Volume 8, Number 46
November 21, 2008
A Weekly Human Rights Newsletter on Antisemitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in the Former Communist World and Western Europe
EDITOR: CHARLES FENYVESI
(News and Editorial Policy within the sole discretion of the editor)
Published by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
In Russia and Belarus, justice is still being carried out to suit the purposes of governments that are clearly authoritarian.
1. MOSCOW COURT CLOSES POLITKOVSKAYA MURDER TRIAL TO PUBLIC. The Moscow District Military Court reversed itself and barred the public and the news media from the trial of three men accused of murdering journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a lawyer for her family said on November 19, according to an Associated Press (AP) dispatch. “It was a blow for relatives and rights groups who hoped that public scrutiny would yield new information about the killing,” the AP reported. The court reached its decision after jurors allegedly refused to enter the courtroom, fearful that media coverage would bring them public attention, Politkovskaya family lawyer Karinna Moskalenko said. She said that there had been no "real threats" against the 12 jurors.
Lawyers for the defendants said that the court had planned to close the hearings all along. "The jury was selected Tuesday [November 18], and they all knew that journalists would be inside the courtroom," argued Ibragim Makhmudov's lawyer, Said Arsamirzayev. "The judge could have just banned cameras."
Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Politkovskaya's newspaper, “Novaya Gazeta,” told Ekho Moskvy radio that the ruling is “shameful" because it “denies society the ability to acquaint itself with the operations of the special services, the police, the Federal Security Service. It's awful."
Politkovskaya's family, human rights groups, and journalists have called for a trial open to the public in the hope that it would open the much-criticized investigation of the 2006 murder to scrutiny and perhaps yield new information.
The man accused of shooting Politkovskaya, Rustam Makhmudov, has fled the country. The three men tried on murder charges are Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former Moscow police officer, and Makhmudov's brothers, Ibragim and Dzhabrail. The case was sent to a military court because a fourth defendant is a Federal Security Service (FSB, an heir to the KGB) officer who is accused of criminal links to Khadzhikurbanov, but he has not been charged in the case. Lawyers for Politkovskaya's family condemned the way the government has handled the case and charged that the investigation was sabotaged to allow the assassin and the plot’s mastermind to escape justice.
Politkovskaya's reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya infuriated the Kremlin. Her murder in her Moscow apartment building sparked worldwide outrage.
Since 2000, more than a dozen journalists have been killed in contract-style slayings and many more assaulted or threatened, the AP dispatch added. Few suspects have been prosecuted.
Last week, a newspaper reporter was brutally beaten and found unconscious near his home near Moscow, the AP pointed out. Mikhail Beketov, editor of the “Khimskaya Pravda” newspaper, was in a coma, in critical condition. Relatives said he was unlikely to survive. Colleagues say that Beketov had been repeatedly threatened because of his reporting on illegal timber harvesting in Moscow Region forests. No suspects have been detained.
2. PUTIN: DRUG COPS TOO MAY BAR FOREIGNERS FROM ENTERING RUSSIA. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has authorized the Federal Drug Control Service to bar foreigners it deems "undesirable" from entering the country, “The Moscow Times” reported on November 18. The service joins eight other federal ministries and agencies authorized to bar foreigners from Russian territory under the federal immigration law, according to a decree signed by Putin last week. The other agencies are the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, and the Health and Social Development Ministry.
The newspaper noted that “numerous foreign businessmen, journalists, and human rights activists have been banned from entering the country in recent years under Article 27 of the immigration law, many of whom claim that they were targeted for political reasons or as part of illegal attacks on their businesses and assets in Russia. In several of these cases, authorities have cited Point 1 of Article 27 of the immigration law, which states that a foreigner can be barred entry in order ‘to safeguard military preparedness, state security and public order of the Russian Federation, or the health and safety of its citizens.’"
3. IMPRISONED U.S. LAWYER ZELTSER TRANSFERRED TO PRISON HOSPITAL. On the night of August 11-12, ailing American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser was transferred to a prison hospital in Mahilyow, his attorney Dzmitry Harachka, told the local news agency Belapan. Zeltser, 54, is in poor health and the authorities have so far refused to give him medication prescribed by his doctors. In August, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "attempted industrial espionage" and the use of fake documents. His secretary, Russian national and permanent U.S. resident Vladlena Funk, was sentenced to one year in prison on the same charges. The Minsk City Court held the trial behind closed doors and few details of the case were disclosed to the public. The Supreme Court of Belarus upheld the prison terms on October 31.
The 54-year-old Zeltser is in poor health, suffering from diabetes, a heart condition, and arthritis, and the denial of proper medical treatment has put his life in danger. Harachka said that he was allowed to deliver warm clothes for his client but not medications. Disregarding repeated requests by the U.S. State Department, Belarusian authorities have refused him medication.
Zeltser and Funk were arrested upon their arrival in Minsk in March and placed in the KGB’s detention center.
The State Department as well as UCSJ and other NGOs have appealed for the release of Zeltser and Funk on humanitarian grounds. The NGOs also cited procedural irregularities in the case, along with credible accusations of physical abuse.
