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Blogger Embarrasses Russia’s Top Investigator, Serbian President Warns of Genocide in Kosovo

Plus, Romania’s president lands on his feet after impeachment fails, and Tajikistan shuts down foreign news websites as military operation winds down.

by Barbara Frye, Josh Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu and Sofia Lotto Persio 30 July 2012

1. Documents put top Russian investigator in awkward spot

 

Russian anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny has posted documents online showing that his country’s top criminal investigator has had business and real estate holdings in the Czech Republic. That information is damaging because, as Radio Free Europe reports, “Russia law forbids senior officials from ‘engaging in commercial activity.’ ”

 

Alexandr Bastrykin
Aleksandr Bastrykin, a longtime ally of President Vladimir Putin and director of the national Investigative Committee, was an officer of a Czech company until mid-2008, the news agency reports. The business is now in the hands of his former wife. His current wife was also shown to have had an apartment in Prague in 2008, but since 2009 it has been absent from Bastrykin’s asset declarations.

 

Bastrykin told a popular Russian news magazine in 2008, “Neither I nor any member of my family has ever engaged in commercial activity either in Russia or abroad,” according to RFE.

 

In a blog post quoted by The New York Times, Navalny argued that Bastrykin’s holdings, in a NATO country, could compromise his position.

 

“What do you think, the special services of NATO countries would not be aware that the deputy prosecutor general of Russia, a man with access to state secrets, applied to the Czech police for a residence permit?” Navalny wrote. “The man responsible for all investigations and the entire struggle against corruption is a swindler, a fraud, and a foreign agent.”

 

The “foreign agent” jibe alludes to the label that will be applied to Russian nongovernmental organizations that receive money from abroad under a law passed this month. Many such groups are election watchdogs or human rights advocates that are frozen out of domestic funding.

 

Last month, Bastrykin threatened to kill an editor at a newspaper that has been critical of the Kremlin. He has since blamed the action on an emotional breakdown. His office had not responded to Navalny’s allegations as of press time.

 

2. Nikolic won’t rule out partition of Kosovo

 

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Serbs would leave the northern part of Kosovo en masse if the government in Pristina manages to take control of that territory. That exodus, he told the Guardian, would amount to genocide, a term Nikolic recently refused to apply to the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica by units of the Bosnian Serb army.

 

Nikolic said he would not rule out the partition of Kosovo, incorporating into Serbia proper the northern region, which Belgrade already de facto administers through parallel legal institutions and via payment of pensions and wages to government workers there.

 

Nikolic was once an ally of Vojislav Seselj, the founder of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party and a war-crimes defendant. In the interview, he asserted that more Serbs face trial in The Hague than other nationalities involved in the Yugoslav wars “not [because] it was Serbs under Slobodan Milosevic who committed the majority of atrocities,” but because Serbia lost the conflicts.

 

Pointing out that most of Kosovo’s Serbs live in enclaves outside the Serb-dominated north, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told the Guardian that they are fully integrated and participate in self-governance.

 

But many Serbs complain that they cannot return to their homes in Kosovo because they are locked out of job opportunities there and often cannot find Serbian-language education for their children. Earlier this month, two Serbs were shot dead in their home in a Kosovo village. The couple had reportedly returned from Serbia in 2004, and the husband represented Serbs on the local council.

 

3. Romanian president lands on his feet

 

Romanian President Traian Basescu survived a 29 July referendum on his impeachment, thanks to low voter turnout. According to the Central Electoral Bureau with nearly all of the votes counted, turnout was 46.13 percent, below the 50 percent needed to render the results valid. Of those who cast a ballot, 87.5 percent, or more than 7 million people, voted in favor of impeachment. Romania is home to more than 21 million people.

 

The vote was engineered by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a longtime political foe of Basescu. The president has been widely accused of overstepping his office’s constitutional boundaries. For his part, Ponta, since coming to office in May, has sparked concern in the EU over his attempts to circumscribe the power of the country’s constitutional court and to change the rules on impeachment to ensure Basescu’s ouster.

