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Archive for the ‘Injustice of Russia’ Category

Beyond World Cup: Advocates call attention to Russian abuses

June 23, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Wrapped in national flags, jubilant fans dance at midnight in the streets of Moscow, smiling, laughing and cheering. While foreign spectators from all over the world are having a blast at the World Cup being hosted by Russia, human rights activists are urging them not to overlook the other side of Vladimir Putin’s nation: political prisoners and the harassment of critical voices.

Friday marked the 40th day that Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has been refusing food in a Russian prison. Sentsov, an outspoken opponent of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He calls the case against him politically motivated and went on a hunger strike in mid-May to demand his release, as well as that of other Ukrainians held by Russia. Western nations have been calling for Sentsov’s release.

Sentsov’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, visited him in a prison clinic Friday and said his client has lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) and was very frail. “His condition is bad. He is very weak, very pale,” Dinze told The Associated Press by telephone. Dinze said Sentsov is able to walk, but talking is difficult and he has kidney and heart problems. Sentsov is receiving vitamins and other nutrients through an intravenous line and is refusing to be force-fed.

“He has stated his position firmly. Nobody will be able to talk him out of it, he will continue until his demands are met,” Dinze said. Russian officials have been saying Sentsov is in satisfactory condition and his health has not suffered.

“This is a double picture of a very bright, very sparkling celebration, but on the other hand, there is an entire abyss of despair,” said Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. “It is very important that today those who watch Russia, film Russia, write about Russia see not only this celebration, beautiful by itself, which will come and go, understand even a little bit what today’s Russia is in terms of human rights and basic freedoms.”

Ukrainian rights activist Maria Tomak was among about a dozen people who staged a rally Friday outside the Russian consulate in Kiev, urging Putin to exchange Sentsov and other Ukrainians jailed in Russia for Russians detained in Ukraine.

“The situation around Oleg Sentsov is a threat to everyone,” Tomak said. “If there is some kind of fatal incident with Oleg in Russia during the World Cup, this will look awful, this will lead to (Russia’s) isolation.”

On the opening day of the World Cup, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny walked out of a Moscow jail after 30 days behind bars on charges of organizing an authorized rally and resisting police. Two days later, Navalny’s press secretary was released after a 25-day stint in prison.

In the Chechen capital of Grozny, where Egypt’s national team set up its base, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was posing for photos with the Egypt star soccer forward Mohamed Salah. All the while, across town, the region’s top human rights activist Oyub Titiev was in a prison on drug charges that he calls fabricated.

International human rights organizations have dismissed the charges against Titiev as fake and have called on FIFA to intervene and seek his release. Beyond soccer, movie theaters across Russia are playing “Summer,” a romantic period drama about the budding rock scene in the waning years of the Soviet Union that received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film festival in May. But its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, is under house arrest on embezzlement charges, which he denies. The case is viewed by many in Russia as punishment for Serebrennikov’s iconoclastic views and has raised fears of a return to Soviet-style censorship.

Before hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Russia freed its most prominent prisoners, the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two women from the Pussy Riot punk band. Lokshina called for the same for Sentsov, Titiev and others.

“If this doesn’t happen, the legacy of the World Cup will be clouded by these awful, horrible cases,” Lokshina said. Independent political analyst Masha Lipman welcomed the festive and positive atmosphere of the World Cup, given that relations between Russia and the West had sunk to their lowest point in recent history. Lipman said that Western leaders have already made their position clear by not attending World Cup games but she says regular fans who have spent a lot of money and effort to come to come to Russia should focus on soccer and enjoy their stay.

“Do you think it would be better if everybody was walking around somber and angry, for tourists and fans to come here and to be looking for what else would upset them? Of course it is better when there is a friendly attitude toward the country,” Lipman said. “At least for a change.”

Inna Varenytsia contributed to this report from Kiev.

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Russian opposition leader Navalny gets 30-day jail sentence

May 15, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was ordered Tuesday to spend 30 days in jail for staging an unsanctioned protest in Moscow and resisting police, charges he dismissed as unlawful.

