24 July 2002, Volume 3, Number 30
IN FOCUSNAZARBAEV PREVENTS OPPOSITION FIGURES FROM ATTENDING SEMINAR. Opposition figures from throughout Kazakhstan have begun gathering for a three-day seminar on the political situation in the Central Asian country. The seminar, organized by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, is scheduled to begin on 24 July at the Alatau sanatorium in Almaty.
In some cases, opposition leaders have been prevented from traveling to Almaty by being refused transportation. Local police officers in some instances have simply insisted that people not travel from their home towns.
Zhumatay Dospanov, the regional head of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan movement in the western city of Atyrau, told RFE/RL: "Somehow I am not allowed to leave my town. I assume [the authorities] want to block me because they don't like the idea that I would meet American experts."
Dospanov is not the only one in this situation. Sagat Jusup, the head of the opposition Republican People's Party in Kizil Orda Oblast, said: "I was refused both train and plane tickets at all the desks I asked at. Then I realized that special instructions had been given to cashiers not to sell any tickets to me. Moreover, at a cashier's desk at the Kizil Orda airport, a young woman told me her boss had instructed her not to sell me a plane ticket." Jusup said that the authorities are trying to prevent members of his party from attending the Almaty seminar because they know they will hold their own separate discussions after the three-day meeting. "I think the main issue here is the fact that our party was planning to hold a session after the seminar in Almaty. And I assume that the KNB [secret police] are trying to prevent such a gathering," Jusup said.
Amirzhan Kosanov, the chairman of the executive committee of the Republican People's Party, told RFE/RL his movement plans to use their post-seminar gathering to discuss how best to fight the new legislation on political parties, which drastically increases the minimum number of members a party must have to officially re-register. "No matter what happens with some of the delegates, the seminar and our gathering [afterward] will take place. Our [party] leader, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, has called on all political parties and movements to change their strategies regarding the new law on political parties adopted recently by the parliament. And I am sure that in order to prevent our opinion exchange [on the issue], local authorities are trying to raise obstacles like [preventing us from attending the Almaty seminar]," Kosanov said.
Kazhegeldin, the former prime minister (1994-97) who is currently living in self-imposed exile, is known as the main political rival to President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Kazhegeldin last month received from the European Parliament a so-called Passport of Freedom, intended to show support for the democratic opposition in Kazakhstan.
Last September, Kazhegeldin was sentenced in absentia to 10 years' hard labor on charges of abuse of office, tax evasion, taking bribes, and illegal possession of weapons. The opposition has called the trial a farce, while the Kazakhstan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed doubts that the sentence conforms to international standards of justice.
The new political-party law has also drawn international attention and concern. Approved earlier this month by Nazarbaev, the new law raises from 3,000 to 50,000 the minimum number of members a party must have to qualify for official re-registration. The law also requires that a party be dissolved if it fails to make it into parliament in two consecutive elections. Opposition parties and human rights groups argue that the law will result in the closure of all but three of the country's 19 parties. On 22 July, the outgoing OSCE ambassador to Kazakhstan, Heinrich Haupt, called the law "a serious threat to political pluralism." He added, "Peaceful opposition forces are an important element of democracy, but it will be difficult for them to gather 50,000 members." Haupt, in a speech marking the end of his term as OSCE ambassador, said that "despite obvious achievements," the country needs to continue to pursue reforms. The diplomat pointed to the necessity of increasing the role of parliament, ensuring an independent judiciary, and restoring an independent constitutional court.
On 18 July, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press briefing in Washington that both the new political-party law and continued harassment of opposition leaders put at risk democratic progress in Kazakhstan. "In Kazakhstan, we are increasingly concerned about recent developments. We've seen restrictive legislation regarding political parties. There's been ongoing harassment of opposition figures and the independent media. These things pose a serious threat to the democratic process in Kazakhstan," Boucher said.
Boucher urged Kazakh authorities to reverse the current "antidemocratic trend," adding that the recent trial of opposition figure Mukhtar Abliyazov "appears to be part of a campaign to selectively target political opponents." Abliyazov, a co-founder of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan movement, was sentenced last week to six years in jail for abuse of office while he was energy minister. Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, another founder of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan and a former regional governor, is currently on trial on similar charges.
The trials of these two opposition leaders have drawn critical attention from the international community over the past months. Human rights activists say both cases are politically motivated attacks on the political opposition. They also point out that Nazarbaev has cracked down on dissent more and more frequently since the emergence of the Democratic Choice movement last November.
(This article was written by RFE/RL correspondent Antoine Blua and Merkhat Sharipzhanov of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.)
