NEWS - Archive June 2009

Headlines 26 June, 2009


25/6/2009- Russia's Supreme Court has overturned the acquittal of three men accused of involvement in the 2006 killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The court ordered that the three men face a retrial. Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov were acquitted in February after a trial that critics said was farcical. Politkovskaya was a staunch critic of the Kremlin and her supporters allege official involvement in her death. The Kremlin has dismissed such claims.

Suspect at large
The Supreme Court decision came after prosecutors appealed against the not guilty verdicts handed down by a Moscow court. The process of the trial was strongly criticised by Russian journalists and human rights groups. Even so, Politkovskaya's supporters have always said that even guilty verdicts would not have been satisfactory. None of the three was accused of being the actual killer. The suspected gunman, Rustam Makhmudov - brother of two of the other suspects - has still not been caught. And campaigners say it is those who ordered the killing that they really want to see in the dock. Politkovskaya, who gained prominence by exposing human rights abuses by the Russian army in Chechnya, was shot dead in the entrance hall of her apartment building in Moscow in 2006. The Supreme Court ordered the retrial to take place at the same military court in Moscow where the first trial was held. A lawyer for the defendants described the decision as "political" and said he would contest it in the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile the lawyer representing Anna Politskovskaya's family also denounced the Supreme Court's ruling, saying they had not been seeking to overturn the acquittal. The family had agreed that the prosecution had failed to put together a convincing case against the three men.
BBC News



Police Officer Gets Suspended Sentence for Abusing Purported Neo-Nazi 
23/6/2009- A St. Petersburg court sentenced a former police officer to a four years suspended sentence for abusing a suspect in connection with a series of neo-Nazi murders and assaults, according to a June 22, 2009 report by the Regnum news agency. Nikolai Timoshenko had already lost his job after a video surfaced of him placing the suspect inside an uncomfortably tight bullet proof vest while interrogating him in 2007. The suspect, Andrey Chervotkin, was picked up along with several others in connection with two murders and a well-publicized assault on a politically connected reporter from the Tuva Republic, Sayana Mongush. Mr. Chervotkin had refused to testify when the vest was placed on him. Numerous human rights reports have documented the systematic use of far more violent forms of torture by Russian police, who are rarely brought to account for their abuses.

Crimean Police Official Denies Existence of Neo-Nazi Gangs in Region 
23/6/2009- There are no organized far-right or fascist gangs in the Republic of Crimea, a top police official in that Ukrainian region has announced, according to a June 19, 2009 report on the Novosti Kryma web site, which monitors developments in the region. Dmitry Korzhov, deputy head of the patrol inspectorate of the regional MVD, made that assertion before a regional parliamentary commission on June 18. "At the present moment, there are no solid gangs of a fascist type on the territory of the Autonomous Crimean Republic," he stated. However, he added, "Individuals who are trying to stir up something do exist" while simultaneously vowing "tough measures" against them. "We won't have a situation here like they have in Russia. Skinheads in berets walk the
streets of Moscow--we won't allow that to happen here." While Mr. Korzhov's resolute language is reassuring and positive, UCSJ
and the Council of Europe have documented recent neo-Nazi attacks in the Crimea. Last year, the Council of Europe released a report on racism in Ukraine in which it listed the Crimea as a region where neo-Nazis are active. According to Agence France Presse, the report also stated that: "Skinhead violence against [Crimean] Tatars and Jews is also frequent and police have offered little protection to the different communities."

Inter-Ethnic Violence in Adygeya
23/6/2009- An inter-ethnic clash between local residents of Maykop, Russia (Republic of Adygeya) resulted in several injuries and accusations by the victims that the police stood by passively and watched, according to a June 17, 2009 report by the web site Kavkazsky Uzel, which monitors developments in the Northern Caucasus. According to the report, which relied heavily on victims' accounts, on the night of June 10 a group of 30-40 ethnic Adygeys attacked a smaller, mixed group of friends made up of Chechens, Ingush, Ossetians, Azeris and Adygeys. "Without saying a word, they attacked us," a victim recalled. "Four men beat me. I lost consciousness twice. Policemen woke me up and they took me to the hospital." A police spokesman stated that there is no record of such an attack taking place in Maykop that night, but Kavkazsky Uzel quoted a low ranking officer, Rustam Napsaev, saying that, "Yes, there definitely was a massive brawl after which people with various injuries went to the hospital." According to one victim, Mr. Napsaev persuaded him not to report the incident, saying that the attackers would receive at most a fine, an accusation that Mr. Napsaev denied.
FSU Monitor



