Beknazarov on charges of abusing his official position as an investigator in 1995, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Beknazarov had failed to bring murder charges against a man who killed another in self-defense. Beknazarov told his supporters that the verdict, which automatically deprives him of his parliament mandate, was politically motivated. On 31 May, Beknazarov filed an appeal to the Djalalabad Oblast court asking that the sentence be annulled. He then traveled to Tash-Komur where he appealed with supporters not to resume their blockade of the main Bishkek-Osh highway. Some 300 supporters of Beknazarov staged a picket on 25 May in the southern town of Kerben to protest his conviction. His constituents in the southern raion of Aksy said on 25 May that they will refuse to elect a new parliament deputy to replace him. In Bishkek, Erkin Kyrgyzstan party Chairman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu said that the sentence on Beknazarov was illegal and that it could exacerbate domestic political tensions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May and 3 June)

PRESIDENT ACCUSES PROTESTERS OF EXTREMISM; PROMOTES NEW LAW RESTRICTING RALLIES. Addressing both chambers of the Kyrgyz parliament on 24 May, President Askar Akaev blamed the wave of protests across Kyrgyzstan over the past few months on "a small group of provocateurs and demagogues" who act on the principle that the greater the chaos in the country, the better for them personally, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev accused opposition leaders and participants in those protests of "political extremism," saying they sought to exert pressure on the country's leadership. He said the opposition must realize that such tactics are dangerous and counterproductive, and abandon them. Saying that "democratic standards and principles must prevail," and calling on parliament "to act in unison and prioritize state interests and the development of democratic processes instead of the interests of parties, groups or clans," Akaev unveiled four draft bills that he asked the legislature to pass before the summer recess that begins on 1 June. They are a law on political extremism, a law on the ombudsman, an anticorruption bill, and a law imposing restrictions on public assemblies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

NEW PRIME MINISTER AFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS. Nikolai Tanaev, Kyrgyzstan's new prime minister, said on 30 May that his top priority will be to ensure that human rights in Kyrgyzstan are respected, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said he will not propose ministerial candidates but is ready to work with Akaev's nominees, regardless of their political orientation, according to Interfax. He also pledged to do all in his cabinet's power to improve the economic situation by the end of the year. Akaev too on 30 May told the People's Assembly (the upper parliament chamber) that human rights must become "a second national idea," and called on legislators to give priority to the passage of a new law on a national ombudsman. Tanaev was criticized by the opposition as an ethnic Russian who has not learned Kyrgyz in three decades of residence in Kyrgyzstan; his appointment by Akaev was said to disrupt a traditional ethnic and regional balance in leadership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May

PRIESTS, JOURNALISTS MAY BE SECRETS AGENTS. The Lithuanian parliament has adopted a new version of the law on the secret service, which does not ban recruitment of high-ranking state officials, lawyers, journalists, and priests by security services. The law does ban searches of the president, a representative of the National Security and Defense Committee told Interfax on 31 May. When asked whether the chairman of the parliament, the prime minister, or parliamentarians may be exempt from searches, the official said that the law only specified the president. Under the new law, searches are aimed at preventing crimes and protecting the constitutional system, independence, and other important national security interests and cannot violate human rights and freedoms. However, under this law, certain restrictions of these rights and freedoms may be used temporarily and only as provided for by law. Some parliamentarians protested against the use of priests as secret agents. The parliamentarians believe that this will make confessions problematic, as "you will never know if the person you are confessing to is a secret agent or not." The new version of the law goes into effect on 1 June. (Interfax, BNS, 31 May)

MISSING OPPOSITION DEPUTY FOUND ALIVE. Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov was found alive on 25 May on a road in the vicinity of the border with the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international agencies reported. Cubreacov, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances on 21 March, was found near the village of Ustia, some 50 kilometers northeast of Chisinau. He was first taken to a police station and later driven home. Cubreacov refused to disclose details about his kidnappers, saying he does not want to foil the investigation. But he said he was held captive by "Russian speakers" in a "far away place, where even thought fears to travel." He also said that during the night of 25-26 May his captors "took me in a car and when we got out, they told me to walk and not look back." Cubreacov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Romanian-Moldovan Service on 28 May that presumptions reflected in the investigators' questions as posed to him are "erroneous and absurd." He said he fully rejects the scenario, backed by the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), according to which the abductors were members of Cubreacov's own PPCD. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 May)

