“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #08
Mothballs from the Human Rights Ombudsperson Against torture and ill-treatment
Torture with impunity? Trial begins of officers accused over death of detainee in Prytuki Suspected use of torture by Chernivtsi police officers The right to a fair trial
Courts under the spotlight of constitutional reform Penal institutions
KHPG appeals to government over new Penal Department appointment Ukrainian Penitentiary Society calls for responsible appointment Civic society
Ukraines authorities ignore civic organizations proposals on improving legislation Victims of political repression
Words praising Stalin reinstated in Moscow metro Whose “cynical lies”? Re-thinking on the past no standard task for the Security Service In Memory of the Victims of the Great Terror News from the CIS countries
A Decade of Putinism Moscow Helsinki Group: STOP THE TERROR! Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband murdered in Chechnya Uzbekistan: Free Journalist Sentenced to over 12 Years
Politics and human rights
Mothballs from the Human Rights Ombudsperson
On 24 June this year the Verkhovna Rada for the first time in 11 years failed to pass a resolution on the Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova’s annual report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. 223 National Deputies refused to vote for it. Even the Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s words that “to not take part in the vote for this resolution is equivalent to getting up to stop the sun from rising” were only able to persuade the deputies to pass the draft resolution as a base and send it back to be worked on.
On 1 September parliament will make its third attempt to pass the resolution on the Ombudsperson’s annual human rights report [of which there have been five in the past 11 years, as well as two special reports, this being an infringement of Article 18 of the Law “On the Human Rights Ombudsperson”.
The resolution sent for refining was, as always, an absolute formality. The only thing which it obliged the authorities to do was to familiarize themselves with the Ombudsperson’s recommendations and conclusions. The content of the last draft was word for word the same as all previous such resolutions.
With Nina Karpacheva’s hefty tome in their hands, the National Deputies clearly didn’t even open it since otherwise they would have noticed that On 24 June 2009 the Ombudsperson presented them with a mothball-smelling report on the results of monitoring on human rights in 2006-2007. During her presentation, Ms Karpacheva used cases and data for 2008 of which there is no trace in the report. And the resolution recommended that all authorities review two-year-old conclusions and recommendations in order to improve the human rights situation in the country.
It would seem that human rights here are subject to double standards: according to Article 17 of the Law on the Ombudsperson, the latter can refuse to open a file if a person’s application was made a year after the violation was identified, while Nina Karpachova can present the Verkhovna Rada with two-year-old cases. And the National Deputies don’t even notice!
The second attempt to vote for the resolution was supposed to take place on 8 July, but this didn’t happen due to the blocking of parliament on that day by the Party of the Regions faction.
Only one fairly significant item has been added for the second reading: “To draw the attention of the Human Rights Ombudsperson to the need to unwaveringly adhere to the requirements of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson. This is in particular Article 18 regarding the terms for presenting the Verkhovna Rada with an annual report on the human rights situation” as well as the regarding the content of the report regarding cases of human rights infringements during the year in which the report is presented.”
That is, the authors of the draft resolution have finally dared to propose that the National Deputies make some polite comments to the Ombudsperson over systematic infringements of Article 18 of the Law. However they continue to pay no heed to the fact that the Ombudsperson’s recommendations on improving the human rights situation in 2009 are based on monitoring for 2006-2007.
In 2008 thirteen civic organizations carried out monitoring of the Ombudsperson’s work. On the basis of the results they concluded that Nina Karpachova’s work is not very effective nor is it transparent. After the results of the monitoring were brought to the attention of the Ombudsperson, the latter became noticeably more active in providing information about her activities. This was the first time in four years that an annual report was placed on the official website, although as mentioned, based on outdated information. It would seem that through populist activities the Ombudsperson simply camouflages the lack of systematic work.
I hope that on 1 September, before passing the resolution on the Ombudsperson’s annual report, the National Deputies do actually carefully acquaint themselves with the contents of the report presented on 24 June.
One would hope that in the first quarter of 2010 the Ombudsperson will present parliament with her report for 2009 as required by the Law on the Ombudsperson.
Slightly shortened from a text by Ludmila Koval at http://human-rights.unian.net/ukr/detail/192021
Against torture and ill-treatment
Torture with impunity?
Not one law enforcement officer was convicted of torture last year despite the fact that even the Prosecutor General is aware of cases of torture. The reason for such impunity is considered to be flaws in the entire judicial and law enforcement systems.
27-year-old Valentin Koliychuk is a Capitan in the Border Guard Service. During his holidays six months ago he was stopped by police while driving his father’s car. “They obstructed me from doing a manoeuvre. I got out of the car and immediately received a blow to the head and lost consciousness. When I came to, I was lying in handcuffs, with my face smashed in. I only moved and they thrust me face down in the boot and hit me around the waist and on the buttocks. I never did understand the reason, but they began discussing in front of me how to justify their actions.”
The police patrol decided to conceal their actions by claiming that Valentin had been inebriated, his father says. “They poured vodka over him and took him to the drug and alcohol treatment centre, and then traffic police drove him in an unknown direction for another four hours. They brought him unconscious to the military hospital in Zhytomyr.”
The case involving Valentin’s beating has been continuing for several months. The police are not commenting. The Head of the CID for the Zhytomyr Regional Police Serhiy Talko told Radio Svoboda that he knew nothing about the case, since he’d only returned from holiday the day before. He gave a telephone number for the department dealing with such complaints. They checked and the number is not used in the network.
According to bar lawyer Volodymyr Hrechanivsky it is very difficult to prove that the police applied torture and to get prosecutions. He attributes this to flaws in the Criminal Procedure Code and also to lack of professionalism within the service and lack of control over the police.
Both lawyers and human rights groups are calling for judicial reform and changes to criminal legislation. Lawyer Oleh Veremiyenko believes that special criminal courts should be created to reduce the period of waiting for cases to be heard. He also considers that juries need to be introduced as normal courts have been totally discredited. He mentions also the need to fix the period of time a person can be held in a SIZO [pre-trial detention centre], and suggests that torture could be reduced if there were independent forensic medicine units at each SIZO.
A draft law envisaging restrictions to the powers of the criminal investigation units has been sent to the Verkhovna Rada. The Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Provisions Viktor Shvets acknowledges the problem of torture and ill-treatment by police officers, but believes that the political will is lacking to achieve reform. He claims that society is also not ready to carry out reform of the law enforcement system.
Each year half a million people spend time in a SIZO. In 2008 15 remand prisoners died.
According to information from the Prosecutor General’s Office, last year 14 cases involving alleged torture by police officers were examined, however there was not one conviction.
From material at www.radiosvoboda.org
Trial begins of officers accused over death of detainee in Prytuki
The trial has begun of nine officers of the Chernihiv Regional Department for Fighting Organized Crime [UBOZ] who are charged with exceeding their powers and using unlawful methods of criminal investigation. The decision to hold the trial in Konotop, Sumy region, and not in the Chernihiv region was taken by the Supreme Court on the application of the defendants. The public prosecution is made up of two Prosecutors, one being a representative of the Chernihiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office. The first hearings began on 17 August and lasted a week. Some of the witnesses and the defendants themselves were questioned. The defendants deny any wrongdoing, claiming that they acted within the law.
