Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Circassians Want to Move from Syria to Russia

A group of 115 Circassians (Adygs) who are citizens of Syria have written a letter to the Russian leadership and Circassian public organizations in Russia with a request to help them to return to their historical motherland. The legislative assembly of Adygei, a Russian constituency in the North Caucasus, welcomed the idea and asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian governmental bodies to assist the Syria’s Circassians. Syria’s Circassians are descendants of those who left Russia in the 19th century in the wake of the Great Caucasus War. Some 400,000 natives of North Caucasus had to flee then. Currently about 700,000 Circassians reside in Russia, while 5 to 7 mln are in Turkey. Syria hosts 100,000 to 200,000 Circassians.

Russia Accuses U.S. of Human Rights Violations

Russia's Foreign Ministry has attacked the U.S. human rights record in a report on injustice and violations around the globe. In its first-ever report on breaches of human rights abroad, Russia focused on EU nations, Canada and Georgia, but the longest section of the report highlights violations in the U.S. In particular, Moscow criticized President Barack Obama for "legalizing indefinite and extrajudicial custody and the return of court-martials." Moscow laments the ongoing operation of the "notorious" prison in Guantanomo Bay, prying into citizens' personal lives and judicial errors. Russia also slams the “extraterritorial application of American law” in the Bout and Yaroshenko cases. Russia's Foreign Ministry in the past has reacted angrily to the accusations of human rights breaches that the U.S. State Department has leveled at it in its annual reports. (document)

Russian Prosecutors Seek to Ban Hare Krishna Holy Scripture

Russian prosecutors are seeking a ban on a Hindu holy book, claiming it is extremist literature. In December, a court in Tomsk in Siberia should hold a final hearing on the book “Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is.” This is a Russian version of the ancient Hindu text translated from the annotated English edition by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Russian prosecutors say the book incites religious hatred and enmity and ask the court to ban it as extremist. If the court agrees, the book will become illegal in all of Russia. The trial has caused an uproar in India and has also sparked protests in Russia. Ahead of the final court hearing, India’s external affairs minister, S M Krishna, met with the Russian ambassador to express his concerns over the issue. The Indian ambassador to Russia, Ajai Malhotra, called the procedures in Tomsk “absurd” and “bordering on the bizarre.” The Russian Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, concurred: “Well, it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighborhood madmen.” Last week scores of Indian right-wing activists burnt the Russian flag in New Delhi in protest against a possible ban of the Gita. However, Russian authorities have rejected the complaints. “This is not about the book itself but about a poor translation and the preface written by the author," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich. (video)

UPDATE: Court Refuses to Hold Gita Extremist

Monday, December 26, 2011

Medvedev’s Rights Council Calls for New Elections

The Russian presidential council on human rights has called the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, to resign after considering complaints about alleged violations during the December 4 parliamentary elections. The council posted a statement on its website late night Friday, saying that its members “admit that the numerous reports of ballot box stuffing, rewriting of protocol on voting results, the removal of observers and journalists, the banning of photography and videos, and other violations of voting rights, as well as unexplained contraditions in election statistics, caused citizens to call the whole election process and results into question.” The council also said that it is necessary to ensure the speedy adoption of a new electoral law in order to conduct early parliamentary elections. However, the Central Election Commission seems to remain unimpressed. “There are no legal or judicial implications in the [Human Rights Council] decision,” said Central Election Commission member Elena Dubrovina. The council convened just hours before the start of a major rally against the results of the vote and the alleged vote-rigging in Moscow.

100,000 Muscovites Rally against Putin

Tens of thousands of demonstrators cheered opposition leaders and jeered the Kremlin in the biggest show of outrage yet against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule. The Moscow demonstration was even bigger than a similar rally two weeks ago, signaling that the protest movement ignited by the tainted Dec. 4 parliamentary election may be growing. Protest were also held in dozens of other cities and towns across Russia. Rally participants densely packed a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about some 1.5 miles from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing. They chanted "Russia without Putin!" The police reported that 28,000 people participated in the demonstration, but rally organisers said the true number was around 120,000. The journalists of the Novaya Gazeta, who counted participants at the entrance to the demonstration site, estimate the number at 102,000. (video)

