Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: December 11, 2002

11 December 2002, Volume 3, Number 50
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY MARKED. The 54th anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights this year, marked by numerous urgent appeals and grim reports from both human rights groups and victims, illustrates that the original 30 simple articles of the international document are honored more in the breach than in their observation (see "World: Human Rights Day Highlights Plight of Civilians Caught in War,", 10 December 2002). The International League for Human Rights (ILHR) in New York marked a related anniversary on 9 December, "Defenders' Day," commemorating a complicated 1998 resolution of the General Assembly known as the "Defenders' Resolution" which took 13 years to negotiate and thus illustrated the distinct diversity of views about freedom and responsibility among the world's states. Two ILHR awardees this year from Central Asia, jailed journalist Sergei Duvanov of Kazakhstan and former political prisoner Topchubek TurgunAliyev of Kyrgyzstan, reflect the deteriorating human rights situation in that region (see "Central Asia: International Rights Group Honors Activists,, 10 December 2002). Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, known for incorporating human rights values into foreign policy, received his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December, and recalled in his speech his interventions on behalf of Andrei Sakharov, the Russian physicist who himself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (see ). While "nuclear and conventional armaments of the United States and the Soviet Union were almost equal," commented Carter, "democracy ultimately prevailed because of commitments to freedom and human rights, not only by people in my country and those of our allies, but in the former Soviet empire as well. As president, I extended my public support and encouragement to Andrei Sakharov, who, although denied the right to attend the ceremony, was honored here for his personal commitments to these same ideals" (see "World: Nobel Committee Honors Man Of Peace Under Shadow Of War,", 10 December 2002). CAF

FIFTEEN CANDIDATES NOMINATED FOR PRESIDENCY. A total of 15 candidates were nominated to contest the February 2003 presidential ballot by the 6 December deadline, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 December. They must now collect and submit to the Central Election Commission by 31 December at least 35,000 signatures in their support. Contrary to some observers' expectations, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian did not register as a candidate. Petros Makeyan, chairman of the Democratic Fatherland party that is close to Ter-Petrossian's Armenian Pan-National Movement, said he decided to run after it became clear that Ter-Petrossian would not do so. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION AGAIN CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. The Union of Azerbaijani Forces -- which comprises the small Vahdat, Social Democratic, and Islamic parties -- staged a rally in Baku on 8 December, at which participants again called for the resignation of the present Azerbaijani leadership, a crackdown on official corruption, free and fair elections, and the release of Islamic Party leaders taken into custody following the 3 June clashes between police and local residents in the village of Nardaran, according to ANS television, as cited by Groong. ANS said the number of participants was lower than at other recent demonstrations (mostly convened by a group of more influential political parties), but attributed the lower attendance to cold weather. Meanwhile, Islamic Party leader Alikram Aliev, who was taken to a detention-center hospital ward on 23 November suffering from complications due to diabetes, was sent back to his detention cell on 4 December, Turan reported on 6 December. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

PARENTS APPEAL TO PARLIAMENT ON BEHALF OF DISGRACED CADETS. Parents of some of the approximately 100 cadets expelled in September after staging a walkout from Azerbaijan's Higher Military College told journalists in Baku on 3 December that they have asked the Azerbaijani parliament to form a special commission to investigate the causes of the protest, Turan and reported. Some 2,000 cadets left the military academy to protest poor teaching standards and harassment by instructors. Some of them were subsequently sent to the front line where, according to their parents, conditions are "unbearable." The parents complained that their appeals to the Ministry of Defense and President Heidar Aliyev to allow their sons to return to the college have been ignored. They say that if the parliamentary commission establishes that the cadets acted criminally, they should face trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

U.S. CONGRESSMAN 'APPALLED' BY 'OUTRAGEOUS LIES' OF BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT. "I categorically refute the December 4 press release issued by Belarusian President [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka," U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon (Republican-Pennsylvania) said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk and dated 4 December. "I am appalled that anyone would take such blatant action and put out such outrageous lies." The Belarusian president's office had issued a press release on the recent meeting of Weldon and two other U.S. congressmen with Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). That statement said the U.S. congressmen called the 2001 presidential election in Belarus "fair and democratic." The release added that "an understanding was reached that the talks should start a new, constructive stage in the relationships of the Republic of Belarus with the U.S. and the Euro-Atlantic community." The press office also asserted that the U.S. congressmen expressed readiness to establish contacts with the current Belarusian legislature in the future. "Many of the statements in the press release concerning alleged agreement on the part of the delegation had been proposed to them but were categorically rejected," Weldon noted. "The delegation went to Minsk in good faith and what they have seen is the lowest form of politics." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

MINSK DENIES VISAS TO DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS. Robert Bach from the Prague-based People in Need foundation and Adrianu Mararu from Romania, who planned to participate in a conference on democratic-election standards in Raubichy near Minsk on 5-6 December, have not been granted Belarusian visas, Belapan reported on 4 December, quoting a representative of the Vyasna human rights group. Mararu, who observed the presidential election in Belarus in 2001, applied for a visa weeks in advance, but the Belarusian Embassy in Bucharest dragged out a decision on his application and later said it was too late to grant such permission. Mararu also asked a travel agency to get him a Belarusian visa, but the agency was reportedly told at the embassy that he was on a list of persons barred from traveling to Belarus. Bach believes the Belarusian Embassy in Prague denied him a visa in retaliation for the Czech government's decision to deny a visa to President Lukashenka, who sought to attend the NATO Prague summit last month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