39-year-old Prytuki resident Serhiy Kuntsevsky died on 2 October from a closed skull injury in the premises of the Chernihiv Regional UBOZ in Prytuky where he had been taken by force.. Video footage of the actual detention showed officers putting a polyethylene bag over his head. He was detained in the early afternoon and died at around 10 in the evening.
The investigation concluded that both his detention and the means of detective investigation [diznannya] had been carried out with serious violations of criminal procedure.
Press service of the Chernihiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office
Suspected use of torture by Chernivtsi police officers
A criminal investigation has been initiated by the Regional Prosecutor against three police officers from the Pershotravnevy District Police Station in Chernivtsi. They are suspected of having exceeded their authority with the use of violence.
At a press conference, the Bukovyna Prosecutor told journalists that the officers, having detained people whom they suspected of theft, had used torture to force out evidence. “The investigation has already been completed into this case. Three police officers are in a temporary holding facility, and the case has been passed to the court”, the Prosecutor said.
He added that six criminal investigations had been initiated in the Bukovyna region, and that on the basis of Prosecutor’s response documents, proceedings had been brought against 296 employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; 16 of the tax police; and 7 of the Security Service.
From information at http://human-rights.unian.net/ukr/detail/191760
The right to a fair trial
Courts under the spotlight of constitutional reform
The problems besetting the Ukrainian justice system have been known for a long time: rulings to order, pressure from both within the system and from outside; chronic lack of funding which is compensated by corruption; numerous abuses and irresponsibility from judges; the lack of logic in the distribution of powers between tiers of the judicial system.
Measures against these phenomena are suggested in the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Party of the Regions, the new draft Constitution put forward by the President, as well as in the Conceptual Principles for further court reform from the VII Congress of Judges.
Elected or appointed?
One of the key issues of constitutional change is the way of forming the judge corps. It has become fashionable among politicians to say that judges should be elected, and even recalled, by the public. People undoubtedly like this. It is this variant which is proposed by the Party of the Regions: judges of all courts would be elected by the relevant communities or at national elections.
The President’s draft envisages judges of higher levels being appointed by the Senate (one of the two houses of parliament in the draft), while lower level judges would be appointed by the President. Judges of magistrate courts which should appear for minor cases would be elected by the public.
At present judges are first appointed by the President for 5 years, and then receive indefinite tenure from the Verkhovna Rada. Judges of the Constitutional Court are chosen in equal number by the President, the Verkhovna Rada and the Congress of Judges (six each – translator). This mechanism where the career of a judge depends on the decisions of political bodies causes considerable dependence on politicians.
However elections despite their democratic veneer would still further politicize the position of judge. They would be forced to become involved in election campaigns, and who would give the most support, if not politicians and business?
Even a magistrate could be of interest to local politicians and businesspeople wanting to strengthen their influence.
The Venice Commission does not recommend election of judges by the public for these reasons. (cf. http://venice.coe.int/docs/2009/CDL-AD(2009)024-e.asp )
The Commission approved the idea in the President’s draft that parliament does not take part in the election of lower court judges, but felt that election by the Senate would still carry the danger of political rulings.
Therefore, however “undemocratic” this may sound, parliament and the public should not take part in the formation of a judge corps. The President should only nominally appoint judges on the basis of a competition if after that s/he has no further relation to their career. However the optimum solution would be for all appointments and dismissals to be carried out by a depoliticized High Council of Justice.
Term of office
Opposite alternatives are proposed: the Party of the Regions suggests election every 5 years, while the President’s draft proposes indefinite tenure.
The authors state that any appointment for a certain period carries the risk of judges’ dependence on those making the relevant decision.
Some politicians say that tenure should be restricted since otherwise judges felt untouchable, and are therefore guilty of abuses much more often than judges appointed for the initial 5 years. The authors point to figures which do not confirm this. Since the present Constitution came into force (1996) 86 judges have been dismissed: 48 during the five-year period, 38 who already had indefinite tenure.
Liability and immunity
There is no sense in introducing any new procedure for appointing judges with effective mechanisms for bringing judges to answer.
At present the Constitution provides an exhaustive list of grounds for suspending judges’ powers, whereas the Party of the Regions variant says that they can be recalled on the grounds and in accordance with a law which would reduce constitutional safeguards of independence.
The President’s plan changes little except that it is the High Council of Justice, forming a Disciplinary Commission, which would bring disciplinary proceedings against judges.
At presence this role is carried out, depending on the level of the court, by qualifying commissions and the High Court of Justice. Yet the issue involved is more often than not unrelated to the judge’s qualification, and therefore the idea of creating a Disciplinary Commission can be supported, and is also in line with European standards. The authors believe, however, that such a Disciplinary Commission should be an independent body.
Immunity of judges
According to the current Constitution, judges may not be detained or arrested without the consent of the Verkhovna Rada before being convicted by a court. The Party of the Regions suggests no change to this, while the President’s draft only changes the body involved, it becoming the Senate instead. In countries of Western Europe judges do not have such guarantees and there respect for judicial independence is the result of century-long tradition.
In Ukraine where such respect has not yet become the norm, and the rules of arrest do not fully correspond to European standards, certain additional guarantees of immunity are not redundant. However the procedure for approaching the Verkhovna Rada and the latter’s consideration are drawn out and complicated, as well as there being periods when parliament is not meeting, yet decisions need to be taken swiftly. This makes it possible for a person who has committed a crime while serving as a judge to go into hiding.
It would therefore be advisable for the question of whether a judge may be detained or arrested to be decided not by a political body, but by the High Council of Justice. Or this can be by a higher level court, but with a panel of judges, so as to avoid abuse.
In either case there must be the possibility of immediate detention of a judge at the scene of a crime, with the issue of consent for the person’s arrest being decided as swiftly as possible.
High Council of Justice
The current makeup of this body is not in line with European standards. The European Charter on the Statute for Judges demands that at least half the members be elected by their colleagues.
At present only 4 of the 20 members representative the judges’ corps (the Head of the Supreme Court and 3 members are elected by a congress of judges.). Two members are also appointed by the President. Under the present Constitution, even if the members of the High Council of Justice are mainly appointed from judges, this will not eliminate the problem of politicization.
This problem would be further exacerbated if the Council were given the authority to appoint and dismiss judges. Therefore amendments to the Constitution need to review not only the jurisdiction of this body, but also its makeup. This is pointed out in the Conceptual Principles for further court reform from the VII Congress of Judges (the Conceptual Principles).
The Conceptual Principles propose a three-tier system – local courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court.
At present due to varying interpretations of constitutional principles, the judicial system remains incomplete. There is a three-tier system of courts for criminal and civil cases (local courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court), but for economic and administrative proceedings, a four-tier system is in place, with additional high courts.
Yet the number of stages in all types of court proceedings is identical, and in civil and criminal cases the Supreme Court is empowered to consider its own judgments, this violating the principle that nobody can be the judge in their own case.
There remains a problem with the Supreme Court being overloaded with cassation appeals against the rulings of ordinary courts in civil cases. Even extraordinary measures involving the handing over of cassation appeals received before 1 January 2007 to general jurisdiction appellate courts did not rectify the situation, with the load on the Supreme Court having not changed significantly.
