Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!
Plus, Gulnara Karimova tweets about torture, and Armenia and the EU go separate ways.by by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Karlo Marinovic, and Alexander Silady 7 November 2013
1. Tajikistan’s Rahmon re-elected in clouded contest
As expected, President Imomali Rahmon has sailed to re-election in Tajikistan. Criticized as unfair, as previous Tajikistan elections have been, the contest hands Rahmon, with a reported 84 percent of the vote, a fourth seven-year term, Radio Free Europe reports.
Rahmon, 61, has been Tajikistan’s head of state since 1992, and its president since 1994. A former speaker of the country’s Soviet parliament, he assumed office after his superiors resigned and faced a civil war that eventually caused tens of thousands of deaths.
Rahmon’s supporters say he brought stability to Tajikistan after the war, and his opponents accuse him of repressing free expression and grossly mismanaging the economy.
No Tajikistan election has ever been rated by U.S. or European Union observers as free and fair, the BBC notes. RFE’s sources said they witnessed blatant duplicate voting in the presence of campaign workers, and candidates other than Rahmon were allowed only 30 minutes of air time during the three-week campaign.
“Overall, the campaign was formalistic and devoid of the political debate that is essential to a competitive campaign
environment in which voters are provided with a genuine choice,” according to a statement by a joint OSCE and European Parliament observer mission.
A Tajikistani government source told RFE that access to YouTube and an independent news website were blocked on the eve of the election. Of the 4 million eligible voters, 1 million are expatriate Tajikistanis, who send home remittances equivalent to nearly half of the country’s GDP.
Rahmon was considered by observers to be the only strong candidate in the field. The major opposition figure in the race, Oynihol Bobonazorova, was forced to drop out in mid-October for not collecting enough signatures on the petition for her candidacy.
The Western observer mission said she “faced administrative
obstacles in the collection of signatures and stated that some voters would not sign in support of her [candidacy] due to fear of government reprisals.”
2. Serbia levels mass-murder charges against its own officers
Serbian prosecutors have filed charges against Serbian army officers in the killings of 27 people, including a 4-year-old boy, in Kosovo in 1999, Balkan Insight reports.
The officers, Pavle Gavrilovic and Ranko Kozlin, were indicted 6 November in the deaths that occurred as the Yugoslav army was attacking the town of Trnje during the Kosovo war of the late 1990s.
The indictment alleges that Gavrilovic instructed his troops that “there should be no survivors.”
The Trnje attack was among the evidence presented before the Balkans war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1999 in the cases against former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and five other Serbian officials.
While Gavrilovic, 48, ordered the attack, Kozlin, 37, and other as-yet unidentified soldiers killed 27 civilians, said the indictment, cited by AFP.
According to Balkan Insight, two members of the officers’ 549th Brigade described the attack for the court. They said Gavrilovic ordered 80 to 100 soldiers to take the village, telling them, “Today, no one should remain alive here.”
Gavrilovic also testified in The Hague, denying that he ordered the attack.
In 2009, all the defendants in that trial except Milutinovic were found guilty. Most are appealing their convictions.
3. Uzbekistan’s fallen first daughter uses T word
When Gulnara Karimova was Uzbekistan’s cover-girl heir-apparent to her father’s iron-fisted presidency, the word “torture” seldom appeared in her tweets.
In a recent Twitter post, the 41-year-old daughter of President Islam Karimov said Uzbekistani security forces arrested her former guards, and “now they will beat them.”
She also offered up a document that appears to be a doctor’s description of someone with broken ribs, whom, Karimova says, was beaten by government security operatives, RFE writes.
Karimova has complained about her government’s activities before in what was believed to be an attempt to deflect attention at a time when she was facing international corruption and money-laundering investigations.
Lately, however, more domestic troubles seem to be vexing the model, fashion designer, singer, and business tycoon, who likes to post pictures of herself online.
In July, she lost her job as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva as corruption investigations swirled around her. Then, in late October, four television and three radio stations she owns fell silent, a charity she runs was raided by tax authorities, and a trusted cousin was locked up in a corruption case.
4. Armenia has turned its back on EU, official says
The European Union will not conclude a free-trade agreement with Armenia after the country expressed its intention to join the Russia-led Customs Union in September this year, PanArmenian.net reports.
The agreement was supposed to be signed at a summit in Vilnius later this month.
But since negotiating the agreement, Armenian officials announced they would join the Customs Union.
“They cannot enter both organizations at the same time because of different tariff requirements,” said Linas Linkevicius, foreign minister of Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
The free-trade agreement was supposed to be a step toward stronger ties with the EU and a precursor to full membership.
“[It] seems as if Armenia will break talks on a free trade agreement with the EU and integrate with Russia instead,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, quoted by PanArmenian.net.
Armenia negotiated with the EU for nearly four years, working on strengthening democracy, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, improving the election process, and developing civil society, Asbarez noted in September after Armenian officials announced their entry into the Customs Union.
“We are ready to launch close cooperation with the European Union, but not at the expense of our strategic partner,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said at the time, referring to planned integration with the Customs Union.
President Serzh Sargsyan cited security issues as a primary reason for the move. Armenia is locked in a frequently broken cease fire with neighbor Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Customs Union announcement followed pressure from Russia in the form of inflated gas export prices and sales of arms to Azerbaijan.
Despite facing similar Russian pressure tactics, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are on track to sign or initial similar agreements with the EU, Asbarez reported.
5. Lithuania’s whistleblower protection lacking, watchdog says
Transparency International has taken the current leading nation of the European Union to task for its failure to protect people who report government misdeeds.
While Lithuania may be lacking, two other Eastern European nations, Romania and Slovenia, join only Britain and Luxemburg as EU countries with adequate safeguards against whistleblowers being harassed or otherwise punished by their government employers, the report says.
Lithuania, which now holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, was among seven EU member states that “have either no or very inadequate laws in place.”
“In Lithuania, whistleblowers still do not only risk losing their jobs, but also being subjected to psychological pressure and threats to their family members,” said a statement by the Lithuanian office of Transparency International, according to the Lithuania Tribune.
The report says there are some encouraging signs from Lithuania, however.
“A 2008 survey revealed that most [Lithuanians] view whistleblowing as a positive and civic-minded action. More than 80 percent of company managers, government employees, and citizens said whistleblowers are brave.”
There are also laws in the works that would provide some protection, the report’s authors write.
Other Eastern European nations similarly without much whistleblower protection were Bulgaria and Slovakia, joined by fellow EU members Finland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
After months of preparation, we’re officially introducing our partner project Press Start. The site will become the first global crowdfunding platform for reporters in countries where the press cannot report freely, potentially revolutionizing the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.