12 June 2002, Volume
PROTESTOR KILLED, NUMEROUS POLICE WOUNDED IN FIGHTING WITH AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS.
Violence in a suburb of Baku last week illustrates both the depth of villagers' unhappiness with their current rulers and the extent to which the government of President Heidar Aliyev is prepared to use violence to suppress unrest with little outside interference. Hundreds of police and Interior Ministry troops cordoned off the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku on 3 June to quell protest there, Turan reported. One person died of injuries received late on 3 June during the clash between police and 100-200 residents. Seven villagers were arrested for having allegedly tried to pressure a local administrator, Fazilet Mirzoev, to resign.
The fighting began at nightfall when police entered the village, firing into the air. According to an Interior Ministry statement, villagers retaliated by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Thirty-nine police were hospitalized, up to 20 villagers were also injured, and four police cars destroyed. The villagers had staged several protests against appalling socioeconomic conditions earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 28 February 2002). President Aliyev refused on 4 June to comment on the violence, and postponed from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. local time a scheduled meeting with participants in Baku's annual Oil and Gas Exhibit in order to attend an emergency meeting with police and security officials to discuss the situation in Nardaran, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2002).
In statements released on 4 June, Azerbaijan's opposition parties slammed the police violence. The Azerbaijan National Independence Party and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan both blamed the clashes on the Azerbaijani government's "talentless" policies that have led to widespread poverty and the deterioration of infrastructure. The Interior Ministry set up a group to investigate the clashes that its spokesman, Colonel Sadik Gezalov, suggested were politically motivated and backed by "emissaries of the secret services of a number of foreign states," according to ITAR-TASS. Gezalov accused the villagers of planning to install an Islamic fundamentalist local administration. On 5 June, the official newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" accused the opposition of being behind the standoff in Nardaran, noting that Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar visited the village on 29 May, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002).
A representative of President Aliyev met on 8 June with inhabitants of Nardaran, Hadji Djabrail Alizade, chairman of the Union of Baku and Baku Villages, told Turan the same day. The presidential representative promised to gradually reduce the number of police checkpoints that were set up around the village after the 3 June clashes. Aliyev said on 8 June that he was prepared to meet with Nardaran residents if they request such a meeting, Turan reported. But Aliyev declined to comment on the situation in Nardaran, saying that it is a matter for the police. In a 7 June press release, Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into the Nardaran clashes, noting that they marked the first time that Azerbaijani police have opened fire with assault rifles on demonstrators, and urged Aliyev to ensure that the authorities avoid unnecessary force in response to illegal actions committed during public protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002).
The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan reported on 4 June that about a thousand Nardaran residents had protested over Mirzoev's dismissal and poor social and economic conditions, and that when police and Interior Ministry troops arrived on 3 June and detained seven persons involved in previous protests, villagers gathered in the main square and cried "Allah Akbar!" Police entered the village again from two directions, wielding shields and truncheons, backed by armed units. They tried to clear the plaza from protesters but faced resistance. Two police buses and 12 cars were burned or damaged by protesters. The police also alleged that protesters used firearms. The policemen opened fire, initially using plastic, then regular bullets. After 40 minutes of gunfire, police forces withdrew from the village, leaving 60 civilians wounded; one, Agaev Alihasan Agababa oglu, subsequently died of a head wound. The Human Rights Center called for an impartial investigation, an end to harassment of protesters, and a release or fair trial of demonstrators.
Police detained two leading members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan in connection with the riots, for which authorities blamed Islamic fundamentalists. The party's political director, Gunduz Gadzhiev, said party head Alikram Aliyev was detained on 10 June and is currently being held without charge, along with another party member, Mirmehti Darafarin. He said Aliev's lawyers have been prevented from seeing him. CAF
LAWYER ACCUSES JUDGE IN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS TRIAL OF OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE.
Russian lawyer Oleg Yunyshev, who represents the family of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, told journalists in Yerevan on 5 June that Samvel Uzunian, the judge presiding over the trial of the five gunmen who shot Sargsian and seven other senior officials in October 1999, is obstructing the course of justice, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Specifically, Yunyshev said Uzunian has rejected the conclusion of Russian forensic experts that the video footage of the murders may have been edited before being broadcast, and that he has refused to publish a video made the day after the shootings on which, Yunyshev claimed, presidential adviser Aleksan Harutiunian implicated President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the killings. Yunyshev said he will demand Uzunian's replacement if the latter continues to reject his request to publicize those materials. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June)OPPOSITION WARNS AGAINST ATTEMPT TO THWART PRESIDENTIAL IMPEACHMENT BID.
Representatives of the 13 opposition parties intent on forcing a parliamentary debate on impeaching President Kocharian said at a press conference in Yerevan on 6 June that they will disrupt next week's parliament session if the pro-presidential majority refuses to discuss the issue, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 29 May, six opposition deputies adduced a recently adopted parliament statute that allows any deputy to demand a debate on the issue under discussion; they argued that the report submitted by the committee monitoring the investigation of the October 1999 parliament shootings warranted raising the impeachment issue. Some opposition parties believe Kocharian was behind the parliament killings. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, however, said on 6 June that the parliament leadership will not include the impeachment issue on the agenda, a refusal that the six would then have to raise with the country's Constitutional Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
ACTIVISTS PETITION GOVERNMENT TO PROTECT KURAPATY SITE.
