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Uzbek Activist Goes Free, Russian Green Campaigner Honored

Plus, Orban names the next Hungarian president and the UN looks to raise new money for Yugoslav war refugees.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 17 April 2012

1. Uzbek rights campaigner free after six years in prison


Alisher KaramatovAlisher Karamatov
After six years in custody, human rights activist Alisher Karamatov was released by Uzbek authorities on 12 April, Human Rights Watch reports. Karamatov was sentenced to nine years in prison in June 2006, reportedly in connection with his work for the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. He and another activist, Azam Farmonov, were convicted of extorting money from farmers in return for helping them resolve problems with local officials, reports.


Karamatov’s public defender said he had confessed to the charges under torture, according to HRW.


Karamatov’s wife, Namuna Karamatova, told HRW that his health deteriorated in prison and that in October 2008 he was diagnosed with an advanced form of tuberculosis in both lungs. Prison officials said Karamatov would not be eligible for amnesty or early release because of such violations of prison rules as praying or wearing a white shirt, HRW stated.


Steve Swerdlow, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged the Uzbek government to prosecute those responsible for Karamatov's ill treatment.


2. Russian activist wins “green Nobel prize”


Russian environmental activist and rising opposition leader Yevgeniya Chirikova was one of six community leaders to win this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. News of the award, however, came as another activist in her group was attacked and hospitalized. Chirikova, who made a name for herself fighting against a proposed $8 billion highway through the Khimki forest outside Moscow, accepted the award 16 April in San Francisco along with a check for $150,000.


“Energized by the erosion of support for [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin’s ruling party, Chirikova is breathing new life into Russian civil society’s appetite for political reform, and with it, the fight to protect Khimki Forest,” the Goldman Environmental Foundation said in a statement.


ChirikovaYevgeniya Chirikova. Photo: Goldman Environmental Foundation


Alexei Dmitriyev, a lawyer and an activist in the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, was severely beaten outside his apartment, according to The Moscow Times. Police are investigating the attack, though colleagues of Dmitriyev believe that it was a result of his work in the movement. If so, it would not be the first incident of physical intimidation toward those vocal in their opposition to the highway project. Chirikova has been arrested repeatedly and has faced threats to herself and her family, according to the Goldman prize statement. Other vocal critics of the project have suffered a more violent fate, including Mikhail Beketov, a journalist who was crippled in a 2008 attack after publishing articles critical of the highway.


3. Russia rises to third place on arms spending list


Three years of economic hard times have put a damper on military spending in most of Central and Eastern Europe, although Russia and a few other countries are bucking the trend, a new report indicates.


Russian arms spending rose 9.3 percent to an estimated $72 billion in 2011 – third place worldwide, after the United States and China – a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.


The world’s biggest hike in military spending, however, belonged to Azerbaijan, where it jumped by 89 percent in 2011. Analysts cite the unresolved conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh as the driver behind oil-rich Azerbaijan’s continued high arms spending, which has risen nearly 60 percent in real terms since 2008, the institute estimates.


Most countries in the region have slashed their arms budgets since the crisis struck in 2008, however. Among the 10 European countries recording the deepest cuts between 2008 and 2011, all but two (not surprisingly, they were Spain and Greece) were in Central and Eastern Europe, with the three Baltic countries heading the list.


4. Fidesz stalwart tapped as next Hungarian president


Prime Minister Viktor Orban nominated longtime ally Janos Ader 16 April to succeed disgraced Pal Schmitt as the next president of Hungary.


Schmitt resigned from the largely ceremonial post 2 April after Semmelweis University said large parts of his doctoral thesis had been plagiarized.


Janos_AderJanos Ader
Ader, 52, holds a seat in the European Parliament. He joined Fidesz in 1988, soon after Orban and other young politicians founded the conservative party. He represented the party in the Hungarian parliament from 1990 to 2009, serving as parliamentary speaker from 1998 to 2002.


Hungary elects heads of state by parliamentary vote. Fidesz parliamentary leader Janos Lazar predicted legislators would elect the president on 2 May, reports. Fidesz controls more than two-thirds of the parliament, virtually ensuring Ader’s election.


5. Sarajevo conference to raise funds for ex-Yugoslav refugees


Montenegro will seek funding to improve housing for Kosovo Roma at next week’s UN donor conference in Sarajevo, its top official for refugee issues tells Balkan Transitional Justice.


Zeljko Sofranac said as many as 6,000 people may be eligible for new housing, mostly Roma who fled Kosovo around the time of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Sofranac said special attention should be paid to improve conditions at the Konik refugee camp on the outskirts of Podgorica, where several thousand people have been living in makeshift housing for over a decade.


The 24 April donor conference, timed for the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, aims to raise up to 500 million euros for refugees in the former Yugoslavia. The UN refugee agency says 74,000 are in urgent need of better housing.


Montenegro plans to spend more than 27 million euros on refugee housing, of which the government would contribute about 4 million euros, Sofranac said.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.

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