ALBANIAIMMIGRANTS DEAD IN COLLISION OFF COAST. At least two Albanians were killed and many more injured late on 21 July when an Italian coastguard patrol boat collided with a dinghy that was packed with Albanian illegal migrants, Reuters reported. The Italian ship was attempting to force the dinghy back to shore just off Vlora when the accident occurred. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
AZERBAIJANU.S. ADVISES AZERBAIJAN TO POSTPONE PLANNED REFERENDUM. Speaking at a press briefing in Washington on 18 July, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher advocated that the referendum on proposed amendments to Azerbaijan's Constitution scheduled for 24 August be postponed to allow more time for debate, Reuters reported. Azerbaijani opposition parties have said they will boycott the referendum unless their conditions, which include its postponement for one month, are met. Boucher also advised the Azerbaijani leadership to consult with the OSCE and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights "to ensure that the proposed constitutional amendments are consistent with Baku's OSCE commitments." But President Heidar Aliyev told journalists on 19 July that the referendum will take place on 24 July as originally scheduled, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
PACE RAPPORTEURS MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteurs Andreas Gross and Martinez Casan met in Baku on 18 July with opposition party leaders to discuss the Karabakh conflict, political prisoners, the planned referendum on constitutional amendments, and the 2003 presidential election, Turan reported. Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar described the talks as "rather fruitful." But Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov criticized PACE for failing to devote sufficient attention to building a free and democratic society and creating conditions for free elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
OPPOSITION THREATENS TO BOYCOTT REFERENDUM. Meeting in Baku on 17 July, representatives of some 25 opposition parties and movements adopted a statement listing the conditions under which they are prepared to participate in the planned 24 August referendum on amendments to the country's constitution, Turan reported. They demand that an emergency session of parliament be convened to amend the laws on elections, referenda and the Central Election Commission (CEC), after which a new CEC is to be chosen; that the referendum be postponed for one month; that the proposed abolition of proportional system voting be dropped; and that voters be required to approve each of the planned amendments separately. The nine parties aligned in the "conservative" wing of the Democratic Congress already agreed last week to peg their participation in the referendum to those demands. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
BELARUSSUPREME COURT DISMISSES APPEAL FROM FAMILY OF MISSING CAMERAMAN. The collegium of the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed on 16 July an appeal filed by the family of Dzmitry Zavadski, a cameraman for Russia's ORT television who disappeared in July 2000, Belapan reported the same day. In March, the Minsk Oblast Court sentenced Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik to life in prison for kidnapping Zavadski. Two more defendants, Alyaksey Huz and Syarhey Savushkin, were sentenced to 25 and 12 years, respectively, for being accomplices in the crime. Zavadski's family, however, asked the Supreme Court to reinvestigate the case, claiming the guilt of the accused was never proven and that the evidence against them was obtained illegally. The court also dismissed appeals filed by the four men convicted of the crime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
RELATIVES OF MISSING PUBLIC FIGURES APPEAL TO POLISH PARLIAMENT. The wives of Zavadski and businessman Anatol Krasouski, who disappeared in September 1999, delivered an appeal to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish parliament on 16 July, requesting assistance in investigating the disappearances of their husbands, Belapan reported the next day. The letter asks the parliament to adopt a resolution concerning Belarus and to urge Belarusian authorities to allow an independent international commission to investigate the cases of missing persons in the country. This appeal follows a similar one made to the Russian State Duma on 1 July and another made to the Supreme Court of Belarus on 16 July. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
GEORGIAOVER 100 OFFICERS, NCOS RESIGN COMMISSIONS... Citing poor conditions, 102 officers and sergeants from Georgia's crack Kodjori regiment have applied for transfer to the reserve, Caucasus Press reported on 19 July. Most of them were trained abroad. One of them was quoted as saying that "we have become convinced that it is impossible to speak of building a Georgian army under current conditions." National Security Council member Givi Iukuberdze told journalists on 19 July that the officers' statement should not be construed as a mutiny. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze is to meet with the men later on 19 July. A unit of the Georgian National Guard quit its base without permission a year ago to protest the condition under which its members served. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
...AS PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE DEPLORES UNDERFUNDING FOR MILITARY. Chairman Irakli Batiashvili told a session of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee on 18 July that during the first six months of the year the Defense and State Security ministries received only 80 percent of their planned funding, the Department of State Border Protection 77 percent, the Interior Ministry 85 percent, and the Intelligence Service 61 percent, Caucasus Press reported. The shortfall in the case of the Defense Ministry was 4 million laris ($1.8 million), according to Caucasus Press on 5 July. Despite its financial constraints, the Interior Ministry has recently taken delivery of an Mi-8 helicopter from the Kaunas Aircraft Works, the interior fittings of which alone cost $300,000, Caucasus Press reported on 17 July, citing "24 saati." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
TWO MEN DETAINED FOR ATTACK ON NGO. Police in Tbilisi detained two men late on 17 July on suspicion of carrying out the violent attack one week earlier on the Liberty Institute in which several of its staff members were badly beaten (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 17 July 2002) Caucasus Press reported on 18 July. The men are members of a radical Georgian religious group; one of them has reportedly already admitted his participation in the attack, and denied that he and his 10 companions were acting on orders from others. But institute staffer David Zurabashvili said on 18 July he does not believe that the attack was the work of religious fanatics, Caucasus Press reported. He claimed the perpetrators were acting on orders from the National Security Ministry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