Two solutions are possible. One would be, as suggested in the Conceptual Principles, to create a three-tier system, removing high specialized courts. Yet if the Supreme Court becomes the only cassation level, the right to cassation appeal would be palpably restricted. Justice in the majority of cases would end with the courts of appeal. However, considering the considerable number of miscarriages of justice, even with this restriction of the right of cassation appeal, the Supreme Court would still be overloaded. Then it would be necessary to increase the already large number of Supreme Court judges (at present 95).
The second option would be to create high courts for civil and criminal jurisdiction which could carry out the function of cassation level. This would ensure the right of cassation appeal, and mean that the Supreme Court could fully devote its time and energies to its main function – ensuring the same application of the law through reviewing cases where the courts of cassation level in situation situations gave different interpretations of the law.
The procedure for appointing chairpersons of courts and their deputies is an issue around which there has been much political struggle in recent times. At present if you have influence on the chairperson of the court, you can influence the results of any case.
This issue has not yet been regulated either by the Constitution, with the exception of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, or by law. Both the President’s draft and the amendments suggested by the Party of the Regions propose that the chairpersons of courts and their deputies should be elected by the judges of the particular court.
This variant, as opposed to the present situation when the chairpersons of courts and their deputies are appointed by the Council of Judges would make it possible to avoid subordination and centralization in the judicial system. It would at the same time be vital to reduce the powers of the said judges in order to reduce pressure or other unlawful influence on judges.
The progressive ideas in the plans proposed are: constitutional consolidation of the right to a fair trial; introduction of indefinite appointment of judges with the minimizing of political influences; strengthening of the mechanisms for judges’ liability with the creation of a Disciplinary Commission of Judges; ensuring that no less than half the members of the High Council of Justice are representatives of the judges’ corps; clear definition of the role of each tier in the system of courts with the prohibition on combining at one tier functions of different levels in one case; the appointment of chairpersons of courts by the judges of that court.
What would jeopardize judges’ independence are the proposals that the public elect judges and to allow political bodies to retain their powers regarding the formation of the judges’ corps, and providing consent for the detention and arrest of judges.
Abridged from an article by Ihor Koliushko and Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform published at http://pravda.com.ua/news/2009/8/7/99507.htm (the cuts are at the expense of detail about the plans proposed, since one has been thoroughly reviewed by the Venice Commission, and at least one major party’s proposals are not included above)
KHPG appeals to government over new Penal Department appointment
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has addressed an open appeal to the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and members of the Cabinet of Ministers with regard to the appointment of a new Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department].
“Human rights organizations in Ukraine have on many occasions drawn the attention of the government and public to the fact that the penal system in Ukraine is a relict of the Soviet past and urgently needs radical reform. There needs to be a change in the thinking behind punishment, the main principles for the functioning of the State Penal Service, penal legislation and practice. The Penal Service should be demilitarized, and transformed into a civil service under the Ministry of Justice (this voluntary commitment was made by Ukraine on joining the Council of Europe back in 1995), with retention and enhancement of social protection for penal staff. Observance of human rights needs to become the priority both with respect to remand and convicted prisoners, and to staff. The Penal System needs to become open to effective supervision over human rights adherence and mechanisms and procedure for public and international control need to be created. Adequate funding for reforms must be provided, and the reform undertaken by a team of young professionals from both within the system and without.
When in 2005 new people, including Vasyl Koshchynets and Natalya Kalashnyk, were appointed to top positions in the Department, we hoped that this would herald reform and improvements both for prisoners and staff. Our hopes proved in vain and on the contrary, the situation has only worsened. Specialists who criticized or disagreed with the dilettante actions of the new management have been dismissed. The gap has widened between the salaries of those in management and ordinary members of staff. There are more and more reports of violations of the rights of remand and convicted prisoners, of unlawful use of force, and the number of suicides has risen.
All attempts by human rights groups to make the system more open in order to protect the rights of prisoners and staff and to enable public control have been fruitless. Natalya Kalashnyk in a letter has openly stated that the Department will only cooperate with civic organizations which give positive assessments of its activities.
Yet under such conditions it is difficult to provide a positive assessment of the Department’s activities. The results of its work in all areas which Natalya Kalashnyk answers for as Deputy Head of the Department have proved extremely unsuccessful. One can name the staffing policy, inadequate medical and sanitary provisions for prisoners resulting in them not receiving medical care, the high mortality rate in places of confinement, unsatisfactory social and educational work with prisoners, and other areas.
The appointment of Natalya Kalashnyk to the post of Head of the Department will, in our view, have serious consequences. Her confidence that she is always right and inability to listen to opponents and accept facts which do not coincide with her plans, in combination with her energy and drive, could lead to further wide-scale dismissals of those professions who have remained in the penal system and the further degeneration of a system which would seem to have no further to fall.
We believe it vital to carry out a public contest for the appointment of head of such a complex and specific department.
The letter is signed by Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Co-Chair
Ukrainian Penitentiary Society calls for responsible appointment
The dismissal last week of Vasyl Koshchynets from his post as Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department] and rumours over who will take his place have prompted human rights organizations to renew their calls for serious reform of the penal system.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Head of the Penitentiary Society and two member of its Board, express their concern over continuing deterioration in the human rights situation in penal institutions.
“To a large extent this is connected with the level of competence of the Department’s management. It is headed by people who before their appointment had no experience of work in this field. Both the Head of the Department, Vasyl Koshchynets, and his Deputies, in particular, Natalya Kalashnyk, were new to the system. Their lack of experience of work in the system became evident very soon. A number of specialists who could not accept the dilettantism of the management but felt powerless to change things resigned. As a result of such management the human rights situation for prisoners has deteriorated; the gap between the incomes of the top management and ordinary staff has widened dramatically. The number of suicides among prisoners has increased, as has allegations of ill-treatment from prisoners. Cooperation between the Department and leading human rights organizations has been rendered virtually impossible. There have even been accusations against human rights defenders of being commissioned by criminal elements when they demand a cessation to violations of human rights in penal institutions.
We are seriously concerned that the ability to use fine-sounding declarations about commitment to European standards and pretended concern for human rights are masking the inability to resolve issues regarding the development of the system in a professional manner. This was seen in the results of the visit of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, as well as the annual report on prisoners’ rights produced by the human rights organization Donetsk Memorial.”
The letter goes on to state that open letters from human rights groups on the bad situation as regards prisoners’ rights sent to the President, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, and to the Prime Minister in February and June 2008 did not receive due attention and points out that another letter was also sent by Donetsk Memorial to the Prime Minister, containing copies of these open letters.
As members of the Penitentiary Society with wide knowledge of the penal system and its problems and specific needs, they are asking the Prime Minister to give very careful attention to the appointment of a new Head of the Department.
The letter is signed by Oleksandr Bukalov, Head of the Penitentiary Society and of Donetsk Memorial, Valentina Badyra and Tetyana Denysova, both members of the Penitentiary Society’s Board.
Ukraines authorities ignore civic organizations proposals on improving legislation
At a press conference held on 26 August on “Normative conditions for cooperation between the authorities and the community”, a new version of a draft law “On public self-organization bodies” was presented. This has been drawn up by the All-Ukrainian Association for the Promotion of Public Self-organization, with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation [IRF].
The Association highlights the danger that a number of other draft laws proposed by the public will not receive parliament’s attention. It stresses that shortcomings in legislation are a barrier to the development of civic society in Ukraine.