About 30 opposition activists delivered a petition to the Belarusian government on 3 June, demanding that the Kurapaty site where thousands of political prisoners were executed and buried by Soviet secret police in the 1930s and '40s be given adequate protection, Belapan reported the same day. Earlier the same day, activists marked the end of a 250-day vigil at the site with a gathering in the Kurapaty forest outside Minsk. A number of youth organizations set up camp near the site on 24 September following the government's decision to expand the Minsk beltway in the vicinity of the mass grave. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June)WORLD BANK TO GIVE BELARUS $50 MILLION IN CHORNOBYL AID.
The World Bank announced on 31 May that it will give Belarus a $50 million loan to support people living on land contaminated by nuclear fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, Reuters reported the same day. The loan is important for the former Soviet republic, which has received little from international lending bodies after the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stopped lending in protest of Belarus's reluctance to introduce reforms. A World Bank representative in Minsk, Serhiy Kulik, said the money will go to farmers and private businesses in the regions. It has been estimated that more than 80 percent of all radioactive dust from the explosion landed on Belarusian territory. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June)OSCE WITHDRAWS ANOTHER OFFICIAL...
Following the 3 June expulsion of Andrew Carpenter, the acting head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, the OSCE withdrew a second staff officer on 4 June, Belapan reported the same day (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 5 June 2002). The OSCE said that its human rights specialist in Belarus, Meaghan Fitzgerald of the United States, has been recalled to OSCE headquarters in Vienna for consultations. Her Belarusian visa will expire next month. The latest staff withdrawals follow the expulsion of the former acting head of the mission Michel Rivollier, who left Belarus on 15 April when Minsk refused to renew his visa (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 18 April 2002). The only international staff member remaining at the OSCE mission in Minsk is a Moldovan administrative officer. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)...BUT DECIDES TO REMAIN OPEN...
The OSCE announced on 6 June that it will not close its mission in Minsk, Western and Belarusian news agencies reported the same day. "We have not closed the mission yet because we think there are still possibilities to try [to] see if we can get something agreed.... For the time being, the mission will continue to exist, frozen in its work," said Joao de Lima Pimentel, chairman of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. The dispute between the OSCE and Belarus has escalated since September when the OSCE denounced the re-election of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as fraudulent. Since then, Belarus has refused to renew the visas of two acting heads of the mission. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY INSISTS ON REVISION OF OSCE MANDATE.
Pavel Latushka, spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing in Minsk on 6 June that the mandate of the OSCE mission in Belarus should be changed, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported the same day. Commenting on statements by the OSCE and the European Union criticizing Belarus's treatment of the Minsk mission, Latushka said, "We are upholding our national interests in cooperation with the OSCE and we continue to insist that the OSCE Permanent Council summarize the results of the [Minsk mission's] activities from the time it was formed in 1998 to determine its tasks and revise its mandate." He added that the individual heads of missions have too much power, which is not in keeping with the spirit of coordination and cooperation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)EU CRITICIZES TREATMENT OF OSCE.
The European Union criticized on 5 June Belarus's treatment of the OSCE mission in Minsk, including the Belarusian government's refusals to renew the visas of a number of OSCE officials, AFP reported the same day. The EU rotating presidency, currently held by Spain, said on 5 June that the OSCE has a fundamental role to play in Belarus in supporting democratic consolidation and economic and social progress. The EU urged Belarus to accept a new head of the mission and to remove obstacles hindering relations between the former Soviet republic and the OSCE. The Belarusian government has justified its actions by accusing OSCE officials of supporting the opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June)
BOSNIAN MUSLIM CLERIC URGES RESTRAINT AGAINST ISLAMIC CHARITIES.
Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic community, warned on 5 June that thousands of Bosnians could be deprived of valuable humanitarian aid as authorities target groups suspected of having links to terrorism, Reuters reported. "Islamic humanitarian organizations are raided and investigated not because they have done something wrong but because of suspicion they might think of doing something wrong," AP quoted him as saying. Eight groups have been targeted since the 11 September attacks in the United States heightened global efforts to curb terrorism, Reuters noted. Ceric charged that authorities are creating an atmosphere in which accusations of terrorist links are leveled without having been proven in court, Reuters said. Police this week raided the Bosnia offices of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which has been blacklisted by the United States for alleged links to terrorism. Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija told the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Sarajevo on 5 June that checks on charity organizations' finances were not aimed solely at Arabic Islamic charities but at "all those for which there was sufficient evidence that they breached Bosnia-Herzegovina's regulations," FENA reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June)
LANGUAGE CERTIFICATES EXTENDED.
