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Watch List: July 29, 1999

29 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 28

DEADLIEST MASSACRE IN KOSOVO SINCE YUGOSLAV WITHDRAWAL. On July 23, 14 ethnic Serbs were gunned down near the village of Gracko in what Western officials are calling the deadliest single massacre since the Yugoslav withdrawal from Kosovo in mid-June. NATO and UN officials condemned the murderers and called the killing an attempt to wreck peacemaking efforts. "While the desire for revenge is just about understandable, it cannot be tolerated under any circumstances," said British Lt. General Sir Michael Jackson, head of the 35,000-strong NATO force. "The murderers sought to stop us," said Kosovo's UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, of France. According to AP, Kosovo's Serbs "are increasingly the victims of killings, house burnings, and other violence in what appear to be revenge attacks by some of the more than 700,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who have returned to Kosovo under NATO protection." According to "The New York Times," ethnic Serbs who have fled the province now number 80,000.

60 ROMA FROM SERBIA RESCUED FROM THE SEA... Italian police told the press that they had rescued 60 Romany refugees from Serbia, 39 of them children, after smugglers dumped them in the sea. The police explained that the ship, sailing from Albania's port of Vlore to Italy, could not get close enough to the dock because of cliffs, so the smugglers threw their human cargo into the sea.

...SPANISH EXPULSION OF ROMANY REFUGEES IS SAID TO VIOLATE HUMAN RIGHTS. At 7:00 a.m. on July 8, some 50 police officers put to flight about 100 Romany families comprising some 1,000 individuals, originally from Romania, staying in the Malmea area of Madrid, according to the Spanish press. Municipal employees, some with bulldozers, also took part in the eviction. Wrecking the housing the Roma had built for themselves, the police did not allow them time to gather their belongings. Madrid city official Maria Tardon explained the raid to the press as "a garbage collection action," and the municipality claims that the Roma in fact left "voluntarily." In a July 22 letter to Prime Minister Jose Asnar, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), however, stated that nearly all the Roma in Malmea had applied for political asylum and that they now have become "victims of forced migration at the hands of the Spanish authorities." The letter charged Spain with "inhuman and degrading treatment" and "violent disruption of home and family lives," in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the Malmea Roma are now dispersed throughout Spain, the letter added, they are far from the places where their asylum requests are being processed. Bolstering the Roma claims to refugee status, ERRC cited international organizations on "the dire human rights situation of Roma in Romania," including pogroms in the 1990s.

LAST RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST IN CHECHNYA KIDNAPPED. On July 17, an armed group kidnapped the rector of the Church of St. Archangel Michael in Grozny, Hieromonk Zechariah, who had gone to Chechnya only three months earlier, according to the Moscow Patriarchate. He was kidnapped together with the warden of the Grozny parish, Yakov Ryaschin, and an unnamed church worker. In recent years, the press office of the patriarchate said, eight Orthodox clergymen have fallen victim to kidnappers. The latest incident leaves the Orthodox faithful in Chechnya without a priest.

STEPASHIN PLEDGES TO ERADICATE ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin condemned "radical politicians" in Russia who use anti-Semitism "for their own purposes." "We will not allow these people to take power in Russia," he pledged. "This brutality will be eradicated." Stepashin's remarks came before his return to Moscow, during a July 27 meeting with American Jewish leaders in Washington, arranged by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Jewish groups urged Stepashin to consider posting security guards at Jewish institutions and to adopt a policy of "zero tolerance" toward ethnic hatred. The meeting followed the discovery of a powerful bomb planted inside Moscow's Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue on July 25, timed to blow up during a celebration a few hours later. In Moscow, the Russian Jewish Congress urged that the authorities bring the perpetrators of these actions to justice and demanded that political leaders denounce racists, "no matter how high their posts are."

FEARING ARREST, ACTING PRESIDENT SHARETSKY FLEES BELARUS. On July 22, two days after Alyaksandr Lukashenka's legal presidential term expired, Syamyon Sharetski, Belarusia's de jure acting president, crossed the border to Lithuania for his own safety. "The New York Times" reported that Sharetski had traveled to Vilnius by car accompanied by former Belarusian President Stanislau Shushkevich who then returned to Minsk. Sharetski is the speaker of the parliament which was disbanded by Lukashenka but which is recognized as legitimate by most countries, except for Russia and Yugoslavia. Lukashenka, for his part, ridiculed Sharetski's fear of getting arrested and called the West to exercise "realism" toward his legitimacy.