OFFICIAL RESIGNS OVER CUBREACOV CASE. Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chiril Motpan resigned on 29 May, saying prosecutors in charge of the Vlad Cubreacov inquiry had forced him to lie to journalists, AP reported. Motpan last week told the media that the missing PPCD deputy chairman was found by a police patrol after an extensive search. What actually happened, according to Motpan, is that Cubreacov stumbled upon police officers stationed at a construction site after his presumed abductors released him. "I was forced by Interior Ministry officials and the prosecution to misinform the public," Motpan said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

JUSTICE MINSTER SAYS ECHR DECISION NOT BINDING... Justice Minister Ion Morei said on Moldovan radio on 29 May that the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) decision regarding the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church is not binding, Flux reported. He said the government is only bound by the decisions of the Moldovan Supreme Court (CSJ) and that he has not changed his views since he pleaded in Strasbourg against the registration of the church. However, Morei avoided answering a question on whether the government will register that church. PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu said in response that Morei has "reconfirmed his professional incapability" by claiming that the ECHR decision does not automatically nullify the verdict of the CSJ. Secareanu added that the ruling PCM is torn by the dilemma of serving "Russian imperial interests," as it has always done, and implementing the obligatory ECHR decision. Earlier, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the problem was "highly sensitive" and he did not want to create a situation whereby "satisfying the demands of one side would cause damage to the other side," meaning the Moscow Patriarchate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

...WHILE GOVERNMENT IGNORES PACE RECOMMENDATION. Contrary to the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which they have said they accept, Moldovan authorities continue to file charges against participants in the antigovernment protest demonstrations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 29 May. Seven people from Bendery-Tighina who took part in the January-April protest received summons to appear in court on 5 June. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said the summons are "just one additional proof that the authorities ignore the PACE recommendations," and added that he will ask PCM parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc to personally intervene to "end the abuse that compromises the Communist authorities in the eyes of the Council of Europe." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

TRADE UNIONS PROTEST LIVING STANDARDS. On 30 May, thousands of trade union members marched on the streets of several major Romanian cities shouting antigovernment slogans, Romanian media reported. The trade unions were protesting the low living standards and the low minimum wage. Protesters shouted slogans alluding that Romania will repeat the mass protests that recently took place in Argentina. Trade union leaders announced that daily protests will be held in Bucharest should the government ignore their demands. In reaction to the protests, Labor and Social Solidarity Minister Marian Sirbu announced that the government will begin negotiations next week with trade union representatives on raising the minimum monthly wage, currently at about 60 euros (some $56). Sirbu said that as of 1 January 2003 the minimum wage could be set at 75 euros and by the end of the year it could reach 100 euros. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

JUSTICE MINISTER CONDEMNS ANTI-SEMITIC EXPLOSION. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika called the 27 May explosion of an anti-Semitic booby trap near Moscow that caused a young woman to lose sight in one eye as an "extremist act that must be severely punished," Russian news agencies reported on 28 May. Chaika also called on the State Duma to immediately adopt a law on extremism. The Israeli Embassy in Moscow expressed its "indignation at the anti-Semitic incident" and said that it hopes the Russian authorities will make every effort to identify and punish the perpetrators. The embassy added that it will monitor the investigation closely. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

JEWISH COMMUNITY DEMANDS RESIGNATION OF MVD OFFICER. Moscow's Jewish community and the Russian Jewish Congress (REK) are demanding that Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov dismiss Interior Ministry (MVD) Colonel Nikolai Vagin for trying "to justify or downplay the activity of extremists and anti-Semites," Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. Vagin told "Izvestiya" on 29 May that the booby-trapped anti-Semitic sign that severely injured Tatyana Sapunova on 27 May does not fit into the category of "incitement of national hatred." Vagin said that the slogan "Death to yids" that figured on the sign "applies to everyone, not only to Jews." REK Chairman Yevgenii Sanatovskii and the chief rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shaevich, said in a statement that Vagin's statement is no less outrageous than the explosion itself. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