KYRGYZSTANMONUMENT UNVEILED TO VICTIMS OF AKSY UNREST. Some 10,000 people attended the unveiling in Boz-Piek, southern Kyrgyzstan, of a monument to the five people who died on 17-18 March in clashes between police and demonstrators in nearby Aksy, AP reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov was repeatedly interrupted when he tried to address the gathering. Participants expressed displeasure that President Askar Akaev, who left the previous day on an official visit to Khakassia and Mongolia, did not attend. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
OPPOSITION DEMANDS PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION. Representatives of Kyrgyzstan's major opposition parties convened a second public congress on 18 July in the southern village of Kerben, Interfax reported. Estimates of the number of participants range from 700 to 5,000. They adopted a resolution naming President Akaev personally responsible for the deaths of five demonstrators in a clash with police in Aksy Raion on 17-18 March, and called on him to resign and not sign the amnesty law passed last month for police and local officials involved in that standoff. They also pledged to stage a protest march in September from Kerben to Bishkek, a distance of some 400 kilometers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
MACEDONIANEW ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICAL PARTY OPENS BRANCH IN CAPITAL. The Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- a political party founded in Tetovo early June by members of the disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) -- has founded a branch in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 July. In a speech before party members, Deputy Chairwoman Teuta Arifi described last year's "common struggle" -- which resulted in constitutional changes -- and its democratic character as the two main pillars of the BDI's activity. She also called for equal opportunity in the fields of education. "Once and for all, we want to put an end to the prejudice that our people are backward. This people, which has given the world two Nobel Prize winners, seeks education, values peace, and respects the culture," Arifi said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
RULING ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY OFFICIALLY REGISTERED IN MACEDONIA. The leadership of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) announced on 19 July that it was officially registered by the Skopje Municipal Court on 5 July, the daily "Dnevnik" reported. That court had refused to register the party for five years because of the party flag as well as certain allegedly unconstitutional provisions in the party program. The party flag features a black double-headed eagle against a red background, similar to the Albanian national flag. "[The court has now] ruled that it is not the symbol of the Republic of Albania, since our double-headed eagle in many ways differs from the Albanian national flag," Deputy party Chairman Bedredin Ibrahimi said. The PDSH was founded on 5 July 1997. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE DAILY IN MACEDONIA ACCUSES WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL OF SLUGGISHNESS. The Skopje-based Albanian-language daily "Fakti" on 15 July accused the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague of inactivity in connection with the prosecution of alleged war crimes during last year's conflict in Macedonia, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The daily admitted that the tribunal faces hindrances from the Macedonian side, but said the tribunal's behavior might undermine its credibility. The daily also accused Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of having ordered the courts and the Institute for Forensic Medicine to obstruct the tribunal's investigations into the alleged war crime cases of Ljuboten, the shooting of five civilian ethnic Albanians in the Gazi Baba suburb of Skopje, as well as into the abduction and ill-treatment of ethnic Albanians by police. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
MOLDOVAOPPOSITION DEPUTY RETURNS TO CHISINAU AFTER CAUSING UPROAR IN BELGIUM. Valeriu Plesca, a deputy representing the opposition Braghis Alliance in parliament, returned to Chisinau on 19 July, Flux reported. Plesca told journalists that he never intended to seek political asylum in Belgium. On 12 July, Plesca sent from Brussels a fax announcing he would not be returning home because he believed his safety was endangered by the government. At Chisinau airport Plesca reiterated that two pro-government newspapers had wrongly accused companies run by his family of illegal activities and said he has grounds to believe the newspapers acted at the behest of government officials. He said he has "received certain assurances" from the country's parliamentary leadership that the case will be "objectively examined." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
PRESIDENT CALLS ON CITIZENS TO BACK OSCE FEDERALIZATION PLAN. President Vladimir Voronin on 17 July called on the country's citizens to back the OSCE's plan for solving the Transdniester conflict through Moldova's federalization, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the OSCE draft proposal "will go down in history," adding that for the first time in a territorial conflict such as that in the Transdniester, a plan has been worked out that instead of a "civilized divorce" of the opponents, provides for a solution "meant to bring together rather than draw apart, to settle the conflict and produce historically tested and reliable forms of state institutions." Voronin said that "never before has there been proposed an option...that impairs the interests of neither side and paves the way for the country's consolidation for the benefit of the nation as a whole, rather than at the expense of one of the sides." He added that "it is important to bear in mind the positive spirit" of the OSCE document, even if some details included in the plan may be objectionable and will necessitate revision. Voronin said that "the logic of reintegration" can no longer be based on "mutual ultimata and endless appeals to external forces." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