Russia Slams German Ombudsman for “Misguided” Comments

The Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out at criticism of the country’s human rights record and the state of its democracy leveled by a German government official. German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loening has lambasted the human rights situation in Russia and called for the introduction of sanctions against Russian politicians and security and law enforcement officials “responsible for human rights violations.” Loening said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been paying lip service to the rule of law throughout his presidency and called Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “the opposite of an irreproachable democrat.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Loening’s remarks were “inadmissible, overfree, and misguided.” “It is surprising that he has appropriated the right to speak on behalf of the German government and even of all Europeans, calling for direct pressure on Russia - in effect, for interference in our internal affairs,” Lukashevich said. "As Germany has officially informed us, nobody has authorized him for that," the Russian official went on to add. (document) (interview)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Medvedev Proposes Political Reform

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in his address to the newly elected State Duma (parliament) proposed a plan of political reforms. In particular, he proposed reinstating direct elections of regional governors (abolished by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, in 2004); simplifying the procedure for registering political parties; making the presidential elections next year “honest and transparent”; creating a “public” TV channel free from state influence; etc. Notably, Medvedev is coming forward with a far-reaching reform plan only months before the expiration of his presidential term, whereas in 2009, he stated, “I see no reason for us to [reinstate direct governor elections] neither now, nor in 100 years.” Newly elected State Duma speaker and former presidential administration head Sergey Naryshkin disclaimed any relation between Medvedev’s proposals and the demands for liberalization by the participants of the recent mass protests. (video)

Medvedev’s Rights Council: Khodorkovsky Verdict Must be Annulled

An advisory council to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for the second conviction against ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be overturned. The council said that there were "fundamental violations" during Khodorkovsky's second trial. “Taking into account effective means of legal support which are present in the national judicial system, it is necessary to raise with the Prosecutor General the issue of appealing the current verdict in order to annul it,” the president’s council on human rights and civil society said in a report. Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were convicted in a second trial in December 2010. The trial was widely condemned abroad as unfair. The council's decisions are non-binding, and the Russian authorities have rarely acted on the council's recommendations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Opposition Accuses Kremlin in Release of Nemtsov's Phone Conversations

Russian opposition activists are accusing the authorities of seeking to sow discord in their ranks after a pro-Kremlin website posted recordings of their telephone conversations just days before mass antigovernment protests. In the recordings, posted on the website, leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov refers to environmental campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova as "just a bitch, or else an idiot." In another recording, he disparaged protestors as "hamsters," "vegetables," and "penguins." In a statement posted on his blog, Nemtsov immediately apologized for his remarks and accused the Kremlin of masterminding their release in an effort to split the opposition ahead of antigovernment demonstrations scheduled for December 24. Chirikova quickly expressed support for Nemtsov. " Decent people do not listen to other people's conversations," she wrote on Twitter. "I hope that Boris sees those who organized and implemented this leak in the dock." Nemtsov applied to the Investigation Committee of Russia demanding the initiation of criminal procedures against those (so far unidentified) persons who tapped his phone and against LifeNews Editor-in-Chief Ashot Gabrelyanov. According to Nemtsov, their acts are punishable under the Criminal Code as a communication privacy violation.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Strasbourg Court Awards $1.6 Mln against Russia over Moscow Theater Terror Siege

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has awarded about 1.25 million Euros against the Russian government in favor of victims of the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis. On October 23, 2002 a group of terrorists belonging to the Chechen separatist movement took hostages in the “Dubrovka” theater in Moscow (also known as the “Nord-Ost” theater). For three days, 912 people were held at gunpoint in the theater’s auditorium. The terrorists refused to surrender, so in the early morning of October 26, 2002, the Russian security forces pumped an unknown gas into the main auditorium through the building’s ventilation system. When the terrorists lost consciousness under the influence of the gas, the special squad stormed the building. As a result of the operation the majority of the hostages were released (over 730 people). However, a large number of hostages were affected by the gas; 130 hostages died on the spot, in hospitals or on their way there, and some of those who survived continue to suffer serious health problems. The Court found that Russia violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“right to life”) because of the inadequate planning and conduct of the rescue operation and because of the authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the rescue operation. The Court ruled that the Russian government is to pay between 9,000 euros and 66,000 euros to each of the 64 applicants, who lost their relatives during the hostage crisis, or were themselves amongst the hostages. However, the decision by the authorities to resolve the hostage crisis by force and to use the gas was not in breach of the Convention, according to the Court. (link to document)