LAWYERS TO BE FREE OF HARASSMENT WHILE PRACTICING. President Vladimir Putin signed the federal Law On the Activity of Attorneys and the Bar of the Russian Federation, approved by the Russian Federation Council on 15 May, reported RosBusinessConsulting on 4 June. The new law does not abolish the Collegium of Advocates, an institution still emerging from its Soviet past, but creates a Chamber of Advocates alongside it. Attorneys will now be accredited by qualification commissions of the chamber of advocates of each region or republic of Russia. If an attorney is elected to the legislature or government, or is appointed to state office, his professional activities must cease. Under the law, attorneys may not be charged with disciplinary, civil, administrative, or criminal offenses for expressing their opinions in the course of performing their professional duties. It is not clear how these guarantees will square with other penalties still on the books for vague offenses such as "divulging the secrecy of the investigation" often used to gain lawyers' silence. The also law does not address the lack of opportunities for adversarial defense and independent investigations, which human rights activist say are also not provided by new reforms in the code of criminal procedures. CAF

FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER OPPOSED TO ABOLITION OF MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has categorically spoken against abolishing the moratorium on the death penalty. At a Friday meeting in Ryazan with members of the local legislature he noted that mistakes are frequent in the Russian judicial system, and some of them have led to the execution of innocent people. "Several years ago I was a supporter of the death penalty, but have revised my stance since then. I think that a life sentence in conditions of Russian prisons without the right to be pardoned is a much greater punishment than physical death," he said. (Interfax, 31 May)

SIBERIAN TEACHERS ASK PUTIN WHAT HAS CHANGED. Around 12,000 teachers in Altai Krai have signed an open letter to President Putin complaining that in the more than two years since he has taken office, the situation in the education sector has not changed, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 May. According to the teachers, reform measures suggested by the government have had virtually no effect on the increasingly difficult situation. The krai's education-workers' union plans to continue collecting signatures for the open letter until 1 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

ISLAMIC LEADER ASKS PUTIN TO CLEANSE COUNTRY OF WAHHABISM... Speaking at a roundtable in Moscow on the theme of "Islam Against Terrorism" on 29 May, the Ufa-based chairman of Russia's Central Muslim Religious Board, Talgat Tadzhuddin, and about 20 other Islamic leaders from a number of regions across Russia adopted an appeal to President Putin asking him to step up the struggle against international terrorism, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Tadzhuddin said that supporters of Wahhabism -- which he called "pseudo-Islamic provocateurs" -- "represent a threat to any type of government," since they do not recognize any other response but violence toward nonbelievers. According to Interfax, Tadzhuddin implied that it was Wahhabites who helped finance the terrorist attack on the Daghestan city of Kaspiisk on 9 May that left 43 dead. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

...AS POSSIBILITY RAISED THAT 'WAHHABISM' CAN BE CHARGE USED TO SMEAR POLITICAL ENEMIES. In an interview the previous day with "Gazeta," Tadzhuddin claimed that Wahhabism is "being spread in an almost open manner in Tatarstan." For example, according to Tadzhuddin, the Bolgar mosque in Kazan was stormed in October 2001 by dozens of extremists shouting "Allah akbar." According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, one of Tadzhuddin's close supporters, Ferit Salman, the former head of the Bolgar mosque, was removed from his position by Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board in 2000 for opposing the board and urging it to submit to Tadzhuddin's centrally based Muslim board. In interviews with the Russian press, Salman has accused the Tatarstan board of having ties with foreign, extremist Muslim organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

COSSACKS DECLARE INTENT TO OPPOSE CONSTRUCTION OF NEW MOSQUES. Atamans of Cossack troops in the Don region decided on 28 May to resist the construction of more mosques in southern Russia, RFE/RL's Rostov-na-Donu correspondent reported on 29 May. Deputy Ataman Vladimir Voronin compared the situation to events in Kosova, suggesting that the construction of mosques would be used to justify the seizure of land. Dzafar Bekmaev, head of the spiritual directorate for Muslims in Rostov Oblast, said that the Cossacks' declaration violates Russian law. "What would happen if the Muslims in neighboring regions, Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, rise up and start to demand a ban on Russian Orthodox churches?" he asked. According to Bekmaev, there is only one mosque in Rostov Oblast, a one-story building that can barely accommodate the more than 200 people of 20 different nationalities who attend each week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May)