POLANDFORMER HEAD OF RFE POLISH SERVICE MOVES BACK TO POLAND. Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, the longtime director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe in Munich (1952-76), returned to Poland on 21 July after 56 years in exile, PAP reported. Following his retirement in 1977, he moved to the United States where he lobbied for an independent Poland and later for Poland's entry into NATO. Nowak-Jezioranski, 89, termed his return an "act of optimism and faith in the future despite the hard time Poland is facing." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
ROMANIAROMANIANS WANT EU MEMBERSHIP... More than three-quarters of those questioned a public opinion poll conducted by the IMAS polling institute (76 percent) would vote in favor of Romania's accession to the EU in a referendum, Mediafax reported. Ten percent replied they would not participate in the voting, 9 percent said they did not know how they would vote, and only 4 percent said they would oppose membership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
...BUT DO NOT WANT ROMANY NEIGHBORS. More than two in five Romanians (41 percent) interviewed by IMAS said they would object to having a Rom as a neighbor, according to a "Roma News" dispatch. Fifteen percent would oppose having an ethnic Hungarian as neighbor, and 7 percent would not want to be the neighbor of a Jew. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
RUSSIADISSIDENT HERO DIES IN PARIS. Renowned Soviet-era dissident and writer Aleksandr Ginzburg, one of the founders of the samizdat tradition in the Soviet Union, died in Paris on 19 July at the age of 65, Russian and Western news agencies reported. In 1959, Ginzburg founded the literary journal "Syntaksis," of which only three issues appeared. He was arrested and sent to a labor camp in 1960. In 1966, Ginzburg collected and published documents relating to the persecution and trial of fellow writers Andrei Sinyavskii and Yulii Danil. The next year, Ginzburg was arrested again and sentenced to another five years in the camps. After his release, he joined forces with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to organize a support fund for political prisoners that was financed largely by proceeds from the sale of Solzhenitsyn's epic "The Gulag Archipelago." This work led to Ginzburg's third arrest in 1977 and to his exile to France in 1979. In recent years, Ginzburg wrote for the emigre newspaper "Russkaya mysl" and actively campaigned against human rights abuses in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
LIBERAL RUSSIA GIVEN CHOICE BETWEEN BEREZOVSKII OR ELECTIONS. In accordance with the law on political parties that went into force about a year ago, 10 political organizations, including Boris Berezovskii's Liberal Russia, have been denied party status, precluding them from taking part in the next parliamentary elections. While Justice Ministry officials have asserted that these rejections were based on purely formal or legal grounds, one of Liberal Russia's co-chairmen, State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin, said on 16 July that "political bargaining" is being conducted with the party's leadership, nns.ru reported. According to Pokhmelkin, Liberal Russia is being offered party status on the condition that it abandons its harsh opposition to the president and remove oligarch Berezovskii as co-chairman. However, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika reiterated on 16 July that the ministry's decision is not political, saying Liberal Russia still has a chance to be registered if it makes the necessary changes to its charter. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
COURT MAKES ANOTHER RULING ON CRIMINAL PROCEDURES. The Constitutional Court ruled on 17 July that the existing practice by certain supervisory authorities such as prosecutors and the chairmen of the Supreme Court and regional courts to make court verdicts tougher violates the Russian Constitution, Ekho Moskvy reported. According to the station, the court ruled that sentences should not be increased on appeal and that acquittals should not be overturned. Such practices are allowed under certain provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and the law on prosecutors. Lawyer Anatolii Kucheren called the Constitutional Court verdict "a revolutionary decision." "The ruling should have been made long ago. It is absolutely justified," he told the station. According to ITAR-TASS, this is the court's second decision on the country's criminal procedures in the past three months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS PROTEST NEW ALTERNATIVE-SERVICE LAW. A group of activists in Voronezh organized on 21 July a protest against the new law on alternative civil service recently passed by the State Duma and Federation Council, NTV reported. Protestors are collecting signatures for an appeal to President Vladimir Putin that asks him not to sign the new draft law and instead to send it back for revision. According to the news account, activists from the Youth Human Rights Movement and Amnesty International object to the fact that the length of alternative service is longer than that of ordinary military service and that draft boards, which are composed of officers from military commissariats, judge whether a potential recruit's beliefs and principles allow him to take up arms. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
PUTIN WISHES HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST HAPPY BIRTHDAY. President Putin has sent birthday wishes to Lyudmila Alekseeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation and chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Interfax reported on 20 July. "Your firm beliefs, principles, and courage in defending free thinking draw sincere respect," Putin said, noting that Alekseeva continues to "strengthen Russia's institutions of civil society." Earlier in the month, Alekseeva's group, along with other Russian human rights organizations, announced that they were no longer prepared to participate in discussions in Grozny with representatives of the Russian government and military on the human rights situation in Chechnya. The groups claimed that the dialogue was being used to deflect attention from flagrant human rights violations by the Russian military. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
