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Russia Says U.S. 'Kidnapped' Accused Hacker, Chechen Activist Jailed on Drug Charges

Plus, bed-shy Prague hospitals turn away emergency patients, and Russia and Georgia could resume regular air traffic after eight years. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Mane Grigoryan, and Madeleine Stern 10 July 2014

1. Kremlin slams U.S. prosecution of Russian lawmaker’s son


Moscow is decrying as a “kidnapping” the arrest of a Russian legislator’s son suspected by U.S. authorities of cybercrime, the Guardian reports.


Roman Seleznev was taken into custody on 5 July “on charges including bank fraud, causing damage to a protected computer, obtaining information from a protected computer, and aggravated identity theft,” according to the news agency.


The Russian Foreign Ministry said Seleznev was apprehended in the Maldives and taken to Guam, according to the Guardian. He appeared in a Guam court on 7 July.


That same day, The Wall Street Journal reports, “a judge in Seattle unsealed an indictment against” Seleznev alleging that he and others “made $2 million in three months selling credit-card numbers stolen from businesses ranging from a Seattle restaurant to the Phoenix Zoo.”


Seleznev’s case is linked to a precedent-setting prosecution of suspected hackers under the U.S. Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), typically used to fight organized crime, The Journal notes.


Seleznev “allegedly sold some of the stolen card numbers for $20 on, a marketplace whose members are the target of the first-ever RICO prosecution of alleged cybercriminals,” according to the newspaper.


Seleznev’s father, Duma member Valery Seleznev, said the allegations are false and said his son “did not have any knowledge of computers,” the Guardian reports.


The Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States had ignored “a bilateral treaty … on mutual assistance in criminal matters.”


2. Questionable drug charge lands Chechen activist in prison


A Chechen activist who fell afoul of the Russian republic’s leader has been handed a four-year prison term for what his supporters say are specious charges of heroin possession, Radio Free Europe reports.


Ruslan Kutaev
Ruslan Kutaev, leader of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, also faces a one-year ban on political activity following his release.


In the days leading up to his 20 February arrest, Kutaev drew the ire of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov by convening a conference in Grozny to mark the 70th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples to Central Asia. Kadyrov had decreed that the deportation be marked in May to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, RFE reports.


Kutaev was detained in the village of Gekhi after behaving “oddly,” prosecutors said, according to Radio Free Europe. Authorities said a search of Kutaev’s person turned up three grams of heroin.


But the witnesses against Kutaev gave contradictory testimony and “could not answer the simplest questions,” said Igor Kalyapin, chairman of the regional Committee Against Torture, who attended the trial, Caucasian Knot reports. Kalyapin said Kutaev’s lawyer took more than 2½ hours in closing arguments to enumerate the inconsistencies in the evidence against his client, while the prosecutor took seven minutes to simply reread the indictment.


Kutaev said during the trial that he had been beaten after his arrest, according to RFE.


Russian and international human rights groups have called for Kutaev’s release. Moscow-based rights group Memorial has designated him a political prisoner, and Hugh Williamson, who heads the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, has decried Kutaev’s treatment at the hands of the authorities as “vicious [and] unlawful.”


3. Prague hospitals draw scrutiny for failing to admit emergency patients


Officials in Prague are trying to stem what has been called an epidemic of emergency patients being turned away by hospitals due to a lack of beds, Radio Prague reports.


In response to recent warnings from the director of the Prague Ambulance Service that lives are at risk, city and national officials put together a commission to figure out why people are being forced to wait for hours while ambulance crews try to find a hospital that will admit them.


Though the number has fallen after the problem received publicity, about 165 emergency patients were turned away from Prague hospitals in March, according to the city's ambulance service director. Image from a video by the Prague 1 administration.


In June, a woman reportedly died the day after suffering a brain hemorrhage and waiting for nearly two hours to be admitted to a hospital. The woman’s daughter recently told the news website that no one has taken responsibility for her mother’s death.


In March, Prague hospitals turned away about 165 ambulance patients, according to Zdenek Schwarz, the ambulance service chief who has labeled the problem an “epidemic,” according to Radio Prague.


Josef Mrazek, vice president of the Czech Association of Patients, said hospitals are under pressure to get rid of unused beds, but there is no predicting when those beds might be needed for emergency patients.


Mrazek said his organization has “for years, even decades” been urging that more beds be allocated for emergency patients.


4. Russia, Georgia near resumption of commercial flights


Regular air traffic between Russia and Georgia will likely resume in mid-September after a six-year hiatus, RIA Novosti reports.


Regular commercial flights were halted between the two countries after they fought a brief war in August 2008. Since then, only charter flights have flown back and forth, according to the news agency.


The likely resumption was announced on the heels of talks between Russian and Georgian officials in Prague about how the free-trade agreement Georgia recently signed with the EU would affect its economic relations with Russia.


In contrast to the hostility it showed over Ukraine and Moldova signing association and free-trade pacts with Brussels, the Kremlin is taking a low-key, technical approach when it comes to Georgia doing the same.


“I believe we should not threaten ourselves or our partners with possible measures and sanctions but must sit quietly, in mutual respect, and carefully calculate … to what extent there may be changes in the economic and trade relations between the two countries,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, said after the talks, according to RIA Novosti.


It is an especially delicate time for such a conversation. Georgia’s trade with Russia grew by 35 percent from January through May, reported in June, mostly due to a huge expansion of Georgian wine and mineral water exports.


5. Macedonian Albanians demand new trial in notorious killing


As Skopje braces for more protests and ethnic clashes, Albanian leaders in Macedonia are calling for a retrial of six Albanians convicted last month in a notorious murder case.


The head of the Democratic Union for Integration, an ethnic Albanian party that is a junior member of the ruling coalition, has asked for an international retrial. Ali Ahmeti said the June verdict was the result of “selective justice” and “judges and prosecutors who carry out their duties with prejudice,” Balkan Insight reports.


The six defendants received life terms for the execution-style murder of five ethnic Macedonian fishermen at a lake near Skopje in 2012. The sentencing sparked unrest throughout Macedonia, where Albanians make up one-quarter of the population, as well as clashes between police and protesters.


Both sides are planning protests in the Macedonian capital on 11 July, according to Balkan Insight. A police spokesman said forces are on alert after intercepting fliers on social networks calling for a “Macedonia for Macedonians.”


Ethnic Albanians are planning a simultaneous rally one kilometer away from the Macedonian one, raising concerns about renewed clashes in Skopje, Balkan Insight writes. 

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Mane Grigoryan and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns
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