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(Un)Civil Societies: July 20, 2007

Russia: West 'Shouldn't Surrender Its Values' In Relations

Do European leaders like Angela Merkel (left) need to be firmer with Vladimir Putin's Russia?

July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The recent breakdown in relations between Moscow and London over tit-for-tat extradition requests has shone a spotlight on bigger cracks in the relationship between Russia and the West -- over democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

While some analysts view the differences as an inevitable part of Russia's fabric, others, like "Financial Times" columnist Philip Stephens, believe the West can have a political and economic relationship with Russia while still strongly standing up for its core values. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten asked Stephens to explain.

RFE/RL: What would your recipe be for Europe's ties to Russia? Some analysts recommend a "realpolitick" approach -- that Russia and Europe are increasingly on divergent paths, they don't share many of the same ideals, but we should deal with Russia how we deal with China: we're not best friends but we can pursue common economic interests. Is that how you would deal with Russia? Or would you advocate another approach?

Philip Stephens: I think quite clearly we have to deal with Russia. We have many interlocking interests -- both security and economic. We rely on Russia for lots of our energy in Europe, for example, and clearly we have joint interests in our security issues such as Iran's ambitions for perhaps a nuclear weapon and the fight against terrorism.

But to say that one has to deal with Russia shouldn't be to appease Russia. I think Europe's relationship, and indeed the West's relationship with Russia, should be one that is robust. It shouldn't be provocative. We should be careful about Russian sensibilities, particularly on security issues. But we shouldn't allow Russia to impose a veto, for example, on the deployment of American missile defense in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, or on a final resolution of the position of Kosovo. So we should be cooperative with Russia, we should avoid provocation, but we shouldn't allow Russia to impose its foreign policy on us.

RFE/RL: You have called for a response from Europe as a whole that is coherent and tough, but what form could that response take, given that Europe is so dependent on Russian energy?

I think Europe has been its own worst enemy in recent years in its dealings with Russia. It's been divided and incoherent. I think some European governments have lived with the delusion, I would say, that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's Russia was still on the path to pluralist government, to democracy. And that Russia still wanted, as [former President] Boris Yeltsin signaled in the 1990s, to be part of the West. So I think that's been one problem.

I think the other problem has been that governments have thought that by striking bilateral agreements they would do better in terms of securing their own gas supplies and in some case, oil supplies. I think what's required now is a recognition by European governments that, in terms of their own interests as far as energy is concerned, they'll only get a reasonable deal with Russia if they act cooperatively. Putin, I think has been very adept at dividing and ruling and, if you like, establishing Russian power in the European energy market in a way that's actually disproportionate to its supplies.

So Europe needs, on the one hand, to have a single energy policy towards Russia, and on the other hand, on matters of security, such as Kosovo, it also needs to have a single common policy, and not allow Russia to drive wedges between different governments.

RFE/RL: How strongly should the West pursue the democracy agenda in Russia, or should it decouple that from economic relations?

Stephens: I think it can be decoupled as it was during the Cold War. I think during the Cold War Western governments always made the case for human rights in the then-Soviet bloc, but dealt with the Soviet Union economically. I think the West shouldn't surrender its values, as it were, but clearly we can't impose democracy on Russia, so Western governments should continue to uphold and stand for the values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law and make that very clear in the relationship with Russia. But it can be a "twin-track" relationship, as it were.

RFE/RL: Well, sometimes it could be tough -- a government could be accused of hypocrisy. Do you still go ahead and do mega-business deals with a regime that it shutting down the press, that is creating new dissidents, that is not respectful of some basic democratic rights?

Stephens: Well, I think the West will always have to live with this kind of contradiction. I think the same could be said of China -- you know, [it's] not a regime that shares a lot of Western values. But the question always is, one, do we try and lock them out of the world or do we try and bring them in? And I think history says bringing engagement is a better way of getting reform. And two, you know, I think one could be idealistic but you have to add a touch of realism.

There are mutual interests between the West and Russia. It does matter that Russia shares our concern, for example, about international terrorism or the spread of nonconventional weapons. So I think one has to work with Russia, but I don't think one has to surrender one's values in doing so. And I think you have to stand up for those values even as you engage with countries like Russia, economically and politically.