Navalny organized a series of protests on May 5 in the Russian capital and other cities before President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a new term. Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country.

Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court convicted Navalny on charges of organizing an unauthorized rally and ordered him jailed for 30 days. Separately, he was also convicted of disobeying police during the rally and sentenced to 15 days, but that sentence would be counted as part of the 30 days under Russian law.

Navalny argued that the authorities’ refusal to allow the protest was illegal and called the accusations against him “ridiculous and unlawful.” The anti-corruption campaigner, who has become Putin’s most visible political foe, already has served several weeks-long jail terms for organizing other protests.

The jail sentence could reflect the authorities’ desire to keep Navalny behind bars to prevent him from staging more protests in the run-up to the World Cup hosted by Russia that could tarnish its opening on June 14.

Navalny tweeted from the courtroom that he was sentenced simply for “getting out on the street of my city and saying: ‘I’m not your slave, and I will never be. I don’t need a new Czar.'” “There is nothing pleasant about the arrest, but I’m ready to come out and repeat it as many times as needed until we get what we want,” he said. “And I know I’m not alone.”

Nearly 1600 reported arrested in Russian anti-Putin protests

May 05, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russians angered by the impending inauguration of Vladimir Putin to a new term as president protested Saturday in scores of cities across the country — and police responded by reportedly arresting nearly 1,600 of them.

Among those arrested was protest organizer Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is Putin’s most prominent foe. Police seized Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Moscow’s Pushkin Square, where thousands were gathered for an unauthorized protest.

Police also used batons against protesters who chanted “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia will be free!” Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the fringes of Europe.

The protests demonstrated that Navalny’s opposition, although considered beleaguered by Russian officials and largely ignored by state-controlled television, has sizable support in much of the country.

“I think that Putin isn’t worthy of leading this country. He has been doing it for 18 years and has done nothing good for it,” said Moscow demonstrator Dmitry Nikitenko. “He should leave for good.” OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political repression, said late Saturday that 1,599 people had been detained at demonstrations in 26 Russian cities. It said 702 were arrested in Moscow alone, and another 232 in St. Petersburg.

Moscow police said about 300 people were detained in the capital, state news agencies said, and there was no official countrywide tally. “Let my son go!” Iraida Nikolaeva screamed, running after police in Moscow when they detained her son. “He did not do anything! Are you a human or not? Do you live in Russia or not?”

Navalny was to be charged with disobeying police, an offense that carries a sentence of up to 15 days, news reports said, though when he would face a judge was not immediately clear. Navalny has served several multi-week stretches in jail on similar charges.

In St. Petersburg, police blocked off a stretch of Nevsky Prospekt as a crowd of about 1,000 marched along the renowned avenue. Video showed some demonstrators being detained. Putin is to be inaugurated for a new six-year term on Monday after winning re-election in March with 77 percent of the vote. Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a felony conviction in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalize him.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticized the actions of the Russian police. “The United States condemns #Russia’s detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters and calls for their immediate release. Leaders who are secure in their own legitimacy don’t arrest their peaceful opponents for protesting,” she tweeted.

Navalny has called nationwide demonstrations several times in the past year, and their turnout has rattled the Kremlin. Saturday’s protests attracted crowds of hundreds in cities that are far remote from Moscow, challenging authorities’ contention that Navalny and other opposition figures appeal only to a small, largely urban elite.

Syria opposition to boycott Russian peace talks

2018-01-27

VIENNA – Syria’s main opposition group on Friday said it would boycott Russian peace talks next week in a major blow to Moscow’s diplomatic efforts towards resolving the brutal seven-year conflict.

“Russia has not succeeded in promoting its conference,” the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) said on its Twitter account.

“The SNC has decided not to participate at Sochi after marathon negotiations with the UN and representatives of countries involved in Syria.”

Dozens of rebel groups had already refused to join the talks in the Black Sea resort next Monday and Tuesday organised by the Syrian regime’s powerful ally Moscow, and the question of whether the main opposition would attend has overshadowed two days of separate UN-backed peace talks in Vienna.

Those talks stretched late into Friday night, with both regime officials and the SNC meeting separately with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura — who did not strike an especially optimistic tone after the grueling negotiations.