Facebook is being used to spread the message of a Danish Nazi organisation and attract new members

23/6/2009- The chairman of the Nazi organisation – the National Socialist Movement of Denmark (DNSB) – is using the widespread appeal of online social networking to recruit more members to his organisation. DNSB chairman Jonni Hansen uses his personal profile on social networking website Facebook to post videos and speeches and take part in group debates, according to MetroXpress newspaper. ‘Facebook is perfect for communicating our message to a lot of new people,’ said Hansen. ‘So far, lots of people have written to me asking various questions and we’ve also got some new members.’ The DNSB chairman is not lacking in company on the website, with almost 130 ‘friends’ listed, some of whom appear more extremist than Hansen, whose profile photo features him standing behind a lectern draped in a Danish flag. One of his online supporters posted a photo of himself masked, clad in black and holding a knife, while giving a Nazi salute in front of the Danish flag. Another uses a swastika image instead of a personal photo. Rene Karpantschof, a sociologist at the University of Copenhagen who has researched neo Nazism said he was not surprised that Hansen is making use of online media. ‘Jonni Hansen is the leader of a group that tries to mobilise support and attract new members. It’s an obvious move to debut on the most popular social networking site where he can expect to come into contact with sympathisers and spread their message with greater impact.’ The current DNSB organisation was founded in 1991 and can trace its roots back to the Danish Nazi Party of the 1930s. Their controversial radio station has been banned a number of times due to content broadcast, but continues to operate on a private basis. Membership figures for the organisation are not released.
The Copenhagen Post



A new Interior Ministry study has revealed that Muslims in Germany are much more integrated than previously thought: Around half are German citizens and 70 percent of women never wear a headscarf. There are also many more Muslims in the country than was previously estimated.

24/6/2009- Poor, uneducated and living in a "parallel society" of headscarf-wearing women and criminal youth: The common stereotype of Muslims in Germany is not an all-too-positive one. But a new study reveals a surprisingly different picture of the reality -- including the fact that many more Muslims live in Germany than was previously believed. The study, which was commissioned by the Interior Ministry together with Germany's Islam Conference, is the first country-wide study that gives a representative overview of Muslim life in Germany. Researchers from the Nuremberg-based Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) interviewed around 6,000 Muslims from 49 different countries about the role of religion in their everyday life and various aspects of integration. A summary of the study was published Tuesday and the full study will be presented Thursday at the last meeting of the Islam Conference, which Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble initiated in 2006 in a bid to launch a dialogue between the German state and the Muslim community.

Many More Muslims in Germany
One of the study's most surprising findings is that Germany is home to many more Muslims than was previously believed. The researchers concluded that between 3.8 million and 4.3 million Muslims live in the country, making up around 5 percent of the total population of 82 million. The figure had previously been estimated at between 3.1 million and 3.4 million. The reason for the huge increase is that the study's authors took more countries of origin into account than had previously been the case, and also looked at the children of Muslims with German citizenship. Regarding the issue of citizenship, the study revealed that around 45 percent of Muslims living in Germany have a German passport. Another sign of successful integration, in the view of the authors, is the fact that more than half of Germany's Muslims are members of what the authors term a "German" club or association -- a designation that includes sports clubs, unions and associations for senior citizens, but not clubs based around members' country of origin. Almost two-thirds of Germany's Muslims are of Turkish origin, the researchers found, while smaller groups come from Balkan countries such as Bosnia or Albania, the Middle East and North Africa. Almost all live in the states of the former West Germany and Berlin, with the most living in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state. The study also reveals surprising results when it comes to some key issues in the often-heated integration debate in Germany. Contrary to popular stereotypes, 70 percent of female Muslims do not wear a headscarf, with second generation immigrants less likely to wear a headscarf than their mothers. And Muslim girls, who are commonly imagined to be closeted away by their families, are much more involved in school activities than generally believed: Some 90 percent of female Muslim students take part in school trips while 93 percent take part in swimming lessons, another hot-button issue in Germany.