YOUTHS KILL UZBEK ON ST.PETERSBURG TRAIN. A group of youths, some of them perhaps soccer hooligans, beat and stabbed an Uzbek man to death on a suburban commuter train, according to a November 16 report by the local news web site Fontanka.ru. The attack took place on November 15 aboard the Roshchino-St. Petersburg line. Police are investigating the killing as manslaughter, so far without any reference to hate crimes statutes.
LIPETSK BAPTIST CHURCH WINDOWS SHATTERED. Someone broke several windows of a Baptist church in Lipetsk, Russia, according to a November 11 report by the Slavic Legal Center, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on the legal rights of minority Christians in Russia. The church is the object of a dispute between the Baptists and the local Russian Orthodox diocese that dates back to 1989. According to the Center's report, city authorities gave the Baptists a ruined Orthodox church that the local diocese had not been allowed to use because of Soviet anti-religious policies. The Orthodox Church did not protest at the time.
However, since 1989 the Baptists have invested considerable time and money restoring the building for their 100-person congregation. In 1993, the Orthodox diocese started demanding that the building be given back to them, and a commission appointed to study the issue recommended that the Orthodox diocese pay the Baptists compensation so that they could purchase an alternative location. Since then, the Baptists charge, the Orthodox diocese has pushed for the church to be restituted without any compensation, and has used its connections with local officials to pressure the Baptists to give up their claim to the building.
Cossacks, Orthodox zealots, and neo-Nazis from the Slavic Union (in Russian, the acronym is "SS") have held protests outside the church. The vandalism took place on November 4, a new holiday instituted by the then President Vladimir Putin that has been appropriated by extreme nationalists, some of whom held an "aggressive" religious procession that passed by the church right around the time that the windows were broken. The NGO’s report does not mention if police are investigating the incident.
RACISTS THREATEN ETHNIC MINORITIES IN BALAKHNA. An unidentified individual (or perhaps several) posted death threats on two cars belonging to ethnic minorities in Balakhna, Russia (Nizhny Novgorod Region), according to a November 13 report by the Sova Center for Information and Analysis. The leaflets read, "Every day we are following your children and at any point we can strike" and the far-right slogan "Russia for Russians." Local police are investigating the incident as "hooliganism."
ANTISEMITIC POSTERS IN CHERKASSY, UKRAINE. Antisemitic posters were posted in Cherkassy, Ukraine, according to UCSJ's Lviv monitor. A picture of a poster affixed to a wall near Cherkassy State University showed a person throwing a Star of David in the garbage under the slogan "Keep the country clean!" and a Ukrainian flag. Similar posters were spotted elsewhere in the city. It is not clear if police have opened an investigation.
ROMA CHILDREN DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN CZECH SCHOOLS. Despite a landmark court ruling, Roma children in the Czech Republic continue to be sent to substandard schools in disproportionate numbers, according to a report issued on November 13 by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a Budapest-based Roma advocacy organization. “Exactly one year after the European Court of Human Rights found that the Czech school system discriminates against Roma students, Czech government officials and Roma rights advocates agreed that little has changed for the students,” ERRC said. “Most of them are condemned to second-class education in dead-end primary schools with virtually no opportunity for secondary or tertiary education.”
“The Czech government has acknowledged the gravity of the problem and pledged to reform, yet progress remains slow,” ERRC quoted James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, as saying at a conference in Prague on the subject of education of Roma children. “As the Czech Republic prepares for the presidency of the European Union, there is a unique opportunity to put Roma rights front and center on the European agenda.” According to the ERRC report released at the conference, Roma children continue to be shunted into primary schools that use a curriculum intended for children with mental disabilities. The conference was organized by the ERRC, Roma Education Fund, Open Society Fund, and the “Together for Schools” coalition of NGOs in the Czech Republic.
“There is latent racism in the Czech Republic, but this cannot be a reason for me not to make use of my time in office to make change,” said Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport Ondoej Liska. “We are working towards desegregation and ending discrimination in schools.”
TWO CEMETERIES IN GERMANY DESECRATED. Unidentified individuals desecrated two Jewish cemeteries near the eastern German city of Erfurt, police disclosed on November 18, Deutsche Welle radio reported. In the town of Gotha, a pig's head was stuck to the entrance gate at a Jewish cemetery next to a piece of cloth with the words "six million lies" written on it. Police said a blood-red liquid had also been thrown at the gate and the ground was covered with broken glass, perhaps a reference to the Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 Nazi pogrom against German Jews. In nearby Erfurt, police said, a memorial plaque at the entrance to its Jewish cemetery was covered with a blood-colored substance.
German politicians have condemned the desecration. The vice-president of the Bundestag, the Green party's Katrin Goering-Eckardt, said that the vandalism was "a crime against the Jewish faith and the millions of victims of National Socialist terror." She added that the desecrations were also an "attack on everyone who supports peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and diversity."