MAYOR TAKES NOVEL APPROACH TO UNEMPLOYMENT, HEALTH PROBLEMS. Vorkuta Mayor Igor Shpektor has declared that if Russia legalizes prostitution, then the first public brothel will be opened in his city, nns.ru reported on 17 July, citing KomiInform. Shpektor, who is also acting president of the Russian Union of Cities in the Polar Region and Far North, fully shares the opinion of the head of the Moscow Oblast's Internal Affairs Department Nikolai Golovkin, who believes that if prostitution were legalized, then a number of problems would be solved such as the rising infection rate of venereal diseases and AIDS and violence against women, according to the website. Shpektor also raised the issue last year when he suggested that his city could solve the problem of high unemployment among females there by legalizing prostitution He may have more hope for his cause now that the Union of Rightist Forces has suggested that it will propose legislation legalizing prostitution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE RUMBLE. The trial of five men aged 17 to 23 who are accused of participating in ethnically motivated violence at the Tsaritsino Market in Moscow in October 2001 opened in a Moscow city court on 16 July, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported the next day. The newspaper described the incident as "the largest rumble by skinheads in modern Russian history," an incident in which some 30 people were injured. According to various estimates, some 150 to 300 youths took part in the rampage, but prosecutors could find only five men to charge after its investigation. According to prosecutors, one of the accused, 19-year-old Mikhail Volkov, decided that he wanted to teach some of the antiglobalists who were arriving in Moscow in those days a lesson. He called some of his acquaintances from an informal group of soccer fans and skinheads and organized a "march" to the Sevastopol Hotel where foreigners stay. However, the raid went awry as the skinheads who were amassed to march to the hotel were distracted by traders at the Tsaritsino Market who were ethnic Caucasians and decided to beat them up instead. According to the daily, some Moscow police detectives doubt that Volkov would have been able to organize such a large gathering by himself without "serious financial support" and the help of "older friends." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
CHELYABINSK TO TRACK MOVEMENTS OF FOREIGNERS MORE CLOSELY. Control over the arrivals, registrations, and stays of foreign citizens will be strengthened in Chelyabinsk Oblast, announced Sergei Petrov, the deputy head of the administration for the passport-visa service of the Interior Ministry in the oblast, regions.ru reported on 17 July. According to Petrov, it was decided to adopt new measures after the massive inflow of Tajiks and Azerbaijanis into the Kashirinskii Market in the oblast's center. According to Petrov, immigrants from the former Soviet Union are the cheapest work force in the oblast and are used to build roads and buildings and do gardening. Petrov added that special attention will also be paid to places where immigrants live, such as dormitories, and to people who provide foreigners with housing and transportation. Last April, legislators in the oblast city of Magnitogorsk adopted a joint appeal to the oblast governor and legislature to close the city to foreigners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
SIBERIAN LOCALS WANT TO RUN ROMA OUT OF TOWN... Residents of the town of Pashino in Novosibirsk Oblast are protesting the presence of a Romany camp near their homes, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 July. About 70 Moldovan Roma moved to the town in May from Kemerovo Oblast, where they had lived for more than 20 years. According to the agency, the Roma plan to move to Chisinau, Moldova, eventually, but asked the raion administration head for permission to stay in Novosibirsk until the end of winter. Some local residents, however, don't want them to stay that long, and nearly 600 held a rally outside of the local House of Culture demanding that the Roma move immediately and threatening to burn down their encampment. They claim that the Roma are selling narcotics and have given their children packets of white powder. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
...AS OUTSIDE EXTREMISTS' INVOLVEMENT SUSPECTED. Some of the rally participants appeared to be members of criminal or extremist groups and not residents of the town, according to ntvru.com, citing "IA Regnum." Vadim Dron, deputy head of the Kalininskii Raion administration, told reporters that he believes outside forces are trying to stir up the situation. Yanush Mikhei, head of the Romany camp, assured local police that no one in his community is doing anything illegal and that most of their income comes from doing roofing work. According to "IA Regnum," law enforcement officials are investigating the incident, and it is possible they will launch a criminal case for inciting ethnic violence and extremism. Last June, a local newspaper in Kemerovo reported that 100 Romany families had been forced to flee to Novosibirsk after a group of local "businessmen" entered their camp with weapons and opened fire. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July).
NEW OPERATION TARGETS ROMA. Police in Moscow and Leningrad oblasts on 16 July began Operation Tabor, targeted against unregistered ethnic Roma, izvestia.ru and lenta.ru reported on 17 July. Under the program, police at train stations will stop everyone who appears to be Roma and check their documents to make sure they are legally registered. Those who are found not to be registered will be entered into a special database, have their fingerprints taken, and then be escorted outside the territory of the oblast, lenta.ru reported. The program, which is intended to cut down on drug trafficking, has provoked bitter criticism among Romany activists. "Can one really look for criminals among a specific nationality? A nation cannot be criminal," said Georgii Yanko, president of the Roma cultural-development foundation, according to lenta.ru. Activists confirmed that they have written to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and President Putin to protest the operation. They added that they will also appeal to international human rights organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
NEW CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER AIMS TO END DISAPPEARANCES... Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, whom President Putin named last week as human rights commissioner for Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 18 July that his top priority is to devise ways of cooperating with the Russian military command to ensure that Chechen civilians are no longer arbitrarily detained during Russian search operations and then ransomed or killed, Reuters and Russian media reported. He said he is ready to cooperate with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Russian human rights organizations concerned by human rights violations in Chechnya. In an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 19 July, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who is Chechnya's deputy to the Russian State Duma, again condemned systematic human rights violations during Russian search operations and the information blockade intended to prevent details of such operations from filtering out. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July).