Educated Second Generation
The study also found that the majority of Muslims consider themselves religious. Around a third described themselves as "very religious" and a half said they were "somewhat religious." However only about a third of respondents regularly attended a mosque, although 76 percent said they wanted Islamic religious education classes in schools. When the researchers compared the first and second generations of Muslim immigrants, they found that Muslims born in Germany showed higher levels of education compared to their parents, particularly when it came to girls. In the case of female Muslims, this was partly due to the very low level of education of many female first generation immigrants. However it wasn't all good news. The study's authors found that the Muslim community is home to a disproportionately high level of school drop-outs, unemployed and poor people -- particularly among immigrants of Turkish descent. Interior Minister Schäuble said the situation of Muslims in Germany had improved in recent years, party as a result of the dialogue with the Muslim community. "Muslims feel more comfortable and more accepted here in Germany today," Schäuble told the German news agency DPA. "And the non-Muslim part of our society has better understood that Islam is a part of our country and that diversity is not a threat but in fact enriches our society."
The Spiegel



24/6/2009- Two out of every three Muslims living in Malta feel discriminated against, according to an EU-wide survey by the Fundamental Rights Agency. In most cases, the Muslims interviewed, most of them illegal immigrants, said the discrimination against them by the Maltese was not attributed to their religious belief but to their colour. Still, with 64 per cent of Muslims saying they felt discriminated against in the past 12 months prior to the interview, Malta features at the top of the EU-ranking. It is followed by Italy with 55 per cent and Finland with 47 per cent. The results published by the FRA in Brussels yesterday are an extrapolation of a larger survey of immigrant and ethnic groups' experiences of discrimination and racist crime held in the EU last year.

The first results of the general survey published last month had also indicated a high level of discrimination in Malta against people of different ethnic origin. The data published so far showed that 55 per cent of the 500 migrants of African origin interviewed said they felt discriminated against because of their ethnic origin. The new survey, focusing exclusively on the Muslim community in Europe, shows that discrimination is perceived as well spread in the Maltese community. Asked specifically to say in which areas they felt discriminated, 43 per cent of Muslims pointed out work-related environments (while looking for work) and 25 per cent said they were actually discriminated at work. The Muslim community also feels it is treated differently to others with regard to public health services or at shops. In fact, 20 per cent complained they were not given the right services or felt discriminated by health care personnel and 33 per cent said they felt treated differently while at a cafè, bar or a night club.

The FRA pointed out that, since the majority of Muslims interviewed were illegal immigrants or asylum seekers, this could have had an effect on the way they felt about their host community. "The example of Malta merits more careful examination in future research. The high levels of experienced discrimination should be nuanced as they affect primarily asylum seekers who enter the country in disproportionate numbers to those in other member states and to the size of the country's population, as UNHCR figures show. "This could mean that Malta would stand to benefit from targeted EU support in its efforts to deal with discrimination in relation to specific groups, such as asylum seekers," the report said.

According to the FRA overall findings, Muslims feel discriminated all over Europe. On average, one in three Muslim respondents were discriminated against in the past 12 months and 11 per cent experienced a racist crime. The highest levels of discrimination took place in employment. FRA said that, in common with other minority groups, most Muslim respondents (79 per cent) in the EU did not report discriminatory incidents and cases of racist crime to any organisation, be it state-run or not.
Young Muslim respondents, in particular, indicate that they have little faith in the police. Overall, 59 per cent of respondents believe that "nothing would happen or change through reporting" and 38 per cent say that "it happens all the time" and, therefore, they do not make the effort to report incidents.
Times of Malta



Calls are growing in Germany for Islam to be granted the same legal status, rights and duties as other recognised religions, with the idea forming the main focus for this week’s Islam Conference.