By a vote of 35 to 23, the parliament extended the validity of existing language-proficiency certificates issued to noncitizens until 1 January 2004, BNS reported on 6 June. Their validity was to have ended on 1 July of this year. The mostly Russian-speaking Estonian United People's Party submitted alternative bills that would have made the certificates permanent or automatically replaced them with certificates of a new type. Arguing that many certificates had been forged or issued unlawfully, the Pro Patria Union actively opposed these bills. The union pointed out that the certificates can easily be falsified and that it is not possible to identify the holder by the certificate, as there is no register of the certificates issued. Noting that the National Examination Center would be unable to test by 1 July all the people who needed to renew their certificates, the ruling coalition of the Center and Reform Parties suggested the 18-month extension. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
OPPOSITION CALLS FOR REPEAT LOCAL ELECTIONS...
National Movement-Democratic Forum Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili and the leader of the opposition wing of the divided Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), Zurab Zhvania, gathered on 3 June outside the State Chancellery in Tbilisi with some 400-600 supporters to demand the results of the previous day's local elections be annulled and repeat elections held, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. They also demanded that those ministers, regional governors, and other senior officials who, they claimed, were responsible for widespread fraud be held accountable. Meanwhile, Louis Roppe, head of the Council of Europe mission that monitored the ballot, said the elections were badly organized and marred by "chaos" at polling stations and a "deplorable" failure to provide up-to-date lists of eligible voters, Caucasus Press reported. Roppe expressed disappointment that "the democratic process in Georgia has so far failed to match the people's aspirations," Reuters reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June)...AS PRESIDENT ADMITS VIOLATIONS TOOK PLACE.
In his weekly radio address, which he postponed from Monday 3 June to Tuesday 4 June, Eduard Shevardnadze admitted that the local elections were marred by vote rigging, but denied that the government was involved, Caucasus Press reported. He said if government officials had indeed participated in malpractice, the SMK wing that still supports him would have garnered at minimum 4 percent of the vote; in Tbilisi, the pro-presidential SMK received only 2.54 percent. Responding the Council of Europe criticism that the ballot was organized badly and in haste, Shevardnadze pointed out that postponing it any later than 2 June would have laid him open to impeachment on charges of violating the constitution. Shevardnadze said on 4 June that he is ready to work with the opposition parties that won election to local councils in the 2 June ballot provided that those parties abide by the Georgian Constitution, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. But at the same time he warned that he will not allow "disturbances or chaos," an allusion to the affirmed intention of some opposition political leaders to mobilize popular discontent in order to pressure Shevardnadze to resign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 June)
SECURITY OFFICIAL WARNS OF GROWING ISLAMIST THREAT.
Activists from the banned Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir are expanding their activities in Kazakhstan, especially in the south of the country, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 June quoted National Security Committee Deputy Chairman Major General Bauyrzhan Elubaev as saying. He added that late last year and again in April 2002, police in Kazakhstan's southern oblasts registered attempts to distribute anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic leaflets. At least seven persons suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir were detained in Kazakhstan last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)ARRESTED KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST'S WIFE BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE.
Karlyghash Zhaqiyanova, whose husband Ghalymzhan is hospitalized and awaiting trial on charges of financial crimes in Pavlodar Oblast, began a hunger strike on 7 June to protest the treatment he is receiving, AP reported. Police, not doctors, are reportedly deciding which medications he should receive. Zhaqiyanov has twice been placed in intensive care in recent weeks, the first time after collapsing during an eight-hour police interrogation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
PROTEST PARTICIPANTS DETAINED IN SOUTH.
Police on 8 June dispersed several hundred people who had resumed a protest blockade of the Bishkek-Osh highway near the town of Tash-Komur in Djalalabad Oblast on 5 June, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The demonstrators, who blocked the highway for a week last month, demanded that the sentence recently handed down to parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov be annulled and that those responsible for the March bloodshed in Aksy Raion be punished. Some 40 protesters were detained, and criminal proceedings have been brought against seven of them, ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)NGOS PROTEST LAW ON POLITICAL EXTREMISM.
Several Kyrgyz human rights organizations appealed on 4 June to President Askar Akaev to withdraw the draft law on fighting political extremism that he submitted to both chambers of parliament on 24 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They argued that the law could be misused in order to crack down on the political opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
PRESIDENT CONSIDERS PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION A THREAT TO INDEPENDENCE...
Speaking on Moldovan Television on 3 June, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin warned citizens that "the parliamentary opposition represents a blow to Moldova's statehood and independence," Flux reported. He further harshly criticized the recent anticommunist protest movements organized by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), and described those who organized them as "uneducated, uncivilized, and unpatriotic." President Voronin called on authorities to halt any protest actions if they prove as "insolent" as the recent protests in Chisinau. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)...WHILE PPCD CHAIRMAN THREATENS TO RENEW ANTIGOVERNMENT PROTESTS.
Replying to Voronin's speech, PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 4 June that the president was merely revealing his "incompetence, aggressiveness, and contempt for democratic values," Flux reported. He added that Voronin intends to continuously trample "on the principles of a state of law and on basic human rights." Rosca added that, as he sees little hope for "taming" the current rulers, the opposition might have to renew protests in order to "defend democracy" and the rule of law. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)
UNEMPLOYMENT AMONG YOUNG POLES SOARS SINCE 1998.
