NEWS - Archive March 2007

Headlines 30 March, 2007

INSTRUMENTS USED FOR ARBITRARY RESTRICTION FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS (Russia)

Anti-extremist legislation and enforcement as instruments used for arbitrary restriction of fundamental freedoms in Russia. 
On March 29, 2007 in Vienna, at the
OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression, the SOVA Center organized a briefing dedicated to the situation with these basic freedoms in Russia. Alexander Verkhovsky, the director of SOVA Center, presented his report at the briefing. We are publishing the report.

30/3/2007- At the beginning of this decade, the Russian society associated extremism primarily with the ultra-nationalists and their illegal activities. There was an ongoing debate around the allegedly inadequate legal framework for counteracting hate crime and hate speech. As a result of these debates and government decisions, the theme of extremism has substantially expanded, while the legislation in this sphere has toughened. We should admit that while the effectiveness of counteracting hate crime and hate speech has improved, it has not improved in a major way. On the other hand, threats to fundamental freedoms are very real.

The Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity was adopted in the summer of 2002 and updated in June 2006. It defines extremist activity (synonymous to extremism, as set out by this law) through a long list of acts of a fairly broad spectrum in terms of their public danger. The definition (see appendix) fails to establish shared characteristics of an extremist activity, so the list can be easily modified as needed - as we witnessed last July. The definition of extremism includes "terrorism" (defined in the relevant law), attempts to seize power, and other extremely dangerous acts, but on the other hand, it includes acts which are less dangerous, and even those which do not need to be regulated by any law - let alone a specialized, very tough law: for example, affirmation of religious superiority – natural for very many believers - may be qualified as "extremism"; similarly, any act (or even threat) of violence against any representative of public authority, regardless of motivation, seriousness of violence or threat, context of the situation – falls under the definition of "extremism."

Any - even merely technical - assistance to extremist acts is also qualified as extremism, as is public justification or excuse of such actions, radically placing the freedom of expression under threat. So the single term "extremism" describes a mixture of very different actions, enabling arbitrary and selective enforcement, and even making such enforcement inevitable, because it is impossible to prosecute the so-called extremism in all instances mentioned in the anti-extremist law. This excessively broad definition is combined with excessively tough sanctions against organizations and media outlets (it is important to remember that the law targets primarily groups, rather than individuals). Any organization may be closed by court, even without prior warning, and its further activity banned in any form, just for one incident of "extremism" (while there is also a procedure for issuing warnings). The same applies to media - even though you are almost certain to find something which can be labeled as "extremist" among hundreds of articles published by a typical newspaper. Organizations are supposed to publicly denounce the activity of their leader if such activity is found to be extremist. Organizations can be suspended for up to six months in an out-of-court procedure if they are as much as suspected of extremism. Should a suspended group continue its operation, administrative liability may apply; should a banned organization carry on, its members face up to two and its leaders up to three years of prison under art 282-2 of the Criminal Code.

In contrast, an individual cannot be accused of extremism per se; s/he may face charges for certain elements of extremism, including the Criminal Code article 282 (incitement to hatred based on ethnic, religious or other group identity). Art. 280 of the Criminal Code - which before 2002 punished for "appeals to a forceful overthrow of power" - has been reduced to "public appeals to extremist activity" punishable by up to 3 years of prison or up to 5 years if mass media are used. Incidentally, the type of extremist activity encouraged by the defendant does not need to be a crime, because the definition of "extremism" is broader and goes beyond crimes listed in the Criminal Code. Over the past year, the notion of extremism has been increasingly used in the Russian legislation. It was referenced, in particular, in early 2006 as part of the restrictive amendments of the NGO legislation: someone convicted for extremism cannot participate in NGO activities. The reform of electoral legislation in the autumn of 2006 also made a reference to the concept of "extremism." It goes without saying that extremist activity may cause a candidate to be banned from elections. But a candidate may be banned even for something s/he did in the past (for a period equal to his/her prospective term in office, if elected) in case such acts are found extremist now (art.76 p. 9 (g) of the framework law on elections).

When people argue for such draft laws, they usually highlight the most dangerous aspects in the definition of extremism, such as terrorism, but the enforcement is based on the legal definition in its entirety, so the liberty guaranteed to citizens continuously – and rapidly – shrinks. One could assume that the dangerous features of anti-extremist legislation outlined above are due to the lawmakers’ errors, and the enforcement will make necessary adjustments; however, the enforcement increasingly proves that critics of the anti-extremist laws were right in their concerns. So far, the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity and pursuant Criminal Code provisions have rarely been enforced, even against the progressively active neo-Nazi and other extremist groups in Russia (this law was only used to close a few ultra-nationalist papers and organizations). Apparently, it can be explained by the inertia of the law enforcement system. In the last couple of years we have observed a growing intensity of enforcement. Unfortunately, we have observed a simultaneous increase in the number of cases where enforcement of anti-extremist legislation is used for unlawful restriction of fundamental freedoms. Moreover, in the latter cases the enforcement is often tougher than in cases of suppressing really criminal gangs, such as neo-Nazi.