23/6/2009- Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democratic Union has said this is his long-term aim, while the Greens this week urged the conference to take concrete steps in that direction. But a number of formalities have to be fulfilled for the German constitution to recognise Islam as an official religious community, including the ability to provide teachers to give children education in state schools about their faith. The Muslim communities in Germany are still a way away from this, Schäuble recently told the Tageszeitung. He said the conference was, “a fair way along the road to reaching the point of being able to offer religion classes at schools to Islamic children. We have developed a more exact understanding together that one can only introduce religion classes in a partnership.” He acknowledged the fact that the state governments have jurisdiction over education, and are far from accepting the idea of putting Islamic religion classes on an equal footing with Catholic and Evangelical classes. But he said: “This process needs time. So, for example, existing associations such as the Islam Council, are religious associations, but not a religious community as far as the constitution is concerned. Religious instruction is needed for that.”

Schäuble perhaps unwittingly illustrated how far integration still had to go when he admitted forgetting to invite any Muslim representative to last month’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the German constitution. “It’s completely clear that the fact that there was no invitation, was a regrettable mistake. I asked my people directly afterwards… why we did not do it.” When asked why an invitation had not been sent out, he said: “We did not think about it. Integration is a learning process – also in my department.” The Greens party this week drew up a discussion paper which set out further conditions which any formalised religious community would be expected to fulfil. This included active campaigning for religious freedom of non-Muslims, as well as working for the rights of Muslim women, and against anti-Semitism and against homophobic violence. Germany’s Bishops’ Conference has also spoken out in favour of the long-term legal equality of Islam. Its secretary Hans Langendörfer wrote in a piece for the Tageszeitung it was, “fundamentally desirable that the Muslim community be set on a legally equal level as the Christian Churches. Above all, the status of a ‘legal public corporation’ is not a right exclusive to the churches.” The Islam Conference meets on Thursday.
The Local - Germany



A court in Koblenz has ruled that police may break up public events pre-emptively on the grounds that they expect crimes to be committed.

22/6/2009- Koblenz’ administrative court ruled on Monday that the police had acted correctly when they broke up a skinhead concert on the grounds that they expected Nazi propaganda to be spread there. Those at the concert in Sinzig were given an official police order to leave the area, and to stay out of the town – and the nearby towns of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler and Remagen. Organisers made a legal complaint, saying the concert was a private birthday party and that no crime had been committed. The first point was dismissed by the judge, who pointed to the cash desk, sale of drinks and entrance stamps on the hands of those present. The judge ruled further that the police’s prognosis that the music lyrics were going to include illegal texts, was justified by the fact that the music was stopped after somebody shouted, “The pigs are coming,” the court ruled. Torn up pages were later discovered behind the stage, containing what the court said were texts which were “at least offensive to foreigners”. Further justification for the November 2008 concert being broken up in the expectation that otherwise crimes such as incitement to violence, would be committed, included the fact that the atmosphere was aggressive, and that many people there were dressed in skinhead fashions. The judge said that the banning of the concert-goers from the surrounding towns was also acceptable on the grounds that the police were justified in expecting them to commit crimes in frustration that their concert had been stopped. An appeal against the ruling is possible, and has not yet been ruled out.
The Local - Germany



The establishment of a new conservative group in the European parliament on Monday has caused a schism between two small Dutch Christian parties. The one-man SGP refuses to drop its policy that women cannot hold political posts.

23/6/2009- The new MEPs have not been sworn in yet, but the first split has already occurred. The fundamentalist SGP (Reformed Political Party) and the orthodox ChristenUnie (Christian Union) are the two small protestant parties in Dutch parliament that, for the past 25 years, have teamed up in Brussels. For the recent European parliamentary elections they formed a joint list of candidates and won two seats. But when the British Conservative Party announced the formation of a new political group in the European parliament on Monday, only the ChristenUnie's Peter van Dalen appeared on the list of MEPs. Bas Belder of the SGP was excluded from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group because he refuses to let go of the party's policy that women are unfit for political responsibility.

