Monday, June 27, 2011

Legislation Proposed to Insulate Russia from Strasbourg Court Rulings

The Constitutional Law Committee of Russia's lower parliamentary chamber (the State Duma), has proposed legislation to limit the enforcement of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights against Russia. Under the bill, initiated by Alexander Torshin, acting speaker of the upper house (the Federation Council), if the Strasbourg court rules that the application of a Russian law violates international human rights law, the ruling will not be grounds for reopening proceedings in a Russian court if the law itself is consistent with Russia's Constitution, while Russia's Constitutional Court will have the final say on whether a law per se violates international norms. The bill, which was recommended to the Duma for consideration in a first reading on July 1, has been criticized by Russia's representative in the European Court, Judge Anatolii Kovler, as an attempt to avoid Russia's international obligations.

Armenia-Azerbaijan Talks on Nagorny Karabakh Fail

Armenia and Azerbaijan were unable to come to an agreement on the path to peace in Nagorny Karabakh after a meeting in Kazan, Russia, hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and attended by Armenian leader Serzh Sargsyan and Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Nagorny Karabakh, a breakaway region on Azerbaijani territory with a predominantly ethnic Armenian population, has been at the center of a bitter conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia for two decades. Both parties blame each other for the failure of the talks. According to some reports, President Medvedev is so disappointed with the outcome that he is ready to cease Russia’s mediation efforts.

Russian Colonel Convicted in Absentia for Disclosing Spy Ring

A Moscow military district court found former Russian intelligence officer Colonel Alexander Poteyev, who helped U.S. authorities disclose a Russian spy ring last summer, guilty of high treason and sentenced in absentia to 25 years in prison. The court also deprived Poteyev his rank of colonel and stripped him of his awards. Ten Russians were arrested in the United States in June 2010 on suspicion of espionage and exchanged for four men accused of espionage in Russia. Poteyev, who was secretly working for the CIA, fled to the United States shortly before the arrest of the sleeper agents was made public. “Poteyev uncovered Russian sleeper agents . . . , he also deserted,” the verdict said. One of the witnesses was Anna Chapman, a sleeper agent who became a media star after returning to Russia.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blogger Attacks Putin’s Front

Blogger and lawyer Alexei Navalny wrote in LiveJournal that he had asked legal authorities to investigate the legitimacy of the Russian People’s Front initiated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. “The members of the People’s Front’s managing bodies have violated federal laws on multiple occasions since the Front’s inception,” Navalny wrote. Navalny contended that taxpayers’ rights are being violated because the Front freely uses the government's financial and technological resources. In particular, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov covers the Front's activities during his working hours, and there is no evidence that Putin has ever applied for time off to spend on Front matters. Navalny asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the Front and its leaders, and to order a correction of any violations or to suspend the Front as an illegal association. (Navalny's blog, application copy)

Belarus Police Arrests Hundreds in “Silent Rally”

Police and government Special Forces in Belarus have broken up a protest rally against economic hardship in the country, arresting scores of peaceful demonstrators. More than 1,000 people gathered at an unauthorized rally against the government’s economic policies near the presidential headquarters in the capital Minsk. The activists did not have banners or chant, but merely clapped their hands and stamped their feet. There is no official information from the Belarus Interior Ministry on the number detained, while the Vesna human rights group claims some 450 activists have been detained, and hundreds more have been interrogated by the police and KGB, the internal security agency. At least five journalists from local news agencies, radio station and newspaper have also been arrested. (video)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strasbourg Court Finds Police Surveillance of Political Activists Illegal

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian police illegally used a database to follow the movements of human rights activists and place them in preventive detention before a protest march against the government in Samara in 2007. The database was purportedly created in order to enforce anti-extremism laws against skinheads and neo-Nazis, but the 3,865 people in the database in 2007 also included members of opposition parties and human rights activists, such as Sergei Shimovolos of Nizhny Novgorod, who brought the case after his preventive detention for 45 minutes prevented him from participating in the march in 2007. The European Court held that Shimovolos's right to privacy was violated by his inclusion in the database and that the Russian authorities should review the use of the database in order to prevent such violations.

Russian Supreme Court Protects Political Speech

Russia's Supreme Court overturned the decisions of two lower courts that had ruled in favor of former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov in his lawsuit against right-wing parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovski for damage to reputation caused by accusations that Luzkov's administration was corrupt. The Supreme Court noted that the statements at issue were statements of opinion and emphasized that freedom of speech in a democratic society must protect not only "information" and "ideas," but also opinions expressed in political discourse.

Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman Cites Failings of Judiciary

In his annual report to the President, Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin noted that a common theme of citizens' complaints to his office is that judges base their decisions on "everything but their conscience." Regarding the subject matter of complaints, Lukin reported that about half concern rights to salaries and pensions and the rights of prisoners and military draftees. There have been fewer complaints about unemployment and more about freedom of conscience than in the past, while only approximately 2% concern political rights, Lukin further reported.

Russia Refuses to Register Liberal Opposition Party

Russia’s Ministry of Justice refused to register liberal opposition party PARNAS (People’s Freedom Party), recently established by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former governor and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, former Deputy Minister Vladimir Milov, and former Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. PARNAS filed a registration request in May. The Ministry says it discovered inadequacies in the party's documentation; in particular, some of the listed party members were found to be deceased, some were minors, and some appeared to have submitted addresses which do not correspond with their actual permanent residences. The party leaders say the Ministry's decision is illegal. “This is not a mistake but rather a political decision taken by Putin and Surkov with silent consent of Medvedev,” Nemtsov commented. (Vladislav Surkov has been an influential Presidential Administration official since Putin was in office.) Without formal registration, a party is unable to participate in elections and essentially can not take part in political life. (video)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Russia's High Economic Court Invalidates Sham Arbitral Award

Russia's High Arbitrazh (Economic) Court intervened to prevent the abuse of arbitration in resolving a fictitious dispute and creating legal cover for the misappropriation of company assets. The supposed dispute arose from a breach of contract to supply materials. The companies concluded a settlement, confirmed by an arbitral tribunal, whereby the supplier would transfer an airplane hangar to the buyer. A former shareholder in the debtor company challenged the arbitral award in court, asserting that the debt was fictitious, and pointing out that the supplier's general director owned the buyer and that the supplier's decision to transfer the hangar did not receive the corporate approvals needed for interested transactions. The former shareholder claimed that as a result of the transaction, he did not receive fair compensation upon the sale of his shares. The lower courts ruled that they did not have the right to review the merits of the arbitral award. The High Arbitrazh Court reversed, ruling that the arbitral award was unenforceable and that the use of arbitral proceedings to validate a transaction lacking required corporate approvals was contrary to public policy.

Russian Official Loses Libel Suit against Journalist

A court in Moscow dismissed the libel suit of Vasily Yakimenko, head of Russia’s Federal Agency for Youth Affairs ("Rosmolodezh"), against journalist Oleg Kashin and political scientist Alexander Morozov, who suggested in their blogs that Yakimenko may have been involved in last year's attempted murder of Kashin, with whom Yakimenko had a conflict. Kashin, in particular, stated that he “has no doubt in the Yakimenko version” of the assault (Kashin was brutally beaten by unidentified persons with an iron rod). Yakimenko demanded some $50,000 in damages, but the judge concluded that “the fact of the dissemination of libellous information has not been established in the court hearings.” (surveillance video)

Investigators Refuse to Prosecute Khodorkovsky Judge

Russia’s Investigation Committee refused to institute criminal proceedings against Viktor Danilkin, the trial judge in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, as the defense lawyers of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev requested. The lawyers accuse Danilkin of entering a knowingly unlawful sentence, relying, in particular, on a statement of former Danilkin’s assistance Natalia Vasilyeva who said that the sentence that Danilikin had announced had been written by somebody outside the court and imposed on Danilkin against his will. However, the investigators refused to launch probe into the matter pointing out that the document presented by Vasilyeva and purporting to be the original sentence (with a milder punishment) written by Danilkin himself is not signed or sealed and therefore does not identify its author. “The information about the falsification of the criminal case of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev is based only on hearsay, personal guesses, assumptions, and not on any objective data,” said Vladimir Markin, Investigative Committee spokesman.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Russian Lawyer Convicted of Leading Criminal Group

Russia’s Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in a jury trial of Alexander Litvinov, the head of a law firm in Vladivostok, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for creating and leading a gang that attacked Vladivostok residents to force them to sell their apartments at low prices. Litvinov was also convicted of the murder of a business competitor. Litvinov claims the case is “falsified.”

Vanuatu Withdraws Recognition of Abkhazia

Vanuatu’s Acting Prime Minister Edward Natapei cancelled and withdrew Vanuatu’s recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says that Abkhazia is a break-away autonomous province of the Republic of Georgia, which the former Prime Minister Sato Kilman purported to recognize last month. However, on June 16 the Supreme Court of Vanuatu ruled that the election of Kilman was invalid and that Natapei be Acting Prime Minister until a new Prime Minister is elected. The Acting Prime Minister state that the majority of the world’s governments consider Abkhazia as part of Georgia’s territory, while only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru have recognized Abkhazia as an independent state. According to Natapei, the decision not to recognize Abkhazia shows that Vanuatu is together with the majority of the international community on this important issue.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gaddafi Plays with Chess Envoy