As with eight previous rounds of failed UN-backed talks in Geneva, there was no sign that the warring sides had met face to face at discussions intended to lay the groundwork for a new post-war constitution.

De Mistura, speaking to reporters early Saturday, admitted there had been a disheartening lack of progress up until now in finding a solution for a war that has killed more than 340,000 people.

“I share the immense frustration of millions of Syrians inside and outside the country at the lack of a political settlement to date,” he said.

– Russian ambitions –

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has decided to send his envoy Staffan de Mistura to the Sochi conference next week, a UN spokesman said Saturday, despite the opposition boycott.

Russia had long sought UN participation in the Sochi conference aimed at advancing toward an end to the six-year war in Syria.

Guterres “is confident that the congress in Sochi will be an important contribution” to reviving the peace talks held under UN auspices in Geneva, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The UN spokesman indicated that Guterres had received assurances that the Sochi conference would not seek to sideline the UN talks.

Guterres was briefed by De Mistura on the outcome of the Vienna talks and has taken into account a statement from Russia that the result of the Sochi conference “would be brought to Geneva as a contribution to the intra-Syrian talks process under the auspices of the United Nations,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The UN chief has “decided to accept the invitation of the Russian Federation to send a representative to attend the Sochi Congress” and has asked De Mistura to go, he added.

De Mistura earlier stressed the legitimacy of the UN-led talks over Russia’s parallel peace push, however, saying firmly that a political transition for Syria “is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process”.

“I hope that the forthcoming Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi will contribute to a revived and credible intra-Syrian process under the UN in Geneva,” he added.

Ahead of an SNC press conference on Saturday morning there was little detail about why the opposition had ultimately decided to boycott Sochi, though spokesman Yahya al-Aridi earlier described the talks in Vienna as “tough”.

Western powers have viewed the Russian peace initiative — which is also backed by Turkey and Iran — with suspicion, worrying that Moscow is seeking to undermine the UN-backed talks with an ultimate view to carving out a settlement that strengthens its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

– ‘Black comedy’ –

Haid Haid, a consulting research fellow at Chatham House think-tank, said Russia’s long-term strategic interests were at play in Sochi.

“They want to present themselves as peace brokers, not only in Syria but in the Middle East in general, a role traditionally carried out by the Americans,” Haid said.

“For the Russians to take this role, they have to do what the Americans were not able to do” — find a solution in Syria, he said.

The Vienna talks were also marked by anger from the regime over a leaked set of political proposals from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Britain and France that would involve strengthening the role of Syria’s prime minister — at the expense of Assad’s authority.

Top government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters it was “tantamount to a black comedy” that these countries were seeking to shape Syria’s political future, as Arabic and English versions of the document circulated online.

“All of them have participated in the bloodshed of the Syrian people,” he said of the five nations, blasting the US as the country “that created ISIS” and adding that Saudi Arabia was anything but a “beacon of freedom in the east”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86959.

Russian opposition leader arrested amid election protests

January 29, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Protesters gathered across Russia on Sunday to support opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March presidential election, and Navalny himself was arrested while walking to the Moscow demonstration.

Many of the crowds that turned out in generally frigid weather skewed sharply young, apparently reflecting growing discontent among Russians who have lived most or all of their lives under President Vladimir Putin, who came to power on New Year’s Eve 1999.

“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has always been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old Vlad Ivanov, one of about 1,500 protesters who assembled in St. Petersburg. Navalny, Putin’s most prominent foe, organized the protests to urge a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election, in which Putin is sure to win a fourth term. He was wrestled to the ground and forced into a police bus as he walked toward the demonstration on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated. Late Sunday night, hours after police detained him, Navalny said on Twitter that he had been released before a trial. Russian news reports cited police earlier as saying he was likely to be charged with a public-order violation for calling unauthorized demonstrations.

Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported after his release that Navalny had not yet been presented with a charge. No figures were available for how many people participated in the protests, but the turnout was clearly smaller than for rallies Navalny organized last year. The size and scope of the earlier protests, which took place in provincial cities regarded as the center of Putin’s support, rattled the Kremlin.