The following are a few brief examples of enforcement.
The best known is the unlawful conviction under art. 282 of the Criminal Code of human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky in February 2006. He was convicted (and sentenced to a probational term) for a publication of statements made by Chechen separatist leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakayev. The prosecution was triggered by the names, rather than the texts of their statements, which, however critical they were with regard to the Russian government, did not seek to incite any ethnic or religions hatred. In October, the organization led by Dmitrievsky was liquidated, because members refused to disown their leader and did not oust him from the governing bodies. We note that these legal provisions had never been used before, e.g. not a single neo-Nazi group was liquidated in this manner.

The toughest sentence ever since articles 280 and 282 were first applied - five years of prison under both articles combined - were meted out in November 2006 to active propagandist for the Chechen independence Boris Stomakhin. We believe that he was, indeed, guilty under both articles. But it should also be admitted that the punishment for his publications on a rarely visited website and in a newsletter with a tiny print-run was disproportionally tough (the case has not been heard by the appeal court yet). The most blatant neo-Nazi or similar agitators have never been sentenced to such a tough punishment (in absence of other offenses).

The most prominent example of large-scale anti-extremist enforcement in Russia is the suppression of actual or assumed members of the radical Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir Party and members of other independent Moslem groups. In some cases, Hizb ut-Tahrir theoretically justifies violence and even terror, and engages in rather aggressive Islamist propaganda – therefore an investigation of their activity in Russia could potentially produce sufficient evidence for a prosecution of this group as extremist. It is known that Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in a number of West European countries. But the Russian authorities, unfortunately, chose a different approach.

On 14 February 2003, the Russian Supreme Court found 15 organizations, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, to be terrorist - even though it is known that Hizb ut-Tahrir, as a matter of principle, is resolved not to use violence, and it is exactly what makes them different from similar radical Islamist groups. As long as Hizb ut-Tahrir has been found to be a terrorist organization, it is also considered extremist. As long as it is banned, being a member of this organization is a crime under art. 282-2 of the Criminal Code. This charge was envoked to prosecute many people who were actually involved in Hizb ut-Tahrir, assumed to be involved, or had nothing to do with the group. In fact, the law enforcement authorities could not resist the temptation of fighting terror in a "quick and easy" manner, which produced a real conveyor of arbitrariness.

Anti-extremist legislation is constructed in such a way that a single finding of an individual, group or text to be extremist entails more findings of this type through the mechanisms of "assistance" or "justification" or "excuse."

For example, one of Russian Muftis Nafigulla Ashirov, while he was not a supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir, wrote an opinion denying any presence of incitement to violence or hatred in the four main brochures produced by the group (these brochures are commonly used as evidence in criminal proceedings against them). It is possible that Mufti Ashirov was not entirely correct, but he certainly had the right to disagree with the above judgment of the Supreme Court in this particular format. Nevertheless, he was officially warned against extremist activity after publishing the opinion, even though, contrary to what the prosecutor said, Ashirov did not even quote from the materials of the banned group. Moreover, the Memorial Human Rights Society received the same warning for publishing Ashirov’s opinion on their website, even though it was obvious that Memorial did not disseminate Hizb ut-Tahrir’ ideas. As of the end-2006, courts of two instances denied Ashirov and Memorial their appeals of these warnings.

Anti-extremist legislation is designed, among other things, to uphold the public value of tolerance. Understandably, it is always difficult to regulate and to establish legal boundaries of the freedom of expression. Even a well-designed law subsequently requires a lot of work to ensure its appropriate enforcement. In Russia, legislation often fails to deter or suppress even the most outrageous promoters of hatred. For example, prosecutors refused to open criminal investigations into public threats of death voiced by neo-Nazi against certain human rights defenders. On the other hand, excessive restrictions of the freedom of expression result from attempts to promote tolerance. It applies in particular to protecting religious sentiments. The re-printing of the Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad did not only result in warnings of closure issued to a number of newspapers, but also in a criminal prosecution against an editor-in-chief of a paper New region + (Vologda region) under art. 282 of the Criminal Code - she was acquitted only after cassation of the original sentence.