The jobless rate among those seeking work for the first time in Poland has risen by 75 percent since 1998, Poland's Central Statistics Office announced on 3 June, dpa reported. Almost 1 million people under the age of 24 were registered as being out of work in the first quarter of this year, compared to 1998, when there were well under 500,000. The office set the jobless rate among young Poles for the first three months of this year at 45.5 percent, compared to an average jobless rate of 17.8 percent nationwide. The left-of-center government of Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 3 June launched its "First Job" program aimed at helping up to half a million young people find work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June)RADICAL AGRARIAN PARTY PROTESTS AS LEADER EXCLUDED FROM PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE, FINED.
The radical Self-Defense party of Andrzej Lepper dumped grain imported from Germany on 6 June to protest policies they say are ruining Polish farmers, AP reported. Lepper and several fellow parliamentarians helped open four railcars and let grain spill out at a junction outside Warsaw. Police stopped the protest after about 30 minutes. There were no reports of arrests or injuries. Deputy Interior Minister Zbigniew Sobotka said charges will be filed against all protesters who took part in the grain spilling, PAP reported on 7 June. Lepper claims that farmers are being undercut by cheap imported grain while domestic warehouses remain full. Sejm deputy speaker Donald Tusk excluded Lepper from a Sejm session on 7 June after futile attempts to persuade him not to obstruct the debate, PAP reported. Lepper took the floor during a discussion on the state of the agricultural sector and tried to deliver a speech without being recognized by Tusk, who was chairing the debate. Exclusion is a new penalty recently added to Polish parliamentary regulations. In addition, Lepper was fined by the Sejm Presidium: He will lose half of his parliamentary salary this month and next. "The extent of the turmoil that Mr. Andrzej Lepper allows himself is decisively too much to bear," Sejm speaker Marek Borowski commented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 June)AUTHORITIES TO TAKE TOUGH STANCE AGAINST BLOCKADES.
Premier Miller said on 9 June that police will not allow farmers from the radical Self-Defense union to block traffic in Polish cities, Polish media reported. Miller was responding to Self-Defense's announcement earlier the same day that it will organize nationwide protests and blockades on 25 June. "Wherever the law is broken, police will intervene with full determination, regardless of whether those who break it are [Sejm] deputies or not. Being a deputy does not give [one] permission to violate law and order, or to deride Poland," Miller said on Polish Radio. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
WORLD CUP LOSS SETS OFF RIOT IN MOSCOW...
Massive street rioting broke out in downtown Moscow following Russia's 1-0 loss to Japan in the World Cup soccer championships on 9 June, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Some sources reported that two people were killed in the violence, but that information remains sketchy and unconfirmed. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 fans -- many of them intoxicated -- gathered in a central square to watch the match on a big-screen television, while only about 150 police were on hand to control the crowd. After the match, fans rampaged along Moscow's main street, damaging the building that houses the State Duma, vandalizing about half a dozen restaurants in a fashionable pedestrian area, and attacking several tourists of Asian appearance. One hundred and eighteen people were arrested, and more than 100, including 20 police officers, were hospitalized. Duma Deputy Vladimir Reznik, a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, said that the Interior Ministry (MVD) must bear responsibility for the rampage because of its poor crowd control. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that he will personally look into the matter. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)...BUT WAS THE VIOLENCE SPONTANEOUS?
Many observers, including some leading politicians and pro-Kremlin commentators, labeled the 9 June violence an "orchestrated action." Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called the riots "a well-planned escapade," and Aleksandr Oslon, head of the Public Opinion Foundation, said the disturbances "must have been prepared by somebody," strana.ru reported on 10 June. The pro-Kremlin website also speculated that journalists on the scene may have been "intentionally assaulted." According to "The Moscow Times," anchorman Yevgenii Krivenko said on state-run RTR's evening newscast on 9 June that the violence underscores the need to adopt quickly the controversial, government-sponsored bill on extremism that passed its first reading in the State Duma on 6 June. The incident is reminiscent of a case in 1999 when crowds of soccer fans rampaged near the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during NATO's military action against Yugoslavia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)ACTIVISTS ALARMED BY ANTI-EXTREMISM BILL.
Human rights activists on 4 June came out in opposition to a government-sponsored bill on extremism that is due to come before the State Duma on 6 June, Russian news agencies reported. The activists argued at a Moscow press conference that the bill gives too much leeway to law enforcement authorities to abuse their authority under the pretext of combating nationalist and racist violence. One definition of extremism contained in the bill includes "any illegal activity" aimed at "hindering the legal activities" of local governmental structures, which -- activists say -- could include any number of protest activities. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying, "after this law is passed, law enforcement bodies will obtain an effective tool" against extremism. Liberal State Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev was quoted as saying that existing laws are sufficient, but that they are poorly enforced by police, prosecutors, and the FSB. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)DUMA GIVES INITIAL NOD TO HATE-CRIMES BILL.
