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High-Profile War Crimes Arrests in Kosovo, Pussy Riot Member Denied Parole

Plus, Georgian clerics are charged in anti-gay violence and Bulgaria's Socialists may lead the new government. by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 24 May 2013

1. Prime minister’s ally among Kosovo war-crimes suspects arrested


European law enforcement officials arrested five suspects in Kosovo on 23 May for alleged war crimes during the 1998-1999 conflict, including a longtime ally of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, Reuters reports.


While officials from the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, had not released any names at press time, Sami Lushtaku, a mayor and former guerilla fighter alongside Thaci, was reportedly among those detained, and his lawyer confirmed the arrest to Balkan Insight. He was to appear in court 24 May.


Sami Lushtaku
Lushtaku and Thaci were commanders in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought an insurgency against Serbian forces in the 1990s. He is also a member of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo.


In a statement, EULEX said the five suspects are under investigation for prisoner abuse at KLA detention centers. One is also under investigation for allegedly killing a civilian.


In recent years, Kosovo officials have been implicated in suspected war crimes. In 2010, the Council of Europe alleged that top Kosovo officials, including Thaci, participated in an organized crime group that trafficked the organs of KLA prisoners during the conflict.


2. After going on hunger strike, Pussy Riot member denied parole


On 23 May, a Russian court refused early release to a member of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band jailed last year for performing an anti-Kremlin protest song at a Moscow cathedral, Reuters reports.


Maria Alyokhina
The judge in the Russian town of Berezniki said Maria Alyokhina, 24, was not eligible for parole because she had violated prison rules, including refusing to make her bed, Reuters reports, citing the tweets of supporters. A day earlier, Alyokhina began a hunger strike after the court refused to let her attend the parole hearing in person, rather than by video conference from the penal colony.


Alyokhina also ordered her lawyer not to participate in the proceedings, Radio Free Europe reports. A court-appointed lawyer represented her instead.


Alyokhina and one other band mate are serving two-year prison sentences for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012. A third band member was freed on a suspended sentence in October.


The case has inspired an international “Free Pussy Riot” solidarity movement. This week Paul McCartney wrote to Russian officials requesting the women's release, Rolling Stone reports.

Pussy Riot supporters demonstrate in August in Berlin. Photo by Gruene Bundestagsfraktion/flickr.


“My personal belief is that further incarceration for Maria will be harmful for her and the situation as a whole, which, of course, is being watched by people all over the world,” he wrote.


3. Tbilisi charges two Orthodox officials in anti-gay violence


Georgian authorities have fingered two Orthodox Church clerics in the violence that marred a gay rights event in Tbilisi last week, Radio Free Europe reports.


Antimoz Bichinashvili, a priest, and Iotam Basilaia of the Ioane-Tornike Eristavi Monastery have been charged with using or threatening the use of force to obstruct the right to assembly. Four men have also been fined roughly $60 for participating in the violence.


On 17 May, thousands of anti-gay demonstrators broke through police barricades and attacked a small group preparing to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. At least 17 people were injured, and several priests reportedly led the rock-throwing mob.


On the eve of the gay rights event, RFE points out, Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II called on Tbilisi to ban it. The clerics charged this week were caught on camera participating in the subsequent unrest. If convicted, they could face prison time, reports.


Also on 17 May, anti-gay protesters threw smoke bombs during a government-sanctioned gay rally in St. Petersburg, where local legislators banned “homosexual propaganda” last year. This week, the head of the Council of Europe called on Moscow to ensure the rights of Russia's gay community, especially the right to assembly, Reuters reports.


On 19 May, authorities effectively shut down a gay rights event in Chisinau after only 10 minutes. And on 23 May, a court banned what would have been Ukraine’s first gay pride rally on concerns of violence, the Associated Press reports.


4. Bulgaria’s Socialists get a chance to form government


Nearly two weeks after elections, Bulgaria’s largest party, and biggest single vote-getter, has given up trying to form a government, Novinite reports.


The center-right People for the European Development of Bulgaria, or GERB, won 97 seats in the 240-member parliament in the 12 May election but could find no suitably like-minded coalition partners to create a majority.


President Rosen Plevneliev initially asked GERB leader and former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to try to form a government. On 23 May, Borisov said, “I’m returning the mandate, because I don’t want to betray my voters. I haven’t held negotiations with anyone because I know I can form a government only if I enter into unprincipled alliances.”


Borisov stepped down in February amid protests against high utility bills and corruption.


It will now be the turn of the second-place Socialists to try to form a government. That party won 84 seats but has the support of the leftist, Turkish-dominated Movement for Rights and Freedom’s 36 members. That is one seat shy of a majority, but analysts say a government could still get a green light if lawmakers from the nationalist Ataka boycott the vote, as they did with the vote for speaker, according to Reuters.


The Socialists have pledged to form a technocratic government with independent Plamen Oresharski at its head. Its first job would be do deal with rising poverty and unemployment. “We are well aware that people have no patience, that their disappointment is so deep that the government will not have a spare day in which it will not have to prove it is working on their problems,” Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said, according to Reuters.


Bulgaria is the European Union’s poorest country, with 22 percent of the population living under the poverty line, a 14 percent unemployment rate, and the lowest average wages in the EU, according to the Associated Press.


5. Watchdog group calls foul on Polish minister’s enormous libel suit


An international press-freedom group has criticized Polish authorities for recent attempts to muzzle the media.


Reporters Without Borders has condemned a 30 million zloty ($9.3 million) libel suit launched by Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak against Wprost magazine.


“Suing for this amount of money is clearly intended to intimidate,” the group said in a statement. “He is using the law to impose censorship by threatening the magazine’s financial survival. No publisher in Poland or anywhere else in Europe would be able to pay such a disproportionate amount.”


Nowak is also seeking a public apology and correction, and a ban on the magazine’s being sold.


According to Nowak's lawyer, Roman Giertych, the last claim was made to ensure that, in the case of a favorable court ruling, the defendant “will not be able to get out of it by claiming a lack of financial resources.”


Nowak is suing over an article that dealt with his ties to businessmen who benefitted from public contracts “and his presence at private parties paid for by wealthy corporate executives,” according to Reporters Without Borders, which says the action could encourage self-censorship in Poland’s press corps.


In the same statement, the media group decried the behavior of deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Janusz Piechocinski, who labeled as “outrageous, idiotic, and unacceptable” questions from a journalist about the makeup of a new government cabinet. During the televised interview, Piechocinski vowed to meet with the reporter’s managers “to ask them to consider a change of attitude.”

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan is a TOL editorial intern.
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Join us to learn more about the connections between investigative reporting and Solutions Journalism and discover the impact that bringing the “whole” story has on communities. Kathryn’s keynote speech will be followed by a panel discussion on bringing the solutions perspective into reporting practices with Nikita Poljakov, deputy editor in chief of the business daily Hospodářské noviny. Nikita is also head of the project “Nejsi sám” (You are not alone), which uses the solutions approach to tackle the issue of male suicide. The main program will be followed by an informal wine reception. 


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