...AS CHECHEN WOMEN BLOCKADE HIGHWAY TO PROTEST DETENTIONS. Women from the villages of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk blocked the main Caucasus highway in western Chechnya on 18 July for the third consecutive day to demand that the local authorities take steps to locate five men detained by in connection with an attack on Chechen police in Achkhoi-Martan in the early morning of 15 July, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
PUTIN AGAIN CALLS FOR HALT TO VIOLENCE AGAINST CHECHEN CIVILIANS. Speaking on 19 July in Sochi following his talks with French President Jacques Chirac, President Putin again said Russia should put an end to human rights violations committed by Russian troops during search operations in Chechen villages, Russian agencies reported. He said this could be achieved by gradually handing over to the embryonic Chechen police force responsibility for apprehending suspected resistance fighters. Putin admitted that violations of human rights have taken place during such search operations, but claimed that they "are not as awful" as they seem, Interfax reported. Meanwhile more than 100 people were detained in such search operations in the Shali, Kurchaloi, and Urus-Martan raions and on the outskirts of Grozny on 20-21 July, AP reported, quoting a member of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
U.S. AND COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGE RUSSIA TO END WAR. U.S. and European officials urged Russia to end human rights violations and negotiate peace in the breakaway Chechen Republic. Speaking at a conference near Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said he hoped Russia will demonstrate the courage to seek a political solution and end what he called serious human rights violations. ("Chechnya: U.S. And Council Of Europe Urge Russia To End War," rferl.org, 22 July.)
SLOVAKIAFORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF IN DETENTION. On 18 July, former Slovak Information Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa was placed in detention shortly after he landed in Bratislava following his extradition from South Africa, CTK reported. He is charged with abuse of power and corruption. A judge is to rule on 19 July whether Lexa will remain in detention while being investigated. CTK quoted Lexa, who has been a fugitive since 2000, as saying in an interview during the flight that he did not escape from Slovakia but "simply left." He is charged with several offenses, including the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. During the in-flight interview, Lexa again denied his participation in the abduction of Kovac's son or in the setting up of a fictitious auction for the sale of the painting "The Adoration of the Magi" in order to discredit the Roman Catholic Church. He also said the government, and in particular Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, are pursuing a personal vendetta against him. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
SMER LAUNCHES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN. A controversial election campaign that includes billboards displaying four naked bottoms has been launched by Smer (Direction) in what AP said marks a change to what had been a relatively dull election campaign in Slovakia. A slogan above the four naked bottoms of what appears to be a family with two children sitting on a bench proclaims: "Into the European Union!" and underneath, another phrase reads: "But not with naked backsides!" "Having a naked backside" means to be dirt poor in Slovak, and the billboards appear to suggest that the incumbent government is giving away too much in negotiations for joining the European Union, leaving the country poorer in the process. Eric van der Linden, the European Commission's chief representative in Slovakia, called the poster "cheap populism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July)
TAJIKISTANSCHOOLTEACHER SENTENCED FOR ISLAMIC PROPAGANDA. Dushanbe schoolteacher Vakhob Khalilov was sentenced to five years in prison on 18 July for heading a local cell of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, Interfax reported. Khalilov was said to have disseminated "reactionary" and "subversive" literature among young people. Also on 18 July, police in Dushanbe detained another Hizb ut-Tahrir activist in the city's Frunze Raion, ITAR-TASS reported. The chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, Said Akhmedov, was quoted earlier this week as saying that the majority of Tajikistan's Hizb ut-Tahrir members live in the north of the country. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
UKRAINEMETHANE BLAST KILLS SIX MINERS, WOUNDS 18. A methane explosion at the Yuvileyna coal mine in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on 21 July killed six miners and wounded 18, UNIAN reported. The blast came two weeks after a fire killed 34 workers at another Ukrainian mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Since 1991, 3,700 miners have been killed in job-related accidents in Ukraine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July)
UNPAID COAL MINERS DEMONSTRATE IN KYIV. An estimated 650 marchers gathered in the capital on 16 July to protest months of unpaid wages for coal miners and other grievances, dpa reported. The miners gathered in front of the Energy Ministry, where police monitored the peaceful proceedings, and called for payment of back wages, higher wages, and increased state subsidies to the industry, the agency added. About two-thirds of the country's 209 mines are state-run, dpa reported. Repeated calls for closures and layoffs have been countered by fears of social fallout over the fates of the 600,000 people who work in the sector. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