According to the SGP's beliefs, the bible says men and women have seperate roles and therefore women can not be full party members or elected representatives. Both orthodox parties draw their support from the Dutch "bible belt" - which stretches from the tip of Zeeland in the southwest to northern parts of the province Overijssel - and have long been affiliated with each other. But when the ChristenUnie, the more left-leaning of the two, doubled its seats to six in the last general elections in the Netherlands, it was asked to join a governing coalition of Christian democrats and Labour in 2007. The compromise nature of a coalition government forced the party to shelve some of its ideas about prostitution, euthanasia and abortion. That has angered the SGP, which still holds two seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament.

In Europe, however, the two still worked together and the fact that the SGP doesn't allow women in its ranks was apparently not a problem for the European Independence/Democracy Group they were a part of. But both parties wanted out of that fraction and an opportunity presented itself when a new initiative of conservatives started taking shape. However, the British Conservative Party, one of the major players in the new group, found the SGP's principles unacceptable and demanded it change its policy on female members. When the SGP declined to make concessions - saying "the SGP chooses its own ideas, nobody else" - the CU left its old partner behind and signed up alone with the new European Conservatives and Reformists group. "In fact the ChristenUnie has ditched the SGP," according to the SGP's statement. The new conservative block will bring together at least 56 MEPs and will probably be the fourth largest party in the parliament. Its 'anti-federalist' members come from eight countries: the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands and the UK.



22/6/2009- Mike Brennan was getting off a Vienna subway when two undercover police officers pounced on him, mistaking him for a drug dealer. Months later, the 35-year-old black American is still recovering from his injuries — and waiting for a satisfactory apology. Critics claim the incident has highlighted discrimination in a country where Amnesty International says migrants and people of color are more likely to be suspected of crimes than whites and are regularly denied their right to equal treatment by the police and judicial system. Brennan, a soft-spoken physical education and English teacher who has lived in Austria for about four years, claims the officers who attacked him on Feb. 11 failed to identify themselves and simply left him lying on the platform once they realized their mistake. The Vienna Police Department put out a statement saying it regretted the mix-up but never suspended those involved. Prosecutors soon expect to decide whether to indict the officers or drop the case. The former American football player from Jacksonville, Fla., says he could not work for months because of injuries to his back, head, neck, hand and wrist. He wants police to acknowledge that what they did was wrong. "They apologized for the mix-up — but not for the beating," he said. Wilfried Embacher, Brennan's lawyer, argues the officers should go on trial for assault. Brennan, who teaches at the Vienna International School, a private institution for expatriates, said he's not just fighting for himself. "I'm fighting for everyone," Brennan said. "If nothing changes now, I don't know about the future." Minorities in other European countries share Brennan's fears.

A recent Europe-wide study by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency found 55 percent of minorities and immigrants think "discrimination based on ethnic origin is widespread in their country." The survey, which questioned 23,500 people from ethnic and immigrant minorities across the 27-nation European Union, also found that Gypsies and Africans reported the most abuse and that many victims have a "lack of confidence" in government anti-racism policies. Groups surveyed included Africans, Central and East Europeans, Iraqis, Turks and Roma, or Gypsies. Earlier this year, a video showed police officers in the Swedish city of Malmo using racial slurs to describe youth rioting in an immigrant neighborhood. Authorities said it was an isolated incident, but critics contend it highlighted an undercurrent of xenophobia in the force. In the Czech city of Brno, a policeman was charged with misuse of power and causing bodily harm resulting in death after a January incident claimed the life of a 43-year-old Vietnamese man. Three policemen came to the man's apartment after a neighbor complained about noise. The other two were charged with misuse of power for not intervening. Police have apologized in a letter sent to the Vietnamese Embassy. Still, Austria's police have a particularly spotty record when it comes to ethnic minorities.