The State Duma passed a government-sponsored anti-extremism bill in the first reading on 6 June, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 271 for, 141 against, and one abstention. President Putin and law enforcement officials have urged the Duma to pass the bill quickly, but liberal critics maintain that its vague provisions could lead to abuses by the authorities. According to regions.ru, Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), who chairs the Legislation Committee, said that deputies' complaints will be addressed before the bill is presented for its second reading. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June)CITIZENSHIP BILL BECOMES LAW.
President Vladimir Putin on 3 June signed into law a government-sponsored bill on acquiring Russian citizenship, Western and Russian news agencies reported. According to ITAR-TASS, Putin told a cabinet meeting that the new law will "regulate immigration in the interests of the Russian citizen, but, at the same time, not shut the door on our ethnic kin." Experts estimate that more than 4 million ethnic Russians have immigrated to Russia from other former Soviet republics over the last decade. The head of the Federal Immigration Service, Lieutenant General Andrei Chernenko, said the new citizenship law will "cut off a huge source of corruption" and put a safe barrier "against the entry into the country of criminals and HIV-infected persons," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported the same day. Chernenko said he disagrees with those who say that the tougher citizenship law is "immoral." "It was immoral to sign the Belovezha accords [the 1991 agreement signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus that disbanded the USSR], which separated compatriots," Chernenko said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 June)COURT RULES OUT NEW PSYCHIATRIC EXAMINATION FOR MURDERER OF CHECHEN GIRL.
The North Caucasus Military Court on 3 June rejected a request for a repeat psychiatric evaluation of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is on trial for the murder of a 16-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000, Russian agencies reported. The request was filed by a lawyer for the murdered girl's family, who reject a ruling by psychiatrists from Moscow's Serbskii Institute that Budanov was "temporarily insane" at the time of the killing. At a press conference in Moscow on 3 June, human rights activists and independent psychiatrists questioned the validity of the Serbskii Institute's findings, noting that members of its staff were notorious for their willingness to diagnose Soviet-era dissidents as mentally ill and incarcerate them in psychiatric hospitals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)MASS GRAVE FOUND AT SITE OF LATEST SWEEP IN CHECHNYA.
The bodies of some 25 people, including two women, were found on 4 June in a mass grave between the villages of Tsotan-Yurt and Mesker-Yurt, chechenpress.com reported on 5 June quoting Chechen human rights activists. The victims had been shot. Mesker-Yurt remains cordoned off by Russian troops who launched a search operation there last week for Chechen fighters. Ali Alavdinov, deputy premier in the pro-Moscow Chechen government and a native of Mesker-Yurt, condemned the killings as a crime against humanity. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)RUSSIAN TROOPS ADMIT TO SHELLING MOSQUE IN MESKER-YURT.
Citing the website utro.ru, chechenpress.com on 6 June reported that Russian troops have admitted to shelling the central mosque in the village of Mesker-Yurt, which has been the object of a search operation for over two weeks. According to utro.ru, the troops claimed that two Chechen fighters were targeting Russian servicemen from the mosque; but chechenpress.com reported on 30 May that the entire male population of the village was being held captive in the building. Interfax on 6 June reported that Mesker-Yurt is still cordoned off from the outside world. Meanwhile, on 7 June, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer described the treatment of Chechen civilians by Russian forces as "unacceptable," dpa reported. Fischer said that Chechnya raises "great concerns" and Russia cannot be given a post-11 September "antiterrorism rebate" for its actions there. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
SLOVAKS DON'T LIKE FOREIGN POLITICIANS TELLING THEM FOR WHOM TO VOTE...
Some 50.8 percent of Slovaks perceive statements by foreign leaders expressing concern over the possible participation of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in the government following the September elections as interference in the free competition of political parties in Slovakia, TASR reported on 4 June. According to a survey conducted by Slovak Radio, nearly 47 percent of respondents believe that such statements are pressuring voters and infringe on their right to freely decide for whom to vote. Almost 41 percent does not agree with this opinion. More than half of those questioned in the survey do not consider Western politicians' opinions of the HZDS to be helpful for the progress of democracy. The nationalist Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) urged "all Slovaks" not to give up and to participate in the elections to decide their future, TASR reported on 3 June. PSNS parliamentary deputy Rastislav Septak said that statements made by foreign politicians and analysts regarding whom to vote for are "incorrect and not acceptable." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 June)...WHILE U.S. SEEKS ASSURANCES ON SLOVAK DEMOCRACY...
U.S. President George W. Bush was to meet his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster in Washington on 7 June, the SITA news agency reported the same day. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were expected to participate in the talks at which the U.S. administration would press Schuster to say that democratic principles would be observed during the upcoming parliamentary elections. Some experts have expressed concern over Slovakia's ability to form a democratic government. Recently, Bruce Jackson, president of the nongovernmental United States Committee on NATO, stated that he does not trust HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar and does not wish to have him as an ally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)...AND COMMON EU AND SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE DOES NOT ADOPT FINAL DECLARATION.
