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‘Magnitsky Bill’ Outrages Moscow, Czech Justice Minister Sacked Suspiciously

Plus, Georgian authorities again go after an opposition politician, and a Latvia group “issues” fake alien passports for Obama and Clinton.

by Sofia Lotto Persio, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Jeremy Druker 28 June 2012

1. Russia furious over U.S. ‘Magnitsky Bill’

 

The Russian response has been quick to a U.S. Senate committee’s approval of a controversial bill penalizing Russian officials involved in human rights violations, Reuters reports.

 

Sergei Magnitsky
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed on 26 June the so-called Magnitsky Bill, named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death in police custody in 2009 sparked international outrage. The bill would implement asset freezes and travel bans for some 60 Russian officials believed to be involved in Magnitsky’s death, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

Moscow called the vote an intrusion into its internal affairs. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that American officials needed to “weigh the consequences" of going any further with the bill because the U.S. would face “a symmetrical response, but there will also be a number of additional measures," Reuters reports. Ryabkov didn’t elaborate but said passage of the bill would undo any gains in relations between the two countries.

 

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told RIA Novosti that a group of Russian lawmakers will travel to the United States to discuss the bill directly with their American counterparts. “The U.S. political establishment still has a chance to turn around the situation if they do not support the bill at the plenary sessions of the House of Representatives and the Senate,” he said according to Reuters.

 

The news about the bill comes amid reports of a mass exodus from Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, precipitated by concerns that the group was becoming defunct and a puppet of President Vladimir Putin. Last July, the council told then-President Dmitri Medvedev that Magnitsky had been beaten by guards and denied medical treatment.

 

2. Czech reform-minded justice minister fired for supposed bad management

 

In a surprise move, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas sacked reformist Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil on 27 June, Czech Position reports. While Necas cited Pospisil’s alleged inability to manage his ministry and make necessary budget cuts, many political watchers and the wider public saw the sacking as connected to Pospisil’s attempts to embolden the typically reticent state prosecutor’s office to investigate politically connected cases.

 

Jiri Pospisil
In interviews with the media, Necas said he had lost trust in Pospisil over his long-running inability to run his ministry efficiently and his continued efforts to raise the ministry’s budget in times of overall cuts. Others, however, wondered about the timing of the decision. Pospisil was set to name a tough-minded new head of the Prague High State Attorney’s Office: prosecutor Lenka Bradacova, who recently made a name for herself by overseeing the arrest of former regional governor David Rath on corruption charges.

 

A flash poll on iDNES.cz, the website of the daily Mlada fronta DNES, indicated widespread skepticism about Necas’ explanation. Only 554 respondents said they believed the prime minister, compared with 28,118 who did not.

 

In an interview published in the print version of Mlada fronta, Pospisil held back from making a final judgment on Necas’ motivations, saying that only the moves of his successor would make clear the truth. “If it will be someone who will want to continue in my reform efforts, and if he will name … a quality personality similar to Lenka Bradacova, then I will concede that my weak managerial abilities were probably really the true reason.”

 

Necas has denied even knowing that Pospisil intended to name Bradacova to the position and said that Pospisil had almost a week to appoint her before he was fired. The now former justice minster has explained that Bradacova was on holiday and that he didn’t want to name her before sitting down and discussing the job.

 

3. Further pressure on popular Georgian opposition politician

 

Georgian authorities have seized assets that they say belong to Georgian billionaire and opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili, but that he says have been transferred to his son.

 

Reuters reports that bailiffs from the National Enforcement Bureau seized the assets in response to Ivanishvili's refusal to pay a $90 million fine for violations of electoral laws. Ivanishvili declared that both the fine and the current ruling were illegal. “The authorities can seize whatever they want, because they are already acting beyond any legal framework,” he said.

 

The National Bank of Georgia considers Ivanishvili the sole owner of Cartu Bank and the JSC Cartu Group, and holder of a 21.7 percent stake in Progress Bank, while the billionaire insists that he has transferred all his assets to his eldest son, Uta, and no longer owns any shares in Georgia, Civil.ge reports.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, center, greets a cheering crowd at a 28 May rally. Photo from facebook.com/GeorgianDreamFaithAndLove

 

Drawing huge crowds at recent rallies, Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream has shaped up to be the main rival to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall. He is also the richest man in Georgia, his fortune of $6 billion amounting to half of Georgia's GDP.

 

4. ‘Alien’ passports issued to Obama and Clinton by activists in Latvia

 

A group defending the rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia has created fake purple U.S. passports for U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, RT reports.

 

On the eve of a visit by Clinton, the Russian Society in Latvia sent the passports to the U.S. Embassy in Riga to highlight the plight of the country’s almost 300,000 Latvian “non-citizens” who are not allowed to vote and cannot receive normal passports for travel. Instead, they receive purple passports that designate them aliens, as do the mock passports the group sent to the embassy for Obama and Clinton.

 

Photo from russkie.org.lv

 

Since Latvia gained independence in 1991, the country's Russian-speaking minority has had to go through a naturalization process, including a Latvian language exam, in order to gain citizenship.

 

The activists hope to convince U.S. officials to push the authorities in Latvia to change current law. “The U.S. is the citadel of democracy in the modern world. And they cannot remain indifferent to human rights violations and harassment directed against minorities,” said the activists in a statement published on TVNET.

 

Latvia’s citizenship and language policies have been an object of complaint by Russia and by international organizations since the country broke away from the Soviet Union. Many Latvian officials, however, see possible concessions as a threat to the Baltic state's sovereignty and identity.  

 

5. Uzbekistan changes rules on exit visa to Turkmenistan, Tajikistan

 

Uzbek nationals will once again need exit visas to travel to the neighboring countries of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

The country had previously eliminated exit visas for citizens traveling to the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

 

State-run media have reported that the regulation has been in place since 1 June, but there was no previous official statement, according to RFE. The government has not explained the reasons behind the move, though some have speculated it might be connected to the often strained relations with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Yet relations with Kyrgyzstan are also not good, and that country does not appear to be included in the new regulations.

 

In an interview published in Gazeta.uz, the director of the Interior Ministry office that issues the visas, Kodirzhonu Zakirov, played down the significance of the new regulations, saying they mostly affect minors. Travelers younger than 18 now need the explicit consent of parents or guardians to travel abroad.

 

Zakirov also pointed to exceptions for some people who need to travel for work and for residents of several border towns. The visa exemption for border residents is valid only for a stay of up to five days in Tajikistan and once a month for up to three days in Turkmenistan, Gazeta.uz writes. 

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