Zyryanskaya Zhizn, a paper published in the Komi Republic, was warned against extremist activity in 2006 just for neutral reporting of nationalist meetings. The warning led to financial difficulties, and the paper is now published on the Internet only. At the moment, a request of its liquidation is pending before a court. The paper came under attack for quoting a politically incorrect pronouncement of a local official, in response to the interviewing journalist's question about politically incorrect lyrics of some songs.

On 25 December 2006, priest of ethnic Mari heathen faith Victor Tanakov was sentenced to compulsory labor under the art. 282 for publishing a brochure where he asserted supremacy of his faith over all others. He was found guilty of incitement to religious and ethnic hatred, although the text of the brochure contained no evidence of incitement to hatred against people of different faith or ethnicity. He was also found guilty of incitement to hatred against a specific social group – the court defined the targeted group as "the government of Marii El Republic." On 21 March 2007, the Supreme Court of the Republic upheld this unlawful verdict.

The anti-extremist enforcement practice, as noted above, is very limited. However, the quoted examples reveal that this practice has been evolving towards arbitrary restriction of fundamental freedoms, in contravention of the Russian Constitution and relevant international treaties that Russia is party to. We have reasons to believe that abuse of anti-extremist legislation due to defects in the legal provisions as well as the growing case-law may present a serious threat to fundamental freedoms in Russia.


Appendix.

The Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity. Article 1. Main Definitions
For the purposes of the present Federal Law the following basic concepts are used:

1) extremist activity (extremism):
a) activity of public and religious associations or any other organizations, or of mass media, or natural persons to plan, organize, prepare and perform acts aimed at:

- forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and violation of integrity of the Russian Federation;
- undermining security of the Russian Federation;
- seizure or usurpation of power;
- establishment of illegal armed formations;
- exercise of terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism;
- incitement to racial, ethnic or religious hatred, and also social hatred associated with violence or with calls to violence;
- debasement of ethnic dignity;
- exercise of massive disturbances, hooliganism and vandalism motivated by ideological, political, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or animosity, and also motivated by hatred or animosity towards any social group;
- propaganda of exclusiveness, supremacy or inferiority of individuals based on their attitude to religious, social, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity;
- preventing legitimate activities of government authorities, election commissions, and also legitimate activities of officials affiliated with the above authorities and commissions, combined with violence or threats to use violence;
- public slander targeting a person holding an official position in the Russian Federation, or in a subject of the Russian Federation, while on official duty or in connection with his/her official duties, combined with accusing such official of actions listed in this article, provided that the fact of slander has been determined in judicial proceedings;
- use of violence against a representative of government authority, or threats to use violence against a representative of government authority or his family in connection with his exercise of official duties;
- attempt at the life of a government official or public figure, with the purpose of terminating this person's official or political activity, or as revenge for such activity;
- violation of human rights and civil liberties, affliction of harm on health and property of citizens in connection with their convictions, racial or ethnic origin, faith, social status or social origin;
- production and/or dissemination of print, audio, audiovisual and other materials (products) designed for public use and containing at least one characteristic listed in this article;

b) propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi attributes or symbols, or attributes and symbols similar to Nazi attributes and symbols to the point of confusion;

c) public calls to exercise of the above activity, and also public calls and pronouncements encouraging the above activity, justifying or supporting the exercise of activities listed in this article;

d) financing the above activity or any other support with planning, organization, preparation or exercise of the above actions, e.g. by providing finance, real estate, education, printing facilities, logistics, phone, fax and other means of communication, information services, and other material and technical means;

2) an extremist organization is a public [non-governmental] or religious association or other organization effectively liquidated or banned by court for extremist activity, based on grounds provided in this Federal Law;

3) extremist materials are documents designed for publication or information on other carriers which call to extremist activity, justify or support the need for such activity, including works by leaders of the National-Social Working Party of Germany, the Fascist Party of Italy, and publications, justifying or supporting ethnic and/or racial supremacy, or justifying the practice of military and other crimes aimed at complete or partial extermination of a certain ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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BITS FROM RUSSIA

More Attacks on Foreign Students in St. Petersburg 
29/3/2007- Police arrested two neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg in the wake of an attack on a Moroccan and British citizen, according to a March 19, 2007 report by the Russian anti-fascist web site antifa.ru. The attack took place in the downtown area on Nevsky Prospekt. Screaming racist slogans, the 19 and 20-year-old neo-Nazis attacked the foreign students, but were quickly spotted by a passing police patrol. Antifa.ru added that during the same weekend as this attack, a citizen of Turkey was beaten and robbed in St. Petersburg and a Moroccan student was stabbed. Both victims were hospitalized and police are investigating the incidents.