DISCHARGED AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN PROMISES 'MAJOR SENSATIONS.' Former Belarusian Ambassador to Japan Pyotr Krauchanka, whose reported reluctance to return home from Tokyo has made headlines among Belarusian and international news agencies, said in Tokyo on 3 December that he intends to reveal "three major sensations" regarding political life in Belarus after his homecoming later this month, ITAR-TASS reported. Krauchanka claimed he has been the target of "pressure and provocations" from embassy staff in recent months. He added that a typescript of a book he wrote and his diary have disappeared from a safe in his Tokyo office. The previous day, Krauchanka told ITAR-TASS that he does not rule out running for the post of Belarusian president. "This whole scandal has come in handy for Krauchanka to attract attention to himself," Reuters quoted Alyaksandr Fyaduta, head of the independent Social Technology think tank in Minsk, as saying on 3 December. "This also gives him a definite guarantee of safety when he returns to the motherland," Fyaduta added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

BOSNIAN SERB LEGISLATORS LEAVE PARLIAMENT. Deputies from the Republika Srpska walked out of the Bosnian parliament on 3 December to protest a new ruling by High Representative Paddy Ashdown, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The decree, which he implemented without legislative approval, effectively makes the Bosnian central government independent of control of the two entities. Under the decree, the prime minister's job will no longer rotate frequently among Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian ministers. Voting in the Council of Ministers will be by simple majority. A spokesman for Ashdown said the Bosnian Serb deputies are simply trying to buy time in the run-up to forming a new coalition government. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES JUDICIARY. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski harshly criticized the Bulgarian judicial system in an interview published in Milan's "Corriere della Sera" on 3 December. "We have big difficulties with our judicial system, because it is a combination of [elements inherited from] the old system [and] new laws introduced in 1990, when nobody had the experience how to make reforms," Saxecoburggotski said. "The judges cannot be sacked and they come from various periods and from differing political systems," he added. Supreme Court of Appeals President Ivan Grigorov responded that the only "non-lie" in Saxecoburggotski's statement was that there are indeed problems within the judiciary, according to "Monitor" of 9 December. Regarding Saxecoburggotski's allusion that many judges are from the communist era, Grigorov said most of the country's judges are about 30 years old, which makes it impossible for them to have been employed by the communist state. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

OPINION POLL SHOWS PUBLIC UNINFORMED ABOUT KOZLODUY. Institute for Analysis and Marketing Director Yulii Pavlov wrote in an article for on 3 December that most Bulgarians are not aware of the facts regarding the expected shutdown of part of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant. According to an opinion poll conducted by the institute, the majority of Bulgarians are not aware that only the oldest blocks of the nuclear-power plant are slated for closure, or that those blocks account for only about 10 percent of the country's electricity production. The vast majority has no idea that the profits from the plant are slight compared to the financial support the country stands to receive from the EU during the accession process, according to Pavlov. As a result, Pavlov concluded, it is easy for politicians to manipulate public opinion on the importance of the power plant and to fuel sentiments against the EU, which is demanding that the older blocks be decommissioned. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

THOUSANDS OF FARMERS PROTEST EU POSITION. An estimated 10,000 angry farmers turned up in the Czech capital on 4 December to march on the Agriculture Ministry and block downtown streets in an effort to be heard ahead of next week's EU summit in Copenhagen, dpa reported. Agrarian groups organized the demonstration to protest reduced subsidies being offered by Brussels in accession talks with the Czech Republic and nine other EU aspirants. Participants pelted the ministry building with eggs, beets, potatoes, and tomatoes, the news agency reported, in addition to setting small fires and blocking the entrance with a pile of manure. Social Democratic Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas invited three protest leaders in for brief talks after deciding not to address all the demonstrators, according to his spokesman, Hugo Roldan. "It was dangerous to go out there," the spokesman said, adding that the minister called the protest "a legitimate step" but chided those who damaged property. Roldan blamed the situation on "inaccurate information" coming from agricultural interest groups, dpa reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

ECOLOGISTS HIGHLIGHT FURTHER POTENTIAL RISK FROM OIL EXPORT PIPELINE. The carcasses of large numbers of cattle slaughtered after being diagnosed as suffering from brucellosis, anthrax, and other diseases have been buried in the Gardabani, Tetri Tsqaro, and Tsalka raions of southern Georgia through which the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil is to be routed, agro-ecologist Tamaz Turmanidze told journalists on 6 December. He argued that disinterring those remains during construction could spark renewed outbreaks of those diseases. Turmanidze stressed that he does not oppose construction of the pipeline but believes more careful coordination is needed between various ministries to minimize ecological damage. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

PROGRAM FOR NATIONAL MINORITIES FAILS TO APPEASE. Representatives of Armenian and Azerbaijani youth organizations who attended the formal presentation in Tbilisi on 5 December of Georgia's new program for national minorities staged a walkout to protest the organizers' refusal to permit them to comment on that document, Caucasus Press reported. Irakli Lagvilava, who spent two years drafting the program, told the agency it will include special government programs for teaching Georgian to members of minorities and for providing alternative employment to Georgian citizens -- most of them ethnic Armenians -- who are currently employed at the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki. He said he hopes for 500,000 laris ($227,000) from the state budget in 2003 to finance the drafting of the language-teaching program. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