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has claimed in a conversation with president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov that he was ready to proceed in talks with NATO and rebels, but ruled out the possibility of his resignation. Russian eccentric billionaire Ilyumzhinov, who once claimed he hosted extraterrestrials, showed up in Tripoli and sat down for a game of chess with Gaddafi. "I am ready for immediate talks with the NATO leadership and Benghazi representatives on the future of our country," Ilyumzhinov quoted Gaddafi as saying. However Gaddafi stated that he is not planning to leave Libya, stressing that it is his motherland and the land where his children and grandchildren died. Gaddafi said he left his residence in Bab al-Azizia a few minutes before a NATO bomb hit it. But his son Saif al-Arab and three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren who remained inside the compound were killed. Gaddafi also said that he does not understand which post he needs to step down from. "I am neither premier nor president nor king. I do not hold any post in Libya and therefore I have no position which I should give up." (video)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Belarus Export Restrictions Spark Protests at Polish Border

Belarus has prohibited the export of several food items, refrigerators, kitchen stoves, and gasoline in order to prevent trade that takes advantage of subsidies introduced to soften the social impact of Belarus's recent economic cricis. The export trade has been particularly lively at the Polish border. The restrictions also prohibit individuals from leaving the country with more than two kilograms of cheese, poultry or pork; one kilogram of butter; two packs of Belarussian cigarettes; or five cans of milk or meat. To slow sales of gasoline, people are limited to one border crossing a day. In response to the restrictions, protestors stopped traffic near the border. Riot police broke up the protests and arrested 20 protestors.

“Unannounced Sentence” of Khodorkovsky Made Public

Former press secretary for Moscow's Khamovnichesky court, Natalia Vasilyeva, was interrogated by prosecutors in connection with her public allegation that Judge Viktor Danilkin imposed his 13.5 year prison sentence on Mikhail Khodorkovsky under outside pressure. Vasilieva presented to the prosecutors three pages of what she said was the original sentence written by Judge Viktor Danilkin, sentencing Khodorkovsky and his former Yukos colleague Platon Lebedev to only 10 years rather than 13.5 years. "This is the sentence Danilkin initially wanted to release," Vasilyeva's personal representative Irina Khrukova said in an interview. The prosecutors refused to consider the unsigned draft as proper evidence and concluded that Vasilyeva’s statements are based on “guesses and assumptions.”

Russian Rights Activist Acquitted on Criminal Defamation Charges

A court in Moscow acquitted Oleg Orlov, the head of human rights group “Memorial,” on criminal defamation charges brought in relation to Orlov’s statement about the role of Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov in the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova. Orlov stated that Kadyrov was “guilty” of Estemirova's murder. Earlier Orlov lost a civil defamation suit brought by Kadyrov, with some $2,000 awarded in damages. Now the prosecution asked to fine Orlov $5,000, but the court found that Orlov’s words were a “statement of opinion” and thus not punishable.

Russian War Criminal Assassinated in Moscow

Yury Budanov, a former Russian army colonel who symbolized army abuses in the war in Chechnya, was shot dead in central Moscow. Budanov, who had commanded a tank regiment during the second Chechen war, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003 for the kidnapping and murder of 18-year old Chechen woman Elsa Kungayeva three years earlier, and was released on parole in January 2009, 15 months early. His early release caused outrage in Chechnya. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said at the time: "Budanov is the enemy of the Chechen people. He assaulted our people. Every man, woman and child thinks that while he lives the shame remains." The funeral service and burial in Khimki, just north of Moscow, were attended by several hundred people, including a number of uniformed servicemen. Budanov was seen off with a three-gun salute. (Kadyrov’s 2009 interview) (Al Jazeera’s video) (Russia Today’s video) (surveillance video)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Google Accuses Kazakhstan of Creating “Fractured Internet”

Google decided to redirect all visitors of its Kazakhstan site,, to a page in Kazakh at, after the Kazakh Ministry of Communications and Information issued an order requiring all .kz domain names to operate on physical servers within Kazakhstan. “We find ourselves in a difficult situation: creating borders on the web raises important questions for us not only about network efficiency but also about user privacy and free expression. If we were to operate only via servers located inside Kazakhstan, we would be helping to create a fractured Internet. So we have decided to redirect users that visit to in Kazakh. Unfortunately, this means that Kazakhstani users will experience a reduction in search quality as results will no longer be customized for Kazakhstan,” Google's senior vice president Bill Coughran commented in a blog post.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vanuatu Recognizes Abkhazia

