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Judge in Ukrainian Protest Case Killed, Ex-Labor Camp Commander Faces Charges in Romania

Plus, a Sochi Olympic eco-activist to serve three years for painting a fence, and Kyrgyzstan investigates alleged threats from a Uighur separatist group.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Karlo Marinovic, Sarah Fluck, and Aliona Kachkan 13 February 2014

1. Ukrainian judge’s killing work-related, officials say


A judge in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk who recently took part in a case against anti-government activists has been fatally shot, The Wall Street Journal reports.


Oleksandr Lobodenko, 34, was shot several times outside his home late in the evening 11 February and died several hours later in a hospital, the Interior Ministry said. The ministry suggested the killing was related to his job, saying Lobodenko had “taken preventive action” in the case of a recent protest in the city.


Lobodenko participated in the judicial decision to send several people into pretrial detention after the city council building was stormed and occupied for several days in January, RFE writes.


Meanwhile, charges against two senior officials over the heavy-handed police crackdown on protesters in Kyiv have been dropped as part of a recent amnesty law, RFE reports.


Volodymyr Sivkovych, deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, and Oleksandr Popov, chairman of Kyiv's city administration, were accused of urging the city police chief to use force against protesters. Both were suspended and Popov was then fired by President Viktor Yanukovych.


2. Prison term for Sochi activist Vitishko


Yevgeny Vitishko
After losing an appeal, Russian environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko was sentenced to three years in prison for deliberate destruction of property 12 February, the Associated Press writes.


Vitishko is a leading critic of the environmental costs of the multibillion-dollar Olympic construction around Sochi. His lawyer, Alexander Popkov, said the sentence shows that Vitishko is "persecuted for his activities."


Earlier this month Vitishko was given a 15-day administrative sentence for theft and swearing at a bus stop near Sochi. Another member of Vitishko’s Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus group and five other activists were briefly detained 4 February over a separate incident.


Human Rights Watch researcher Yulia Gorbunova condemned the sentence as “politically motivated from the start” and accused Russian authorities of “trying to silence and exact retribution against certain persistent critics of the preparations for the Olympics.”


Vitishko and Suren Gazaryan, another activist, were given suspended sentences in 2012 for spray-painting a fence in a national forest at what they claimed was a local official’s illegally built villa. Fearing additional charges, Gazaryan fled Russia and found political asylum in Estonia, the AP writes. Vitishko was required to check in regularly with prison authorities. In December officials asked that his sentence be converted to prison time, saying he failed to keep them informed of his whereabouts.


3. Macedonia’s major Albanian party threatens election boycott


Nikola RilkoskiNikola Rilkoski
As parties in Macedonia’s ruling coalition quarrel over their candidate in the presidential election, the head of the country’s election commission concedes that many registered voters may not exist.


The first round of elections to replace outgoing head of state Gjorge Ivanov in the largely ceremonial post will be held 13 April, but as Reuters reported earlier this month, the coalition party representing ethnic Albanians, the Democratic Union for Integration, is demanding a say in nominating a joint candidate with the coalition’s lead party, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE. The Albanian party may exit the coalition in a bid to force a snap parliamentary election.


On 12 February the DUI threatened to boycott the election unless its demands are met, the Independent Balkan News Agency reports. VMRO-DPMNE has not officially responded. It plans to nominate a presidential candidate at its 1 March convention.


The boycott threat is not the only issue standing in the way of a well-oiled election. Last year’s local elections saw the opposition Social Democrats accuse VMRO-DPMNE of importing Macedonians from Albania to vote for it, according to Balkan Insight.


Concerns have also been raised by the OSCE over suspicions of large numbers of fictional or deceased voters in the electoral rolls. Election commission head Nikola Rilkoski said 12 February he could not dismiss these claims, Balkan Insight reports, and said it was up to the police and the state statistical agency to investigate them.


VMRO-DPMNE denies opposition claims it benefits from such fake votes, as well as the charge of illegally using citizens of Albania to vote for it.


4. Kyrgyzstan official says Uighur militants threaten retaliation for deadly border clash


Several media outlets in Kyrgyzstan received death threats against border guards following the killings of 11 alleged Islamic separatists from China in late January, Deputy Prime Minister Tokon Mamytov told RFE 12 February.


The threats in Russian and English were signed “ETIM,” an acronym for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant organization of separatist Uighurs in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region.


Kyrgyzstani border guards near the border with China said 24 January they had killed nine men after a local hunter shot dead two of the group before being killed himself, Reuters reported. The attackers, who apparently had no firearms with them, then took the hunter’s gun and slightly wounded a border guard before being killed by special forces after they refused to surrender.


Border guards found a Koran, black masks, knives, and Chinese maps at the scene, according to Reuters.


Chinese officials went to the scene in the Issyk-Kul region to help identify the attackers, RFE reported 24 January.


Acting Border Guard Service chief Raiymberdy Duishonbiev said the group may have crossed into Kyrgyzstan to escape pursuit by Chinese security forces.


China has stepped up its security operation in Xinjiang in the past year, according to Reuters, which cites Chinese media as saying at least 91 people including police have been killed in the region since April.


5. Romanian communist prison camp head faces another trial, 50 years later


The 87-year-old former commander of a Romanian communist-era prison camp is being investigated for crimes against humanity, the AP reports. The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER) handed its file on the suspect, Florian Cormos, to prosecutors 11 February, accusing him of responsibility for the deaths of 115 prisoners.



IICCMER head Andrei Muraru said there is proof that Cormos "imposed a regime of extermination” during his four months in command of the Columbia labor camp near Cernavoda in 1952-1953. The institute claims that inmates were electrocuted and that horses were ridden over them. He denies the allegations.


Cormos would be the third former communist prison commander to stand trial for the deaths of political inmates, after Alexandru Visinescu and Ioan Ficior, both accused of genocide.


The Romanian daily Gandul writes that inmates at the Columbia camp worked on the Danube - Black Sea Canal project. The high death rate at the camp alerted communist authorities to abuses there. Cormos was tried and sentenced to death in 1953 for “acts of terror against inmates.” Inmates were shackled in solitary confinement for as much as 30 days at a time, wearing light clothing even in winter, and fed 100 grams of bread a day, according to Gandul


Cormos was released after four years and resumed work in the penitentiary system. The original trial was a “setup,” he told Gandul, and in any case the prisoners under his charge were already weak and in poor health after years of hard labor on the canal starting in 1949.


 “I might have slapped them, and so what? I didn’t kill them. I might have beaten inmates who sabotaged our works,” Cormos said.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic, Sarah Fluck and Aliona Kachkan are TOL editorial interns.

Video of BBC interview with Florian Cormos: Today News / YouTube

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