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EU Slams Baku Over Safarov, Madonna ‘Gay Propaganda’ Suit Continues

Plus, Bosnia makes a big organized crime bust and an independent Ukrainian TV channel faces a crippling blow.

by S. Adam Cardais and Nino Tsintsadze 14 September 2012

1. Controversial pardon could escalate Azerbaijan-Armenia tensions, EU says


The European parliament has passed a resolution condemning Baku's pardon of Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani officer convicted of murdering an Armenian serviceman in Hungary in 2004, Radio Free Europe reports.


The body says the decision could "contribute to further escalation of the tensions" between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed majority-Armenian territory within Azerbaijan that the countries fought a war over in the 1990s. The resolution adds that Baku violated "diplomatic assurances" to Budapest, which extradited Safarov 31 August, RFE reports.


Ramil Safarov
Safarov, 35, had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for murdering Armenian soldier Gurgen Margarian with an ax while the latter slept in February 2004. The two were at a NATO training course in Budapest.


Hungarian officials say the extradition was in line with an international convention on prisoner transfer and that they received assurances from Azerbaijan's Justice Ministry that Safarov would serve out his sentence on home soil. But after Safarov's plane touched down 31 August, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev pardoned him. He was then promoted from lieutenant to major and given eight years’ back pay.


Many Azerbaijanis have welcomed Safarov home as a national hero. Armenia has suspended diplomatic ties with Hungary, while the United States and other governments have expressed deep concern over the pardon.


2. Activists re-file lawsuits against Madonna for promoting homosexuality


On 13 September, Russian activists resubmitted lawsuits against pop star Madonna over her August concert in St. Petersburg, RIA Novosti reports. Citing a controversial regional law banning "gay propaganda," the suits seek $10.5 million in "moral damages" for promoting homosexuality among minors.



During the 9 August concert, Madonna decried growing intolerance in the world and spoke out in solidarity with gays and lesbians, RIA Novosti reports. She distributed pink armbands to the crowd of 25,000 and voiced support for the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members were jailed for performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.


Activists from the Parental Control civic group in St. Petersburg said Madonna violated a controversial law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality among minors because children attended the performance. Nine people filed lawsuits in August, which a judge asked to be resubmitted pending several corrections, according to RIA Novosti.


Also on 13 September, Russia's Supreme Court published a ruling upholding the "gay propaganda" ban but said it applies only to the direct promotion of homosexual relations among minors, not gay and lesbian demonstrations or neutral information campaigns targeted at minors, RIA Novosti reports.  Introduced in Arkhangelsk last fall, the law has been adopted by several regional legislatures, including in St. Petersburg.


3. Bosnian police arrest 25 organized crime suspects


Law enforcement officials in Bosnia have made a series of arrests in what one called “the beginning of the end of organized crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Balkan Insight reports.


The Bosnian prosecutor’s office said the 25 arrests on 12 September represented the largest police action against organized crime since the end of the Bosnian war.


Codenamed "Lutka," or "Doll," the nationwide operation targeted suspects in connection with unsolved murders, bank robberies, and other crimes. All relevant police agencies participated, Balkan Insight reports, citing the State Investigative and Protection Agency (SIPA).


Among those arrested are the former head of SIPA's narcotics department and a former border police officer, Balkan Insight reports, citing local media. Officials would not comment on whether Naser Kelmendi, an alleged Balkan drugs kingpin, was apprehended.


4. Court upholds tax penalty for independent Ukrainian TV station


A Ukrainian court has upheld a crippling tax penalty on an independent television station in Ukraine that is often critical of the government, Radio Free Europe reports.


TVi was charged with tax avoidance earlier this year. It had successfully challenged the tax claims in court, but tax office appealed that ruling and won its case on 12 September. The court ordered the TV station to pay a fine of 4 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($500,000), the website reports.


The television station is calling on “citizens, political forces, civil society organizations” to help it raise money to pay the judgment, according to, which reports on media matters. The station’s management and other media watchdogs have said the case is part of the government’s attempts to control independent media ahead of the 28 October parliamentary elections. Vitaly Portnikov, TVi’s editor in chief, said, “We are dealing with a systemic attack on our channel. Everything is being done to ensure that the TV station will not survive.”


In the past year, TVi, which specializes in investigate journalism, has had its offices raided by tax police, seen its chief executive brought up on and then cleared of tax-evasion charges, and been dropped by cable providers across the country.  


5. Ashgabat annuls rail link contract with Iranian firm


Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Citing "economic reasons," Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has canceled a $700 million contract with Iran's Pars Energy to build a rail line connecting Iran with Kazakhstan along Turkmenistan's Caspian coastline, reports. Turkmenistan will continue the project alone, he said.


Scheduled for completion last December, the 550-mile line was intended to connect the Central Asian nation with the Persian Gulf while boosting trade with its neighbors, notes. If completed, the link could transport up to 5 million tons of goods a year.


The move comes on the heels of a guarantee by an Iranian official that the line would open by year-end. Still, Iran has said the decision by Berdymukhamedov, who once hailed the project as a "trans-continental bridge
S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor.Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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