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Mass Sterilization in Uzbekistan, Outrage over Swiss Roma Story

Plus, arrests, finally, in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, and a Facebook activist languishes in prison in Azerbaijan. by Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, Jeremy Druker, and Anna Shamanska 12 April 2012

1. Uzbek government allegedly running full-scale sterilization program

 

A BBC investigation has revealed evidence of a government program to sterilize thousands of women throughout Uzbekistan – often without their knowledge.  

 

According to sources quoted by journalist Natalia Antelava, every Uzbek doctor is given a quota. One doctor said she must sterilize four women per month, but others said the figure might be as high as eight per week in rural areas.

 

A source in the Health Ministry said the program is meant to slow population growth. Medical professionals, however, said the real aim was to reduce the number of births and, therefore, to lower the rate of infant and maternal deaths in international measures.

 

Evidence also suggests that a two-year increase in the number of Caesarean sections, which make sterilization easier, is linked to the program. While official statistics say Caesareans account for 6.8 percent of births, doctors interviewed for the article challenged those numbers, with a chief surgeon at a hospital near Tashkent estimating the figure was as high as 80 percent.

 

In an official response to the BBC, the authorities denied the program’s existence, arguing that women are sterilized only voluntarily.

 

The BBC says forced sterilization in Uzbekistan was first discovered by pathologist Gulbakhor Turaeva in 2005. She gathered evidence of 200 cases, but when she revealed the data publicly, she was fired and later imprisoned, accused of smuggling opposition literature into the country.

 

2. Swiss story about Roma crime draws fire

 

A cover story about Roma published in a Swiss magazine earlier this week continues to cause outrage across Europe, Der Spiegel reports. The article, which was published 5 April in Die Weltwoche, carried the headline “The Roma Are Coming: Robberies in Switzerland” with the subhead “They come, steal, and leave,” a reference to an alleged increase in crimes committed by Roma gangs.

 

 

The photo illustrating the article, of a Roma child pointing a gun at the camera, contributed to the backlash. Livio Mancini, the Italian photographer who took the photo in 2008 in Kosovo, told a Swiss newspaper that Weltwoche had obtained the photo through an agency and used it without asking him.

 

Several criminal complaints against the magazine have been filed in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, including by Austrian journalist Klaus Kamolz, who said he wanted to send a “symbolic signal” against the “blanket condemnation of Roma as criminals.” The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma also filed a criminal complaint with a German prosecutor for racial incitement and libel against the magazine and declared it would take steps to prevent its sale in Germany. The council’s leader, Romani Rose, accused the newspaper of equating a person’s ethnic origin with criminality, comparing the story with anti-Roma propaganda from the Nazi era.

 

In a video on the Weltwoche website, deputy editor in chief Philip Gut, who co-authored the article, said he didn’t understand the outrage caused by the photo. It was used, he told a Swiss newspaper, to illustrate “the fact that Roma gangs abuse their children for criminal purposes.”

 

3. Serbia arrests 14 for 2008 U.S. embassy riot

 

Serbian police have arrested 14 people in connection with the 2008 riot in Belgrade that resulted in a blaze that killed one person at the U.S. Embassy, according to Balkan Insight. In announcing the arrests, Prosecutor Zagorka Dolovac said her office had been investigating the suspects for more than a year. Some of the arrested were football hooligans known to have caused problems in the past, according to B92.

 

On 21 February 2008, hundreds stormed and set fire to the U.S. Embassy to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence. In the process, protester Zoran Vujovic, a 20-year-old Serb displaced from his home in Kosovo, died of smoke inhalation.

 

The day after the arrests, Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said he had been kept in the dark about the operation. “I have nothing to do with this, because nobody informed me about it, which I consider to be impermissible. I consider this to be an absolutely poor example of doing things,” he told B92. Dacic also wondered why the arrests had taken place the day before the 11 April Belgrade derby, a soccer match between city rivals Red Star and Partizan.

 

Speculation about the extremely long delay in bringing the culprits to justice has touched on the suspected ties of some of the hooligans to political parties, who supposedly helped them escape prosecution, until now.

 

4. New pressure to free jailed Facebook activist in Azerbaijan

 

As one year passes since the arrest of a young Azerbaijani activist, new campaigns are sprouting up for his release. Bakhtiyar Hajiev was taken into custody in March 2011 and later sentenced to two years in prison for evading military service.

 

Photo from the Support Bakhtiyar Facebook page.

 

A new video on YouTube purports to “tell the story of his persecution,” recounting that Hajiev had faced repression when he ran for parliament as an independent in 2010. During the campaign, he focused on the issues of human rights and corruption. But Hajiev and human rights organizations link the timing of his arrest to the activist’s role in organizing a Facebook campaign in the wake of the Arab Spring calling for a day of protests against the government and meetings across the country.     

 

At his trial, Hajiev said he was a conscientious objector and should have been granted the option of alternative service. His requests for parole have twice been rejected, most recently in late March, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Students and teachers from Harvard University, where Hajiev graduated from the Kennedy School of Government in 2009, have also ramped up their protests. Almost 900 members of the Harvard community signed an online petition earlier this year calling for Hajiev’s release. And a 28 March editorial in Harvard’s student-written Crimson called on the university to do more to highlight Hajiev’s plight, saying, “Harvard University has failed to officially condemn Bakhtiyar’s arrest and conviction, or leverage its weight on the international stage to raise awareness about his case.”

 

5. In Chechnya, loose lips sink … taxis?

 

A new initiative in Chechnya hopes to put a lid on what some see as a growing social ill: gossip. The campaign was launched by the Chechen Government Committee on Youth and has been targeting mainly taxi and bus drivers, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

Ramzan Kadyrov
Campaigners have passed out bumper stickers to drivers with slogans like, ”Drive in silence, you’ll go farther,” and “The Almighty is against gossip,” according to the report. The group said the initiative was to help clean up the image of taxi drivers, who have “lost respect in the eyes of society because of their spread of disinformation among the passengers, ignorance of road regulations, and destruction of cultural values,” according to a statement posted on the group’s website.

 

Reaction to the campaign has been mixed, and many see Chechnya’s gossip-inspiring leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, as behind it, according to RFE. One man told RFE that the initiative, which he said harks back to the days of Joseph Stalin, has actually fueled more rumors about local leaders.

Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Jeremy Druker is TOL’s executive director and editor in chief. Anna Shamanska is a TOL editorial intern.

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