The importance of civic organization and involvement is enormous, especially during times of economic crisis in order to resolve issues particularly in the social sphere.
In Ukraine legislation often creates impediments. Examples were cited for creating a civic organization, this comparing unfavourable with the registration of a business company which takes three days and costs a mere 170 UAH.
Registration of a civic organization takes 30 days, and registering an international charity will cost 200 USD, as well as 170 UAH.
Legislation does not permit the creation at all of funds on the basis of a behest (like the Nobel Foundation).
It demands that mobile communications operations take 28 kopecks tax from each UAH donated during the SMS marathon raising money for a children’s hospital.
A disabled person has to pay no less than 180 UAH tax if a wheelchair worth 2,000 UAH was received not from members of the family, but for example, a friend or charitable donor.
Banks are obliged to refuse to transfer money to victims of apartment explosions (as in Lviv or Dnipropetrovsk) until the charity has found out the victims’ individual tax codes and deducted 15% tax in advance.
The law “On social services” introduced conditions unable to be implemented for civic organizations to receive licences to provide social services. No organization has therefore received such a licence in the two years that the law has been in force.
The participants in the press conference believe that this is due to a lack of proper attention to the creation of the normative mechanisms for ensuring the constitutionally guaranteed civic liberties and human rights.
On public self-organization bodies
These may be housing committees, committees for a particular district, etc and are one of the main forms of public participation in resolving local issues. Together with local councils, they are representative bodies of self-government and can play a vital role in a number of areas regarding communal services, social protection, etc.
Oleksy Orlovsky, Director of the IRF Programme for strengthening the impact of civic society mentions the above problems and criticizes also the lack of regulation of issues regarding the creation of such self-organization bodies, their staff, determining their period of office, and much more. He adds that this results in the bodies not being able to fully exercise their powers and to carry out their own financial and economic activities. .
It is hoped that this new draft law “On public self-organization bodies” could help to resolve the issues. It was drawn up by the Association’s experts, discussed at the Fourth All-Ukrainian theoretical and practical conference on self-organization bodies and it is to be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada in the next few days. However there remains the risk that this draft law will meet the same fate as a number of other draft laws which have not been considered.
The following draft laws have been long awaiting consideration in parliament:
“On civic organizations” (9 months);
“On procedure for organizing and holding peaceful events”; (15 months);
“On social services” (16 months).
The draft law “On access to public information” during the space of a year was only considered in its first reading.
According to Maxim Latsyby from the Ukrainian Independent Political Research Institute “parliamentarians do not only ignore draft laws which extend the real opportunities for public participation in decision making and local governance, but speak out against such initiatives. For example, in March 2009, deputies refused to grant individual citizens the right to make appeals to State bodies by email and spoke out against the draft law “On citizens’ appeals”. While in June 2009 the Verkhovna Rada Committee on State Construction and Local Self-Government rejected the draft law “On public participation in the formation and implementation of State policy on resolving issues of local significance” which would have introduced new, more efficient mechanisms for consultation between the public and government.”
The conclusion seems warranted that parliamentary parties and National Deputies are against extending the rights and liberties of citizens since this will restrict arbitrary rule and corruption of the authorities.
Civic organizations have no intention of tolerating such a situation and will make determined efforts to ensure the adoption of progressive laws extending these rights and liberties and ensuring their protection on a European level.
There is a vital need for amendments to legislation enabling the creation of all types of civic organizations without excessive procrastination or expense.
They should be able to work throughout Ukraine, and not only in the region where they’re registered, and also represent not merely their own members but carry out human rights and environmental protection with respect to others.
Service organizations should receive the possibility of providing social services with funding from municipal or State budgets.
Self-organization bodies should receive the authority to carry out control over the quality of communal services, local budget expenditure and impact on the formation of local programmes of socio-economic development.
The State should stop demanding that people in emergency situations pay a considerable proportion of charitable aid received in tax.
Abridged from a report at www.helsinki.org.ua
Victims of political repression
Words praising Stalin reinstated in Moscow metro
Memorial has addressed an open letter to the Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov demanding a public investigation into the reinstatement on 25 August of a text praising Joseph Stalin inside the Kurskaya metro station. It calls the action “a grave insult to Moscow, it’s residents and to the entire Russian people… It is spitting on the graves of those people he murdered, among whom were tens of thousands of Muscovites.”
“To this day full lists have not been published of the Muscovite victims of the communist regime, yet the capital’s metro representatives are already hurrying to immortalize the name of their executioner.
The very words “Stalin raised us to be true to the people” should not be tolerated in a democratic country. Such phases appear only under a dictatorship.
The lines praising the tyrant were removed on the orders of his own communist party back in the 1950s when not even a tenth of his crimes were known. Now the entire world will assess the direction our country is developing in by the fact that the present authorities, if not of the country altogether, then at least of Moscow, are ready yet again to publicly glorify the name of one of the main criminals of the twentieth century.
We would not like to think that you knew about this disgraceful act.
We demand that the shameful inscription be removed immediately.
We demand an immediate public enquiry into who took this appalling decision and on what grounds.
The letter is from both Memorial and Moscow Memorial.
Whose “cynical lies”?
The seventieth anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 should be primarily a time of remembrance. Perhaps in some Western European countries it is. Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States, are, however, finding themselves increasingly under an “information war” attack from the present regime in Russia.
This anniversary should also be a time of reflection, most especially on terrible and treacherous mistakes made including both the 1938 Munich Agreement and the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. With Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel arriving the day before the ceremonies of remembrance on 1 September, presumably for friendly talks and the increasingly aggressive tone taken by both Russian leaders about Ukraine, Poland and the “correct view of history”, reflection on those past mistakes seems urgently needed.
On 30 August in an interview to the TV Channel “Rossiya”, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev claimed that the Parliamentary Assembly of the countries of Europe had said that Nazi Germany and the USSR bore equal responsibility for the Second World War. He stated that this was a “cynical lie”. It is, but it was never made by either the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Both these assemblies have called for 23 August to be marked as a “Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes”. The OSCE Resolution states that “in the 20th century, European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought along genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity;” It was certainly something of a statement to choose the day the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact was signed as Remembrance Day, yet there remains no assertion that they were both equally responsible.
False allegations become no less false for being repeated, however if you can assume that nobody will ask uncomfortable questions, then repetition has its uses. On Russian television those assumptions have long been possible, and judging by other ominous remarks made by Medvedev in the interview, the aim is to ensure that children never even think to ask awkward questions.
No more “muddled heads”?
Following Vladimir Putin’s lead, President Medvedev also addressed the issue of school history textbooks. Saying that they had been written by different people with different capabilities and ideas, he concluded “this is bad since schoolchildren end up with their heads full of nonsense”. He considers that order needs to be established “so that absolutely obvious things are interpreted in the same way in these textbooks. You can’t call black white. You can’t name, for instance, somebody defending themselves an aggressor”. http://rian.ru/edu_news/20090830/
So what is “obvious”?
Presumably the people appointed by Medvedev in May to his new “Commission for Countering Historical Distortions which harm Russia’s Interests” were deemed to understand what is obvious. One of the members of the Commission, Natalya Narochnitskaya, has been extraordinarily active of late presenting a somewhat specific view of historical events. It has many features in common with Soviet historiography and cannot therefore be considered original, however non-standard it most definitely is.
