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A Hepatitis Outbreak in Kazakhstan, a Fight Over Green Energy in Romania

Plus, religious groups in Poland sue for the right of non-stun slaughter and an ailing, overlooked Russian activist languishes in prison.

by Barbara Frye and Ioana Caloianu 2 September 2013

1. Parents blame children’s hospital for outbreak of hepatitis in Kazakhstan


Parents of more than 30 children in Kazakhstan are alleging that their children contracted hepatitis C from a hospital in Astana, Radio Free Europe reports.


The young patients all received blood transfusions while being treated for leukemia at the National Center for Mothers and Children, according to the news agency. The Health Ministry is looking into the claims and has asked the Prosecutor-General’s office to do so as well.


One mother told RFE that her teenage daughter tested positive for hepatitis C for the first time in May, three months after the start of her treatment at the hospital.


The National Center for Mothers and Children rejected responsibility for the children’s diagnosis of hepatitis C. Doctors at the hospital told RFE the children received treatment, including transfusions, at other facilities before coming there.


Hepatitis C can cause liver damage and is usually transmitted through the blood of an infected person, although it can spread through other bodily fluids. It can be treated with antiviral medications.


RFE notes that a similar outbreak among young leukemia patients occurred at a children’s hospital in Almaty three years ago, but the Health Ministry concluded the children were infected before being treated there.


“Such an incident has happened many times in the past, but the Health Ministry does not want to admit it,” Bakhyt Tumenova, director of the Aman Saulyk (Well-Being) organization, told the news agency.


2. CEZ goes to Brussels with complaint about Romania green-energy switch


Czech energy giant CEZ has filed a complaint with the European Commission against Romanian authorities for delaying payments of alternative-energy subsidies, according to Reuters.


The Fantanele-Cogealac is the largest on land in Europe. Photo by Sandri Alexandra Buzatu/Wikimedia Commons.


Romania’s law to spur the use of green energy provides a certain number of “green certificates” to companies that develop renewable sources of power. Energy suppliers are obliged to buy the certificates from power producers, at a price set by law, providing a profit for the producer in addition to the money it makes by simply selling the energy. The final cost is typically passed on to consumers.


In June, citing dropping costs to produce green energy and rising energy bills, Romania’s government decided to allow distributors to delay paying for some of the certificates until 2018 to 2020, Reuters reports. The government also plans to pare the number of certificates it issues to companies that generate green energy per megawatt hourproduced.


Last month CEZ representatives said that such a retroactive change in its contract contradicts “the basic law principles of the European Union, in particular with the claim to freedom of settlement of business entities and free movement of capital," Reuters writes.


A leader on the Central and Eastern European energy market, CEZ opened the Fantanele-Cogealac Wind Farm, the largest on European soil, in southern Romania three years ago. Once it reaches full capacity, the farm could generate enough power for 1 million households.


Reuters estimates the change in the green-energy law will delay payment of up to 1.7 billion crowns ($87.2 million) annually for CEZ. In the meantime, as the value of the certificates could drop, the Czech firm asked Bucharest in July to ensure that it would not lose money if payments are delayed, Mediafax writes.


A spokeswoman for the European Commission said other companies have complained about the changes as well, and the commission is investigating.


3. Jewish and Muslim groups take Poland’s humane slaughter law to court


Jewish groups in Poland are challenging a ban on ritual slaughter nearly two months after a government attempt to re-introduce the practice failed in parliament, Polskie Radio reports.


The Union of Jewish Religious Communities argues that the ban infringes on religious liberty by requiring that animals be stunned before they are slaughtered – contrary to Muslim and Jewish practice but in keeping with EU regulations.


A union of Muslim communities will also join the complaint, according to Polskie Radio.


Jewish leaders said the idea that ritual slaughter was cruel was propagated by Nazis in the 1930s, and the country’s chief rabbi has threatened to resign over the ban.


Poland first outlawed slaughter without prior stunning in 1997 but permitted an exception for religious purposes seven years later. “Very little Polish livestock was subject to ritual slaughter at that time,” Britain’s Independent notes. But in recent years that changed, as Polish meat producers found lucrative markets in the Middle East. “By 2011 up to 30 percent of all Polish beef exports came from ritually slaughtered cattle – more than 150,000 animals – and brought in about 1 billion euros [$1.3 billion],” according to the newspaper.


At that point, animal rights activists took the 2004 exception to the country’s constitutional court and won. The government, supported by the meat industry as well as religious groups, tried unsuccessfully in July to get parliamentary approval to reinstate the practice.


Insinuations that anti-Semitism was behind the ban have been met angrily by some in Poland. After Israel’s Foreign Ministry said defeat of the bill “seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the Israeli statement “inappropriate,” and his political nemesis, opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, agreed, according to The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog.

 4. Largely overlooked Russian opposition activist languishes in prison

Taisia Osipova
Defenders of a Russian opposition activist who just marked her third consecutive birthday in prison are trying to call attention to her plight and warn that prison officials “are slowly killing her,” Radio Free Europe reports.


Taisia Osipova, who is serving an eight-year sentence on drug-related charges, is married to Sergei Fomchenkov, a leader of the Other Russia movement. She was sentenced to 10 years in 2011 on charges of possessing and attempting to sell heroin. That sentence was later reduced to eight years, with some of the charges thrown out during a retrial in which a witness backed up Osipova’s claim that police planted the drugs in her apartment during a search, RFE reports.


Osipova, whose case has not received the international attention of those of other regime critics, reportedly suffers from diabetes and pancreatitis. Fomchenkov said his wife has been able to see an endocrinologist only twice in three years behind bars.


Osipova says her case is politically motivated and that she was targeted for refusing to give police information about her husband, RIA Novosti writes. Her original sentence – more than double the four years prosecutors were seeking – was criticized by then-President Dmitri Medvedev as too harsh. She has appealed to a Russian court and filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which in July ordered officials to pay her 4,600 euros in compensation for her “inhuman and degrading treatment” in pretrial detention, according to RFE.


5. Czech housing market heats up


The Czech property market has swung back into action, with the number of home loans taken out in from January through June this year topping figures from the first half of 2007, the market’s peak, Bloomberg reports.


Spurred by near-zero interest rates, buyers and homeowners looking to refinance took out 45,543 loans in the first six months of the year, compared with 35,780 in the first half of last year and 45,405 in the same period in 2007, according to Bloomberg.


On the back of central bank rate cuts, the average mortgage rate reached a record low of 2.95 percent in June. That figure makes the Czech Republic stand out from neighboring countries, where mortgage rates ranging from 8 to above 20 percent are keeping property markets in the doldrums.


The Czech Republic exited its longest-ever recession during the second quarter of this year thanks primarily to an uptick in exports. But while that economic report said consumer demand remains depressed, one real estate executive told Bloomberg people are becoming more interested in property, “partly because there aren’t many [investment] alternatives at the moment.”

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is TOL's editorial assistant.
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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. 


The event will take place on Monday, 25 March at 5 p.m. in the Hollar building of the Charles University Faculty of Social Sciences (Smetanovo nábřeží 6, Praha 1). The event will be in English. 


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