Protests were reported in dozens of cities, from the Pacific Coast to the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Navalny’s web page showed a small group of protesters in remote Yakutsk, where it was minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).

A crowd that police estimated at 1,000 people, but appeared larger, assembled in central Pushkin Square, brandishing placards reading “They’ve stolen the election from us” and “Elections without Navalny are fake.”

After that gathering dispersed, columns of protesters took off in several directions. One group skirted the Kremlin, then headed down the Novy Arbat, a prime shopping and entertainment area, and to the riverside government headquarters building informally called the Russian White House.

Shouting “Putin is a thief,” some of the protesters threw handfuls of snow through the high spiked fence surrounding the building. Police did not interfere, a contrast to their typically quick and harsh responses to unauthorized gatherings.

The OVD-Info organization, which monitors political repression, reported that 257 people were arrested in the demonstrations throughout the country. Hours before the Moscow protest, police raided Navalny’s headquarters, where there is a studio for live video transmissions. One broadcaster on the stream said police apparently were using a power grinder tool to try to get into the studio.

The anchors hosting the feed reported that police said they had come because of an alleged bomb threat. One anchor, Dmitri Nizovtsev, was detained by police, according to video broadcast from the headquarters. Navalny’s Moscow coordinator, Nikolai Lyaskin, also was detained Sunday, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Several hundred demonstrators assembled in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, complaining both of Putin’s rule and of Navalny’s exclusion from the March 18 presidential election. “They took these elections away from us, they took away our votes. Our candidate was not allowed to run,” said Vladivostok demonstrator Dmitri Kutyaev.

Navalny rose to prominence with detailed reports about corruption among top Russian officials, which he popularized on social media to circumvent state control of television.

Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

Rival US and Russian resolutions defeated on Syria weapons

November 17, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Rival U.S. and Russian resolutions to extend the mandate of experts trying to determine who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria were defeated Thursday at a heated Security Council meeting that reflected the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow.

The result of the two votes means that the expert body — the Joint Investigative Mechanism known as the JIM — will cease operations when its current mandate expires at midnight Thursday. The U.S., its allies and human rights groups called it a serious blow to efforts to hold accountable those responsible for carrying out chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

During a three-hour drama, Russia first vetoed the U.S. draft resolution which was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members. Bolivia joined Russia in voting “no” and China and Egypt abstained.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia withdrew the Russian resolution over Moscow’s insistence that it be voted on second not first as required under council rules. But using another council rule, Bolivia then resubmitted and called for a vote on that resolution.

It failed to receive the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption. Only Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted in favor while seven council members voted against and four abstained. Japan late Thursday proposed a 30-day extension of the JIM and the Security Council was expected to discuss it on Friday.

At the heart of the dispute was the demand by Russia, Syria’s most important ally, for major changes in the way the JIM operates and the U.S. insistence that the JIM’s current mandate and independence be preserved.

After the votes, the United States and Russia blamed each other for ending the JIM’s operations, both insisting they wanted it to continue. “To my Russian friends, the next chemical weapons attack is on your head,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “By not having a JIM, you are basically telling the entire world that chemical weapons are OK to use. That’s what we should be embarrassed about today.”

Russia’s Nebenzia shot back saying: “Today it became absolutely clear we need a robust professional mechanism that will help to prevent the threat of chemical terrorism in the region, and you need a puppet-like structure to manipulate public opinion — which on the basis of false information will time after time accuse the Syrian government of violating international norms.”

Those who voted against the Russian resolution put forward by Bolivia “bear the full brunt of responsibility for the cessation of the operations of the JIM,” Nebenzia said. Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.

Syria repeated its denial of using chemical weapons. The JIM has also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas in 2015 adsnd again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo. Nebenzia accused the JIM of “fundamental flaws” in blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for the attacks.