Omsk Neo-Nazi Gets 11 Years for Racist Murder
28/3/2007- A neo-Nazi was sentenced to 11 years in prison for manslaughter motivated by ethnic hatred, according to a March 24, 2007 report by the Russian anti-fascist web site antifa.ru. The Omsk regional court found the defendant guilty under a rarely applied hate crimes law. The defendant, identified in the report only by his last name Proskurin, is a student at the Omsk Pedagogical College. The court found that he and three friends got drunk one night near the Circus trolleybus stop and started screaming racist slogans. They came across an Asian-looking man and attacked him. During the assault, Mr. Proskurin reportedly screamed "Non-Russians have no place here, they need to be killed!" as he stabbed his victim, a trolleybus driver, six times. The driver later died in the hospital. Police discovered extremist literature in Mr. Proskurin's apartment; reportedly he also has a neo-Nazi tattoo on his arm, though he claimed in court that he left the movement some time ago.  

Neo-Nazis Attack Korean Students in Zelenograd 
28/3/2007- Neo-Nazis attacked a group of Korean students after a rock concert in Zelenograd, Russia (Moscow region), according to a March 27, 2007 report by the news web site Newsru.com. The March 27 attack involved around 30 neo-Nazis and resulted in eight people being injured. One of the foreign students was hit by a car as he tried to flee his assailants; he was taken to the emergency room. Police are investigating the incident.

Youths Attack Malaysian Student in Nizhny Novgorod
28/3/2007- A group of youths attacked a Malaysian student in Nizhny Novgorod, according to a March 22, 2007 report by the Interfax news agency. Police told the news agency that around ten youths attacked the 18-year-old student at the local State Architecture Academy. The student did not require hospitalization. Police are investigating the incident.
© FSU Monitor

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FRENCH TEACHERS MARCH AGAINST IMMIGRANT DEPORTATIONS

Migrants are free to enroll their children in a French school regardless of their legal status, and the government argues such a measure would create a new channel for immigration.

30/3/2007- Hundreds of striking French schoolteachers and parents marched through Paris Friday in protest at the deportation of illegal immigrant families and their school-age children. Teaching unions called the strike in response to the arrest last week of a headmistress who was protesting against the detention of a Chinese illegal immigrant as he collected his grandson from primary school. Valerie Boukobza was released without charge, but her detention sparked a wave of anger among teachers and parents.
"Teachers under pressure, families in detention, police state -- we don't want this society," chanted the protestors, estimated at more than 2,000 people by unions, who are demanding the enforcement of guidelines banning police from detaining illegal immigrants in the vicinity of schools. "It starts outside schools, then police will start hunting immigrants inside our classrooms, why not in hospitals... We are sliding towards a dictatorship," said one young teacher, who gave her name as Elise. Right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy oversaw a toughening of immigration policy during his time as interior minister, more than doubling the number of deportations of illegal immigrants to 25,000 last year. A high-profile protest movement by teachers and parents last summer led Sarkozy to grant an amnesty to around 7,000 families with children enrolled in French schools who were facing deportation. But the government says an automatic amnesty for all such families is impossible. Migrants are free to enroll their children in a French school regardless of their legal status, and the government argues such a measure would create a new channel for immigration. None of the main presidential candidates back a blanket amnesty for France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants, but the Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou have indicated they would take a lenient line towards families long settled in the country.
© The Tocqueville Connection

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EXTREME RIGHT LOOMS OVER FRANCE

28/3/2007- Suddenly, France's presidential campaign is seized by a subject long monopolized by the extreme right: how best to be French. The conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to create a ministry of "immigration and national identity" that will require newcomers to embrace the secular values of the republican state. The Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, wants every French citizen to memorize the national anthem the Marseillaise and keep a French flag in the cupboard for public display on Bastille Day. The far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen chortles that his rivals in the two main parties have stolen, and therefore validated, his message of "France for the French." If politicians everywhere are compelled to show off their patriotism at election time, this campaign has stirred alarm by summoning unpleasant ghosts of the past. Some political commentators have accused Sarkozy of ugly demagoguery reminiscent of the darkest period in modern French history: the collaborationist Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France. Royal is being attacked both by her rivals and inside her own camp for manipulating symbols that historically have been the domain of the far right. As the first round of voting approaches, on April 22, an ideological battle over the French identity has overtaken discussion of more practical issues, like reducing unemployment and making France more competitive. The shift is aimed in part at luring the right-wing vote away from Le Pen, who shocked France in 2002 when he came in second in the first round and who, at 78, is seen by many of his supporters as too old to be president. It is also an attempt to reassure jittery voters that France will remain an important power protecting its national identity at a time when it is both losing power in a globalized world and struggling with a disaffected Muslim and ethnic Arab and African population.