For the first time the common parliamentary committee of the European Union and Slovakia on 4 June did not approve the proposed final declaration and recommendations pertaining to the country's efforts to join the union, Slovak newspapers reported. Only half of the European parliamentarians supported the suggested text. One of the reasons for its rejection was the fact that it did not include an appeal to Slovak voters to vote in the September elections. According to some European members of the committee, the declaration should have mentioned that the membership of Slovakia must be ratified by all EU member states and that all must be certain that Slovakia has fulfilled the political criteria for membership of the union. This formulation was rejected by the Slovak members of the committee, with its co-Chairman Peter Weiss saying that such a requirement would have returned Slovakia to the same situation it faced in 1997, when Slovakia was criticized for not fulfilling the political criteria because of the policies of then-Prime Minister Meciar. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)HZDS CHAIRMAN RECEIVES POLICE SUMMONS AND IGNORES IT.
HZDS Chairman Meciar received a summons from the financial police to testify concerning the sources of financing for his villa in Trencianske Teplice in western Slovakia, the SITA news agency reported on 6 June. The reconstruction of the villa has been reported to have cost as much as 41 million Slovak crowns ($872,000). According to police sources cited by SITA, this was the 10th attempt to serve summons on Meciar, but the first that actually reached him. Meciar said that he borrowed the money from a "normal" foreign lender and that the accusations against him are politically motivated. SITA reported that he did not appear as summoned on 7 June. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)COURT UPHOLDS DECISION ON FORMER SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR.
A Bratislava court has upheld the June 2001 decision of a lower court to halt proceedings against former Slovak secret service director Ivan Lexa for the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995, SITA reported on 5 June. The court reasoned that the amnesty granted in 1998 by then-acting President Meciar does not allow for Lexa's prosecution. Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel said he will appeal the verdict, arguing that the amnesty refers to "crimes related to the kidnapping and not the kidnapping itself." Lexa's whereabouts are unknown. His lawyer Lubomir Hlbocan said it was a just decision and stressed that it is impossible to cancel an amnesty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June)
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION MEETS.
A commission established earlier this year by the Tajik government to monitor the country's compliance with its human rights commitments held its first meeting in Dushanbe on 4 June, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Among the priorities outlined by participants were ensuring that officials respect and observe human rights, providing information on human rights, and bringing Tajik legislation into line with international norms in the human rights sphere. Ivo Petrov, who heads the UN Mission in Tajikistan, pointed out in a recent interview with centrasia.ru that Dushanbe has not yet provided information on its compliance with such international obligations, with the exception of the Convention on Children's Rights. In its annual report issued last week, Amnesty International noted that Tajikistan has not abolished capital punishment and that reports of police brutality are widespread. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)
AMNESTY CALLS FOR RELEASE OF POSSIBLE PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE.
In a public appeal released 8 June, Amnesty International called for the release of Mukhametkuli Aymuradov, citing repeated failures to provide a fair trial. Aymuradov was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1995 in a case said to be flawed by procedural violations; he received an additional 18-year sentence in 1998. Amnesty International is concerned at reports that these sentences were politically motivated. The death in custody of his co-defendant, Khoshali Garaev in September 1999 has heightened concerns for Aymuradov's safety, coupled with reports of his poor health and denial of appropriate medical treatment. Aymuradov and Garaev were reportedly arrested and forcibly removed to Turkmenistan by Turkmen security police during a trip to Uzbekistan in October 1994. They were subsequently convicted of antistate crimes including "attempted terrorism" in a closed court session in June 1995. No substantial evidence was produced that the pair were guilty as charged or had used or advocated violence, and Amnesty International believes that there is compelling circumstantial evidence to support allegations of prosecution solely because of their association with exiled opponents of the government of Turkmenistan. CAF
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES MORE DEMOCRATIC REFORMS.
In a speech before the Ukrainian parliament on 4 June, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Ukraine for its moves toward European integration, but he also urged the former Soviet republic to continue with democratic reforms, AP reported the same day. "One of the great challenges to humankind today is to make not just the principle but the practice of democracy equally universal," Annan told the Verkhovna Rada. The UN secretary-general also called on the international community to help Ukraine ensure that "democracy cannot be subverted in insidious ways, through the slow accretion of abuses," alluding to allegations of corruption and election rigging that have been leveled against Ukrainian officials. International observers reported irregularities in Ukraine's 31 March parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June)HALF OF HUNGARIANS REQUEST ETHNIC CARD, THOUSANDS MIGRATE ANNUALLY.
Half of the Hungarians of Karpatalja in Sub-Carpathia, western Ukraine, almost 80,000 people, have already applied for a Hungarian certificate to provide preferential treatment granted by Hungary to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring states, Hungarian Radio reported on 4 June. Istvan Gajdos, chairman of the public administration office of the Beregszasz (Beregovo) district said that in his view the Hungarian-Ukrainian disagreements concerning the status law could be resolved. Gajdos, who is the only ethnic Hungarian in the Ukrainian parliament, said that it was causing concern that 1,000-2,000 Sub-Carpathian Hungarians migrate to the mother country each year. CAF
U.S. DIPLOMAT URGES SWIFTER DEMOCRATIZATION.