 

In an interview for Euronews the day before the referendum, Basescu urged Romanians to stay away from the polls, lest they legitimize a “confirmed coup d’état” organized by a “pack of hyenas.” After the polling stations closed, Basescu said he had not voted and thanked both Romanians and ethnic Hungarians, who make up the majority in the counties with the lowest turnouts.

 

He added that 5.2 million people voted against him in the December 2009 presidential elections, and that, after three years of austerity measures, he “can accept an additional million,” underestimating the official impeachment-vote count. He declared himself willing to work with Ponta and the ruling coalition if they “fixed what they broke during their rule and respected the constitution.” Basescu also said his main task now is to try to reconcile a deeply divided Romania.

 

Ponta called the results “excellent” and a sign that “Basescu doesn't represent anybody anymore.” According to Moldovan news site InProfunzime.md, the prime minister said his main duty is to protect those who voted for the impeachment against the president and his cronies.

 

4. Tajikistan blocks access to foreign news sites, YouTube

 

In the wake of a military operation to regain control of an autonomous region in Tajikistan, authorities in Dushanbe have blocked access to a number of websites, including the BBC, Russia’s Vesti, and YouTube, according to RIA Novosti.

 

Access to YouTube was cut off 26 July, two days after the Tajik military entered the Gorno-Badakhshan region to capture a former opposition warlord. Access to Vesti and the BBC were cut off 29 July by order of the Governmental Communications Service, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Experts have linked the Internet blockage to events in the region, saying that because the government has not provided information about the conflict, people have been turning to the Internet, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

The government’s account of the conflict and its aftermath are at odds with those of some media. Dushanbe says only one civilian has died in the fighting, but some local media put the number closer to 30, according to EurasiaReview.com. Further, the blocking of YouTube may have been an attempt to keep people from viewing a video of a 23 July protest in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, that showed an opposition politician criticizing authorities for the impoverished country’s dire socio-economic situation.

 

Following the protest, Sabzali Mamadrizoyev, regional head of the opposition Islamic Revival Party, was reportedly detained by law enforcement officers. A member of his party told the Asia-Plus news agency that officers severely beat Mamadrizoyev, shot him, and dumped his body, which was found three days later.

 

 

Rebel fighters in Gorno-Badakhshan reportedly began surrendering and turning in their weapons in Khorog on 29 July, according to Asia-Plus. President Imomali Rahmon is expected to sign a decree giving amnesty to all but three of the people participating in the combat that left 17 troops, 30 rebels, and an unknown number of civilians dead. The two sides agreed that former warlord Tolib Ayombekov and two other fighters, who the government says were behind the 21 July stabbing death of regional security chief Major General Abdullo Nazarov, will not be given amnesty, Asia-Plus reports.

 

5. Human rights activist murdered in Uzbekistan

 

A human rights activist was killed in Uzbekistan 25 July. Akromhodzha Mukhitdinov, 59, was a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan (HRAU) and the “Birdamlik” movement, according to uznews.net.

 

Mukhitdinov was attacked in the center of his home village of Tinchlik, southwest of the capital, Tashkent. He was beaten and stabbed to death, the website reports.

 

Local police have so far detained two men, while a third suspect escaped arrest. Elena Urlayeva, leader of HRAU, said she is convinced the murder is connected with her colleague’s human rights activities.

 

Mukhitdinov was outspoken on environmental issues and the use of child labor in the country’s cotton fields. He revealed an outbreak of cholera in his home region last year, according to uznews.net.

 

In the aftermath of Mukhitdinov’s murder, his colleagues feel threatened and have considered leaving the country, Urlayeva told uznews.net. HRAU is planning to send an appeal to the EU and other international organizations urging them to address Uzbekistan’s appalling human rights record.

 

The regime is known to systematically threaten, torture, and imprison human rights advocates, civil society activists, and opposition politicians, one of whom, Nigora Hidoyatova, fled the country last week fearing politically motivated lifelong imprisonment.

 

According to IWPR, “Local and international rights groups have documented numerous cases where dissidents and human rights defenders have been attacked in the street by people acting as proxies for the security service.”

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Sofia Lotto Persio is a TOL editorial intern.
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