ULTRANATIONALISTS RALLY AGAINST EU, COURT DECISIONS. The far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) held a rally outside parliament on 8 December to protest against the EU after a week of unfavorable court decisions relating to the party, Hungarian media reported. The party launched its campaign against joining the EU under the slogan "In this way, no" because it finds the terms of EU accession unacceptable, Hungarian TV reported. The country's referendum on joining the EU is scheduled for 12 April. At the demonstration, MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka protested the 18-month suspended sentence given to Deputy Chairman Lorant Hegedus Jr. for an article he wrote about Jews in a local party newspaper and a court decision closing one of the party's two Pannon Radio stations, which were broadcasting on the same frequency. Csurka said political pressure was exerted on the court. "This is no longer Hungary, but Palestine," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

CITIES TO BAR DEMONSTRATIONS. In response to an appeal from city residents, the Osh municipal council has imposed a three-month moratorium on all meetings, marches, and pickets, reported on 5 December. Residents of Bishkek have similarly appealed to the city authorities to impose such a ban on unsanctioned meetings. In September, the Kyrgyz parliament shelved a government-proposed bill that would have imposed a three-month nationwide ban on such measures. Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir Uulu said such a ban violates the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 December)

LAWMAKERS DENOUNCE RESTRICTIONS ON DEMONSTRATIONS. At the initiative of the opposition Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Kyrgyz parliamentary deputies held a roundtable with law-enforcement officials, human rights groups, and foreign diplomats to discuss procedures for holding rallies as well as regulations for the domestic passport regime in the capital of Bishkek, reported on 10 December. The deputies concluded that a law on demonstrations promulgated in July of this year placed too many restrictions on freedom of assembly and was a "destabilizing factor," quoted them as saying in a statement released after the meeting. Authorities are using the law to ban marches and deny protesters building space and access to public squares, and favoring pro-government groups seeking to rally, the deputies said. The lawmakers condemned a recent decision by Bishkek and Osh municipal authorities suspending permission for demonstrations. Omurbek Tekebaev, drafter of the law, acknowledged amendments were needed to provide more specific guarantees for meetings, quoted him as saying. CAF

MINERS SUPPORT GENERAL STRIKE. Some 95 percent of miners who took part in a referendum on 6 December voted for a general strike in the coal-mining sector, PAP reported on 7 December. The referendum was a joint initiative by 12 mining trade unions that oppose the government's plans to slash jobs and social benefits in the sector under a restructuring scheme. The unions, seemingly hopeful that the results of the referendum will nudge the government toward concessions in talks this week, have not set a strike date. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

GOVERNMENT MOVES TO SALVAGE CABLE PLANT, PLEDGES JOBS FOR SACKED MINERS. Labor Minister Jerzy Hausner on 3 December presented a scheme to revitalize the defunct Ozarow Cable Factory, which last week was the scene of tussles between police and former workers, PAP reported. The scheme envisages turning the plant into a subsection of the Tarnobrzeg Special Economic Zone and implementing a program to boost local commerce. "Repairing the situation in Ozarow is beyond local possibilities, and this is why the government is trying to help," Hausner said. The same day, Economy Minister Jacek Piechota promised that each of the 17,000 miners who are to be laid off under a restructuring program in the coal industry next year will get a new job. The government has set up an interdepartmental team to provide assistance to those affected by the restructuring of the mining sector in Silesia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

JUSTICE MINISTER TO WORK FOR ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY. The Council of Europe has urged Russia finally to ban the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. The council's first secretary-general, Maud Buer-Bukikkio, met in Moscow with Justice Minister Yurii Chaika and called on Russia to ratify the convention on the ban of capital punishment. For his part, Chaika said that he personally opposes the death penalty and that his opposition is based on the fact that he "worked as an investigator and [knows] what crime is." He said his ministry will urge the Duma formally to end capital punishment, but warned that in the run-up to next year's legislative elections some candidates will use the issue as "a trump card." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

REPORT OUTLINES RELIGIOUS THREATS TO NATIONAL SECURITY... "Gazeta" on 5 December summarized what it said was a draft report on religious extremism prepared under the supervision of Vladimir Zorin, government minister responsible for nationalities policy, and Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov for an upcoming joint session of the Security Council, the State Council, and the Council on Cooperation With Religious Organizations. According to "Gazeta," the report lists five religious threats to national security: the Roman Catholic Church, which is allegedly trying to convert Orthodox believers; "representatives of foreign pseudo-religious communities" such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists; Islamic extremism, which the report blames on foreigners and foreign special services; attempts to promote the idea of a "clash of civilizations" and inevitable conflict between Christians and Muslims; and Protestant organizations, which "under the guise of humanitarian aid...are forming attitudes of self-alienation with respect to the Russian state,...popular traditions, ways of life, and culture." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

...AND RECOMMENDS BUREAUCRATIC, LEGAL CHANGES. The draft report on religious extremism calls for considering "the creation of a federal organ to manage ethnic and state-religious relations," "Gazeta" reported on 5 December. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said Chechen administration head Kadyrov is a leading candidate to lead a proposed Ministry on Religious and Nationality Affairs. The report also recommended several legal changes. One would define "inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred" as a felony punishable by up to six years' imprisonment. Another would introduce criminal penalties for publishing and distributing printed or video materials with extremist content. The law on freedom of conscience and religious associations would be amended to make "centralized religious organizations" responsible for the unlawful activities of local branches, to ban the use of hypnosis or narcotics to sway individuals, and to include a standard consent form parents could sign to allow children to participate in religious organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