Before quoting particular statements, it is worth noting that Ms Narochnitskaya echoes key points made in the "Concept plan for contemporary Russian history in the first half of the twentieth century", a guide for Russian history teachers. This 2008 work, and another such guide in 2007, reflects a clear move in Russia towards whitewashing Stalin, minimizing information about repressions, and trying to justify such clear crimes as the Katyń massacre (http://unian.net/ukr/news/news-276590.html) This move was hailed as “positive” by President Putin in June 2007.
The extracts here are from an interview (in Russian) at: http://kp.ru/daily/24350.3/538016/print/ In places the questions are also cited, since in my view they give some indication of the purpose of this text. A previous interview by the same warrior against historical distortion was published on the effectively government controlled “Rossiya” TV channel http://vesti.ru/doc.html?id=311615 on 23 August. Molotov and Ribbentrop also signed for their respective governments a secret protocol which divided Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. It was on the basis of that agreement that the Nazis invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and the Soviet Union occupied its “agreed share” on 17 September (and then the Baltic States in 1940)
(Interviewer) But still, why is it specifically Poland that seems like the victim of the War, particularly of the deal between Hitler and Stalin?
Natalya Narochnytskaya [NN] Poland presents itself as an absolutely innocent victim. Supposedly if it hadn’t been for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler wouldn’t have invaded Poland. Yet there are documents showing that on 1 March 1939 the date of the invasion of Poland had been fixed. And do you know what the Poles were doing during those six months? The Russophobe Minister of Foreign Affairs Jozef Beck was negotiating with Hitler to become his ally, offering assistance in invading Ukraine so that Poland could extend from sea to sea. <>
“As a result of the Second World War we gave the Poles a third of their present territory. So they could behave in a more restrained manner and not slander us”.
Who does she mean by “us” and who is slandering them? There is a clear and thoroughly distressing assumption that the Soviet Union under Stalin and Russia are one and the same, and that any criticism of the Pact is somehow “anti-Russian”.
“In the middle of the 1970s the strategy of the West towards our country changed and there was a determined shift in the treatment of the Second World War. They began saying that Hitler’s main crime lay not in claims to territory and peoples, and not even in the race doctrine, but in the absence of American democracy, and since we also didn’t have Western democracy we were just as awful.”
“The Munich Deal of 1938, signed by Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler and Mussolini, the division of Czechoslovakia is a disgrace for the West. (Quite correct, however her bellowing is only for local consumption. Nobody in other countries is disputing that this was an act of betrayal - HC) Later Hitler swiftly extended his success, and western states wanted to appease him only at the expense of the East. And literally on the eve of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the British were holding secret negotiations with Hitler and Goerring was supposed to fly to London to sign a separate agreement with Germany. The diplomatic struggle of the last pre-war year revolved around the question of who Hitler would invade first. It was clear to everybody that war was inevitable and would be on two fronts. Everything had the smell of war. And we fruitlessly tried to reach a comprehensive agreement with the West against Hitler, understanding that we were being led by the nose, and at the last moment outwitted the West in that game! Even former American Secretary of State Kissinger admits that the “measure of Stalin’s achievement can be deemed to have been a change in the timetable of the war, and of Hitler’s priorities”. [I have omitted only one sentence regarding Kissinger’s view on the Machiavellian nature of the trick. No details about the allegations made are provided].
“[Interviewer] If the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had not been signed, how would events have developed?
Hitler would have invaded us first and we were not at all ready for war. [Ms Narochnitskaya clearly considers it simply too “obvious” to explain how exactly Hitler could have done this. Presumably we are meant to assume that the invasion would have been with the full support of Poland whose territory is, after all, somewhat in the middle].
<> “All the European part, all of Ukraine and Byelorussia would have been wrenched away from us, i.e. we would have had what happened in 1991, only with the total destruction of the state. And that would have been the end of our history. As for the territory which our forces went into after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, let’s look at what was Western Ukraine, which Warsaw calls “Eastern Poland”. That was territory of the Russian Empire occupied by Josef Pilsudsky’s Poland during the Civil War. Except for a piece of Bukovyna which before the First World War was not Russian. Why is the carving up of Ukraine and Byelorussia by Pilsudsky not considered a crime, while the return of these territories to the historical borders of the Russian state, albeit of the communist regime, branded as a crime?
<> “England wanted to turn Hitler to the East in order to make itself safe in the West. Not to mention its permanent desire to deprive us of the Baltic Coast. .<>
Britain’s dream from the time of Peter the Great was to topple us from our position [as a great state]. Therefore the West was so delighted when the Soviet Union collapsed. Finally the hated Russian empire had collapsed. After all, the price paid by Gorbachev for totalitarianism was 300 years of Russian history.”
She says that the original classifying of “Trophy” Archives for 60 years has been extended for several decades. “It’s quite possible that material will be found there which undermines many accepted clichés and labels. For example, there might be material on secret negotiations between Hitler, the USA and Britain. Anything who can think of! And maybe they’ll show that they were all up to their ears. It’s no accident that there’s unanimity between the rivals – the USA and our country - that we have to hold fire”.
<> “[Interviewer] Natalya Alexeevna, why do we so seldom recall the death of hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers in Polish captivity in the 1920s?
It’s completely unfair when they keep throwing Katyń at us, which Yeltsin apologized for by the way. Not to mention that the issue of Katyń has not been studied fully. There were undoubtedly NKVD crimes, however the Nazi crime also left its trace. And for some reason nobody blames Poland over the fact that in 1920 on the territory occupied by Pilsudsky around 100 thousand Red Army soldiers ended up prisoners of war on the territory occupied by Pilsudsky. And those prisoners of war were simply starved to death. They were deliberately not given food and watched as they died. …
[Interviewer] That was in essence the prototype for the Nazi concentration camps?
Yes, yes. Poles don’t want to remember that, yet they constantly demand apologies from us. Well, apologize for the invasion of Moscow in 1612…. And what did you get up to on Ukrainian and Byelorussian territory after the First World War?
There, incidentally, the ancestors of present-day Ukrainian radical nationalists excelled. During the years of the Great Patriotic War SS men were stunned by the atrocities of the Uniates – those same Bandera-people whom Yushchenko now glorifies. “
If the reader is not familiar with any of the “historical information” provided here, I would earnestly recommend that they look it up. There is, after all, plenty of material freely available. If, on the other hand, it all seems so crass and primitive as to be laughable, then I would respectfully suggest that this is anything but the case. Children and teenagers will be growing up hearing nothing else, with school textbooks, the media and, of course, politicians bellowing about historical distortions while feeding an unknowing audience on an extremely specific diet of information and interpretation. . They will simply not know to ask questions.
Re-thinking on the past no standard task for the Security Service
The process of reassessing the communist dictatorship in Ukraine began a decade and a half late. The Security Service [SBU] has been made responsible for going through the archives and educational work, which is not a typical role for a security service.
The first step was the declassifying of documents about Holodomor 1932-1933, since which there has been a large-scale information campaign throughout the country. At the beginning of 2009 President Yushchenko issued a decree stating that archival information about KGB repressions in Ukraine should be declassified.
