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More Floods in the Balkans, Tension in Transdniester

Plus, Azerbaijan hauls in more activists and Russia nixes anonymous public Wi-Fi.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Barbara Frye 8 August 2014

1. Deadly floods hit the Balkans, again

 

For the second time this year, floods are ravaging the Balkans.

 

Under torrential rain, rivers are bursting their banks across Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, Balkan Insight reports. In Bosnia, landslides have buried homes, and at least one person was killed as authorities declared a state of emergency in several parts of the country.

 

In Serbia, floodwaters have destroyed bridges and homes, claiming at least one life. Croatian authorities, meanwhile, have declared a state of natural disaster in the north, where around 100 homes and considerable farmland is under water, according to Balkan Insight.

 

Radio Free Europe reports that thousands of homes have been flooded and an elderly man was reportedly killed in western Serbia. Rescue workers are struggling to help people in the hardest hit areas.

 

The deluge comes as repair work is just beginning from floods that devastated the Balkans in May. In Bosnia and Serbia, those floods caused billions of dollars in damages.

 

2. Report: Transdniester forces on alert over perceived military threat

 

Citing a military threat from Ukraine and Moldova, Moldova’s pro-Russia breakaway region of Transdniester has reportedly put its security forces on alert.

 

Radio Free Europe cites Tiras, a regional news agency, as saying that separatists in Transdniester expect some kind of military activity beginning 26 August, the eve of Moldova’s independence day. Ukraine has dug a trench along its border with Transdniester in the fear that the 1,500 Russian troops stationed there might invade, according to RFE.

 

 

According to the Associated Press, Moldovan authorities, who fear a Crimea scenario in Transdniester, accuse the pro-Russia separatists of trying to escalate tensions. Relations between Moldova and Russia have been extremely strained recently over Moldova’s decision to sign an economic association agreement with the European Union.

 

In retaliation, Russia banned the import of some Moldovan produce – a serious blow, the AP points out, to the poor, agricultural economy. Russia also says Moldova is trying to stir up unrest in Transdniester.

 

Transdniester is a Russia-allied breakaway sliver of land between Moldova and Ukraine. Separatist leaders there have asked Russia to incorporate the region.

 

3. Azerbaijan locks up yet another rights activist

 

A scorecard is increasingly necessary to keep track of rights activists being locked up in Azerbaijan.

 

Intiqam Aliev, an internationally recognized human rights lawyer, was taken into custody today and police searched his house, his daughter told Radio Free Europe. It is not yet clear why police moved against him, the news agency writes.

 

Rasul Jafarov
Aliev’s detention comes days after the arrest of Rasul Jafarov “on suspicion of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of authority,” which in turn closely followed the bringing of charges of treason, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship against Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, RFE reported last week.

 

Jafarov is a journalist and pro-democracy activist who has tried to raise awareness of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Yunus works on human rights and peace issues.

 

Other civil society figures recently imprisoned include Anar Mammadli, director of the Election Monitoring Center; Hasan Huseynli, head of the youth education organization Intellectual Citizen; and bloggers Elsever Mursalli, Abdulla Abilov, and Omar Mammadov, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

Amnesty International has also spoken out against the detention of 20 people it considers prisoners of conscience. The group notes that Baku’s refusal to allow some nongovernmental organizations to register legally leaves their members vulnerable to prosecution.

 

The favored tactics for silencing opposition figures are usually charges for financial crimes or criminal prosecutions, writes EurasiaNet.org, which speculates that the crackdown is linked to Baku’s plans to host two major sporting events, the 2015 European Games and its first Formula One race in 2016, or to officials’ fear that the unrest in Ukraine will spread to Azerbaijan.  

 

4. Russia adds Wi-Fi registration to growing list of Internet rules

 

The Russian government is further tightening the noose around the Internet. After requiring popular bloggers to register with the authorities and saddling social media networks with draconian disclosure requirements, officials have now banned the anonymous use of Wi-Fi in public, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Users will have to register with their full names, confirmed by an ID before logging on in parks, restaurants, and other public places, according to RFE.

 

The order comes a week after the so-called bloggers law, which also prohibits bloggers from writing anonymously, took effect, and months after the implementation of a law that allows the authorities to block some websites without explanation.

 

In addition, a new law requires all online companies operating in Russia to store user information in Russia for six months and, beginning September 2016, to turn over the data to the authorities upon request, the International Business Times reports. The requirements extend to data on all of the companies’ users, not just Russians.

 

Writing in Forbes in March, commentator Eli Sugarman noted that a recent study linking Internet freedom and a strong economy could spell trouble for Russia. Online freedom, Sugarman wrote, boosts e-commerce, makes a country more attractive to investors, encourages innovation, and “promotes better quality education, institutions, and social capital, important hallmarks of a dynamic economy.”

 

5. Moscow grants Snowden residency

 

Russia has given Edward Snowden a three-year residency permit, just over a year after granting the fugitive U.S. leaker temporary asylum, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said the permit allows Snowden “to move about freely and travel abroad.” Snowden’s amnesty expired 31 July.

 

While Snowden can apply for citizenship in 2018, he hasn’t decided yet whether he would like to stay in Russia, Kucherena said, according to Bloomberg. The former intelligence contractor is working in the IT sector and learning Russian while under private security.

 

Last month, a top Russian immigration official said Snowden was sure to receive Russian residency because he is “still in danger,” Bloomberg reports.

 

Charged with violating U.S. espionage laws, Snowden rocked the intelligence community last year by leaking to journalists information he obtained as a National Security Agency contractor about a secret U.S. program to monitor online and telephone communications. He fled to Hong Kong and then Russia.

 

Moscow’s decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum strained Russia-U.S. relations, which have only deteriorated further amid the political crisis in Ukraine. 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial intern. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor.
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