REFORM OF PARDON COMMISSIONS PRAISED... Representatives of pardon commissions across the Russian Federation met in Moscow on 4 December, nearly one year after President Vladimir Putin abolished the Presidential Pardons Commission. Robert Tsivelev, head of the presidential administration's department on pardons, declared the conference "a sign of the country's democratic development" and hailed the creation of pardon commissions in every region of the federation, REN-TV reported on 4 December. Appearing on RTR, Anatolii Pristavkin, who headed the national commission that Putin abolished last December, said he had doubts about Putin's decision at the time. However, having visited dozens of regions and attended many meetings of regional pardon commissions, Pristavkin concluded "the reform has succeeded." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

...AS NUMBER OF PARDONS GRANTED DROPS PRECIPITOUSLY. "Kommersant" pointed out on 5 December that President Putin has pardoned only 182 people so far in 2002, a 98.5 percent decline from last year, when he granted more than 12,000 pardons. Far fewer recommendations for pardons reach his desk under the current system, prompting "Kommersant" to speculate that this was Putin's intention when he abolished the Presidential Pardons Commission. According to RTR, several participants in the 4 December conference emphasized that avoiding mistakes is more important than the number of pardons issued. Many human rights advocates support pardoning thousands more convicts in order to alleviate prison overcrowding, an extensive problem in Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

SARATOV GOVERNOR FINDS RELIGION... State officials representing Saratov Oblast and the Russian Orthodox Church, including Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Archbishop Aleksandr, met on 30 November to discuss cooperation to promote Russian Orthodoxy, "Gazeta" reported on 3 December. Participants in the meeting agreed that the state should help the Russian Orthodox Church to compete with other religious sects and missionaries. Ayatskov also favors earmarking budget funds at the oblast and raion levels to support religious projects such as rebuilding the Aleksandr Nevskii Cathedral, which Soviet officials tore down during the 1930s. "Gazeta" noted that Ayatskov long had poor relations with church officials, but that the two sides patched things up recently. The newspaper argued that the Saratov eparchy needs additional funding, and Ayatskov needs the authority of the church. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

...BUT HIS PLANS TO USE BUDGET FUNDS MIGHT NOT FLY. Speaking to journalists in Saratov on 2 December, State Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unity) announced that budgetary funds cannot be spent on the religious activities proposed by Governor Ayatskov and that financing for the Russian Orthodox Church will have to come from private sponsors, "Gazeta" reported on 3 December. Article 14 of the Russian Constitution declares that Russia is a secular state. "Gazeta" argued that Ayatskov is quite capable of raising money from private business. However, the governor seems committed to cementing ties between his administration and the church. During the 30 November meeting of state and church officials, he declared: "It's not important that our church is separated from the state now. That boundary is purely conditional. The church and the authorities share one society. And we need consolidation with the Russian Orthodox Church like never before." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

POPULATION BECOMING INCREASINGLY MOBILE... More than 7 million people have emigrated from Russia since 1991, reported on 9 December, citing Vladimir Zorin, the government minister responsible for nationalities policies. Zorin noted that 27 million people -- about one-fifth of the country's population -- have changed their place of residence at least once in the last decade, a phenomenon that he evaluated as positive given Russia's demographic crisis and the needs of the labor market. He added that the migration of highly qualified specialists and young people continues to be a problem for Russia and lamented that this process is largely unregulated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

...AS 3 MILLION ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS LIVE IN RUSSIA. An estimated 3 million illegal immigrants reside in Russia, and every year they take some $8 billion out of the country illegally, according to statistics released on 9 December during State Duma hearings on immigration policy, REN-TV reported. The largest numbers of undocumented immigrants come from Ukraine, China, Turkey, and Vietnam. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) observed that immigration policy has already been strengthened by the passage of a new law on acquiring Russian citizenship and the Duma's provisional approval last month of a bill on leaving and entering Russia, ORT reported. According to REN-TV, Rogozin also suggested that Russia could attract young, strong immigrants by creating a foreign legion similar to the one that exists in France. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS PROTEST LOW WAGES. Nearly 200 domestic and international flights in the northern part of Russia were rerouted as a result of a work action and hunger strike by air-traffic controllers in Surgut, Khanty-Mansiisk, Kogalym, Nizhnevartovsk, and Vologda, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 December. As a result, controllers in Omsk, Novosibirsk, and Rostov-na-Donu found their workload greatly increased and announced that they will join the work action on 6 December. Air-traffic controllers in Surgut launched their hunger strike seven days ago in protest of low wages. An experienced controller there receives 11,000 rubles ($355) a month. Since air-traffic controllers are legally barred from striking, the hunger strikers intend to continue refusing food until they are hospitalized. According to the head of the Federation of Air-Traffic Controllers Unions, Sergei Kovalev, "[officials] in the Civil Aviation Service are calling us terrorists," "Izvestiya" reported. According to, service to most northern Russian airports on 6 December was either closed or strictly limited. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