Work on the archives and education does not fall into the SBU’s duties, and the SBU archivists simply don’t have experience. SBU Head Valentin Nalyvaichenko even expressed hopes for cooperation in this area with the German Ombudsperson on the Stasi archives Marianna Birtler.
A unique approach
German historian Gerhard Simon points out that the situation in Ukraine is unique because it is the security service itself that is engaged in educational activity about the crimes of the past. “As far as I’m able to judge, the results of their work are fairly good. I would therefore be positive about what the SBU are doing in this respect, because I don’t see any other institution in Ukraine which could do it.”
In preparing educational measures on the repressions committed by the Soviet security service SBU works in close cooperation with the Institute of National Remembrance. The tasks of the latter include “uncovering and investigating cases of forced starvation and political repression and resistance to them in Ukraine, and to inform the public in Ukraine and the international community”.
However Gerhard Simon believes it unwise to hand responsibility for the KGB archives over to the Institute of National Remembrance. “It would certainly seem as though that institute is the one who should take care of such work. However, from what I know of the situation, the Institute is, to put it diplomatically, in the hands of “people with nationalist leanings”. SBU on the other hand is neutral and balanced.”
A delicate matter
The fact that any rethinking of the communist past is a sensitive subject for Ukrainian society can be seen in the heated political debate over recognition of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians are inclined to extremes, with one side always justifying Moscow and the other blaming the Kremlin for everything. According to Gerhard Simon “The fact that Ukrainians were themselves part of a criminal system is often ignored.”
Up till now debate over the historical legacy of the Soviet Union and educational campaign has mainly been over Holodomor and Stalinist repression. However President Yushchenko wants to go further and the January Decree calls for the declassifying of all archival material pertaining to political repression. According to human rights groups, there are around 800 thousand classified documents on persecution of dissidents.
Informers are not named
However Ukrainians will not learn the names of the ordinary informers to the Security Service who in that way abetted the repressions. The main part of the cases of unofficial KGB collaborators were destroyed or taken to Moscow on the eve of the declaration of independence, while even the material still in Kyiv remains classified, Yevhen Zakharov from KHPG believes.
“I don’t think that they will ever let those files be declassified since that would touch a very considerable part of the present political elite, a lot of the academic elite, and so forth. A large percentage of people collaborated with the security service, some voluntarily, others forced into it”.
Meanwhile the reform of SBU is going very slowly. It was only at the beginning of this year that SBU informed that they were rejecting the services of informers in higher educational institutes.
In Memory of the Victims of the Great Terror
5 August 1937 marked the beginning of the “mass NKVD operations” which over sixteen months in 1937-1938 resulted in the arrest of approximately 1.7 million people and execution of more than 700 thousand people.
A Ceremony of Remembrance will take place in the Sandarmokh Clearing in Karelia where the last earthly remains lie of 1,111 prisoners from the labour camp on Solovky Island, murdered according to “quota” between 27 October and 4 November 1938, and of countless other victims of the Terror. International Remembrance Days have been held at Sandarmokh every year since the Memorial Graveyard was uncovered in 1997.
A Ukrainian group set off by coach on 2 August. Those travelling to Sandarmokh and Solovky this year include relatives of those murdered, former political prisoners, the historian Yury Shapoval and journalists. The entire journey will take 10 days.
The Sandarmokh Clearing holds a Cossack Cross in granite “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine”, Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Crosses, a Memorial Muslim Plaque and a Jewish Stone.
The frenzied madness unleashed on 5 August 1937 was in accordance with Resolution R 51/94 «On anti-Soviet elements» passed by the Politburo on 2 July. According to this the secretaries of regional, area, republic-wide organizations and representative bodies of the NKVD were told within a period of five days to create “special panels of three” [troika] and establish the number of people who were to be shot or sent away. The “operation” was supposed to last 4 months. In fact, it was suspended at the decision of the Politburo on 15 November 1938.
News from the CIS countries
A Decade of Putinism
Ten years ago on Sunday, Russias Duma confirmed Vladimir Putin as prime minister. The vote took place only one week after then-President Boris Yeltsin had nominated the little-known former KGB operative for the post. Yeltsins surprise resignation only four months later left Mr. Putin as acting president and paved the way for his election as head of state in March 2000. This swift and far-from-transparent ascent to the pinnacle of Russian power was a sign of things to come.
Over the past decade Vladimir Putin has used the instruments of the state to forge what is known in Russian as a "vertical of power," a governance model in which authority is tightly consolidated at the top. Putinism captured the Russian zeitgeist as people were hungry for stability, or at least the appearance of stability. The systems core features include the political control of the countrys dominant energy sector, the quest to restore Russias global power status, and a heavy-handed reassertion of Russian influence in former Soviet states.
The most striking quality of Putinism, though, is its hostility to free expression. This decade-long assault on a fundamental human right is not a reprise of the uniform, all-encompassing ideological control that was the hallmark of the Soviet period. To give Russia the veneer of a liberal society and simultaneously create a useful societal steam valve, authorities have come up with a new, selective censorship model. In this system, the state tries to censor information of true political consequence while allowing a certain amount of independence at the margins.
The control of the mass media has become a top priority in the Putin era. The state has now captured or tamed all of the major national television channels. The Kremlin first wrested control of NTV, which at the time Mr. Putin became president was known for its hard-hitting coverage, including of the conflict in Chechnya. Right after Vladimir Putins election to the presidency, then-NTV owner Vladimir Gusinsky was charged with fraud and briefly jailed. In 2001 state energy giant Gazprom took control of the station. Around the same time, the Kremlin turned the state-owned but until then more independent-minded Channel One and RTR—the other two main stations with national reach—into government mouthpieces.
While there is rich diversity in entertainment programs, informal blacklists prevent Putin critics from gaining access to national public-affairs programs. A steady flow of Kremlin-friendly propaganda, meanwhile, vilifies the remnants of Russias political opposition and independent civil society.
The Kremlin has not only marginalized domestic dissent but also tried to suppress the work of foreign media. Capricious tax inspections and vague extremism laws are designed to intimidate international broadcasters, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC. Using these methods, authorities have already shut down 28 of the 36 Russian radio stations that used to carry RFE/RL programs.
As hard-nosed as the Kremlins institutional controls of free expression are, it is at the personal, extralegal level where the modern censorship model gets truly ugly. The few brave journalists and activists who still dare to criticize the government—particularly those who try to expose state corruption and human-rights violations—live in constant danger.
Less than two weeks after President Barack Obamas July visit to Moscow, Natalya Estemirova, of the Russian human rights group Memorial, was kidnapped outside her home in Grozny, Chechnya. She was found dead later that day in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia, with two bullet wounds in her body and one "control shot" to her head. The 50-year-old Estemirova was a leading human-rights activist who openly criticized Chechnyas Kremlin-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his repressive methods. A week later, human rights activist Andrei Kulagin was found dead in a sand pit near the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk. And just this Tuesday, Zarema Sadulayeva, the head of a childrens charity in Chechnya, and her husband were found murdered in the boot of a car.
These most recent murders were preceded by a string of other still unsolved killings, including that of Stanislav Markelov, a well-known human rights lawyer, who in January was gunned down not far from the Kremlin, along with Anastasia Baburova, a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Anna Politkovskaya, a famous Novaya Gazeta reporter who worked on human-rights abuses in Chechnya, was murdered in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.