RFE/RL: In the case of the row between Russia and Britain -- where Moscow has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, London's prime suspect in Aleksandr Litvinenko's murder -- don't the Russians have a case here, in that they've asked for the extradition of Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, and Britain has refused? Moscow is only doing the same: refusing to extradite one of its own citizens to Britain, which they say would run counter to their constitution.

Stephens: I think the Russian government would have a point if it had shown any inclination whatsoever to cooperate with the British prosecuting authorities, and I think we should remember here, it's not the British government that's asked for the extradition but the British prosecuting authorities. And I think that the message that Russia has sent back has been one of supreme indifference to the evidence amassed in London. So I think if the Russians come back and said, 'Look, we are treating this seriously, yes we will look at this evidence very carefully,' the question of whether Mr. Lugovoi could have been extradited might have been one that could have been tackled cooperatively.

But the British government's view is that, from the outset, the Russian authorities showed no interest whatsoever in whether this person had been engaged in a crime -- not only the murder of a British citizen, but bringing into Britain highly radioactive material which could have threatened a large number of other people.

RFE/RL: Lastly, you have written that Boris Yeltsin understood that the West is Russia's natural ally. What do you say to Russians who see the period under Yeltsin as a period of free-for-all robber capitalism, with lots of corruption, and people's quality of life -- and the basic certainties in life -- was turned upside down? And now they appreciate the stability and growing prosperity that Putin has brought. So in a sense, Yeltsin made "democracy" a dirty word. What do you tell them?

Stephens: There were lots of things wrong with the Yeltsin era, not least the economic free-for-all, the transfer of state assets at knockdown prices to a small number of oligarchs, and the chaos that ensued for many ordinary Russians. But to say that was a period of disruption and disturbance in Russian life is not to discredit democracy and freedom and the rule of law. Those principles stand, and even if, in the short term, authoritarian rule restores order to Russia, in the long term, the country's prosperity, its place in the world, will depend on it spreading and sharing the freedoms of other countries around the world. So, I would say, don't blame democracy for the chaos of the Yeltsin era and don't think authoritarianism, and an approach to foreign policy that seeks enemies rather than friends, will be salvation for Russia.

Iran: Rights Expert Condemns Broadcast Of American-Iranians

Haleh Esfandiari shown on Iranian television in a promotion on July 16

July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International's Drewery Dyke, the human-rights organization's international researcher on Iran, spoke with RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi about the Iranian government's scheduled broadcast of a program on July 18 that includes alleged confessions by detained Iranian-Americans.

Radio Farda: What's Amnesty International's opinion about broadcasting so-called "confessions" of Iranian-American citizens Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, which Iranian TV will broadcast tomorrow?

Drewery Dyke: The reported confessions of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, two dual nationals currently detained in Iran, flies in the face of Iran's human-rights obligations regarding fair-trial procedures, an act which is clearly not permitted under the conventions that Iran is a party to and would undermine any trial that may arise in connection with their detention. The organization unconditionally condemns this particular act and indeed the apparent basis of their detention, as they appear to be prisoners of conscience held only for their beliefs. The organization would call for their immediate and unconditional release as there appears to be no criminal charges that meet international standards for a recognizable criminal offense.

"We must hold the government accountable for overall actions of the state...Iranian authorities [are]...the ones who are really responsible for the situation, who should really put a stop to the situation."

Radio Farda: What is the basis of the pressure on Iranian political, social, and cultural activists?

Dyke: The basis of the pressure is not one particularly that organizations such as Amnesty International look at. We look at human-rights issues, human-rights violations. To the extent that we do that, we find that other patterns of violation in the country conform to a large, unabated pattern of [human-rights] violations [that] cover a range of issues, including the arrest of [human-rights] defenders, the detention of students held in connection with the so-called "18th of tir" student demonstration, and those who protest against other arrests in connection with women's rights and executions. There is a range of these issues that there are complaints about. That there are protests and, in this larger context of use of politics of fear, creating a kind of polarized situation in the country. We see a spiral of [human-rights] violation that's continuing in an unabated manner, and amongst these we see the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh and others, one of your colleagues, for example. So we would urge this spiral to stop and for the Iranian authorities to live up to their obligations, to adhere to their obligations, stay party to the international covenant of political rights, really just start showing respect towards its own people, towards its own [human-rights] defenders, towards its own students, towards those who are under the age of 18 and sentenced to death. It's a spiral, the end of which is unclear -- certainly a spiral which needs to end now and by putting [human rights] back on the agenda, recognizing the importance of [human rights], the rule of law, the dignity of people when considering issues of administration justice.