QUESTIONS LINGER 40 DAYS AFTER HOSTAGE DRAMA. Russia on 4 December marked the 40th day since the end of the October hostage drama in Moscow with solemn religious services, Russian news agencies reported. In Moscow, a service was held in the Christ the Savior Cathedral to remember the 129 hostages who died during the incident. Meanwhile, reported that the Federal Security Service (FSB) declined to clarify conflicting reports on the number of Chechen fighters who were killed and/or captured during the 26 October storming of the theater. According to a 26 October Interfax report, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told President Putin that day that 34 fighters had been killed, "several" were arrested, and none escaped. RIA-Novosti reported the same day that FSB sources said 50 fighters -- 18 women and 32 men -- had been killed and three arrested. An unidentified spokesman for the Moscow prosecutor's office told the website that three fighters remain in custody, as well as one person arrested later on charges of abetting the hostage takers. The same source told that 41 fighters were killed in the storming operation -- 22 men and 19 women. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

FORMER HOSTAGES' ATTORNEY CONFIDENT ON LAWSUITS... Igor Trunov, who is representing eight people who claim to have suffered losses during the 23-26 October hostage crisis in Moscow, is confident that the Tverskoi District Court will uphold his clients' claim for $7.5 million in damages from the Moscow city government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2002), "Kommersant" reported on 3 December. Trunov noted that only a few days elapsed between the filing of the lawsuits and the beginning of hearings in the case. He believes the court's speedy action indicates that the judge might be favorably disposed toward the plaintiffs. One article in Russia's law on terrorism forms the crux of the plaintiffs' case; it states that funds compensating victims of terrorism shall come from the Russian Federation subject in which the terrorist attack occurred. That point of law has never been applied before. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

...BUT LEGAL EXPERTS ARE NOT SO SURE. Several lawyers contacted by "Kommersant" said they considered Trunov's clients unlikely to prevail in the case. Pavel Astakhov, who has represented the Moscow government on several occasions, said Western governments that have compensated victims of terrorism have done so voluntarily, not because of lawsuits. Furthermore, Russian courts typically award modest sums for psychological damages, far lower than the $500,000-$1 million sought by each of Trunov's clients. Finally, Astakhov predicted the court will consider the Civil Code as well as the law on terrorism. The Civil Code requires that the source of the damages and the circumstances be determined in order to determine appropriate levels of compensation. Astakhov believes Trunov will not be able to prove that rescuers -- as opposed to terrorists -- harmed the hostages. Moscow officials have vowed to appeal any court ruling awarding damages to victims of the hostage crisis, "Kommersant" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

UN PROTESTS CLOSURE OF CAMP FOR CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS. Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is UN high commissioner for human rights, pledged in Geneva on 4 December to do all in his power to prevent the closure of tent camps in Ingushetia for Chechen displaced persons and the forced return of those displaced persons to Chechnya, Reuters reported. "It is not the moment to evacuate displaced persons or to force them to return to Chechnya," he said. On 3 December, between 1,000 and 1,500 people were evicted from the Iman camp near Aki-Yurt, and the tents they had occupied were dismantled, Interfax reported. But Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told a press conference in Moscow on 4 December that it would be "totally wrong" to claim that displaced persons are being forcibly returned to Chechnya. Federal Migration Service spokesman Igor Pogosov similarly denied reports that the Ingush authorities cut off electricity and gas supplies to the camps in Ingushetia to force people to leave, Interfax reported on 4 December. He claimed that 99 percent of the inmates left the Aki-Yurt camp voluntarily and were transported in a convoy to Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO DENY REPORTS OF FORCED REPATRIATION TO CHECHNYA. Displaced persons from Chechnya are not being pressured to return there from tent camps in Ingushetia, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev told Interfax on 5 December. He said reports of the forced repatriation are being spread by supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and "criminal structures" who misappropriate humanitarian aid sent to those camps. Federal Migration Service First Deputy Director Igor Yunash similarly told journalists in Moscow on 5 December that Maskhadov's envoys are lobbying the displaced persons and offering them money to remain in the camps in Ingushetia, Interfax reported. Yunash said the rationale for doing so was to disprove Russian officials' statements that the situation in Chechnya has returned to normal and there are no longer any obstacles to the displaced persons' collective return there. Dudaev, however, said in late November that the main obstacle to the displaced persons' return is that there are no guarantees of their safety (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 4 December 2002). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

MORE DISPLACED-PERSONS CAMPS IN INGUSHETIA THREATENED WITH CLOSURE. Five more camps in Ingushetia that house displaced persons from Chechnya are likely to be closed, reported on 9 December. Camp residents are under pressure to return "voluntarily" to Chechnya and have been informed that gas and electricity supplies to the camps will be cut on 21 December. The Ingush authorities estimate that 19,000 displaced persons are still living in tent camps. Also on 9 December, Russian presidential representative for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov met in Nazran with Ingushetia's president, Murad Zyazikov, to discuss the repatriation process, ITAR-TASS reported. Sultygov told Interfax the same day that a group of five to 10 Chechen displaced persons is to travel to Grozny to inspect the provisional accommodation prepared there for returning displaced persons and will report back on their impressions. As other Russian political figures have consistently done, Sultygov denied that any displaced persons are being forced to return to Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December)