PROTESTING COAL MINERS PROMISED BACK WAGES. Hundreds of coal miners brought traffic to a standstill in downtown Kyiv on 18 July during a 40-minute rally to demand back wages, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. The protesters demanded that President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh pay the miners 1.2 billion hryvnas ($230 million) in unpaid wages. Ukrainian coal miners have staged a number of protests over wage arrears in recent months, including a three-week hunger strike. According to Oleksandr Bondarchuk, a member of parliament and representative of the Ukrainian Worker's Union, the government has not made good on promises to pay the back wages, AP reported. Kinakh met with Union of Coal Industry Workers head Viktor Turmanov and other union representatives following the 18 July protest and the prime minister promised to personally ensure that $25 million is paid to the miners by the end of this year, according to AP. "We have trusted our prime minister yet again," ITAR-TASS quoted Turmanov as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
UZBEKISTANANOTHER WOMAN ISLAMIST GIVEN SUSPENDED SENTENCE. A court in Tashkent on 16 July handed down a two-year suspended sentence on 38-year-old Musharaf Usmanova, whom it found guilty of providing support to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic organization, AP reported. Usmanova's first husband died in custody in 1999 after being detained on suspicion of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir; her second husband and son-in-law are serving prison sentences for their affiliation with the organization. Four women Islamist sympathizers likewise received suspended sentences in a similar trial in Tashkent two months ago. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July)
YUGOSLAVIADEL PONTE ARRIVES IN BELGRADE TO PRESS FOR GREATER OPERATION... Carla Del Ponte, the UN war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, arrived in Belgrade on 19 July to discuss Yugoslavia's increased cooperation with the tribunal, AP reported. Del Ponte is scheduled to meet with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic. The visit led President Vojislav Kostunica to convene a session of the country's Supreme Defense Council to consider demands by The Hague court for access to military files on former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A key document sought by the tribunal is one in which he reportedly admits diverting $390 million to support Serbian armies in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Del Ponte is also urging some of the estimated 17 indicted war criminals believed to be in Yugoslavia, foremost among them former Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic, to turn themselves in. Del Ponte said on 16 July that she knows where Mladic is hiding out. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
...AS YUGOSLAVIA ALLOWS TOP OFFICIALS TO TESTIFY AGAINST MILOSEVIC. The Yugoslav government said on 18 July that it will allow top officials from the Milosevic era to testify against the former Yugoslav president, Reuters reported. The decision frees the officials from the vows of secrecy they made while in office. This will allow Rade Markovic, the head of the secret service under Milosevic, to appear before the war crimes tribunal. Markovic is currently jailed in Belgrade on charges that he was involved in political assassinations of Milosevic's opponents. The government's decision will also allow former Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic to testify against Milosevic, his former ally. Lilic, the deputy prime minister during the war in Kosova, was summoned by the UN war crimes tribunal to take the stand in the Milosevic trial, and was detained in Yugoslavia and flown to The Hague last week for that purpose. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July)
END NOTEWHO IS REALLY THREATENED BY RUSSIA'S LAW ON EXTREMISM?
By Aleksandr Verkhovskii
Until now, Russian prosecutors have done little to stop hate crimes against Caucasians, Jews, Roma, Africans, and other minorities, despite an increasing wave of violent attacks. They claim the laws at their disposal are inadequate, yet their critics say they do not even make good use of the laws they have to combat extremism. The key issue has not been the law, but the absence of political will to apply it.
All that may be changing now that President Vladimir Putin has proposed his own draft law on extremism, and pushed it through an obedient Duma in a record month's time despite the objections of Communists, agrarians, some members of the liberal party Yabloko, and a few others who voted against the bill. The Federation Council (the upper chamber of parliament) also approved the bill, and Putin will evidently sign it into law soon.
The chief feature of the president's law is its incredibly broad definition of "extremism." Naturally, it is hard to come up with a precise legal definition for what amounts to a political commentators' term; similar difficulties have been encountered in international law with the terms "terrorism" and "racism." Russian law does define such acts as rebellion, terrorism, and mass disorders. Under the new law, any manifestation of xenophobia on ethnic, religious, or social grounds, regardless of the severity of the manifestation or whether it occurred in the public sphere or not, will be called "extremism."
Inciting ethnic hatred or denigrating ethnic dignity are wrong, and such offenses are already in the Russian Criminal Code. Yet the Criminal Code defines these acts as crimes only when they are committed in public, and when they are determined by a court of law to be a danger to society. The new law on extremism does not make those qualifications. That means all sorts of "soft" displays of xenophobia which deserve moral condemnation rather than legal prosecution, or even speech that might be universally accepted, but not entirely politically correct, could be determined to be "extremist activity" under a strict interpretation of the new law.
The law will affect entire categories of expression which ought not to be banned. Most religious preachers claim their religion's followers are especially "chosen" -- under the new law, this could be characterized as proclaiming "superiority on the basis of religion." All kinds of characterizations are made in everyday life, including such phrases as "Russian bureaucrats are crooked" -- will they be found "extremist?" Even such a slur against bureaucrats could be characterized under the law as "the propaganda of inferiority on the basis of social origin."
In short, if you want, you could find such "extremism" in practically any Russian newspaper or speech by any public figure.