Radio Farda: Who is in charge of detaining and getting confessions from Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh? Is it the judiciary or the government?

Dyke: Under international law, we must hold the government accountable for overall actions of the state and, in this regard, the failure of Iranian authorities to implement and live up to their own commitment regarding [human-rights] standards, they're the ones who are really responsible for the situation, who should really put a stop to the situation. Yes, there may be other forces and other factors and we do appeal to all of those and, indeed, we seek to contact all of those who have a stake in the HR situation in Iran: religious leaders, NGOs, commentators, the press. It's why we make our statements available...why we appeal directly to the governors of provinces, to the [Iranian] supreme leader, to the minister of intelligence, to the head of the judiciary: because they're all stakeholders in the implementation of [human-rights] standards. Although ultimately, the government must take responsibility and, ultimately, it would be [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's government which needs to ensure that the [human-rights] obligations that Iran is a state party to, the International Covenant of Political Rights, that these are implemented.

Iran: Government Steps Up Crackdown On Opposition

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Union leader Mansur Osanlu was abducted and imprisoned in Tehran on July 10

July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran has recently intensified its harassment of critics and people it deems threatening to the government.

The current crackdown in Iran is harsher than it has been for many years.

It seems to be a reaction to Iran's internal problems and also outside pressure -- including growing international pressure over Tehran's nuclear program, economic sanctions, and a budget allocated by the United States to promote democracy in Iran -- that has apparently led to fear among officials of a "velvet revolution" in the Islamic republic.

Afshari said Iran's repressive methods have actually led to the spreading of protests. He said women, students, and activists know they have to pay a price for their activism -- yet they continue their fight.

The crackdown is also seen as a result of the appointment of younger hard-liners and people with military backgrounds to key state positions.

Many Targeted

Targets of the crackdown range from intellectuals and women's-rights activists to teachers and workers.

Students have also been targeted through summonses to court, threats of expulsion, suspensions, detention by police, and even jailings.

Iranian officials have said publicly that they suspect the student movement and women's-rights activists of being part of an enemy conspiracy for a "soft subversion" of the government.

On July 9, six members of the central committee of Iran's largest reformist student group, the Office To Foster Unity, held a sit-in at the Polytechnical University in Tehran to mark the eighth anniversary of the large student demonstrations and also to protest the continued detention of a number of their colleagues from 1999.

All six were detained by security forces and are now in prison.

Students Imprisoned

A few hours later about 10 other members of the Office To Foster Unity were detained during a raid at the group's office in Tehran.

Iranian human-rights groups say all of the detained student activists are being held in the 209 section of Tehran's Evin prison where political- and security-related prisoners are often held.

On July 10, prominent union leader Mansur Osanlu was abducted in the capital. Iranian authorities at first did not comment on his whereabouts. But two days later officials from Evin prison told his wife that he was, in fact, being held there on unspecified charges.

On July 16, Iran's state television showed footage of two detained Iranian-American scholars.

Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with George Soros's Open Society Institute, were shown in an promotion for a program that state television said would be broadcast in full on July 18.

Confessing Under Duress

Journalists and critics of Iran's regime have in the past appeared on television and made "confessions." Many of them have subsequently exposed the nature of the "confession" and said they were forced to incriminate themselves under duress.

There is widespread belief that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have also faced pressure to appear on TV.

The two scholars are facing security charges including acting against Iran's national security. Another Iranian-American, peace activist Ali Shakeri, is also being detained on security-related charges.

Parnaz Azima, a broadcaster for Radio Farda based in Prague, was charged with disseminating propaganda and is free on bail awaiting trial. She traveled to Tehran to visit her mother when her passport was seized by Iranian officials. She holds dual American and Iranian citizenship.

Growing List Of Detainees

Human Rights groups believe the measures are an attempt by Iran's security authorities to sow fear into the wider community of journalists, writers, scholars, and critics.

Rights groups have long accused Iranian authorities of bringing politically motivated charges of "endangering national security" and "working with foreigners" against intellectuals and activists.