NUMBER LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE AGAIN ON THE INCREASE. One-third of Russians live below the poverty line, Western and Russian news agencies reported on 1 June, citing figures released on 31 May by the State Statistics Committee. The number of people living in poverty -- which is defined as less than 1,719 rubles ($55) per month -- increased to 47.7 million, reversing a downward trend observed during most of last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June)

PRESSURE ON IMMIGRANTS IN KUBAN LINKED WITH PENDING SALE OF AGRICULTURAL LAND... Law enforcement officials in Krasnodar Krai conducted special operations in Anapskii Raion last week as the result of which some 38 Meskhetian Turks were detained and deprived of their passports, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 27 May. Sarvar Tidorov, head of the Meskhetian Turk community in the krai, said that the Meskhetians were harvesting a field at the time and were told by police to leave the region. According to the bureau, several analysts believe that it is not accidental that the punitive measures taken against the Meskhetians have coincided with the State Duma's consideration of legislation that would regulate the buying and selling of agricultural land. They believe that the Meskhetians would be a serious obstacle to a quick seizure of agricultural lands, since the Meskhetian community survives mainly through agricultural work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

...AS THREAT TO KRAI ARMENIANS SEEMINGLY AVERTED. Addressing a session of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in Yerevan on 26 May, Ara Abrahamian, the wealthy businessman who heads the Union of Armenians of Russia, said he reached an agreement with the administration of Russia's Krasnodar Krai, which earlier this year launched a drive to expel illegal immigrants, including many Armenians, from the region, Noyan Tapan reported. Under that agreement, Abrahamian will sponsor a 10-year program of investment in the krai, while krai Governor Sergei Tkachev will allow Krasnodar's Armenian population to remain there. Abrahamian told the same 26 May meeting that his organization plans to invest $1 million in restoring the area of northern Armenia still suffering from the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake, $500,000 in Nagorno-Karabakh, and a further $100,000 to strengthen the Karabakh armed forces, Noyan Tapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

POLLS LOOK AT INTERTWINING OF ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS IDENTITIES. A recent poll conducted by a local university among ethnic Tatars and Russians living in St. Petersburg found that a larger proportion of the Tatar respondents than Russian believe that religion is an integral part of their identity, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 24 May, citing "Vostochyi ekspress" weekly from 17 May. The poll found that 32.2 percent of the Tatar respondents believe that being Tatar means being Muslim, while among the Russian respondents, only 10.9 percent believe that being Russian means being Orthodox Christian. The poll also found that national traditions are important for 51.7 percent of the Tatars and only 20.6 percent of Russians. On the same day, the bureau also reported that the majority of Muslims attending Friday prayers at the Muslim Cultural Center in the city of Kurgan are ethnic Russians. Adam Abdullah, editor of the local "Musulmane zauralya" told the website that there is not a single mosque in Kurgan, so prayers are held at the center, the bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May)

RUSSIAN TROOPS DESECRATE GRAVES IN NEW CHECHEN SWEEP. Russian troops have cordoned off the village of Mesker-Yurt in Shali Raion for the past 10 days in a search for Chechen fighters, specifically the persons who shot dead two Russian servicemen on patrol in the district center of Shali, and RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 30 May. Thirty-six young men have been rounded up, while the rest of the male population is being held prisoner in the village mosque. Russian troops have dug up 12 graves in a search for hidden arms caches, but found nothing. A village resident who protested that sacrilege was reportedly beaten to death. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