"Resolving the identity crisis in France is a very serious problem, but both Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal have trivialized it in this election," said Eric Dupin, a political scientist who has written a number of books. "Both of them are playing on the fears and the base emotions of the people. We don't need demagoguery."  François Bayrou, the centrist candidate who heads the tiny Union for French Democracy party, has denounced the "nationalistic obsession" that had infiltrated the campaign. "Every time in our past that we have wanted to go back to external signs, it has led to periods that are unhappy," he said. As interior minister, a post he quit Monday, Sarkozy tightened immigration laws and ordered the expulsion of thousands of foreigners who did not register with the state. His pledge in late 2005 to cleanse France's troubled ethnic Arab and Muslim suburbs of "thugs" contributed to a three-week orgy of violence. In a scene reminiscent of those events, roving bands of young people fought the police, smashed store windows and damaged property for several hours at a train station in Paris on Tuesday. Police shut down the subway and commuter train system at the Gare du Nord and used tear gas before restoring order after midnight. Thirteen people were arrested. Sarkozy, who largely has avoided the suburbs during his campaign, has criticized immigrants and their offspring who resist the French model of integration, saying it is unacceptable to want to live here without respecting and loving the country or learning the language. But when he announced his proposal on television this month, it was met with a firestorm of criticism. Royal called the plan "disgraceful," adding, "Foreign workers have never threatened French identity." "Indecent," was the reaction of Azouz Begag, the minister for equal opportunities. "I'm not stupid, and neither are the French," he said. "It's a hook to go and look for the lost sheep of the National Front," Le Pen's party.

Simone Veil, a beloved former minister and a Holocaust survivor, found herself denouncing Sarkozy's idea shortly after she endorsed him for president. "I didn't at all like this very ambiguous formula," she told the magazine Marianne. She said that a ministry for immigration and "integration" would be a better idea. But Sarkozy is convinced he is right. When asked about Veil's reaction, for example, he replied tartly, "Everyone has the right to his or her own opinion." Sarkozy's proposal has revived bad memories of the Vichy era. The idea of a national identity ministry has been compared to the General Commissariat of Jewish Affairs, which was created with ministerial rank under Vichy in March 1941. "Only Vichy developed administrative structures in their efficient way to defend a certain concept of 'national identity,' " the columnist Philippe Bernard wrote in Le Monde last week. He said that the commissariat, "even before being a tool in the service of the policy of extermination, responded to the objective of purification of the French nation." Some politically conservative Jewish voters, who were planning to vote for Sarkozy because of his staunch support of Israel, say they now are considering shifting to Bayrou. But an OpinionWay Internet poll for Le Figaro that was splashed on its front page this month indicated that 55 percent of French voters approved of Sarkozy's proposal. Sixty-five percent agreed with his explanation that the "immigrants who join us must sign up to the national identity." Although the poll was done on a representative sample via the Internet, not by more reliable telephone surveys, it was widely cited as evidence that the French want a more restrictive immigration policy and more demands that its Muslims conform to secular French customs.

Despite Royal's criticism of Sarkozy's approach, she followed his lead by wrapping herself tightly in her own mantle of nationalism. She started by encouraging her supporters to sing the Marseillaise, the traditional rallying cry of the right, at the end of her rallies. In a swing late last week through southern France, which historically votes right and extreme-right, she called for a "reconquest of the symbols of the nation" from the right. She said that all French citizens should have the tricolor French flag at home, adding, "In other countries, they put the flag in the windows on their national holiday." And she promised that if elected, she would "insure that the French know the Marseillaise." Her partner, François Hollande, said they had a flag in their kitchen. In the end, both camps acknowledge that they are trying to appeal to voters on the right. "Ségolène Royal is taking back the terrain too often abandoned by the left for ages to the right and the extreme right," said a former defense and interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who supports her candidacy. Sarkozy was more explicit. "Since 1983, we have the strongest far right in Europe," he said this month. "We must not proceed as if it does not exist. I want to talk to those who have moved toward the far right because they are suffering." During a two-day campaign swing through the Caribbean last weekend, Sarkozy boasted that since he made his proposal about his immigration and national identity ministry, his standing in the polls had jumped.
© International Herald Tribune

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EXTREMIST REPORTED FOR DEATH THREATS (Norway)

A man linked to neo-Nazi groups and charged with death threats to Minister of Justice Knut Storberget has now been reported for similarly menacing an anti-racism activist.