EU-Ukraine Pact Stalls over Tymoshenko

A Ukraine-EU summit in Kiev has focused on a possible political and trade agreement. But the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has become a spoke in the wheel. Hermann Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, says the signing of any deal depends on “political circumstances.” The European Union has strongly criticized the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko over a gas deal with Russia in 2009, calling the decision to imprison her politically motivated. “The perceived deterioration of the quality of democracy and rule of law in Ukraine has a direct impact in our Member-States, in our public at large, and in the European Parliament,” Rompuy said. Other issues, he said, include comprehensive justice reform, media freedom and freedom of assembly. In this context, the parliamentary elections to be held next year will be a litmus test, Rompuy said. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych responded to the criticism, saying Kiev would take into account all of the EU’s remarks over the “deteriorating quality of democracy in the country.” “I would like to confirm that the EU remarks will not be ignored,” he said.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Russia Gains WTO Membership

The World Trade Organization officially welcomed Russia as a member Friday, bringing the country's 18-year accession process to an end.  Russia now has 220 days to ratify official WTO documents, and will become a full-fledged member 30 days after ratification. Russia's final hurdle to membership was removed last month when it resolved its dispute with Georgia (which was blocking Russia's entry into the organization) over monitoring trade on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Another major barrier that had long hampered Russia's accession to the WTO was intellectual property violations, with pirated software and DVDs being available in kiosks and marketplaces across the country and via the Internet.  With its accession to the WTO, Russia must combat web sites with domestically located servers that distribute content illegally and "investigate and prosecute companies that illegally distribute objects of copyright or related rights," the WTO said on its web site last month.  Medvedev promised cooperation on intellectual property and other trade issues, and lauded the country's accession to the WTO "[as] a result of long, difficult negotiations" that will be beneficial for Russia and other member states.  Among other things, Russia's entry into the WTO opens up the country's economy of almost $2 trillion to foreign companies and is widely expected to boost the country's economic growth and attract investment.

Protests Continue in Moscow

Thousands of Russians gathered in downtown Moscow at Bolotnaya Square to protest against alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections in Russia. The authorized rally was organized by opposition party Yabloko.

Mass Disorders in Kazakhstan Leave 15 Dead

At least 14 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and demonstrators in an oil town in western Kazakhstan on the 20th anniversary of the country's independence. Hundreds of workers who have been sacked from oilfields near Zhanaozen have been protesting since May over pay and conditions. They had occupied the main square in the town, and the trigger for the violence may have been when police moved in to clear it for the Independence Day celebrations. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared a state of emergency in the town. Later the disorders continued in the town of Shetpe, leaving one more dead. Dozens are reported wounded or arrested. The UN called on the Kazakh authorities to investigate the incident and to refrain from the excessive use of force. (video) (video)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Russian Advocates Keep Non-Commercial Status

Russian "advocates" (a small and the only regulated section of the country's lawyers) will retain their exemption from being treated as subjects of commercial activity and will therefore still be allowed rent municipal and other government property without participating in tenders.  Proposed new anti-monopoly legislation would have ended this exemption, but the Federal Chamber of Advocates convinced the drafters of the legislation to allow advocates to maintain their non-commercial status.

Proposal to End Mandatory Reading of Full Court Decisions

At a meeting of Russia's Council of Judges, the Chief Judge of the Higher Arbitrazh (Economic) Court, Anton Ivanov, expressed his support for a proposal to change the current practice of announcing court decisions by having judges read them aloud in full text in open court, which sometimes takes several days for a single decision. The proposed new procedure would reduce the burden on the courts by allowing judges to read the introduction and conclusion of a decision rather than the entire text.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Journalist Murdered in Russia’s Dagestan

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, a well-known investigative journalist and founder of political newspaper Chernovik (Rough Copy), was shot dead in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Kamalov was killed by an unknown suspect late on Thursday night in central Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. Over 70 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Dagestan is also the site of frequent militant attacks on police officers and officials. Around 50% of all terrorist attacks in Russia in 2010 occurred there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

European Parliament Calls for New Elections in Russia

The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for new "free and fair" elections in Russia. The Parliament also called for an immediate and full investigation of all reports of fraud and intimidation in the elections held on 4 December, and characterized the recent demonstrations in Russia against election fraud as an expression of the will of the people.