* * * QUOTE OF THE WEEK, PUTIN’S RETURN AS PRESIDENT EXPECTED * * * “The public political awareness that characterized the 1990s is missed in today's ‘ho-hum’ acceptance of the Kremlin's ability to rewrite the Constitution" and extending the president’s term from four to six years, Yevgeny Yasin, a former Kremlin official who heads the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, is quoted as saying in “The Christian Science Monitor” dated November 18. ”I am astonished that there is so little coverage of this process. Not so long ago we were discussing the question of whether Putin will run for a third term. Now we've received our answer. Here we are watching it happen, but we can do nothing about it."
HARD TIMES AHEAD FOR MIGRANTS IN RUSSIA
While the economic crisis deepens in Russia, there are no reliable figures as yet for the number of those laid off, and as yet no statistics for either a crime wave by migrants or hate crimes targeting them. But observers offer predictions that are not encouraging.
1. RACIST POLICEMEN AND HOSTILE PUBLIC. “Too many of Russia's police officers are corrupt, venal, and racist,” wrote in the “St. Petersburg Times” of November 18 Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite who is now a New York-based economist. “In addition to illegal immigrants, non-Slavic immigrants--and even Russian citizens of different ethnicities--are in danger of being stopped, harassed, and shaken down for bribes by uniformed officers.” As a consequence, Bayer continued, when immigrants fall victim to crime, they do not usually go to the local police station. “Instead, they buy protection from tough guys in their own communities,” he added. “Even when the authorities genuinely attempt to fight crime, immigrants don't make good allies. They rarely volunteer information about unlawful activities, nor are they eager to testify against their own.”
Bayer noted that “ethnic mafias plague most immigrant communities, benefiting from isolation, distrust, and fear. Disdain on the part of the indigenous population contributes to the problem.” He found that the kind of community outreach practiced by the New York City Police Department is “inconceivable,” He argued: “Even during the time of prosperity, dreadful policing methods and social attitudes were tailor-made for the spread of ethnic mafias. The current economic crisis could unleash a crime wave and leave in its wake an entrenched infrastructure of ethnic organized crime.”
Bayer pointed out that immigrant workers thrown out into the street come from desperately poor and war-ravaged countries and they have no place to go. “Given the corruption and inefficiency of the country's bureaucracy, deporting them will be difficult,” he wrote. “But in the absence of legal jobs, it is easy to guess the kinds of activities into which they will be drawn.”
2. MIGRANTS MAY NOT TURN TO CRIME YET EXPLOSIONS ARE POSSIBLE. “The International Monetary Fund has told the Russian government that guest workers who lose their jobs in the current economic crisis may turn to crime, a warning that is almost certainly exacerbating interethnic tensions among some groups even though there is relatively little evidence so far to support it,” wrote Paul Goble, former U.S. government expert on nationalities in the USSR, in his blog “Window on Eurasia” dated November 18.
According to Goble, even when migrant workers from Central Asia or the Caucasus lose their jobs in sectors hit by the economic crisis, they can often find work, albeit at lower pay, in other sectors more successfully than ethnic Russians can. As a result, Goble suggested, relatively few turn to crime.
On the other hand, “many ethnic Russians are only too eager to believe that most migrants are potential criminals,” Goble averred, “and some Russians reportedly are buying guns in order to be in a position to defend themselves against a migrant onslaught.” Goble forecast “a potentially explosive situation at some point in the future, especially in cities like Moscow where there are sizeable and easily identifiable migrant groups and where many Russians who have lost or are at risk of losing their jobs are all too ready to blame others, including migrants, for their own woes.”
3. PROSECUTION RATE LAGS BEHIND HATE CRIMES. “Criminal prosecution rates trail significantly behind the rates of hate crimes,” said director Alexander Verkhovsky of the recently renamed Sova Center for Information and Analysis at a panel discussion at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on November 19 in Washington. Convictions occur in fewer than 10% of the cases Sova has been able to document. “Since the actual incidence of hate crimes is likely far higher (whereas the information on convictions is more readily available and likely more accurate), it is likely that the actual rate of convictions is much lower,” he said. “Thus, though the number of racist attacks has increased by at least 15% per year since 2004, there were only 23 convictions reported in 2007, down from 33 in 2006.”
Verkhovsky pointed out that youth movements such as the Young Guard and Locals are adopting anti-immigrant rhetoric and that “groups with coordinators who have good standing with the authorities are allowed to march.” As for the authorities, “they just imitate the fight against extremism--as usual, they are fighting against statistics.” He predicted that the “overall level of nationalist mobilization will increase.” But as a professional researcher relying on numbers, Verkhovsky cautioned that it is too early to tell how the current economic crisis will affect hate crimes.
4. KASPAROV: PUTIN & MEDVEDEV OUT BY 2012. On November 18, opposition leader Garry Kasparov told Reuters that by 2012, rising unemployment and economic crisis will force out Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. "This structure will collapse," said the former presidential candidate and world chess champion. "In America and the U.K., governments are trying to solve the problems of the poor at the expense of the rich. In Russia it is the other way round. So in Russia, the oligarchs are being saved ... and the businesses of Putin's friends are being saved, at the expense of Russian taxpayers."
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There will be no Bigotry Monitor next week on account of Thanksgiving.
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