POLICE CHARGE FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF WITH ORDERING MURDER... Police on 5 December arrested and charged Ivan Lexa, a former head of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), with criminal counts that include ordering the murder of a former policeman, local and international news agencies reported the same day, citing Interior Minister Vladimir Palko. Robert Remias, who was killed by a car bomb in April 1996, was friends with a key witness who implicated the SIS in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995. Speaking through his lawyer, Lubomir Hlbocan, Lexa called the charges "fabricated and politically motivated," according to TASR. Lexa faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of instigating the murder, which Palko said was carried out to "hamper the investigation of the kidnapping," Reuters reported. Palko said additional charges have been filed against Lexa, including abuse of power, CTK added. Critics have accused Lexa of using the secret service to intimidate political opponents of then-Premier Vladimir Meciar's strong-arm regime. On 7 December, a Bratislava court ordered that Lexa remain in pretrial custody, TASR reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 9 December)

...AS FORMER PRESIDENT LAUDS ARREST. Former President Kovac called Lexa's arrest a sign that the country's political and social climate is improving, TASR reported on 5 December. Kovac said the arrest should give a boost to police and prosecutors working on the case. Former Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said Slovaks should be pleased that police are progressing toward solving what he called "the first political murder in the history of the new Slovak Republic." Jan Kovarcik, deputy head of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said the accusations are unproven and represent an attempt to criminalize the opposition. Kovarcik also accused the government of trying to turn public opinion against the HZDS prior to municipal elections. Meciar's party received the highest number of votes in September's national elections but failed to win a majority or find a coalition partner. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

HUNGARIAN SAYS HE IS FEELING PRESSURE TO EXIT SLOVAK POLITICS. Miklos Duray, a leading pro-Hungarian voice in Slovakia's ruling coalition, said on 6 December that he is feeling pressure to leave politics, TASR reported the same day. Duray, an executive deputy chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party, has been a vocal supporter of Hungarian autonomy in Slovakia, a position not shared by his moderate center-right party. Recently, he has also stoked controversy by accusing his party of being controlled by special interest groups. During talks in Budapest on 26 November, Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy failed to reach agreement on a draft amendment to Hungary's Status Law, a controversial law entitling ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and other neighboring countries to benefits in employment, education, culture, and travel. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

EXILED FORMER OFFICIAL DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN BID TO KILL PRESIDENT. Former Turkmen First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Sapar Iklymov told Reuters on 6 December by telephone that while he seeks President Saparmurat Niyazov's ouster, he eschews violence and was not involved in the 25 November bid to assassinate Niyazov. Niyazov has identified Iklymov and three other exiled former senior officials as having organized the attempt on his life (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 6 December 2002). Iklymov said he is ready to return to Turkmenistan to face trial provided that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) guarantees his safety. Also on 6 December, Interfax quoted Niyazov as saying on state-run television that the four alleged ringleaders of the plot would not have been able to implement it on their own. Niyazov refuted Western media reports that he has launched mass arrests of suspected oppositionists in the wake of the assassination attempt, adding that such reports are dictated by plans to deprive Turkmenistan of its neutral status and benefit from its strategic location and vast mineral resources. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

PRESIDENT VOWS ASSASSINATION INVESTIGATION WILL NOT VIOLATE LAW. Saparmurat Niyazov said on 3 December that the ongoing investigation into the 25 November attempt to kill him will be conducted in accordance with the law, reported. He said the abortive coup -- which he again blamed on exiled oppositionists Boris Shikhmuradov, Khudaiberdy Orazov, Iklymov, and Nurmukhammed Khanamov -- was backed by political forces of a foreign state that he failed to name. Also on 3 December, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova announced on state television the names of some of those arrested in connection with the reported assassination attempt. They include three Chechens with Russian citizenship, six Turks, a Moldovan with a U.S. passport, and a man with an Armenian name whose citizenship is unclear. The U.S. passport-holder, according to "The Moscow Times" on 4 December, is Leonid Komarovsky, who arrived in Ashgabat several days before the assassination bid to discuss a possible business deal. Komarovsky is a close friend of Turkmen businessman Guvanch Djumaev, who is accused of coordinating the actions of the assailants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

RELATIVES OF RFE/RL REPORTER DETAINED IN CRACKDOWN... In the wake of the 25 November attempt on the life of Niyazov, relatives of Oraz Iklymov, a reporter for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and brother of exiled opposition leader Sapar Iklymov (see below), have been arrested, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported in an interview on 9 December with Iklymov published on Oraz Iklymov's younger son Ayli, a Moscow university student, was arrested while visiting Turkmenistan for a cousin's wedding. Other family guests at the wedding were also detained, and Iklymov's elder son, who resides in Ashgabat, was detained, released to house arrest, but then picked up again two days later. Since the arrests, the family has received reports that the sons are in the security police's basement prison where they are being beaten, the younger son to the point where he must be carried to interrogations on a stretcher, Oraz told RFE/RL, who said the charges against them are not known. CAF

...AS DAUGHTER OF EXILED MINISTER REMAINS IN JAIL IN ASHGABAT... In a public appeal released on 9 December, Ekaterina Iklymova, wife of Sapar Iklymov, said some 100 relatives of his family had been detained and interrogated in connection with the investigation into the assassination attempt on the president, including her daughter, Maral, 24, who was detained on 25 November and still remains in security-police custody where she is allegedly being mistreated. Sapar Iklymov has denied any involvement in the assassination attempt and announced he was willing to return to Ashgabat to prove his innocence in court under OSCE protection. CAF