In recent weeks, a number of international rights organizations have called on Iran to free the four detained Iranian-American nationals, students, and all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

Yet the Iranian establishment remains defiant and the list of the victims of the state crackdown gets longer as time passes. It also includes cases against many individuals that do not get much media attention.

Domestic Problems

The intensified crackdown comes at a time when President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government is under intense criticism over what is being described as "economic mismanagement."

It also comes at a time when Iran's Islamic establishment has toughened its stance on a number of issues, including women's dress code.

On July 15, a Tehran police chief was quoted in Iranian newspapers as saying that police this month will enforce -- with renewed vigor -- a drive against clothing deemed un-Islamic.

Observers believe that the current crackdown and persecution of critics will only serve to isolate Tehran further. Some believe the campaign will fail.

Ali Afshari, a former student leader who was jailed in Iran a number of times because of his activities, told RFE/RL recently that Iran's repressive methods have actually led to the spreading of protests. He said women, students, and activists know they have to pay a price for their activism -- yet they continue their fight.

U.S. Approach 'Not Fruitful'
U.S. energy-security expert Flynt Leverett has been urging the Bush administration to step up direct contacts with Tehran. more
A Conversation With Iranian Dissident Akbar Ganji
Iran's outspoken dissident believes reform is possible in Iran and can be driven by civil disobedience. more

Afghanistan: Journalists Face Increasing Government Pressure

By Farangis Najibullah

Relatives of Zakiya Zaki, a killed female journalist, weep as her body is prepared for burial in Jabbul Saraj on June 6

July 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Afghan reporter who was critical of the government has been released after four days of detention on undisclosed charges. But a second journalist -- who reportedly reprinted extracts of an essay critical of President Hamid Karzai -- remains in custody.

International media rights groups such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels condemned the arrests of the Afghan journalists and demanded their release.

Unexplained Arrests

The Afghan National Security Directorate (NSD) did not say why radio journalist Kamran Mir Hazar -- who was released on bail on July 8 -- was arrested in the first place.

Journalists -- wary of possible retaliation for an unfavorable news report -- are forced to censor themselves in trying to avoid criticizing powerful politicians, drug dealers, or warlords.

The security service continues to hold Asif Nang -- the editor in chief of the government publication "Peace Jirga" -- who was arrested on June 30.

No reasons have been given by the NSD for either reporter's arrest.

Mir Hazar is also chief editor of the political blog, and his detention has been linked to articles published on his blog website.

Some of the articles criticize Afghan officials and accuse others of espionage.

After negotiation with security officials, Afghanistan's National Journalists Union was able to get Mir Hazar release on bail.

Criticism Not Taken Well

Union head Sayeed Agha Fazil Sanjaraki said he cannot confirm the alleged link between Mir Hazar's articles and his arrest. However, Sanjaraki says that Afghan officials do not usually tolerate journalists who criticize the government.

"Criticizing the Afghan government brings strong retaliation," he said. "The government does not tolerate criticism and it expects the media to exaggerate the government's achievements instead of disclosing the government's internal problems, its corruption and ineffectiveness, and criticizing its inabilities."

It seems that the alleged pressure from authorities is not the only problem Afghan journalists have been facing in recent months.

Sanjaraki says reporters face growing pressure and security threats as the security situation worsens in Afghanistan amid increased attacks from the Taliban-led insurgency.

He says that journalists -- wary of possible retaliation for an unfavorable news report -- are forced to censor themselves in trying to avoid criticizing powerful politicians, drug dealers, or warlords. Additionally, religion, family, and tribal traditions still remain taboo subjects for Afghan journalists and hardly anyone would dare challenge the words or actions of religious leaders.

Female Journalists Killed

Afghanistan's female journalists face additional pressure from their families and because of the practices in the country's conservative society.

Two women reporters -- Zakiya Zaki, the head of Radio Peace in Parvan Province, and Shakiba Amaj, a Shamshad TV reporter in Kabul -- have been killed this year for practicing their profession.

Manizha Bakhtari is the editor in chief of the magazine "Parniyan," based in Kabul. Bakhtari says security threats and self-censorship have become a "harsh reality of the day" for her colleagues.

"My colleagues face such problems every day and they face threats," she said. "So many times they [could] have criticized someone or disclosed a government secret or, sometimes, they got caught up in conflicts between the government and its opponents. [In such cases our journalists] were forced into self-censorship and had to remain silent. They were threatened."