Logically, any kind of aiding or abetting of extremism could also be characterized as extremism, but unlike other, more clearly defined formulations elsewhere in criminal law, the new law does not spell out that the abetter must be aware of the activity he has aided, for example, by providing communications services (they are specifically singled out in the law). That means any commercial entity could unwittingly be abetting someone who will be later defined as "extremist," creating a more dangerous climate for business.
Of course we could consider all of these problems as merely the result of a legislative blunder -- if it were not for the fact that this vague "extremism" carries extremely harsh penalties. Propagandizing or distributing texts that someone has decided qualify as such "extremism" is now a criminal offense; to this effect Article 280 of the Criminal Code has been amended, previously devoted only to "incitement of rebellion."
Although criminal prosecution of individuals under Article 280 may not immediately be in the offing, what is clear is that organizations and media outlets could face serious difficulties merely from threatened use of the law. A civic group or trade union or a newspaper could be closed for a few expressions of "extremism" -- and it will be easy to fine them if there is a will to do so. Newspapers, with their thousands of printed articles a year, will be particularly vulnerable.
Today an odious paper known for its anti-Semitism and hatred of Chechens is closed by court order, even before the law has gone into effect; but tomorrow a paper advocating protection of minorities against chauvinistic officials could be targeted. Civic or religious organizations may be suspended even without a court hearing under the new law merely because charges have been filed against them, as the court has six months to decide. It is a very effective method: the prosecutor will not even have to try to prove anything; even if he does lose the case, the law allows him to try again with a new suit and that enables him once again to suspend a group's activity. In fact, a group that fails to appeal an official warning under the law could face a petition for liquidation.
These severely harsh mechanisms essentially enable the government to crush any real radical nationalist group. Yet it is hard to believe this new law will be any more effective in achieving that purpose than existing laws. The chief obstacle to curbing racist activity in Russia has been the difficulty in proving an act had a racist intent. Investigators and judges find it hard to determine whether a slogan like "Down With the Yids!" has really "incited ethnic enmity." Whether law enforcers are motivated by sympathy to the nationalists or an unwillingness to take responsibility for a political decision, the new law, with its definition actually far from either a political notion or the everyday conversational meaning of the word "extremism" will actually not be helpful.
The elastic definition of the word in the law means that even useful innovative aspects of the new law lose their meaning, for example, the "ban on professions," i.e. the barring of persons who have a past record of anticonstitutional activity from serving in the police, and the regulation of public activities (there is still no general law about them).
The antiextremism bill likely to be signed into law will have a positive effect only to signal the latest government campaign, which will soon lose momentum, like other such initiatives. But the negative consequences of such legal reform could have a long-term effect. If anything, such a law will provide tremendous openings for corruption. A local judge could ban an informal group of three people for some sort of incoherent "extremism" and anyone who had any kind of contacts with them could fall under the prosecutor's glare and be tempted to bribery. Certain bureaucrats (most likely local rather than federal) could misuse such a law to harass groups or media which they simply do not like. An official could take it into his head that any sort of opposition figure, or a human rights or environmental activist, could be guilty of xenophobia if they address criticism against him, or they could be accused of "undermining security" -- a serious offense, already in the constitution, but not a very clear one, also included in the wording of the new extremism law without any commentary.
It is hard to imagine that the presidential administration did not realize that when the letter of the law cannot be implemented, it is inevitably applied selectively. And we cannot definitively say what prompted the administration to push through such a law. We can only suppose that there were two purposes at the outset: to develop tools to curb actual extremist groups (and here the target is more likely Islamist radicals in the North Caucasus and the Volga regions than Russian ultranationalists) and also to demonstrate participation in the international antiterrorist coalition. The police, security, and other "power" ministries seized the opportunity to grant themselves even more powers, and the Kremlin agreed to it probably for reasons related to some internal political battle.
It is already being said that critics of the law are simply panicking needlessly. They are not. President Putin has not even managed to sign it yet and already there are calls in the press to apply the law to Scientologists (they recently won a court battle but it is unlikely to be their last) as well as to human rights activists. Recently the Novorossiisk Committee for Human Rights, an NGO helping Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai who are currently suffering intense discrimination and denial of citizenship, was accused on local television of "helping extremists with foreign money" and "grossly interfering in the internal affairs of the krai." The group's leader was summoned to the regional administration and told by the deputy governor, "we will test the new law on extremism on your organization." Within two days, police investigators came to their office to collect legal and financial papers.
While as yet there has been only one such incident, and none leading yet to serious prosecution, this threat occurred even without the new law being formally passed. Regrettably, Russia's political experience has too often shown the validity of Chekhov's famous remark, that any gun that appears in the first act will fire by the end of the play. By using this blunt weapon to combat extremism, and violating civil rights along the way, Russia may well stimulate the very phenomena it is trying to end.
Aleksandr Verkhovskii is a Moscow-based free-lance writer and vice president of Panorama, a nongovernmental research institute monitoring social movements in Russia, which will be releasing a detailed study of the new law on extremism in August. Their reports can be found at http://www.panorama.ru/works/patr/govpol. This article was translated by Catherine Fitzpatrick.