28/3/2007- Øyvind Heian, 26, has been reported by SOS-Rasisme for death threats to the group's national board member Anders Eckermann Eikeland, who is depicted on a Heian web site with a pistol pointed to his head. Heian has been linked to the neo-Nazi organization Vigrid and has also started his own group, Norgespatriotene (Norway's Patriots), which has a clear racist and anti-immigrant profile. "This is more explicit than a gung pointed at Anders' head. Heian is a central person in Vigrid. He is very active in those circles and has been jailed and convicted for threatening the Justice Minister last year. This hasn't stopped him," said SOS Rasisme board member Ola Melbye Pettersen. Heian was convicted in a Sandefjord court to six months in prison for death threats to Justice Minister Storberget but the verdict was reversed after two of the lay judges were revealed to be related to each other. The case will be retried in June this year. Heian told Aftenposten.no that Norgespatriotene is a non-violent organization that wants to discuss immigration problems. He claims that he is being persecuted by SOS-Rasisme, and that they have reported his party's web site to police three times in two weeks in an attempt to curb his right of free speech. Heian also stressed that the did not have plans to kill Eikeland. "There are no death threats in the text. They are going from the picture of the gun pointed at the picture of Eikeland's head. Both pictures have their own text. But one might say it is a bit unlucky that these two pictures are next to each other," Heian said. Heian admitted that his methods were on the edge. "I believe that I am within the boundaries of what I call legal," Heian said. Heian has said that he has told his psychologist that he had considered killing Storberget and has also published a flyer on his web site where he indicates that Storberget would be executed if the Norgespatriotene ever come to power in Norway. Melbye Pettersen at SOS-Rasisme argues that Heian's threats against Eikeland should cause concern even if Heian has no real plans to physically harm him, because the threats are posted in a place visited by many right-wing extremists. "Such statements can direct other right-wing extremists. The police should do something about the web site," Melbye Pettersen said.
© Aftenpost

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STOP SINGLING OUT ROMA FOR BIRTH CONTROL, ERTF SAYS(Slovakia)

28/3/2007- On the occasion of the organisation by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) of an international conference called “Sharing best practices and tools in addressing the sexual and reproductive rights of the Roma” in Bratislava, the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, Rudko Kawczynski expressed concerns about the Federation’s plans and motives. “I am utmost disgusted that IPPF had to choose Slovakia for the implementation of one of their pilot projects and as a place for today’s venue,” Rudko Kawczynski said reminding that Slovakia had just been under attacks over alleged forced sterilisations of Romani women and that the cases have still not been sufficiently clarified. “Choosing Slovakia as a place for this conference and not even mentioning the irremediable damage done to Romani women and communities comes as an implicit approval of these policies,” Kawczynski said. While specifying that he was not opposed to sexual education and family planning the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum said that this should take place in the context of mainstreaming such as information about contraceptives being provided at schools. “The racist character of this initiative becomes immediately apparent if you replace the word ‘Roma’ by ‘Jews’ or any other group. A programme aimed towards improving the access to contraceptives for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia would immediately provoke an outcry. If the same is done for Romani people almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done about their ‘uncontrolled’ growth,” Kawczynski said.

The aim of the conference was described by the organisers as “to define mechanisms, share experiences and best practices from different initiatives which could provide a basis for policymakers and civil society to address the needs and to promote the rights of Roma people.” More specifically, the organisers wanted to share the experiences of two pilot projects carried out in Slovakia and Hungary in the context of IPPF “Roma project” aimed “at providing accessible and high quality sexual and reproductive health services and sexuality education for Roma and other marginalized groups.” The projects seem to receive funding from the European Commission. The International Planned Parenthood Federation has been criticised for its close ties with the international eugenic movement. In 1939, the founder of the organisation, Margaret Sanger launched two “demonstration programs” in America’s south aimed to promote family planning among the black population. Sanger described the aims of the “Negro project” as follows: “We believe birth control knowledge brought to this group, is the most direct, constructive aid that can be given them to improve their immediate situation.” (Margaret Sanger, July 1939) Spoločnosť pre plánované rodičovstvo, the Slovak partner of IPPF and implementing agency of the project, describes its rational as follows: „The so-called Roma problem in Slovakia has a historical, cultural and social background extending beyond territorial boundaries of Slovakia. … According to the analyses made at the meetings mentioned above, the high natality is one of the reasons why the existing situation is deteriorated. The high birthrate and multiparity result in children not being provided with health care, not obtaining adequate education and later in their lives, they are not able to acquit themselves well on the increasingly demanding labour market. A vicious circle arises, which continues to expand and brings about growing tension in the society.“ In the same way as the “Negro project”, IPPF’s Roma projects rely on the active support of so-called community leaders.