...AND OTHER OPPOSITION LEADERS' RELATIVES ARE NABBED. Unable to capture the chief "traitors" responsible for the attempt on President Niyazov's life, Turkmen security chiefs are rounding up people merely because they are relatives of suspects, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 December. Aside from the relatives of Iklymov (see above), others have been targeted. A prominent Russian filmmaker, Murad Aliev, screenwriter for the television series "Border," informed "Vremya novostei" that his brother, Vekil Aliev, had been arrested in Ashgabat, apparently because his family was friendly with Boris Shikhmuradov. Shikhmuradov himself reports that his brother Konstantin was arrested. Former Foreign Minister Bary Berdyev, who followed Shikhmuradov in the position after his defection, has also been arrested on unknown charges, "Vremya novostei" reported. CAF

FOREIGNERS TO BE GROUNDED IN HOTELS. Foreign tourists travelling to Turkmenistan are now required to stay only in hotels rather than private homes, reported on 10 December, citing municipal regulations printed in a local paper, "Ashkhabad." The new regulations also require foreign laborers to register at an employment office if they change jobs. Local employers are now forbidden to bring in workers with a temporary visa at their own invitation. Ashgabat's mayor also ordered tax authorities to investigate all housing rented to foreigners and urged strict record keeping of all foreigners coming in and out of Turkmenistan. Citizens of Russia, Turkey, and the U.S. are implicated in the assassination attempt against President Niyazov and the crackdown since the 25 November attempt on his life appears to target foreigners as well as relatives of exiled opposition leaders. CAF

TORTURE VICTIM SENTENCED TO DEATH. A Tashkent court on 28 November handed down a death sentence to Iskandar Khudoiberganov, who with five associates was convicted of organizing a criminal group that propagated "religious extremism," according to a Human Rights Watch press release dated 4 December. Khudoiberganov was also charged with terrorism and murder. Khudoiberganov's family claims he confessed to the charges against him after being subjected to beatings and electric shocks. Two witnesses who incriminated Khudoiberganov retracted their testimony in court, saying they had given it under torture. Khudoiberganov's co-defendants received prison terms ranging from six to 16 years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)

PRESIDENT AMNESTIES PRISONERS. Islam Karimov has signed an amnesty pegged to the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Uzbekistan's Constitution, Interfax and reported on 4 December. Beneficiaries will include over half the current prison population, which is estimated at 40,000. Eligible are minors, women, men over 60, first offenders, and persons jailed for economic crimes. Persons sentenced for their religious beliefs will be freed if the conviction was their first and if they were not convicted of involvement in "extremist organizations" or of crimes against the constitution, according to ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

ADB APPROVES LOAN TO FUND EDUCATION REFORM. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $108.5 million loan on 6 December to finance the reform of the Uzbek education system, reported on 8 December. The reform program envisages modernizing the structure and content of education and improving teacher training, improving efficiency by redeploying and retraining administrative staff, reforming the management of the education sector, and providing special assistance to poor families to ensure that children are able to attend school. Up to 6 million children are expected to benefit directly or indirectly from those measures. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 9 December)

YET ANOTHER SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FAILS. The presidential vote held on 8 December appears to be invalid since fewer than the required 50 percent of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots, international and regional media reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who was leading with 57.5 percent of the vote in unofficial returns, said he will fight through domestic and international legal channels to have the ballot declared valid. He blamed padded voters' lists and other irregularities for the 45 percent figure, which he said is too low. It is not clear why he did not make a bigger issue of the voters' lists in the run-up to the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6,14, and 18 November 2002). Unofficial returns put far-right Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj in second place with 36.3 percent. Champion kickboxer Borislav Pelevic of the Party of Serbian Unity, which was founded by the late paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," was in third place with 3.6 percent. Voter apathy, winter weather, and the absence of any reformist candidates are widely seen as the causes of the low turnout. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

PRESIDENT SAYS NO MORE EXTRADITIONS TO THE HAGUE. Kostunica told London's "The Times" of 9 December that Belgrade will not hand over any more indicted war crimes suspects to the tribunal based in The Hague because that body has "reneged on guarantees for those who surrendered voluntarily." The paper suggested that Kostunica was referring to the cases of former Yugoslav Vice President Nikola Sainovic, former General Dragoljub Ojdanic, former General Mile Mrksic, and former Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002). Kostunica added that Serbia will try possible war criminals in its own courts from now on. He said that Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, has brought "a sort of instability" to Serbia. Kostunica once again denied that General Ratko Mladic is hiding in Serbia under official protection, as Del Ponte has repeatedly charged. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December)

ICG: POLICE FORCES 'LARGELY UNREFORMED' IN CENTRAL ASIA. The International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent advisory body of world-renowned conflict-studies leaders based in Washington, D.C., released a report titled "Central Asia: The Politics of Police Reform" on 10 December. According to the report, structures of most Central Asian police forces "have changed little since the Soviet period," and are "much more powerful than the militaries" unlike other developing countries. Corruption and abuses are actually worse than the Soviet era, says the ICG. The police are "feared, mistrusted and viewed as ineffective in protecting the population from crime," said a report summary (see Rather than maintaining law and order as service-oriented agencies, police forces in Central Asia are viewed as the state's coercive branch. Speaking to a group of Central Asian experts and NGOs in New York on 9 December about the report, ICG staff researcher Robert Templer said, "people in Central Asia don't go to the police, the police come to them," recounting a popular joke about a man who reported a stolen chicken and wound up with officials stealing his cow. Questioned by human rights activists, including visitors from Central Asia, about the efficacy of foreign training programs for police absent the political will for reform at the very top of civilian leadership, Templer was sanguine about the impact of ICG's report on abusive practices by security forces of Central Asia, but said U.S. and other international programs involved in police training could benefit from ICG's critique. Police-training programs are often spread among democracy-assistance and crime-fighting agencies with different agendas, and more coordination is needed to help enlist foreign trainers in stemming rampant abuses like torture in detention, Templer said. CAF


By Zamira Eshanova

Some observers say the recent visit to Uzbekistan of the UN rapporteur on torture was an attempt by Tashkent to address international concerns about its stance on human rights.