After a decade of Putinism, a deep chill on free expression has set in. Self-censorship has become a matter of survival. The rule of law, though much discussed, does not exist. Corruption flourishes at all levels of society. The assault on Russias freedom is not just a domestic human-rights problem. Anyone seeking to do business in the country loses in a system that operates in the dark, where shady deals involving state-run companies and corrupt officials are the norm and police and regulatory agencies dont enforce the law but the Kremlins agenda.
Early hopes that the new president, Dmitri Medvedev, would bring more openness and liberalization have been shattered. Even though Mr. Putin has returned to the premiership after an eight-year hiatus, it seems he—rather than his hand-picked successor—is still calling the shots.
Given the continued censorship, human-rights abuses and lawlessness in Russia, it would almost be worse for the countrys reform prospects if Mr. Medvedev really were in full control of his presidency. It would mean that Putinism is now so entrenched, it no longer needs Mr. Putin to enforce it.
Mr. Walker is director of studies at Freedom House and the editor of "Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians" (Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, 2009).
Moscow Helsinki Group: STOP THE TERROR!
News of the deaths of our colleagues is becoming a tragic everyday occurrence. Today we learned of the murder of activists of the nongovernmental organization “Lets Save the Generation”, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Umar Dzhabrailov, abducted yesterday.. They had devoted their lives to helping the victims of the undeclared war, including children maimed by mines. This murder is the latest confirmation of the inability of the authorities to provide basic security for their citizens and yet another reminder how high a price can be paid for the striving for justice.
We consider this killing to be an extrajudicial execution.
We demand an end to the terror unfurled in the Northern Caucuses against civic activities and civilians. The circumstances of the abductions and killings which have become more frequent over recent times, and the fact that they go unpunished, justify us in stating that the federal and regional authorities are showing a criminal degree of inaction.
We call on the authorities to take efforts to put an end to the terror, to find and punish the criminals.
On our part we would state that we will not cease our struggle for human dignity and rights in every part of the country, including the Northern Caucuses.
Sooner or later the killers of the civic activists and those behind them will receive their just and lawful deserts. We will do all in our power to ensure this.
11 August 2009
Ludmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG)
Lev Ponomarev, member of MHG, Executive Director of “For Human Rights”
Gleb Yakunin, member of MHG, the Public Committee in Defence of Freedom of Conscience
The MHG State has been endorsed by:
Yury Samodurov, Curator of Exhibition Programmes
Ernst Cherny, Public Committee for the Defence of Scientists
Lyubov Bashinova, journalist and human rights defender
Yevgeny Ikhlov, journalist and human rights defender
Andrei Nelenov, Committee against Military Action
Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband murdered in Chechnya
The bodies have been found of the Head of the charity “Let’s Save the Generation”, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, who were abducted yesterday evening. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs officials, they were found with gunshot wounds in a car boot near Grozny, having been seized by armed men from Zarema’s office in the Chechen capital.
Alexander Cherkasov from Memorial gave the following details yesterday:
“Around 14.00 armed men, two in plain clothes, three in black uniform, appeared in the office of ““Let’s Save the Generation”. They did not identify themselves and said that they were from the enforcement structures. They took Zarema and her husband away, and after a while returned and took away a mobile phone and her husband’s car.”
The regional charity “Let’s Save the Generation” was founded in 2001. Members of the organization consider its main aim to be providing help for children and teenage victims of mines and unexploded shells and their families.
In 2005 the former head of the organization Murad Muradov was abducted, after being detained by enforcement officers [siloviki]. His body, mutilated beyond recognition was returned to his parents. In the document from the Prosecutor which allowed the parents to take his body, it was stated that no charges had been laid against Muradov.
As reported already, on 15 July Natalya Estemirova, human rights activist from the Memorial Human Rights Centre was abducted from outside her home in Grozny and murdered. The Head of Memorial, Oleg Orlov stated then:
“I know, I am certain who is guilty of the murder of Natasha Estemirova. We all know this man. His name is Ramsan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic. Ramzan had already threatened Natasha, insulted her, and considered her his personal enemy. We don’t know if he himself gave the order, or whether that was done by his closest people so as to please the leadership. And it would seem to suit President Medvedev to have a murderer as head of one of the republics of the Russian Federation”.
When Natasha dared to speak disapproving about young women being made, almost by force, to wear headscarves in public places, there was a conversation with Kadyrov. She recounted how Kadyrov threatened her, saying literally: “Yes, my hands are drenched in blood, and I’m not ashamed of it. I have killed and will kill bad people. We are fighting the enemies of the republic.”
Kadyrov soon afterwards phoned Orlov, saying the allegations were unethical and threatened publicly to take Orlov to court. Oleg Orlov stated just as publicly that he was ready to take part in a such a court case.
On 9 August in a interview to Radio Svoboda, Kadyrov said that he had no reason to kill a woman “who nobody needed” and added that the murdered human rights defender “never had any honour, dignity or conscience”, that she had not taken part in the Grozny Public Council – “she doesn’t go to meetings, doesn’t speak, she throws out all kinds of nonsense, rubbish”.
Alexander Cherkasov has stated that Kadyrov’s last statement about Natalya Estemirova puts a question mark over the possibility of opening the Memorial office in Chechnya which was closed following Natalya’s murder. At present any human rights work is from outside Chechnya.
Natalya Estemirova was the last vital link for all those endeavouring to find out the truth about the murders, disappearances and other abuses taking place in today’s Chechnya.
From information at www.grani.ru
Uzbekistan: Free Journalist Sentenced to over 12 Years
The trial was a travesty of justice, and Saidov should be freed immediately.
Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director
Politically Motivated Trial and Investigation Riddled with Procedural Violations
August 3, 2009
Uzbek authorities should immediately free the independent journalist Dilmurod Saidov, sentenced on July 30, 2009, to 12 1/2 years in prison following a flawed trial brought on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. The trial was riddled with procedural violations, and several witnesses ultimately withdrew their testimony, saying they had given false evidence, rendering his conviction fundamentally unsound.
Human Rights Watch and local human rights defenders believe that Saidov (pen name Sayyid) was prosecuted and convicted because of his efforts to expose local officials abuse of power and corruption and his willingness to fight for the rights of farmers in the Samarkand region. Uzbekistan has frequently jailed human rights defenders for their human rights activities.
"Dilmurod Saidov is well known for his courageous work to expose rampant corruption in Uzbekistan, and this conviction is clearly an attempt to stop him," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The trial was a travesty of justice, and Saidov should be freed immediately."
Saidov was convicted of extortion and forgery in a closed session at the Tailak District Court. Neither Saidovs lawyer, Ruhiddin Komilov, nor his public defender, Abdurakhman Tashanov, nor his family members were informed of the trial date in advance. Vasila Inoyatova, director of the human rights group Ezgulik, told Human Rights Watch that she asked the court secretary why the sentencing was closed, and was told that it was "in the interest of security." No further explanation was given.
Saidov is an independent journalist who has worked for years to expose corruption, abuse of power, and the general social and economic situation in the Samarkand region. His articles have been published in many local newspapers, as well as by the internet-based news agency that reports on human rights violations in Central Asia, Voice of Freedom, among others. Saidov is a member of the Tashkent Regional Branch of Ezgulik, and since 2004 he has been actively helping farmers defend their rights in the Samarkand region. In addition, for several months in 2008 he was a member of the Rapid Response Group, which works to prevent torture in Uzbekistan.