Russian Journalists Protest against Intimidation

Dozens of journalists of the leading Russian media holding Kommersant published an open letter in support of their colleague Maxim Kovalsky, whom Kommersant's owner, tycoon Alisher Usmanov, fired from the position of editor-in-chief of the weekly Kommersant-Vlast' after it published an article on the recent parliamentary elections, including a photo of a ballot bearing an obscene message that the voter addressed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The journalists call the dismissal “an act of intimidation” intended to suppress criticism of Putin. (document)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Russian Media Holding Management Fired over Election Coverage

The owner of the most influential Russian media holding Kommersant, Alisher Usmanov, fired the CEO of the holding Andrey Galiev and the chief editor of the Kommerant-Vlast' weekly Maxim Kovalsky. According to Usmanov, some recently published materials violated journalism ethics and "border on hooliganism.” Although Usmanov did not specify the offending materials, apparently he referred to an article published in Kommersant-Vlast' on voting in the Russian embassy in London for the recent parliamentary elections. According to the article, the local electoral commission committed only several minor violations, including invaliding ballots for the Yabloko party because of “a message addressed personally to the Prime Minister of Russia” which one voter added to the ballot. The article carried a photo of the ballot bearing an obscene variation on “Putin, go to hell!” The caption said: "A correctly completed ballot that was found invalid." The CEO of another group entity, Kommersant Publishing House, Demian Kudriavtsev, admitted that the publication was in violation of “professional journalism standards and legislation of the Russian Federation” and submitted a voluntary resignation letter. (article; photo removed)

(photo edited)

Monday, December 12, 2011

South Ossetian President Resigns under Opposition Pressure

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, who has led the breakaway republic since 2001, announced his resignation under a deal reached with the opposition. "I am stepping down in order to fight for further consolidation of society and the strengthening of South Ossetian statehood," Kokoity announced at the government house in the capital, Tskhinvali. The resignation comes 13 days after presidential elections failed to produce a clear winner to replace Kokoity, who was not running for another term.

Putin: US Incites Russian Election Protests

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed the United States for encouraging protests over Russia's recent parliamentary election. He accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of giving "the signal" to opposition leaders, who gather thousands of people for protests. Clinton has repeatedly criticised the parliamentary vote in Russia that gave Putin's United Russia party nearly 50% of the vote amid widespread reports of fraud. Putin’s conclusions have been endorsed by Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin who stated in an article published in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “[D]espite the conclusions of the majority of international observers who were present at the elections and certified the democratic character of the election procedures, [Mrs. Clinton] incites a rally wave, putting in question the legitimacy of the election results.” (video)

Tens of Thousands of Russians Protest against Election Fraud

Tens of thousands of people streamed into central Moscow on Saturday to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent their anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place across the country. Some 7,000 people rallied in Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, police said. But by far the biggest show of dissent took place in Moscow, where police said around 25,000 people gathered peacefully in driving sleet at Bolotnaya Square, a short walk from the Kremlin. Organizers put the crowd at nearer to 40,000. There were no arrests, police said. Demonstrators shouted "Putin out!" and “Putin is a thief!” and also “Give us back our elections!” Unusually, all federal TV channels covered the opposition demonstration in their news. Reportedly, this was a result of a direct order of President Dmitry Medvedev (in derogation of the general prohibition on covering opposition activities). (video)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kremlin: Medvedev Did Not Publish Obscene Statement