During talks in Tashkent on 7 and 8 June, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner noted that Uzbekistan has recently made progress in improving its human rights situation, uza.uz and uzreport.com reported on 10 June. But he warned after his talks with Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, Prosecutor-General Rashit Kadyrov, Justice Minister Abdusamat Palvan-Zade, and Interior Minister Zokirzhon Almatov that if bilateral relations are to expand beyond security issues, economic and political reforms must be implemented. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)SECURITY OFFICERS SENTENCED FOR DEATH OF SUSPECT.
A court in Margilan, 400 kilometers east of Tashkent, handed down sentences on 6 June of between five and 15 years in prison to three security officers who inflicted fatal injuries on a suspect last year, Interfax reported. Alimukhammad Mamadaliev, 24, was one of five men detained on 4 November on suspicion of belonging to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. All five were released the same day, but MamadAliyev was later found dead of head injuries. In a similar trial earlier this year, four Uzbek police officers were sentenced to 20 years in prison for beating to death a man suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June)
DRASKOVIC THREATENS MASS PROTESTS.
Vuk Draskovic, who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), told a crowd of several thousand in Novi Sad on 8 June that he will organize roadblocks unless early Serbian parliamentary elections are held, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He did not give a time frame. Draskovic criticized the government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic for "selling off state property and driving citizens to the brink of ruin." He also charged that the government is betraying national interests, which will lead to independence for Kosova by the end of 2002. Draskovic was once the most powerful opposition leader in Serbia. He refused to join DOS in 2000, and the SPO has no seats in the current parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)KOSOVA SERBS TO RETURN ON THEIR OWN.
Some 5,000 Kosova Serbs assembled in Kraljevo on 8 June and vowed to return to their homes on their own if no organized program is offered them by 15 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They called for a "return en masse regardless of the cost." They said they will hold the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), the UN, the EU, and other unnamed institutions of the international community responsible for their fate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)RUGOVA RE-ELECTED PARTY LEADER.
Kosova President Ibrahim Rugova was unanimously re-elected head of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) in Prishtina on 8 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said that he will place renewed emphasis on the protection and integration of the province's ethnic minorities. Also at the congress, delegates called for making 12 June a national holiday. On that date in 1999, international forces entered Kosova and effectively ended Serbian rule. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
NGOS TACKLE TORTURE WITH HELP OF UN PANEL
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Torture has not abated since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has only worsened. The testimonies of victims, human rights lawyers, and international agencies indicate that the old adage of Stalin's Prosecutor-General Andrei Vyshinsky, "confession is the crown of evidence," still holds sway throughout the post-Soviet criminal justice systems, as authorities resort increasingly to mistreatment in custody even as other social and political controls have loosened.
Increased international scrutiny and engagement, and new initiatives by NGOs, however, are beginning to have an impact. Five and 10 years ago, when the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) examined compliance by the newly independent states on the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, they basically gave the countries a pass -- with a mild admonition to try harder, recognizing that these were "countries in transition."
By the third periodic reviews, however, with fresh activism by NGOs nonexistent a decade ago, and increased interest from liberal parliamentarians and the media, the free ride was over. In May, after hearing both official reports from government delegations, notable for their inadequate reporting and evasion, and some hard-hitting alternative reports from Russian and Uzbek NGOs providing a starker picture, CAT delivered one of its most frank and stringent critiques ever.
A coalition of Russian NGOs, led by the Nizhnii Novgorod Committee Against Torture, illustrated the power of the provinces to make themselves heard at an international meeting by concentrating on technical procedures. Joined by larger organizations with offices in Moscow including Memorial Human Rights Center, the Soldier's Mothers Committee, and the Committee on Civil Rights, the Nizhnii Novgorod group decided to use its own experiences in Russia's "third city" as a window on the entire criminal justice system and other institutions where abuse takes place, such as the army.
Out of a staggering nationwide system of nearly a million prisoners (the highest per capita number after China) they tracked just 70 cases of anguished torture victims over a two-year period -- persons caught up in abusive police investigation who were merely witnesses to crimes, or falsely accused of crimes, or even those found guilty of crimes, but who suffered unlawful treatment at the hands of the government. In each of the cases -- ranging from harsh and repeated beatings and sleep deprivation to notorious Russian torture implements such as the "elephant" (asphyxiation with the use of a gas mask) or rape with truncheons and electric shock -- the NGOs tried to compile information, file appeals, file paperwork again and again when it was lost, and managed to keep alive only a fraction of their cases. Only four reached the stage where the prosecutor charged police with torture; others are still pending, but 40 victims dropped their cases, losing hope.
Most frustrating were cases like that of the Varnenskii district Interior Directorate, where police were notorious for racking up some 19 cases of torture victims' allegations. A local prosecutor began a probe -- and then was himself fired for his whistle blowing. Those in uniform closed ranks, and the cycle began all over again.