This is why the Uzbek government may have been less than pleased when the United Nations official, Theo van Boven, ended an extended visit on 6 December with the declaration that torture was strikingly common practice in Uzbekistan. "Torture, as far as I see it -- this is my impression -- is not just incidental, but has the nature of being systematic in this country. I am concerned that many confessions obtained through torture and other illegal means were then used as evidence in trials, [including] trials that are leading to the death penalty or to very severe punishment," van Boven said.

Van Boven, who spent two weeks in Uzbekistan visiting the country's prisons and talking to law-enforcement officials and former prisoners, will submit his findings on the country in a special report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in January. But Uzbek officials are already contesting his findings, saying torture is neither systemic nor unique to Uzbekistan.

Akmal Saidov is an Uzbek lawmaker and director of the state-sponsored National Center for Human Rights. He told RFE/RL that Tashkent is aware of the problem of torture in its prisons and invited the UN rapporteur as a way of finding a solution. "I think that Uzbekistan, as an equal member of the world community, will be further implementing its international obligations, including requirements of the [UN] International Convention Against Torture. By inviting Mr. van Boven to the country, the Uzbek government once more demonstrated its openness to the international community, its readiness to solve all kind of problems together and openly," Saidov said.

But Tolib Yoqubov, chairman of the nongovernmental Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said Tashkent was pressured into allowing van Boven's visit, a claim he said is substantiated by the fact that the Uzbek press was largely silent during the course of his visit.

Yoqubov said Uzbek authorities are in fact doing nothing to halt torture and that officials responsible for the deaths of imprisoned political and religious opposition figures still remain under government protection.

Yoqubov attended a special UN session on torture in Uzbekistan held in Geneva in 1999. He said the situation has not changed since then. "During the three years since the first [UN] session, hundreds of detainees and prisoners have been killed during interrogation. There are thousands of documents that show that barbaric torture has been continuously used in Uzbekistan," Yoqubov said.

Safar Bekjon is an Uzbek political dissident currently living in exile in Switzerland. Jailed as a member of the opposition Erk Party, Bekjon spent three years in Uzbek prisons between 1993 and 1996. He was reportedly near death when he was released under pressure from the international human rights community.

Bekjon offered a detailed look at life in the Uzbek prison system in his well-known book, "At the Threshold of Hell." He said letters and other documents he has received since his own release from prison appear to show that torture in Uzbek prisons and detention camps has not slowed and is in fact on the rise. "Even I am horrified by the documents and pictures I've received from Uzbek prisons. They show dead bodies. They show people whose ears and noses have been cut off, whose eyes have been put out, whose bodies have been burned with boiling water or fire," Bekjon said.

Bekjon and other Uzbek dissidents say they believe the use of torture in prisons and detention centers is highly organized and used as much to terrorize the general public as to extract confessions from those being interrogated. "In the first detention center, the detainee is beaten, verbally humiliated, punched, hung upside down, given electric-shock treatment, forced to wear a gas mask, and then made to inhale chemical gases. If a detainee doesn't sign the necessary document, a false confession fabricated by interrogators, then different torture methods are used. This includes cutting off fingernails, punching needles under people's nails, putting sticks or other objects into the anus, and raping women. These are mass-scale, special torture techniques. Authorities don't mind if the general public knows about this torture. It keeps them in constant terror," Bekjon said.

One of the most notorious prisons in Uzbekistan is Jasliq, a center built especially for religious prisoners in the middle of the country's vast Karakalpak steppe and often referred to as a place from which no one returns. The mother of one Jasliq prisoner described what she knew of the conditions there" "Every single morning, the first thing prisoners have to do is sing the national anthem of Uzbekistan and then of Karakalpakstan. If there is the slightest mistake, they are beaten severely. Every single mistake, like making a bed improperly, is punished by beatings. A prisoner has to keep saying, 'Thank you, Mr. Chief' while they are being beaten. Otherwise, more punishment follows."

Jasliq was one of the prisons where van Boven was not permitted to observe conditions firsthand. The UN official had asked permission for a six-hour visit but in the end spent just two hours at Jasliq, where he met only with officials and was not permitted to visit the prisoners. He was also denied access to two prisons in the Navoiy and Karshi regions, notorious for their reported use of torture, as well as the National Security Service's detention center in Tashkent.

But van Boven said that even with these notable exceptions, he was able to glean sufficient evidence that torture remains widespread and unopposed by state officials. "I have received testimonies from victims, alleged victims, and relatives, who came from all parts of the country. I don't think that the fact that I saw some institutions only in a limited way or [that there were] some others I couldn't visit would undermine the credibility [of my findings]," van Boven said.

A number of Uzbek officials are due to be in attendance when van Boven's report is submitted to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in January. He will deliver the full text of the report in March 2003 at the next session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Zamira Eshanova is an RFE/RL correspondent.