Flawed Trial and Rescinded Statements
Saidov was arrested on February 22 at his home in Tashkent and accused of extortion on the basis of a statement by Asliddin Urinboev, the head of the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park in the Djambai district of Samarkand Region. Urinboev alleged that, on February 17, Saidov had sought to extort US$15,000 from him with the help of Marguba Juraeva, whose father, a farmer, had reportedly filed complaints about the company.
Juraeva was also arrested on February 22 at Yulduz, a restaurant in Samarkand. She was arrested immediately after Urinboev reportedly handed her US$10,000 in cash, and was later charged with extortion. During the interrogation, she gave written testimony indicating that she had committed the act on Saidovs behalf. The following day, she reportedly rescinded her testimony, saying she had given it under the influence of alcohol.
At the request of the Samarkand prosecutors office, Saidov was later transferred from Tashkent to Samarkand to stand trial. During the investigation and trial, he was held in several detention centers, including Pretrial Detention Facility (SIZO) 64/7 in Kattakurgan.
In mid-March, a second charge of extortion (under article 165(2) of the criminal code) was brought against him, on the basis of a statement made by Saidullo Boimuradov, head of a former privatized collective farm called "Uzbekistan" in the Djambai district. He claimed that, in 2004, Saidov had tried to extort US$5,000 from him. Boimuradov provided no evidence to support his allegation, but the authorities nevertheless added a second extortion charge against Saidov, his lawyer said.
In April 2009, Saidov was also charged with forgery on the basis of accusations made by Djambai farmers. They claimed that he had falsified documents giving him a power of attorney to represent them in filing complaints with the authorities.
The trial against Saidov, Juraev, and two farmers also accused of involvement in the alleged extortion - Anorkul Pulatov and Tura Ergashev - began on June 1. Saidovs public defender, Abdurakhman Tashanov, said that Pulatov and Ergashev had asked for an investigation into the activities of officials connected to Urinboevs company, the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park, and had subsequently submitted complaints against the company accusing it of illegal land confiscation. Tashanov believes this is the reason they were detained as Saidovs accomplices.
Komilov also said that the prosecution based its case against Saidov only on written testimony of his involvement in the alleged crimes, much of which had later been rescinded. The other co-defendants were also convicted: Pulatov to 12 years, and Ergashev and Juraeva to 11 years each.
The investigation and trial were riddled with inconsistencies and violations of fair trial standards. Court hearings were repeatedly conducted without notice to Saidovs defense lawyer. For example, a hearing was held in Samarkand City Court on February 25 to determine whether there had been sufficient evidence for Saidovs arrest. However, in violation of Uzbek law, Saidovs lawyer was not informed of the hearing and was therefore not present when the evidence was reviewed. He appealed the decision, but was not informed of that hearing either.
In a letter written from detention in March, Saidov described the initial confrontation (ochnaya stavka, a process whereby two witnesses or suspects with different stories confront each other as part of the initial investigation) between himself and Juraeva the day after her arrest. He wrote that Juraeva renounced her previous testimony against Saidov, and stated that she had been intoxicated at the time of her arrest. Reportedly, the prosecution did not include this information in court materials presented during the hearing on February 25 to determine whether to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Komilov, the defense attorney, said that six of the 10 farmers who had initially claimed that Saidov forged the power of attorney testified at the trial that their original testimony had been false. One, Murtazo Pulatov, testified that he had been detained and held for two days in a pretrial detention facility to pressure him to make allegations against Saidov, Komilov said.
Juraeva reportedly testified that the testimony she gave the day she was arrested about acting on behalf of Saidov, was false. She reportedly testified that she had been drinking when she was arrested and therefore "didnt know what she wrote." She reportedly said that Saidov had had nothing to do with an act of extortion and should be released.
Komilov also reported that many documents that the defense handed over to the investigator during the pre-trial investigation, such as the original notarized copy of Saidovs power of attorney from the farmers, disappeared during the trial.
Saidov suffers from acute tuberculosis, for which he needs regular medical treatment.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about Saidovs health and called on the prison authorities to provide immediately the systematic medical attention he needs.
During the investigation, Ezgulik submitted formal petitions to the Samarkand Regional Prosecutors Office, the Samarkand District Court, and the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, requesting that Saidov be released from detention to allow him to get proper treatment. Reportedly, Ezgulik was informed that its concerns were unfounded. A similar request that he be released from the SIZO was made during his trial in court, but according to his public defender, the judge dismissed it.
For over five years, Dilmurod Saidov has been an outspoken critic of abuse of power and is well known for his investigative journalism exposing the corruption of local officials.
Komilov, the defense attorney, said that the 10 farmers met with Saidov in the spring of 2008 and asked him to investigate the alleged theft and misappropriation of agricultural machinery and land by Urinbaevs company. On August 24, the farmers gave Saidov a notarized power of attorney to represent them,
He went to the Djambai district to investigate the farmers allegations. After finding evidence that substantiated their claims, he submitted a series of complaints to government bodies and published a number of articles in local newspapers about the case. According to Saidovs March 2009 letter from detention, from September 3, 2008 to February 16, 2009, he wrote more than 10 complaints and statements, which he submitted to various government bodies, including the Samarkand Regional Hokimiyat, (regional government building), the Samarkand Prosecutors office, and the prosecutor general of Uzbekistan.
In November 2008, as a result of the evidence Saidov and the farmers submitted to Olim Tohirov, an investigator at the Djambai district Department of Internal Affairs, a special commission was created to review their complaints and to conduct an inspection of the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park. The commission consisted of representatives of the Djambai district tax authorities, the prosecutors office, the police, and Saidov himself.
The commission carried out an inspection of the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park, but no one was prosecuted for any violations investigated by the commission, Komilov said.
Crackdown on other activists, journalists, and human rights defenders
Independent civil society activism in Uzbekistan remains severely restricted, with authorities detaining and threatening with prosecution human rights defenders, journalists, and others for their peaceful activism. Civic activists are frequently charged with and convicted on the basis of trumped-up allegations and fabricated evidence, with complete disregard for the facts of the case or for fair trial standards. Many human rights defenders and other activists have had to flee the country out of fear for their security or that of their loved ones. The authorities also continue to block the activities of local and international nongovernmental organizations.
As of this writing, the government continues to hold at least 13 human rights defenders and independent journalists in prison for no reason other than their legitimate human rights work. They are: Solijon Abdurakhmanov; Azam Formonov; Alisher Karamatov; Jamshid Karimov; Norboi Kholjigitov; Abdusattor Irzaev; Habibulla Okpulatov; Nosim Isakov; Rasul Khudainasarov; Yuldash Rasulov; Dilmurod Saidov; and Akzam Turgunov. Many other civic activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents are also serving prison sentences on politically motivated charges, including political opposition leader Sanjar Umarov and poet and political dissident Yusuf Jumaev.
Worrying, credible reports that a number of imprisoned activists are suffering severe health problems as a result of poor conditions and ill-treatment in Uzbekistans notoriously abusive prison system underscore the urgency of securing their immediate and unconditional release.