The Czech 'Forrest Gump,' Serbia Tackles Prison Overcrowding
Plus, Moscow slams European 'Magnitsky list' vote and a provocative Tajik rights group is ordered to shut down. by S. Adam Cardais, Joshua Boissevain, and Nino Tsintsadze 25 October 2012
1. Czech’s marathon effort to inspire disabled
A Czech runner has finished a 30-day tour around Iceland equivalent to 30 marathons to inspire the disabled, AFP reports.
Rene Kujan, 38, completed the 1,340-kilometer quest the night of 22 October. Many are calling him the "Czech Forrest Gump," after the film character, played by Tom Hanks, who spent years running across the United States.
Kujan's journey began five years ago, when doctors told him he might never walk again after being seriously injured in a car accident, AFP reports.
"The idea of helping the disabled was born at a Czech rehabilitation center," Kujan said. "During my treatment, I got to know lots of people, brave and strong, many of whom had a much tougher fate than running a marathon a day."
Kujan also raises money to help paraplegics.
Kujan is the first runner to circle Iceland by road, according to Icelandic press reports cited in Lidove noviny.
In Iceland, the runner averaged over five hours of road time a day, AFP reports. As Kujan approached Reykjavik Monday evening, some 50 runners followed him to the finish line.
2. Serbian lawmakers approve amnesty for thousands of prisoners
The Serbian parliament passed a law 24 October to grant early release to 3,600 of the country's roughly 8,000 prisoners to tackle chronic overcrowding, Balkan Insight reports.
Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic said 1,000 prisoners will be released immediately. He added that the early releases will save the state 127 million dinars ($1.45 million).
The opposition says the law will put serious offenders back on the streets.
"Without any doubt some hardened criminals, sentenced for serious and violent offences, would be released," opposition lawmaker Bojan Djuric said, according to Balkan Insight.
Supporters counter that no prisoner sentenced to over six months will be amnestied. In an October report, the European Commission noted that Serbian prisons face "serious problems due to overcrowding."
3. Moscow rebukes European Parliament over proposed ‘Magnitsky list’ sanctions
On 24 October, Russia condemned a recommendation by the European Parliament to impose European Union-wide sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the death of attorney Sergei Magnitsky, RIA Novosti reports. Moscow called the move an intrusion into its judicial system that aimed to separate Russia and Europe.
The EU legislature adopted a proposal 23 October to enact travel bans and asset freezes against the 60 individuals believed to be involved in the incarceration of Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer arrested on tax evasion charges in 2008, days after accusing Russian authorities of tax fraud. He died in pre-trial detention in 2009 after allegedly being beaten to death.
"We have a lot in common with Europe," Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma's international affairs committee, told Interfax. "We have made substantial progress in the promotion of contacts, visas, and humanitarian exchanges in recent years. But this resolution of the European Parliament undermines the positive steps towards each other."
For the parliament’s recommendation to take effect, it would require unanimous approval from the EU Council, which analysts say is unlikely, according to RIA Novosti.
Russian officials responded similarly last month after reports that the British government had imposed sanctions against the officials on the so-called Magnitsky list. The blacklist of officials emerged in the United States as part of a bill approved by the Senate to prompt Russian action on the matter.
4. Prominent Tajik anti-torture group ordered to close
The case was initiated by the Justice Ministry, which sued the group, Amparo, for operating without a proper license. The ministry said Amparo had failed to give timely notice of its change of address, and was illegally operating a website, operating outside its home region, and conducting unauthorized training for students on human-rights issues, Human Rights Watch said
in a 25 October statement.
Amparo was founded in 2005 as an association of young lawyers. It has been active in issues such as the rights of soldiers, civilian control over the armed forces, and children’s rights.
A lawyer for Amparo, Junaid Ibodov, said the case against the organization was illegal and politically motivated.
"It is a pity that the court did not consider our arguments in the case. This decision is another fault of the judicial system,” he told the Tajik news agency TopTJ.
Amparo and other civil society groups formed a coalition to investigate reports of torture and abuse in Tajikistan, HRW says. The coalition submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture, with Amparo experts writing the section on cruelty in the military, according to a statement by a group of Tajik human rights organizations.
The statement said Tajik authorities had put pressure on Amparo, leading up to the Justice Ministry lawsuit in June.
5. Nuclear power faces another test in Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s parliament has decided to let the voters decide the next step for the country’s on-again, off-again nuclear energy program.
Voters will be asked to say “yes” or “no” to the question, "Should nuclear energy be developed in Bulgaria through the building of a new nuclear plant?”, Balkan Insight reports
. The referendum, the first since the end of communism, is expected to take place in January.
The opposition Socialist Party first proposed the people’s vote this spring after the center-right government abandoned plans
to build a new nuclear plant at Belene because of scant interest by potential investors.
Opposition legislators walked out of the parliament just before the 24 October vote after the majority changed the wording of the referendum question, dropping the specific reference to Belene. The measure then passed by a vote of 106 to seven, the Sofia Globe writes
A Russian company, Atomstroyexport, sued the Bulgarian government for 1 billion euros in damages for equipment ordered for the Belene plant, even though the government said the equipment can be installed at the existing Kozluduy nuclear plant, according to the Sofia Globe.
Green activists in a 2009 protest against the siting of the Belene plant in a seismic zone. Photo by gruenenrw/Flickr