He cited its use of “remote working methods” and failure to visit Khan Sheikhoun, “focusing solely on dubious testimony from opposition and even terrorist groups, the disregard for the whole range of rules and methods provided for under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Haley countered that Russia and its allies “want a JIM that doesn’t have independence.” “They want a JIM that doesn’t have reporting,” she said. “They want a JIM that they can micromanage, or that any member can micromanage.”

Haley noted that this was the 10th veto by Russia to support Syria. “You have to realize when a country is playing games with people’s lives,” she said. “That’s exactly what is happening here. And it’s been happening for 10 times.”

The vote took place against the backdrop of the military and political situation in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand. A new round of U.N.-hosted Syrian peace talks is scheduled to start in Geneva on Nov. 28.

Haley said: “The only thing that today has proved is that Russia cannot be trusted in the political process with Syria.” “Russia will not be a good and trusted actor because they want to control who’s at fault,” she said. “They want to control what happens. They want to control that area because they want to work with Iran and Syria to make sure that they have it all under control.”

Nebenia said Haley “betrayed what was trying to be hidden all the time, but in fact the whole thing was envisaged and invented to show that Russia should not be trusted in the Syrian political process.”

“It’s not coincidental,” he said, “because the political process in Syria is … slowly gaining momentum and Russia is very instrumental in it. And so this is the very opportune moment to tell that Russia should not play the role here.”

Nebenzia said he didn’t think Thursday’s votes would affect the Geneva talks which Russia supports.

Russia drafts legislation targeting foreign media

November 14, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers submitted legal amendments Tuesday that would allow the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents, a retaliatory move to a demand the U.S. made to a Russian TV channel.

The amendments, which are set to be voted on Wednesday, came after the Russian state-funded RT registered with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent following pressure from the U.S. government.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that RT served as a tool for the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied any interference. The amendments under consideration in Russia were proposed by lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature. Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said the revisions would give the Justice Ministry authority to register foreign media outlets as foreign agents.

Following the registration, the news outlets would be subject to requirements that already apply to foreign-funded non-governmental organization under a 2012 law on foreign agents. The law requests all groups that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activities to register as foreign agents. Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any non-governmental organization.

The law was approved after a slew of massive anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012. President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of instigating them. At the same time, Putin has harshly criticized the U.S. demand regarding the RT channel as an attack on freedom of speech. He said Russia would retaliate.

The amendments to cover non-Russian media outlets are on a rapid course. The State Duma is set to approve them on Wednesday. They would then go pass quickly to the upper house and then to Putin for signing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the proposed amendments would be applied. They are broadly phrased to allow the government to declare practically any foreign media outlet as a foreign agent. But Russian officials and lawmakers emphasized Tuesday that they would take a measured approach, one strictly proportionate to the U.S. action.

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma’s committee for information, emphasized that the amendments were a framework intended to provide a legal basis for government action. “It will up to the Justice Ministry to decide whom to list as foreign agents,” Levin said. “I expect the amendments to be applied strictly quid pro quo in response to the moves against Russian media.”

Andrei Klimov, the head of a panel established by the upper house of the Russian parliament to investigate alleged foreign interference in Russian affairs, also said the Russian government’s application of the foreign media rules would be selective and mirror actions by the United States.

At the same time, Klimov kept the door open for broader restrictions in the future, saying lawmakers will ponder prospective legislation to restrict foreign nationals’ involvement in Russia’s affairs.

Legislation to be drafted next year could define the status of foreigners involved in “undesirable activities” in Russia, as well as Russians engaging in “undesirable cooperation” with them, Klimov said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based independent press freedom watchdog, criticized the U.S. Department of Justice order for the RT to register as a foreign agent as a “bad idea.” “This is a shift in how the law has been applied in recent decades, so we have little information about how its reporting requirements might affect individual journalists,” CPJ North America Program Coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck said. “We’re uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda.”

At the same time, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Russia not to take retaliatory steps. “It’s outrageous that the Russian government, which has attacked, undermined, and stifled independent media, and failed to properly investigate the murders of leading independent journalists in the country, is now threatening measures to curtail the work of international media organizations,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

Ognianova added that while the U.S. move on RT was “ill-advised,” Russia also would be amiss “to use it as a pretext to justify punitive action.”

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