UZBEK COURT JAILS THREE CHRISTIANS FOR CHURCH ACTIVITIES. On July 13, an Uzbek appeals court in Nukus upheld the verdict of three Christians -- Rashid Turibayev, Parakhat Yangibayev, and Eset Tanishev -- sentenced to 10-to-15 years of imprisonment, supposedly for drug-related offences, according to a report by Keston News Service. But their Full Gospel Church maintains that the police planted the drugs on all three and that their true offense was religious activity.

PRESS FREEDOM MIXED IN AZERBAIJAN. Azerbaijani journalist Fuad Qahramanli, the beneficiary of an international protest campaign, is now free, pardoned by President Heidar Aliyev on July 10, the International Press Institute reports. Qahramanli, was arrested in June 1998 following a raid on his newspaper "Chag" and sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 1998 for what the authorities said was an appeal for "social disorder" in an article which in fact was never published. While welcoming the release, the World Association of Newspapers notes that other incidents raise concerns about press freedom in Azerbaijan, including attacks on six reporters and a raid on an independent newspaper's office. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), on July 9 representatives from 40 newspapers and journalists' associations planned a demonstration in Baku to demand an investigation into the beating of several journalists in June; an end to violence against media outlets; and the withdrawal of provisions in the media draft law which restrict editorial boards. Police prevented the demonstration. GDF suggests that the new wave of harassment is due to Aliev's displeasure with the press discussing his health and possible successor. On July 22, the trial of a journalist accused of slandering the president's brother opened in Baku, AP reported, thus casting a shadow over National Press Day. Speaking on Azerbaijani television, Aliyev declared his country's mass media strong and "operating freely."

TURKMEN DAILY CALLS JOURNALIST A TRAITOR, COMPARES PRESIDENT TO GOD. In Turkmenistan's government-sponsored newspaper "Adalat" of July 23, a full-page open letter called journalist Yovshan Annakurban a "traitor to the fatherland." Now living in exile, Annakurban recently gave several interviews critical of the regime to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, which "Adalat" characterized as "a slanderous radio." The article stated that "just as God almighty and the Fatherland are exempt from criticism by people of good moral conduct and common sense, so is Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi."

CHINESE LEADERS' CRACKDOWN ON BUDDHIST SECT CALLED "ABSURD." Beijing's crackdown this month on members of the Buddhist meditation movement Falun Gong has been denounced as "absurd" by many Chinese and outside observers, Western agencies report. To date, more than 100 members of the movement have been arrested, and 1,200 Chinese officials who are followers of this group have been sent to special ideological courses. Accused by the regime of sabotaging "social stability," Falun Gong has now been banned, and its members -- approximately 2 million according to official figures and some 100 million according to the movement itself -- have been told to exercise self-criticism and quit. On July 22, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin voiced unhappiness with some of the repressive tactics and urged China to abide by its commitments under human rights conventions that permit peaceful expression and assembly. The same day Human Rights Watch condemned the ban on Falun Gong and called on Mary Robertson, the UN High Comissioner for Human Rights, to intervene with Chinese officials.


By Charles Fenyvesi

In dealing with Muslims asserting their ethnic or religious identity, Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have employed means of torture that have led to permanent injuries, insanity and even death, five survivors told the U.S. House of Representatives Human Rights Caucasus on July 15. But so great is their fear of Chinese reprisals that they asked that their names and whereabouts not be mentioned.

Their testimony was harrowing, testing the sensitivities of congressional aides and members of the press. But the faces of the panelists' compatriots remained impassive. "We have heard hundreds of such accounts," said one. "The Chinese are losing their common sense."

Known as Uighurs and speaking a Turkic language, Muslims once formed the majority in the resource-rich and strategically important northwest region of Xinjiang, which Uighurs at the hearing called East Turkestan. According to the panelists, some of them scholars, Beijing has consistently acted to increase the ethnic Chinese population in Xinjiang, which grew from 6 percent of the total in 1949 to 38 percent in 1987. Now Beijing is promoting the influx of new settlers in order to increase the Chinese component by another 30 percent by 2000.