EXTENT OF ILLEGAL LABOR MIGRATION ESTIMATED. At a roundtable held in Dushanbe on 23 May by the local International Organization for Migration (IOM) office, IOM mission head Igor Bosc noted that some 500,000 Tajiks leave the country each year in search of seasonal employment, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 27 May. That figure represents 12.5 percent of Tajikistan's total population. Some 10,000 mainly young people leave the Rasht district alone each year to seek work, Asia Plus-Blitz reported last month. More would do so but for the difficulties involved in purchasing train tickets to Astrakhan. Bosc noted that 82 percent of the Tajik migrants travel to Russia, where their status is neither defined nor protected by any bilateral agreements. Tajikistan has signed such an agreement only with Kyrgyzstan. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May)

OPPOSITION LEADER HELD BY POLICE IN ORDER TO MISS MEETING. Police held an opposition leader for most of the day on 24 May, preventing him from chairing a party meeting that was called to urge the government to ease political restrictions, AP reported on 26 May. Atanazar Oripov, 64, the leader of the opposition Erk party, was seized from his home in Tashkent by several men who said they were taking him to the Interior Ministry for a meeting with a high-ranking official. About 30 Erk members had gathered at a Tashkent tea house to adopt an appeal to the government demanding political freedom and to set a date for a congress in a bid to officially re-register. (AP, 25 May)

BUSH EXTENDS SANCTIONS ON SERBIA. On 30 May, U.S. President George W. Bush extended for one more year a package of sanctions in place against Serbian assets in the United States since 1992, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In his statement, Bush cited continuing problems in Kosova, insufficient cooperation by Belgrade with The Hague, and long-standing property issues as the reason for this decision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)

PROSECUTORS PRESS FOR EXTRA TIME IN MILOSEVIC TRIAL. Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic has asked for another two months to present the prosecution's case, Radio B92 reported on 31 May. Presiding Judge Richard May told Nice last week he wanted the prosecution's case for Kosova over by 26 July. Nice complained on 31 May that if the court sticks to the deadline, his team would not be able to present evidence on a number of alleged massacres, let alone call important witnesses. "We respectfully doubt that it would be proper not to seek to prove these killing sites," said the prosecutor. "I emphasize the importance to finish this trial on time, it is also the credibility of the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) that is the issue," May replied. The presiding judge again criticized the prosecution's selection of witnesses. "Personally I question how many of them were really necessary," he said. The prosecution recalled its well-publicized difficulties in getting hold of so-called "insider witnesses" close to the former Yugoslav president. "A case like this would be easy to prove if a number of insiders would accept to testify" but as such witnesses "get closer to the accused they are much more difficult to reach," said Nice. (Radio B92, 31 May)


By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

This week, international humanitarian agencies and human rights groups began to share the widespread fears of Chechen refugees in Ingushetia that they would soon be forced to return to Chechnya, where Russian federal troops have been sweeping through villages and arresting young Chechen men suspected of armed resistance, committing numerous atrocities against civilians along the way. An estimated 180,000-200,000 Chechens still remain in Ingushetia, having fled their homes since the outbreak of the second war in 1999.

Under the former president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, internally displaced persons (IDPs), as they are officially designated, received only bare essentials as they suffered through three harsh winters, many in tents, but were not unwelcome. Those who ventured home to scout the opportunities for resettlement found not only ruins but active combat areas and continuous threats from Russian federal soldiers. So they stayed in impoverished Ingushetia, already straining from a refugee load from previous regional conflicts.

While letting the displaced find safe haven in his republic, President Aushev also kept out Russian troops, except for the frontier forces on the border with Georgia. Because he resisted orders to return refugees home, even when they were bused to areas in Chechnya that turned out to be inhabitable and then backtracked to Ingushetia, Aushev is credited with saving many lives, prompting a number of NGOs and public figures in the region to nominate him for the Nobel Prize.

Now all that has changed, since Moscow's engineering of the election of Murat Zyazikov as the new president of Ingushetia. Zyazikov, a former KGB general, is generally perceived as more compliant with Russian President Vladimir Putin's wish to keep up appearances that the war has ended, and to bring home Chechen IDPs and place them under the control of pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. Kremlin envoy Viktor Kazantsev, Chechen administration chief Ahmed Kadyrov, and Zyazikov signed a memorandum on 29 May, according to which all refugees had to return to their homeland by the end of September, reported and other Russian wire services.

