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Belarus Opposition Harassed, Controversial Hungarian Laws Overturned

Plus, a potential Putin challenger rebuffed and the good/bad news about corruption in Tajikistan.

by Ky Krauthamer and Ioana Caloianu 20 December 2011

1. Belarusian opposition figures harassed on anniversary of crackdown


Dozens were arrested in Minsk 19 December as police broke up protests marking the first anniversary of a post-election crackdown there, AFP reports.


It was one year ago that hundreds were arrested protesting the flawed re-election of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.


statkevich_100Mikalay Statkevich
Many opposition figures and civil society activists remain in prison, including presidential candidates Andrey Sannikau and Mikalay Statkevich, who were jailed for five and six years respectively. Young Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich was handed a two-year sentence in March, and activist Ales Byalyatski was jailed last month for four and a half years. Others are barred from leaving the country, according to the opposition website Charter 97.


Several prominent opposition figures or their supporters were harassed on 19 December, according to several reports on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Former presidential candidate Vital Rymasheuski made a phone call saying he had been forced into a car by four men and was being driven to an unknown location.

Sannikau’s wife, journalist Iryna Khalip, was called in for police questioning in an apparent attempt to prevent her from attending commemorations of last year’s crackdown, and several supporters of Statkevich were stopped by police as they drove to the prison where he is being held in an attempt to meet with the warden.


To mark the anniversary, four European Union foreign ministers wrote that Belarus has become a country “driven by fear.” In a letter published 19 December by Britain’s Independent, William Hague of Britain, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, Sweden’s Carl Bildt, and Poland’s Radek Sikorski said they will call for tougher EU sanctions against Belarus. The EU has placed travel bans on Lukashenka and other government officials.




2. Controversial Russian opposition leader’s presidential candidacy rejected


Eduard LimonovEduard Limonov
The Russian elections officials have rejected prominent opposition figure Eduard Limonov’s registration to run in next year’s presidential elections. The Central Election Commission on 18 December turned down a request from a group of voters to nominate The Other Russia party leader Limonov, citing problems with the application, RIA Novosti reports.


The Other Russia’s attempt to register for this month’s parliamentary elections was rejected earlier this year.


Limonov, a communist-era émigré novelist known for his controversial views, headed the radical National Bolshevik Party until it was banned in 2007. During the 2007 parliamentary elections and the presidential election in 2008 he became a leader of the overall opposition along with liberal parties headed by the chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Kasparov and Limonov then joined forces under the Other Russia banner.


3. Controversial Hungarian media, religion laws watered down


Hungary’s Constitutional Court has overturned parts of the country’s strict media law.


The court on 19 December ruled that provisions in the law concerning regulation of media content, protection of journalists’ sources, and the institution of the media ombudsman were unconstitutional, MTI reports.


After it took effect in January, the EU and journalists’ groups criticized the law for setting up a powerful media authority tasked with monitoring print and online content for violating the human rights and dignity of the public. The law also limited journalists’ ability to protect sources. The Constitutional Court ordered both provisions modified.


The court also annulled the law on religious organizations which reduced the number of officially recognized churches to just a handful. The ruling also struck down provisions in the criminal law allowing the chief prosecutor to decide in which court a case would be tried and extending the period of preliminary detention to five days.


All the laws were drafted by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which enjoys a parliamentary majority large enough to push through constitutional changes. The Constitutional Court itself was stripped of some powers.


4. Baku residents forced out by Eurovision


Baku authorities are stepping up the pace of demolitions and evictions near the site of a new venue for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the BBC reports.


Azerbaijan won the widely televised annual pop song contest this year, giving it the right to host the 2012 event in May.


Hundreds of people have been forced to leave their houses on very short notice and to accept compensation for their properties that is often half their market value, the BBC says.


"At the moment here in Azerbaijan the violation of human rights is a daily occurrence and this is only just one case," said Zohrab Ismayli, chairman of the Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy.


"Baku's city authority has no legal right to forcibly move people and destroy their houses," Ismayli said.


Baku city authorities repeatedly hung up on a BBC reporter when the issue of the evictions was raised.


Fueled by the recent oil boom, redevelopment in Baku has been happening at a breakneck pace in recent years.


5. Almost half of Tajiks engage in bribery, poll claims


Corruption continues to rise in Tajikistan, with the police, the public health service, and prosecutors seen as the most graft-prone institutions, according to an opinion survey by a state think tank.


Nearly half of the more than 1,000 people polled said they had given or received a bribe in the past year. The average bribe was about 1,000 somoni ($210), two to three times the average monthly salary in one of Central Asia’s poorest countries, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.


Traffic police were ranked as the most corrupt public servants by 84 percent of respondents, Central Asia Newswire reports.


The survey was conducted by the Presidential Center for Strategic Research with support from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. The reports do not indicate the margin of error or polling methods used in the survey.


Although 55 percent of those polled said corruption had risen markedly over the past five years, the think tank’s director put a positive spin on the survey.


“The research showed that more than 50 percent of citizens in Tajikistan did not give bribes during the last year,” Sukhrob Sharipov said.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLIoana Caloianu is TOL's editorial assistant.


Video source: Euroradio/YouTube

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