The panelists mentioned "the great wealth" of their land, saying that 100 million tons of its petroleum are being shipped annually to other parts of the People's Republic. According to one panelist, 118 of China's148 commercially significant natural resources are located there, but Uighurs are kept from benefiting from their exploitation. According to a panelist, 99 percent of petroleum workers are ethnic Chinese, as are 95 percent of the personnel in the region's local governments and major industries.

Arrested by the Red Guards in 1975, one panelist was sent to a labor camp in the Taklamakan desert for ten years. His crime: "anti-communist ideology and separatism." Of the 3,000 prisoners, he said, 95 percent were Uighurs, most of them politicals. But all the hard work was assigned to them, he said, with the easier tasks being given to ethnic Chinese, most of whom were common criminals. Torture was common, and prisoners were often hung on poles as a punishment for breaking rules such as quarelling with other inmates. One Uighur, for instance, was shot and killed on the spot when he tried to stop a guard from beating him by grabbing the club.

Another panelist divided Chinese repression into two periods: The first followed the Cultural Revolution and earned the name "China Gone Mad," and the other began with the economic reform which is still in process. He dubbed the latter "China Gone Scared."

The crimes the Uighur witnesses and their friends were charged with sounded like minor deviations from the party line. But nothing seems too minor to an ethnically charged totalitarian ideology which forever searches for enemies.

One panelist came under official suspicion because he translated an American book on Sino-Russian relations into Uighur. Eventually he felt he had to flee to one of the neighboring Central Asian republics, whose inhabitants understood his Uighur language and the culture was similar to his own, but where the government routinely returns refugees demanded by the Chinese government. A Kyodo News Service report of July 26 cites Chinese Foreign Ministry sources to explain that in his upcoming summit in Bishkek with three Central Asian neighbors next month, President Jiang Zemin will want "to strengthen relations...for reasons of internal stability, as these countries contain bases for groups supporting separatist movements in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region by local Uighur minority people."

Yet another of the panelists spoke of a traditional Uighur event that he and his friends organized for young people, with the idea to improve morality, say "no" to drugs, and to strengthen religious faith. But perhaps because of the festival's popularity, which exceeded the expectations of its organizers, the government decided to outlaw it and imprison its leaders. The panelist and some of his friends were arrested in 1996 and tortured by ethnic Chinese prison guards. The torture included inserting wire into the genitals and administering high-voltage electric shocks. After seven days of torture, the guards tried to extract a confession that the event was anti-Chinese and designed to separate Xinjiang from China. "However," the panelist said, "in the face of extremely painful tortures, all of us denied these charges." He recalled how one of his torturers using an electric club told him: "We will castrate the inferior masculinity of your turban-heads and pimp your girls. What can you turban-heads do to us, the great Chinese nation? With our spit, you will all drown."

The tortures continued, but the Uighurs kept denying that they had broken any law. Furious, the guards brought two German shepherd dogs into the cell, stripped a friend of the panelist and ordered the dogs to bite him in the genitals. Another friend was forced into a freezer without any clothes. Later, the guards kept hitting the back of his head with an electric bar and permanently damaged his brain. He went insane and was released.

Other methods included putting in an adjacent cell someone they knew, a 21-year-old devout Muslim woman. They could hear that she was ordered to strip naked and to ask her God to save her. Then several Chinese prisoners were brought in to rape her. The panelist and his friends heard her cries but could do nothing except shout and kick the metal bars, for which they received severe beatings. Guards and other prisoners -- all ethnic Chinese -- took turns in brutalizing Uighur prisoners. After a month and a half of daily abuse, the panelist collapsed and seemed close to death. The prison doctor examined him and sent him to a military hospital. After a week, he escaped, crossed the border into Kazakhstan, and then made his way farther west.

The Chinese practice of torture on Uighurs was cited in Amnesty International's report, released on April 20, titled "Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region." The report was the first detailed NGO study that focussed on Xinjiang, and it prompted the House hearing, called by Rep. Tom Lantos and Rep. John Edward Porter, co-chairs of the House Human Rights Caucus.

"Our witnesses confirmed in a most horrific way the Amnesty International report," Lantos told RFE/RL. "There is a pattern here of arbitrary detention and summary executions, torture, and unjust political trials, and the terrible practice of sexual torture which is not known to have been used in any other part of the People's Republic of China."