Kawcynski called on the EU Commission not to finance projects which single out Roma for birth control. “It is an irony that at a time where everyone is concerned about Europe’s declining population, Roma are singled out for programmes of population control. Instead of eliminating poverty these programmes seek to eliminate the poor, in particular, Roma.” “Common wisdom teaches us that there is a close link between the material situation of a family and the number of children they have. If people increase their material well-being they tend to have fewer children. Roma are not any different from this,” the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum said urging policy-makers to take resolute action to improve the living conditions of Roma. The European Roma and Travellers Forum is the international Romani interest representation which gathers Europe’s main international Roma organisations and more than 1,500 member organisations from most of the Council of Europe member states. In December 2004, the Forum signed a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe which provides for special relations between both organisations.
© European Roma and Travellers Forum

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CZECH ROMANY ACTIVIST INSISTS ON ILLEGALITY OF EVICTION

27/3/2007- The statement by ombusdman Otakar Motejl that the demolition of a house inhabited by Romanies and their removal to a new one was legal is incorrect, Czech Romany activist Jan Rac told CTK today.  A few days ago, Rac sent a comprehensive report on the course of the Romanies' eviction from the dilapidated house to Motejl. Rac says that the houses in the Vsetin neighbourhood Poschla, to which some families have been removed, are going mildewy and are not consistent with sanitary regulations. Rac had also a detailed study on the eviction of unadapted families in Vsetin drafted. "I have sent it to the ombudsman. We will certainly change his mind. The eviction from the dilapidated house also related to the families that regularly paid the rent. This amounts to violation of human rights. No one has the right to do this," Rac told CTK. Rac said that it was not true that the houses to which the Romanies had been moved fulfilled the conditions of the construction law. According to the paper Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD), Motejl said that the relocation was consistent with the construction law. Rac said that the flats were going mildewy. The Vsetin town hall started the demolition of the ramshackle house last October. It ejected the local rent-defaulters, mostly of Romany origin, to other houses, some of them outside the town. At that time, the town hall was led by current Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek. Thirteen criminal complaints have been lodged against Cunek over the case.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLICE TO GET 'MANUAL' OF EXTREMIST SYMBOLS (Czech Rep.)

In the course of the last decade the Czech police force has increasingly been confronted with various forms of extremism and street violence. And more often than not it has been criticized for either failing to take action or over-reacting. The Interior Ministry says it is training officers to deal with such situations and has now issued a manual to help them recognize various extremist symbols.

30/3/2007- The manual - 15,000 copies of which have been printed - is something like a pocket dictionary of extremist signs and symbols. Interior Ministry spokesman Petr Vorlicek says it should help officers to make better on-the-spot decisions when dealing with demonstrators or confiscating extremist paraphernalia.
"The manual is pocket size and should help officers in the field to determine what they are dealing with - what the given symbols relate to and whether they can be viewed as promoting an extremist ideology."

The eighty-page manual covers all forms of extremism - there are neo-Nazi symbols, communist symbols, anarchist symbols and even symbols relating to environmental and Islamic extremism. There's a neo-Nazi calendar of significant names, dates and places - which often appear on tattoos and clothes and Czech related "anniversaries" such as the jailing of a young neo-Nazi for murder. These manuals are now being sent to police stations around the country. But will they help to improve the performance of the police? Commentator Jan Urban thinks any additional training is a step in the right direction.
"Definitely we do not have enough experience in dealing with political extremism. One must remember that the absolute majority of top posts in the police force are still held by older police officers trained in the communist years who simply do not have the flexibility, do not have the knowledge, do not have the international know-how and their hesitance and uncertainty is reflected in not giving clear enough orders to their staff and members of police."

Well some would also suggest that many young men who join the police are inclined to sympathize with some of these extremist groupings. What would you say to that?
"I definitely would agree. We can see the same thing happening all over Europe but more experienced police forces in more experienced West European countries have a long tradition in training and working against this -excuse the expression - "natural tendency" based on the fact that these young guys simply want to help us to keep law and order in the streets."
© Radio Prague

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ONE IN TEN SWISS IS ANTI-SEMITIC

30/3/2007- Around ten per cent of the Swiss population are anti-Semitic, according to a wide-ranging study of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes published on Friday. The survey also found that more than a quarter of the population had a tendency to agree with anti-Jewish stereotypes. Reacting to the study, Jewish organisations said that more needed to be done to raise awareness. The Federal Commission against Racism said that every percentage was "too much". The survey, which questioned 1,030 people across the country in February, was carried out by the gfs polling institute in Bern for the Federal Commission against Racism, in cooperation with the Jewish weekly magazine Tachles. It found that ten per cent of the Swiss population had "systematic anti-Semitic attitudes". This group was overrepresented in the Italian-speaking part of the country, in the lower socio-economic strata, on the right end of the political spectrum, in rural areas and among those with no Jewish acquaintances. Another 28 per cent held selective anti-Semitic views and 15 per cent felt resentment and disappointment due to Israel's policies, but did not have particularly negative attitudes towards the Jewish population. A generally positive attitude towards Jews was observed among 37 per cent of the population. Ten per cent of answers were unclassified.

