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Central Asians Abducted in Russia, Macedonia Ends Criminal Libel

Plus, a Russian anti-drug crusader says authorities are out to get him, and Czech presidential candidates could be derailed by fraudulent signatures. 

by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 15 November 2012

1. Central Asia asylum kidnappings a worrying new trend in Russia

 

Recent disappearances in Russia of Central Asian asylum seekers have prompted fears among human rights monitors that a trend is emerging of individuals being secretly abducted and sent home to avoid European extradition rules, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

 

Central Asian job seekers in Moscow. Photo by IRIN.

 

Last month, Tajik national Abdulvosi Latipov, a former member of the United Tajik Opposition, was serving time in prison in Volgograd when he was unexpectedly released. Within days of returning home, Latipov disappeared when masked gunmen stormed his house and took him away, RFE reports. Latipov is one of almost a dozen Central Asian asylum seekers to have disappeared under similar circumstances.

 

Amnesty International believes Latipov was forcibly returned to Tajikistan where he is wanted on terror-related charges stemming from the country’s civil war. RFE reports that the Tajik government officially denies holding Latipov but Interior Ministry sources say he is being kept in secret in Dushanbe.

 

Latipov, who faced an extradition order to Tajikistan, made an emergency appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in December that Russia must not extradite him until his case was reviewed, Amnesty International notes.

 

In an interview with RFE, Central Asian refugee rights expert Elena Ryabinina said Latipov’s disappearance is part of a larger and worrying trend. “Abductions are used when there is no legal way to transfer a person to the state requesting his return,” she said. “Most often, this is happening with cases where people have had their extraditions blocked by the European Court."

 

2. Macedonia ends criminal libel, but steep fines worry journalists

 

Journalists in Macedonia no longer face criminal charges for libel now that the country’s parliament has removed defamation from the penal code. But huge fines allowed by the new civil law have, however, worried many critics.

 

The Macedonian parliament, under the leadership of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, voted 12 November to end criminal charges for defamation, Balkan Insight reports. The government says the changes, originally announced in June, are part of an effort to bring the country’s media regulations into line with European standards.

 

In a statement posted on its website, the Association of Journalists in Macedonia welcomed the adoption of the law but called on the media and the government to make sure that it is applied correctly. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, called the law “a positive step” in light of the high number of pending criminal defamation cases but said the country was still a long way from having a “truly free” media environment.

 

But opposition members and critics of the law – which Balkan Insight said included “many” civic and human rights groups and media outlets – said the changes amounted to replacing one threat with an equally intimidating one. In place of prison sentences, journalists, editors, and media owners can now face fines of up to 27,000 euros ($34,000) if found guilty, according to Balkan Insight – an enormous amount for journalists who often earn a pittance. The result, critics say, will be a continuation of the climate of fear and self-censorship that journalists have faced for years.

 

Parliament also approved a measure to give the Foreign Ministry responsibility for accrediting foreign journalists, a move that has also been criticized as an attempt to tighten control over potentially unfriendly media representatives.

 

3. Outspoken Russian anti-drug leader claims being framed by authorities

 

Yevgeny Roizman
One of Russia’s best-known anti-drug crusaders has accused the authorities of trumping up charges of abuse against his rehabilitation clinic, according to the Associated Press.  Yevgeny Roizman, the founder of the Gorod Bez Narkotikov (City Without Drugs) clinic, held a press conference on 13 November, the day on which a court issued a warrant for the arrest of one of his subordinates for illegally imprisoning patients.

 

Roizman said various officials had acted against him and his clinic because he had accused local police of corruption. “I was one of the few who talked about it out loud,” he said. Roizman also said the success of his clinic, viewed by much of the public as an effective instrument in reducing drug abuse, was a political threat to the regional governor, Yevgeny Kuyvashev, a view recently echoed by Mikhail Prokhorov, the oligarch and opposition politician. Prokhorov recently said moves against the center are an attempt by Kuyvashev to discredit Roizman, a potential rival in the 2013 local elections.

 

Employing unorthodox methods such as isolation, discipline, and the handcuffing of patients going through withdrawal symptoms, the controversial Yekaterinburg clinic faces charges of isolating patients without their consent and of using violence and forced labor as part of treatment. In defense of his methods, which have led to high recovery rates, Roizman said his patients can be tough customers. “They are not Nobel Prize winners, and some parents brought them to me in their cars’ trunks.”

 

RIA Novosti writes that the investigation into Roizman’s center started after the death of patient Tatyana Kazantseva. However, a spokesman for the center said Kazantseva died of meningitis.

 

Russia has faced a widespread drug problem in the past 20 years made worse by the lack of rehabilitation clinics and proper treatment of addicts.

 

4. Potential fiasco around invalid signatures of Czech presidential candidates

 

A scandal could be looming over the first direct Czech presidential election. According to the Czech daily Mlada fronta DNES, all eight candidates who collected the required minimum 50,000 signatures to make a run at the presidency could have enough false or invalid names on their lists to invalidate their candidacies. The results were revealed during the first round of screening by the Interior Ministry, which included a randomly selected group of 8,500 signatures; all eight had more than 3 percent rejected, the upper limit.

 

The next step is to check another sample of the same size. The ministry will then calculate a percentage of invalid signatures and subtract that amount from the total collected. Anyone who falls under the 50,000 requirement will be kicked out of the race. The results will be announced by 23 November.

 

The two front-runners, former prime ministers Jan Fischer and Milos Zeman, both collected more than 100,000 signatures, and it is unlikely that either candidacy would be threatened through the exclusion of invalid signatures. However, the candidate with the fewest signatures, Jana Bobosikova, has already questioned the methods for validating signatures and threatened to seek legal action, which could delay the election or call into doubt the mandate of the winner, Mlada fronta reports.

 

The potential fiasco has again raised concerns that the election law and the accompanying rules were rushed through parliament without careful analysis of the norms in other countries, where fewer signatures are usually required and seemingly better ways employed for verification. “The current mess around the signatures only confirms how serious the current insufficiencies in the law are,” said Petr Pithart, a respected former senator.

 

In the unlikely event that all eight candidates would be rejected based on questionable signatures, three other candidates who chose a different route would remain. They obtained the support of at least 20 lawmakers in the lower house or of 10 senators.

 

5. Poland denies charges of funding Belarusian opposition

 

The Polish ambassador to Belarus denied on 14 November claims that Warsaw has been financially supporting the Belarusian opposition, RIA Novosti reports.

 

The statement comes following an October leak ostensibly showing that Belarusian opposition groups and other organizations from the country were the recipients of financial aid from the Polish Foreign Ministry. According to the state-owned Belarusian Telegraph Agency, the leaked documents contained information showing that Poland funded projects to prepare and organize the opposition and activities to put pressure on Belarusian authorities.

 

Leszek Sherepka, the Polish ambassador to Belarus, told a press conference in Minsk that his country has been “helping civil society,” which is not the same as “funding the Belarusian opposition.” He added he did not see a problem in financing Belarusian civil society, only with making the recipients of that funding public, according to RIA Novosti.

 

“Unfortunately, your special services use that information to fight civil society, and we have to protect it,” he said, according to RIA Novosti. “We have to think about the future of our colleagues who are cooperating with us in the event of possible legal issues. We should be more careful and prevent criminal charges against them.”

 

A day earlier, two activists of the Belarusian Christian Democratic opposition party were detained on treason charges and face up to 15 years’ imprisonment, RIA Novosti writes.

Jeremy Druker is TOL's executive director and editor in chief. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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