The plans have been brewing for some time, and not without some protest. "If Russian authorities force the refugees to go home, we will be participating in the worst violation of human rights in the history of Russia," said Ombudsman for Human Rights Oleg Mironov, AFP reported on 19 May citing Interfax. Mironov joined the assessment of foreign humanitarians who felt it was too premature to plan return without adequate housing and jobs and far better security -- elusive as conflict continues unabated. President Putin keeps declaring that the war is over -- but then having to send more armed forces and police because it isn't. On 13 May, Chechen fighters attacked 18 Russian posts, killed three Interior Ministry soldiers and two Chechen police. Meanwhile, human rights groups reported that federal troops, disobeying orders to curb excessive force, continued sweeps in the villages of Alhan-Kala and Kirov between 25 April and 3 May, after which at least 12 persons were missing and 8 were murdered.

Such violence accounts for why most refugees won't budge. The government of Russia sees it differently. The official news agency RIA-Novosti reports that 8,000 refugees have registered to return, and their way is ostensibly eased now because of improved relations between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Russian Minister for Chechnya Vladimir Yelagin told the agency, "It is an open secret that the relations between Ahmad Kadyrov and Ruslan Aushev were not good enough; the sides accused each other and did not work constructively in solving the problems of the refugees." Yelagin also claimed Chechens were paid to come to Ingushetia and pose as refugees.

The official policy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, voiced on many similar refugee situations around the world, is not to force people to return against their will, and only to facilitate their return based on an informed decision. Until now, UNHCR has resisted Russia's calls to forcibly return the refugees, a practice in violation of international law, and talks continue to attempt to mitigate the situation. The situation is exacerbated by refugees' claims that agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and local authorities have been deliberately withholding electricity and even bread under pressure from Moscow to compel Chechens to leave.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian groups and officials claim lack of funding and logistical difficulties in the high-risk area. According to UNICEF, refugees are spread amongst host families (65 percent), organized camps (15 percent), and spontaneous settlements (20 percent). With 65 percent of their funding appeals still unmet, UN agencies have said to "agree on the need to halt any further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Ingushetia and intensify humanitarian efforts in Chechnya," reported on 29 May. Some 10,000 children are dropouts, too traumatized to attend school, which in any event consists in many areas of tattered tents without supplies.

NGOs report that troops moved into the area in recent weeks are for the first time attacking refugees. Local observers say Russian authorities are telling international agencies that the deployment is related to continued disturbances in nearby Georgia, where U.S. troops are now also stationed, and that troops are merely engaged in exercises. Prague Watchdog, a Czech online news service about the North Caucasus (, reported night raids have begun on the camps. On 28 May, at about 4 a.m., armed men wearing masks and camouflage uniforms burst into the Satsita refugee camp in the periphery of the Ordzhonikidzevskaya settlement, terrorizing residents, and arresting one young man.

Lebhan Basaeva from Memorial Human Rights Center in Nazran, capital of Ingushetia, believes that the authorities want to press the refugees out of the tent camps first, "thus removing the visible top of the iceberg: the part that shows to the world that the war continues in Chechnya, that the people are fleeing, and that they are in a bad condition," reported "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 3 June. "The Chechens now must consider where they want to risk their lives -- in their own house or in a refugee camp."

Those already in Chechnya will not have a choice. Additionally, under the new agreement between Moscow and the regional leaders, motorized Rifle Regiment No. 503 under Colonel Roman Shadrin will be blocking the border from now on and keep the Chechens fleeing the terror from passing into Ingushetia, "Frankfurter Rundschau" reported, citing "Vremya novostei." Speaking to reporters in Moscow , Yelagin said there would be no such forced return, and admitted some 40,000, or one in three persons, would not wish to go back, reported AFP on 3 June.

Last month, Stanislav Ilyasov, the head of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government, said all refugees now sheltering on Ingush territory would return to Chechnya later this year. Such conflicting comments from officials -- coupled by claims that many want to return even as conditions in the camps are deteriorating -- are likely to create a climate of confusion and desperation, where the UN and other international agencies could well find themselves unable to withstand Russia's pressures, and forced to assist people fleeing between a rock and a hard place to an even more uncertain destiny.