The practice of brutal hazing in the army, known as "dedovshchina," also comes under the purview of CAT, as does abductions and disappearances -- torture both for the victim and the families who never find out their whereabouts. The CAT noted numerous "ongoing reports of severe violations of human rights and the Convention [against Torture], including arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, including forced confessions, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances, particularly during 'special operations' or 'sweeps,' and the creation of illegal temporary centers of detention, including 'filtration camps'" and also noted allegations of "brutal sexual violence are unusually common" -- despite recent orders to troops in Russia to stop such attacks on civilians. These orders are routinely disobeyed to date, as sweeps through Chechen villages such as Mesker-Yurt continue this month, catching up both young men and women, some of whom have been murdered or disappeared while in federal custody. Memorial issued a report claiming "malicious noncompliance with the orders," include the failure of troops to identify themselves, to notify relatives of detentions, or to permit the pro-Moscow civilian administration of Chechnya to be present at the sweeps.
As in past years, and as with other post-Soviet countries with torture and disappearances such as Belarus, CAT also urged Russia to form a new independent committee to investigation allegations, adding this year that it must be "credible and impartial" in part in response to the failure of a number of such bodies already in existence in Russia to compel prevention or prosecution of abuses.
With a new code of criminal procedures due to go into effect in July in Russia, a window of opportunity seems to be opening for change, in part promoted by officialdom itself. Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin himself told Interfax on 6 May that up to 60 percent of prisoners in pretrial detention are ultimately not sentenced to imprisonment, or are freed on rehabilitation grounds. This means that people were arrested without sufficient reasons, Kalinin said.
Also, Prosecutor-General Dmitrii Ustinov, in an annual report covered by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 April, unexpectedly admitted the negative influence of the Soviet-style system of rewarding law-enforcers for their performance based on the percentage of the number of crimes. He noted that despite 70 percent of all crimes being solved by police, "their efforts were frequently directed not to protecting the specific citizen who was victimized by crime, but to achieving a desired numerical figure for reduction in crime." NGOs added that such an incentive system also leads to the use of torture to force confessions in order to solve cases quickly -- at least on paper.
The UN torture panel urged Russia to draft a distinct article in the criminal code to identify and address torture. Even the conservative State Duma had taken some steps in the past to comply with the international recommendation, and yet they were blocked by a Kremlin representative, who sent a letter cited in the NGO report that such a move would "destroy the coherence of the Criminal Code." NGOs and liberal deputies also cited a Kremlin-ordered blockage of another law supporting unannounced outside inspections of detention facilities, a remedy endorsed by key figures in the Duma as well as law-enforcers themselves and Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov.
While the UN has no capacity to enforce the conclusions of its treaty bodies, NGOs say that bolstered by such validation of their concerns, gradually, their complaints are being addressed. "The Ministry of Justice has approved a government program to combat tuberculosis. Deputy Ministry Yurii Kalinin has promised that the grills over the prison windows which had kept out air will be removed," Andrei Babushkin of the Committee for Civil Rights told "Novye Izvestiya," which chronicled the NGOs efforts at the UN on 25 May.
Following up on the testimony of NGOs that not a single example seemed to exist of a court dismissal of evidence obtained under torture, the CAT urged the Russian Supreme Court to establish guidelines for judges regarding the inadmissibility of testimony made under torture. They also called for consideration of civilian review to scrutinize mistreatment of junior officers by each other or superiors, ending the closed circle documented by NGOs, where military commanders themselves decide whether and how cases are investigated, and military judges heed their signals to drop them.
Uzbekistan also came in for far closer examination this year at CAT, where for the first time, alternative reports prepared by NGOs were distributed, including from the Uzbekistan Legal Aid Society and others prepared with the assistance of "Ezgulik" (Good Deed) Human Rights Society and Memorial Human Rights Center.
Using unusually strong language, the committee called on the Uzbek government to review all convictions handed down since 1995 that were based solely on confessions, recognizing that they may have been coerced through torture, and "as appropriate, provide prompt and impartial investigation and take appropriate remedial measures."
As authorities in Uzbekistan have cracked down on thousands of devout Muslims active outside the confines of state-sponsored Islam, and NGOs have chronicled numerous cases of torture and deaths in detention, the CAT response is an important official condemnation from the international community. NGOs noted the well-known cases of Emin Usman, a member of the Union of Writers and former head of the Uighur Cultural Center in Tashkent, who died in February 2001 in detention from numerous wounds three weeks after arrest; and the death in June 2001 of Shovrik Ruzimuradov, the chair of the Kashkadar regional chapter of the Uzbekistan Human Rights Society, who was said to have committed suicide after three weeks of detention but whose body was discovered to have multiple injuries.
While conceding the need to combat terrorism and its international dimensions, CAT urged Uzbekistan to adopt "measures to permit detainees access to a lawyer, doctor, and family members from the time when they are taken into custody, and ensure that doctors will be provided at the request of detained persons, rather than at the permission of prison officials." The International Committee for the Red Cross and local NGOs have had only partial access to the prisons, and it is hoped that the impetus from Geneva engendered by such a review will strengthen their hand in efforts to humanize the brutal penitentiary system.