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Russia Bans Internet ‘Extremism,’ Bulgaria Faces New EU Sanctions

Plus, more bad news for Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oil project, and supporters fear for the safety of an academic detained in Tajikistan.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 2 July 2014

1. List of things you can’t do online in Russia gets longer

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law criminalizing extremist activity on the Internet, The Moscow Times reports.

 

Vladimir Putin Mug 100 Vladimir Putin

The law makes it a criminal offense to disseminate material considered extremist online, and could even apply to re-posting material already available on the Internet – activity that has already led to several detentions, according to The Independent.

 

The law sets a prison term of up to five years for those convicted of incitement of extremism either in the media or online, and establishes a new offense, “financing of extremist activities,” which is punishable by a fine or prison term of up to three years, The Moscow Times writes.

 

The law comes as the government is stepping up its fight against rising online extremist activity, ITAR-TASS reports. Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev recently said authorities denied access to 523 “Internet resources” last year, brought criminal actions against 186 people, and sought administrative remedies for 386 others.

 

“The number of legal proceedings for extremist activity with the use of Internet resources has more than doubled in the last year,” he said.

 

The government is also pushing laws making bloggers with more than 3,000 followers register and requiring foreign news outlets to locate their Internet servers in Russia, according to The Independent.

 

2. Sofia wins more time to account for EU funds


 The European Commission has extended Bulgaria’s deadline by a month to account for the way it disburses rural development and farm funds, or risk having to repay more than 1 billion euros ($1.37 billion) in EU money, according to The Sofia Globe, citing Bulgarian public radio.

 

The commission extended the original 30 June deadline because Bulgarian authorities have not secured the services of an auditor since their contract with Deloitte expired in January and a tender for a new auditor faces a legal challenge.

Dimitar Grekov mug 100Dimitar Grekov

The EU’s own audit found irregularities in tenders involving 489 million euros in EU rural development funds and 559 million euros in farm subsidies paid out between October 2012 and October 2013, according to The Globe.

 

Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov said the country’s agricultural fund management has assured him the new deadline would be met.

 

In April, the European Parliament proposed suspending EU funds for Bulgaria given its unsatisfying progress in fighting corruption and organized crime. The country has recently been shaken by both the collapse of the government and a run on bank deposits.

 

Depositors’ fears eased 30 June when the European Commission approved the government’s request to provide 3.3 billion levs ($2.3 billion) in aid to banks if necessary.

 

3. Kazakhstani oil minister says Kashagan must start producing soon

 

The operator of Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oil-field complex in the Caspian Sea last month confirmed that problems with leaky pipelines will delay production at least until next year, The Australian reports.

 

North Caspian Operating Co. said two 60-mile oil and gas pipelines from an artificial island to an onshore facility “might have to be fully replaced.”

 

“Kazakh officials say the new target date for first oil is end-2015, though other sources say mid-2016 is more realistic, Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency reported 7 June.

 

Kashagan_oil_platform_350Kashagan's drilling platforms and other facilities sit in mid-Caspian.

 

Production will resume at the end of 2015, Kazakhstani Oil and Gas Minister Uzakbai Karabalin said 1 July, according to Azernews.

 

The country’s economy will take a hit if oil production at Kashagan is delayed further, Karabalin said.

 

The discovery of gas leaks in the pipelines last fall forced the project to shut down. The consortium of oil majors in the project has spent a reported $50 billion to develop what optimists say could be the largest oil field outside the Middle East. Technical hurdles have dogged the 13-year effort, starting with the need to build artificial islands to avoid damage from winter pack ice, and the challenge of drilling more than two miles below the sea floor.

 

4. Abkhazia strips most Georgians of voting rights

 

The authorities in the quasi-independent state of Abkhazia have struck half the region’s ethnic Georgians from the voters’ rolls ahead of the August election to replace ousted President Alexandar Ankvab.

 

On 30 June the Interior Ministry of the breakaway Georgian territory sent a list of 22,787 residents of mostly Georgian districts it deems ineligible to vote to the Central Election Commission, Civil.ge reports. The speaker of parliament and acting president, Valery Bganba, requested the cull two weeks ago, saying many Georgians are not entitled to hold their Abkhazian passports.

 

Distributing passports to ethnic Georgians, who make up 18 percent of the population, was an unpopular policy of Ankvab’s that fueled protests that led to his resignation on 1 June.

 

Opponents of Ankvab coalesced into a cohesive force last year largely on the issue of weakening Abkhazia’s statehood by giving passports to Georgians, Civil.ge writes. The opposition then began to challenge Ankvab on other issues, including corruption and the economy, Civil.ge reported in mid-June.

 

Officials estimate that 25,000 to 26,000 ethnic Georgians were issued Abkhazian passports “illegally,” via special commissions that Ankvab’s opponents said bypassed regular requirements for citizenship.

 

The 2011 census counted 43,000 ethnic Georgians in a total population of 240,705, a massive decline since the late Soviet period when Georgians made up nearly half the population before thousands fled during the civil war in the early 1990s.

 

A leader of the Provisional National Council that took power after Ankvab’s ouster, Raul Khadzhimba, was nominated as his National Unity Forum party’s presidential candidate 1 July, according to Civil.ge.

 

5. Academic community calls for release of researcher held in Tajikistan

 

SodiqovAlexander Sodiqov
Supporters and colleagues of Tajikistani researcher Alexander Sodiqov are asking the British government to help secure his release, the BBC reports.

 

Sodiqov, a citizen of Tajikistan who lives in Canada, was reportedly taken into custody by secret police agents 16 June shortly after he interviewed an opposition leader in Khorog, capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region. Local media reports said he could be charged with espionage.

 

Sodiqov was taking part in a conflict resolution project for the University of Exeter in the remote region near the Afghan border, which has been a focal point for clashes between the central government and local warlords.

 

Project leader John Heathershaw, who was also in Tajikistan at the time, feared for his own safety and spent a night at the British ambassador’s residence in Dushanbe before returning to Britain, according to Britain’s Western Morning News, which covers the region surrounding Exeter.

 

Friends fear Sodiqov could be subjected to torture at the Dushanbe detention center where he is being held, the newspaper writes. He has not been able to meet with his lawyers, according to the BBC.

 

Support events and discussions around the Sodiqov case were held on 26-27 June in several countries, according to the online news and discussion site Global Voices, to which Sodiqov was a contributor.

 

One gathering took place at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, where French political scientist Oliver Ferrando said there was no obvious reason for Sodiqov’s arrest.

 

“We don’t know why Tajikistan has decided to make this move – there is no agenda, there are no elections happening … clearly what we have here is the limitation of freedom of expression.”

 

“I think it would be tragic if the security services of Tajikistan closed the door on the country’s friends – people like John Heathershaw … that are trying to make this beautiful and interesting country better-known to the wider world,” Emil Joroev of the Bishkek university said.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns. 
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