Plus, Brussels cuts off the tap to Prague over corruption concerns and Azerbaijan imprisons another opposition figure.by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 15 January 2014
Legislators in Russia were set to introduce measures today that would help the security services keep tabs on Internet users and severely restrict the use of online payment systems, RIA Novosti reports.
Billed as anti-terrorist proposals, the legislation would require “any website that allows users to post comments” to “inform the authorities about it and store logs for six months,” the news agency reports, citing the bills’ sponsors.
In addition, people in Russia would not be allowed to use online payment systems to transfer money abroad, and domestic transfers would be capped at 15,000 rubles ($450) a month, down from the current 40,000 rubles, according to RIA Novosti.
Yandex.Money, the most popular online payment system in Russia, said in a report last year (pdf) that at least 2.1 million people in the country’s bigger cities use its services at least twice a year.
The rules would apply not only to Russian sites but also to those based abroad that operate in the country.
Discussion of the surveillance measure surfaced in the fall, when Kommersant reported that the security agencies were pushing to require Internet service providers and mobile operators to store records of user activity for at least 12 hours.
Data to be stored would include “email addresses, Internet addresses, web-chat IDs, and the physical locations of people using Skype or Google Hangouts,” according to a Bloomberg report in October.
Writing for Bloomberg, commentator Leonid Bershidsky pointed out that the measure appears to violate a constitutional prohibition on the collection and storage of a citizen’s personal information without his or her consent.
“The new requirements would bring SORM” – Russia’s existing electronic surveillance system – “up to the level of the comparable U.S. and U.K. systems, PRISM and Tempora,” Bershidsky wrote.
The director of a government advisory group that monitors Russia’s Internet for illegal or extremist content told the ITAR-Tass news agency in October, “We must remember that these measures are taken for the safety of society from external and internal threats. The most important thing is that the measures be implemented in full, and not turned into fiction.”
Serbian police arrested two former spies 14 January for their alleged involvement in the 1999 murder of a journalist who was a fierce critic of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Associated Press reports.
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said formal charges will be filed by March, according to the AP. Vucic was Serbia’s information minister when Curuvija was killed.
Romic and another member of the security service, Miroslav Kurak, were named as the trigger men by Serbia’s chief prosecutor, the AP reports. Kurak is at large and authorities will issue an international warrant for his arrest, according to Serbia’s Tanjug news agency.
In the mid-1990s Curuvija “was in close personal contact with Mirjana Markovic,” Milosevic’s wife, and his newspapers were able to get inside information about the regime, according to the International Press Institute, a press-freedom watchdog in Vienna. But in 1998, he turned critical of the government’s actions in Kosovo.
After a confrontation in which Markovic accused Curuvija of supporting a possible Western bombing operation against Serbia, his publications faced a heavy fine and he was sentenced to jail, although his lawyers managed to keep him from being locked up, according to the IPI. A month after his sentencing, he was shot dead at the age of 49.
“Officials said further investigation could show that Mirjana Markovic initially ordered the secret service to carry out the attack,” according to the AP. Markovic lives in Russia, where she has political asylum.
The arrests came after testimony from Milorad Ulemek, former commander of Serbia's Special Operations Unit, who is serving a 40-year prison term for arranging the murder of reformist Prime Minster Zoran Djindjic in 2003, Tanjug reports.
Radonjic and Romic are also on trial in connection with the attempted murder in 2000 of Vuk Draskovic, then leader of the Serbia Renewal Movement, according to Tanjug.
The European Commission has frozen 10 billion crowns ($500 million) in payments to the Czech Republic over concerns of corruption and mismanagement, Radio Prague reports.
At stake is money for a business and innovation program and regional development funds, the broadcaster reports, citing the Mlada fronta Dnes newspaper.
Brussels objects to the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry’s handover of the business and innovation program to the Chamber of Commerce, whose members include businesses that would benefit from the EU funds.
In addition, the European Commission has refused a Czech request to unblock development funds for Central Bohemia that were frozen in 2012 after the region’s governor, David Rath, was arrested on corruption charges.
“The ongoing trial against Rath and his associates uncovered systemic corruption in public procurement projects handed out by the regional administration and paid for with European money,” according to Radio Prague.
The regional or national government will now have to come up with 300 million crowns for hospital equipment, and the regional development fund is on the hook for a 300 million crown fine “over past contracts handed out in violation of Czech public procurement rules,” the news agency reports.
Radio Prague reported last week that the European Commission had threatened to withhold 564 billion crowns from the Czech Republic – equal to about half of the government’s annual revenues – unless it meets 270 conditions for putting procedures, rules, and expertise in place to ensure the country makes correct use of EU funds.
An adviser to the leader of Azerbaijan’s opposition Musavat party has been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of hooliganism, the BBC reports.
At the time of Sadiqov’s arrest, a police spokesman dismissed suggestions that the case was politically motivated, telling the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that it was based solely on a complaint from Karimov. But Sadiqov's mother, speaking for her incarcerated son, told the news agency that Karimov had approached Sadiqov and some friends in a café and tried to provoke a fight. She said the group ignored Karimov and left.
The scenario described by Sadiqov’s mother echoes one that led to the imprisonment in 2009 of two bloggers who posted videos online that satirized the government. Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli said they were at a restaurant when two unknown men attacked them; they were subsequently accused in the attack.
Musavat leader Isa Gambar said Sadiqov is likely being “punished” for his activism “both in real life and on social media.” Sadiqov had lost his lecturer position at a university in the southern city of Lenkoran in 2010, after repeated attempts to dismiss him were prevented by student petitions and boycotts.
Azerbaijan has an appalling press freedom record that includes harassment of and attacks on journalists critical of the government and a heavy dependency of local media on state funding.
A Franciscan priest is on trial for abuse of power for allegedly stealing nearly $2 million from his parish in Croatia, the Catholic Online news website reports.
Prosecutors say Nimac and Jasna Bilonic, a banker who locals say was the priest’s lover, used the money to buy, among other things, a luxury car and a yacht christened Lucky Me. When the scandal broke, the local Catholic Church apologized for Nimac’s “insatiable egotism,” the Telegraph wrote.
In court last week, Nimac pleaded not guilty, saying he had obtained permission from the church to sell the property, according to Croatian daily Vecernji list. His defense team said in the matter of the sale, he acted “transparently and in the interest of his parishioners,” although they did not address the issue of the transfer of money into his bank account.
Bilonic is accused of “encouraging a monk to a felony abuse,” Vecernji list reports. She lays the blame on Nimac, while his lawyers argue she led him astray.