An obscene comment slamming the Russian opposition was posted on President Dmitry Medvedev’s official Twitter account. The post was quickly deleted from the account, but not before screen shots of it were captured by Internet users and circulated widely through Russian social networks and media websites. The Presidential Press Office in a statement blamed the incident on “interference” by an administration technical employee. The post was a re-tweet from the blog of businessman and United Russia party member Konstantin Rykov posted late on Tuesday as Moscow saw a second day of protests against alleged electoral fraud by the United Russia party at last Sunday’s parliamentary polls. “If a person writes in his blog ‘The Party of Swindlers and Thieves,’ he’s just a c**ksucking moron,” Rykov said in the post that was reproduced on Medvedev’s blog. “The Party of Swindlers and Thieves” is ruling United Russia party’s nickname, popularized by well-known lawyer and political activist Alexei Navalny, who is currently serving a 15-day prison term over his role in a recent election protest. (document)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mass Protests and Mass Arrests Continue in Moscow

According to the latest police data, 569 people were detained on Tuesday in Moscow during a second evening of protests over alleged mass electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in this weekend's parliamentary polls. The demonstration, banned by the authorities, was attended by around 1,000 people and took place at the city's Triumfalnaya Square, a short distance from the Kremlin. Several well-known public figures (such as politicians Boris Nemtsov and Sergey Mitrokhin), who were arrested that night, have been released, but most other detainees remain under arrest some 12 hours after the demonstration. The rally came in the aftermath of a much larger protest on Monday, which drew up to 6,000 and saw some 300 arrested. (video)

Russia Slams US over Election Criticism

The Russian Foreign Ministry shot back at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her criticism that Russia’s elections were “neither free nor fair.” In a strongly-worded written statement, Moscow called Clinton’s words “inadmissible” and expressed its regret that “Washington is sticking to long-outdated stereotypes and continuing to pin labels, without even trying to look into what is actually happening on our electoral field.” The Ministry went on to state that US's own electoral system is “far from perfect” and “can not serve a standard of openness and fairness.” “The US executive power would better take care of analyzing the reasons of this situation [with US elections] and the ways to improve it,” recommends the anonymous “official representative of the Foreign Ministry of Russia” in the statement. (video) (document)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hundreds of Protesters Arrested in Moscow

The parliamentary election results have left opposition supporters in an angry mood. Moscow has seen crowds of up to 10,000 take to the streets; over 300 have been arrested. The demonstrators contend that the ruling United Russia party rigged the voting results. An angry crowd tried to march to the city center, but their passage was blocked by police. Some young men managed to break through the police cordon. But as the demonstrators moved deeper into the city, they were met with a heavy police presence intent on preventing the spontaneous march. Unlike earlier precedents, most of the arrested protesters have not been released after the end of the demonstration. Well-known politicians Ilya Yashin and Alexey Navalny are among the arrested. Some 12 hours after being arrested, their whereabouts are unknown and their attorneys have not been allowed to see them. (video) (video)

Yashin and Navalny sentenced to 15 days in jail each, most other detainees fined

Monday, December 5, 2011

Putin’s Party Suffers Election Blow Despite Alleged Foul Play

Russian voters dealt Vladimir Putin's ruling party a heavy blow by cutting its parliamentary majority in an election that showed growing unease with Putin's domination of the country as he prepares to reclaim the Presidency. The result marked the biggest electoral setback for Putin since he first emerged to national leadership in 1999. Putin's United Russia won about 50 percent of the vote, compared with more than 64 percent four years ago. Opposition parties say even that result is inflated by fraud. Numerous violations have been reported, including massive ballot throw-ins. Meanwhile, all major Russian independent media web sites were disabled during the whole election day because of a massive DDoS attack. (video, AFP) (violations) (video, ballot throw-in) (DDoS attack)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Russian Election Watchdog under Governmental Attack

The main independent Russian election observer group, Golos (Voice), said it has been coming under mounting government-orchestrated pressure aimed at discrediting it and its findings. Most recently, lawmakers from three major parties asked prosecutors to investigate the foreign funded body - just five days before Russians go to the polls in a crucial parliamentary vote. Deputies with the ruling United Russia party, the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), and the A Just Russia party made a formal request to the Prosecutor General’s Office to look into Golos’ payroll. Further, one of the central TV channels broadcasted a film, “Voice form Nowhere” alleging that Golos is an “agent of influence” of the U.S. and “falsifies election monitoring.” Nevertheless, Golos intends to deploy 3,000 observers during Sunday’s parliamentary elections. (video links)

NTV film

NTV reporters attack Golos' office