Swiss Jewish community
In all 55 per cent regarded the Jewish minority in Switzerland - there are an estimated 20,000 Jews in the country ? with respect. But a strong minority of this percentage was critical of the perceived self-imposed segregation of the Jewish community. Almost half of those asked rejected the notion that Jewish people had too much influence on world politics, with 72 per cent holding the same view for Swiss politics. In terms of the debate over the Swiss position in the Second World War regarding Jews - its refugee policy, and the money deposited in Switzerland by Nazi victims - the report said that the Swiss no longer considered themselves as victims of Jewish pressure to make amends. However, the report found that the Swiss were generally critical of Israel. Fifty-four per cent believe Israel is governed by religious fanatics and 50 per cent think Israel is carrying out what the report terms a "war of extermination" against the occupied territories. The authors pointed out that although this "emotional resentment" against Israel's foreign policy was applied to Jews in general, the criticism did not amount to an anti-Semitic attitude.

Community reactions
For Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, the ten per cent was "worrying". But he said it had remained constant in recent years. Donath said that anti-Semites usually did not know any Jews personally. "We have to make Judaism and Jewish thinking better known," he told the Swiss news agency. This view was shared by William Wyler, the head of the David Centre, which campaigns against anti-Semitism in Switzerland. He believes that the percentage of hardcore anti-Semites is roughly equivalent to that of other countries. The Federal Commission against Racism said the ten per cent was too big, but noted that it would be hard to target this group. "We are interested in the 28 per cent who have anti-Semitic tendencies," said its president Georg Kreis. He added that similar wide-ranging studies were necessary regarding society's attitude towards Muslims and travellers.

The Bergier Report
In the 1990s uncomfortable revelations surfaced about Swiss banks handling assets looted by the Nazis and refusing to release details of dormant accounts held by Holocaust victims. The scandals prompted the government commission a report, led by Jean-Franâ¿s Bergier, to investigate Switzerland's wartime past. The final report, published in 2002, shattered many myths about the country's wartime history. Bergier's commission found that government and industry had cooperated with the Nazis, and that Switzerland had turned away thousands of Jewish refugees at its borders.

Key facts
* The survey is entitled "Anti-Jewish and Anti-Israel Attitudes in Switzerland".
* The data was collected from a representative sample of 1,030 residents.
* They were questioned between February 5-15 this year.

Related sites
* Report management summary in English 
* Report press release in English 
* gfs Bern polling and research institute 
* Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities 
* Federal Commission against Racism
© Swissinfo

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SWITZERLAND ANSWERS RACISM CHARGES

Switzerland has distanced itself from a hard-hitting report by Doudou Diène, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, which accuses it of racist tendencies.

27/3/2007- The government said it would seriously examine the report on racism in Switzerland, which was presented at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, and would step up efforts to combat racism and discrimination. But it rejected Diene's use of "individual incidents to draw conclusions about the general dynamism of racism and xenophobia in the country as a whole". In his full report, Diene maintains that "Switzerland has competent mechanisms and motivated officials with mandates to combat racism, but at the national level this reality is not recognised". He accuses the authorities of a lack of any "coherent and resolute political and legal strategy against racism and xenophobia". For the Senegalese UN envoy this is caused by "deep-rooted cultural resistance within Swiss society to multiculturalism...especially where persons of southeastern European and non:European origin are concerned". He adds that racism has become an instrument in political debate. In reaction, the government said it agreed that racism was a problem, "deploring the incidents mentioned by Mr Diène" and added that it was aware that more had to be done at the federal, cantonal and communal levels. But it said the high percentage of foreigners living in Switzerland and the generally successful integration of foreign residents were signs of the country's openness. It recalled that it was the Swiss public that had adopted the new asylum law, criticised by Diène, by a large majority. "The government is convinced that the implementation of this law will in no way lead to discrimination," it added.

Anti-racism commission
The Federal Commission against Racism called on the government and the cantons to heed the report's recommendations, saying the UN envoy had touched on several burning issues. Among his proposals, Diène had called for "a national programme of action against racism and xenophobia comprising national legislation...and a cultural and ethical strategy for the long:term construction of a multicultural society". The commission is urging the government to set up a roundtable with the country's cantonal authorities every time such a report is published in order to follow up and properly implement recommendations. In a seperate development, sixteen Swiss human rights organisations also announced on Tuesday the launch of an anti-racism network to better coordinate activities to fight xenophobia, discrimination and racism.
© Swissinfo

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