The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has become the fifth country to recognize Abkhazia's independence, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maxim Gvindzhiya announced. "We exchanged notes on diplomatic relations and signed an agreement," Gvindzhiya said. However, three days later, Donald Kalpokas, Vanuatu’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated Vanuatu has not in fact recognized Abkhazia. “I have asked my capital whether this is true, and they denied it emphatically,” Mr. Kalpokas said. “We don’t know who is responsible for declaring that this is true. As far as we are concerned, we are dealing with Georgia, not Abkhazia.” He added, “It is defamation for our country. This is disrespect.” Georgia’s Foreign Ministry Deputy Head Nino Kalandadze commented, “According to the information we have from Vanuatu and other UN countries, the reports that Vanuatu intends to recognize Abkhazia are not confirmed on any stage.” Meanwhile, Georgian media accuses Russia of paying Vanuatu $23 mln for the recognition. “No one paid anyone anything!” Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maxim Gvindzhiya responded. Russia recognized Abkhazia and another breakaway Georgian province, South Ossetia, in 2008, in the wake of a five-day Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia. Later, the two states' independence was recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. Georgia considers the two regions part of its sovereign territory. (document) (video)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Belarusian KGB Arrests Moderators of Social Network Groups Discussing Political Protest

The Belarusian special secret service, KGB, has arrested several administrators of internet social network groups that had been organized to discuss political activism in Belarus. Some of the online groups have more than 100,000 members in Belarus, which is presently in the midst of deep economic crisis. Those groups were primarily formed on the Russian social network, which is a popular Russian-language equivalent of Facebook. KGB agents reportedly gained access to administrative accounts of one of those groups and dissolved it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Russia’s Economic Court Publishes First Dissenting Opinion

For the first time in its history, Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court published a dissenting opinion of one of the judges. Previously, the practice of publishing dissenting opinions existed in Russia only in the Constitutional Court. The issue in this case was whether interest is payable where the principal amount has been paid under a settlement agreement. The majority held that the settlement means that the dispute is completely resolved and no further interest may be claimed. Judge Sergey Sarbash dissented arguing the interest is payable up to the date of the certification of the settlement by a court. (video)

EU Objects to Russia’s Vegetable Import Ban

Russia banned imports of fresh vegetables from the European Union, accusing Brussels of sowing chaos by failing to give sufficient information about a deadly E.coli outbreak. The outbreak has killed 17 people and made more than 1,500 others ill, and food poisoning is spreading across Europe. The source of the infection is still unclear. "I would call the action of the EU health regulators and the other European bodies responsible for this disgrace unprofessional and irresponsible," said Gennady Onishchenko, the head of the Russian consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor. The European Commission contends that the move was disproportionate and urged Russia to end its ban immediately. "The European Commission protested to the Russian Federation this afternoon with regard to the Russian ban imposed earlier today on all EU vegetable exports to Russia and requested the immediate withdrawal of the measure," an EU executive said in a statement. (video)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dozens of Oppositionists Convicted in Belarus in the Midst of Dreadful Economic Crisis

Dozens of members of the Belarus political opposition have recently been sentenced to substantial prison terms for participating in the peaceful opposition demonstration on December 19, 2010, known as Presidential Election Day. Among those sentenced were several former presidential candidates, including Mikola Statkevich, who was sentenced to a six-year term. These convictions, believed by many to be unfair and unconstitutional, come in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in Belarus's history. (video)

Georgia Enacts Lustration Law

The Georgian parliament approved the so-called "Freedom Charter" banning the use of Soviet symbols, as well as Nazi ones. The Charter also prohibits Soviet-era Communist party, Komsomol and national security functionaries from holding official posts in parliament, the government and the Security Council, etc. They also will be prohibited from serving as university deans or judges. The Charter envisages the removal of monuments bearing Soviet symbols and renaming streets and towns whose names are suggestive of the country’s Soviet past.

Politkovskaya Murder Suspect Arrested in Chechnya

Rustam Makhmudov, suspected of shooting famous Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, was arrested in Chechnya at his parents' home and is due to be brought to Moscow. Rustam Makhmudov's brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, have been accused of acting as drivers, while former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov has been accused of providing logistical support. All three men were tried and acquitted for lack of evidence in 2009, but the verdict was overturned by Russia's supreme court, which ordered them to be retried. Rustam Makhmudov remained a fugitive through his brothers' first trial. (video)

Freedom of Assembly Demonstration Dispersed in Moscow

On May 31, Moscow opposition activists held their traditional demonstration on the Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). A similar demonstration was held in St. Petersburg. As usual, both demonstrations were banned by the authorities and dispersed by the police special forces. Several dozens of activists were arrested. In contrast, a similar demonstration in Nizhny Novgorod was allowed. (video) (video, photo)