In May 1999, 25-year-old Nigerian immigrant Marcus Omofuma died while being deported after police strapped him to his airplane seat and taped his mouth and nose shut. And in 2006, police officers assaulted a Gambian man, identified only as Bakary J., at a warehouse after he refused to be deported, seriously hurting him. In both cases, the officers received suspended sentences. In the Omofuma case, the three officers were found guilty of negligent homicide but acquitted of torture leading to death. In the Bakary J. case, three of the officers had been charged with physically abusing the man. A fourth was charged with neglect of his duties by doing nothing to stop his colleagues. In April, Amnesty International released a report saying it was concerned skin color was too often a factor in Austrian police interventions and found shortcomings in the country's recording and public availability of statistics on racist crimes. It said there was considerable evidence Austrian police have engaged in widespread ethnic profiling over the past decade, particularly in efforts to counter drug-related crime. It also expressed concern that disciplinary proceedings against law enforcement officials are sometimes not initiated despite "strong evidence" pointing to serious misconduct. "I'm afraid that the police's role as friend and protector doesn't apply to everyone," said Beatrice Achaleke, executive director of the Vienna-based, nonprofit International Center for Black Women's Perspectives, who has lived in Austria for 14 years. Achaleke, who is originally from Cameroon and is also president of the Black European Women's Council, said she worries her son, 8, could be harassed once he becomes old enough to go out at night. "If he goes to a dance club and something happens it's clear he'll be among the first to be questioned by police," she said.

Still, Austria is a popular destination for immigrants because it is a safe and wealthy nation where job prospects are relatively good compared to other European countries. This spring, the Mercer consulting firm ranked its capital, Vienna, as the city with the world's overall highest quality of living. While taxes are high, Austrians enjoy universal health care, generous pensions and extended maternity leave. About 545,000 of the country's population of 8.3 million are foreigners other than EU nationals and citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Of those, the majority — 292,730 — are from nations of the former Yugoslavia. Some 110,678 are from Turkey, 59,538 from Asia and 21,460 from Africa. Brennan stresses he is not against the police or Austrians in general, adding that perfect strangers have come up to him to wish him well. And experts acknowledge that mistakes happen. "But what counts is how authorities deal with them," said Wolfgang Zimmer, an official at ZARA, an Austrian anti-racism group that logged 704 racist incidents last year alone from victims and others contacting the organization. To Brennan's supporters, many of whom recently gathered for a benefit concert to help him pay his lawyer fees, it's about making amends and giving a voice to other victims. "It's a matter of dignity," said Albert Frantz, a 34-year-old pianist. "Mike's case is part of something larger — he's one of many." Patrick Bongola, a musician who grew up in Kinshasa, now the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said racism was part of everyday life. "You learn to live with it," said Bongola, who moved to Austria 18 years ago. Still, worse could be ahead with the rise of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, which garnered about 13 percent of the vote in recent elections after running a blatantly anti-foreigner campaign. "The sad thing is that Austrian civil society doesn't have the guts to speak out," Bongola said.
The Associated Press



21/6/2009- Hungary arrested a far-right activist and leader of the country's neo-Nazi movement on terrorism charges. Gyorgy Budahazy, who was charged on several counts of arson and instigation to murder, has declined to cooperate with the investigation and threatened to counter-sue the attorney general. Hungarian investigators believe they have established a link between Budahazy and the terrorist organization Hungarian Arrows, which has claimed responsibility for several recent arson attacks. The name of the organization is a reference to the Hungarian Arrow-Cross, a Nazi military organization that murdered tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Budahazy was present last week at the signing of collaboration accords between Jobbik, a Hungarian neo-Nazi party, and several radical rightist youth organizations. Budahazy is believed to have established a terror unit in 2007 to spread fear among leftist politicians. Shots fired at the home of Istvan Hiller, the Socialist education minister, and an arson attack on the property of Janos Koka, a Liberal politician and the minister of commerce at the time, allegedly were intended to influence parliamentary debate on health-care reforms and the national budget. Hungarian Arrows is blamed for these as well as three similar attacks and other incidents. Budahazy's arrest is the fifth linked to a police raid on a house in April that uncovered an arsenal of weapons and a bomb-making factory, including several devices thought to have been intended for use on the homes of politicians.
The Budapest Times


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