NEWS - Archive October 2009

Headlines 30 October, 2009


27/10/2009- A large high-profile conference against racism in sports coorganized by FARE's Polish partner together with several key ministries and the Polish Olympic Committee took place on 19 October. Jacek Purski gave the keynote speech as a representative of the NEVER AGAIN Association and FARE. He led the 15-strong group of NEVER AGAIN participants on the day. The audience was composed of some 200 officials, players and fans. UEFA, FA, and government members gave presentations, too, including the ministers of sport and of equality. Sports Minister Adam Giersz underlined that racism is punishable by law in Poland. “It is often that such racist behaviour of sports fans is treated as a joke. However, such incidents have to be treated as violation of the law. Racism is a serious offence and has to be punished,” he said. After the conference a friendly match against racism was conducted with mixed teams composed of Polish league stars, including African players as well as several famous actors, TV celebrities, and politicians. Stefan Majewski, the new coach of the Polish national team, himself a pillar of the 1982 World Cup bronze medal Polish team, took part in the game. Dariusz Dziekanowski, a Polish 1980s legend and now chairman of the Ex-Footballers' Association, participated, too. The event follows a new Monitoring Centre being opened in Poland this month, part of the FARE Eastern European Development Project, supported by European football's governing body UEFA. Poland, with Ukraine, hosts the Euro 2012 football championships. "Euro 2012 is both a challenge and an opportunity for anti-racist campaigns" said Dr Rafal Pankowski, the coordinator of the Centre and a member of the NEVER AGAIN Association. A BBC documentary made last year found widespread racism in Polish football, with monkey chanting and banana throwing not being uncommon when black players are on the field. At a UEFA conference on the subject last March in Warsaw, the Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro - who received Polish citizenship last summer, qualifying him to play for Poland during Euro 2008 - said: "I have had the misfortune of encountering racism on the pitch and off it. Racism is an issue related to culture and upbringing. Children watching television can see anti-racist messages. We must all join forces to do something about it. The role of the footballer is very important to raise awareness, especially among young people."
Football Against Racism in Europe



30/10/2009- From Russia's North Caucasus to the streets of Moscow, those who find themselves at odds with authorities can wind up as targets of deadly violence. So increasingly, some are working quietly or have abandoned their efforts altogether. On Friday a new U.N. Human Rights Committee report on Russia called for a series of sweeping legal reforms, saying the country is still struggling to guarantee some of the most basic rights, including to a fair trial, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Meanwhile a spate of killings has forced Memorial, one of Russia's leading human rights organizations, and the crusading newspaper Novaya Gazeta, to pull out of the Russian region of Chechnya. Young people are now thinking twice before volunteering to work with rights groups, said Lev Ponomaryov, director of the group For Human Rights. "It is marginalizing the human rights movement," Ponomaryov said. The pullback by activists comes at a time when President Dmitry Medvedev has spoken out forcefully in the defense of the rule of law and democratic freedoms. But his critics say he has done little so far to back up his rhetoric. Friday's U.N. report found that Russia still fails to protect journalists, activists, prison inmates and others from a wide range of abuses, including torture and murder. The authors, an 18-member panel of independent experts, urged the Kremlin and parliament to make sweeping changes in the laws, including narrowing the current broad legal definitions of terrorism and extremism, decriminalizing defamation cases against journalists and granting people forced into psychiatric hospitals by the courts the right to appeal.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said Friday he hadn't seen the report and could not comment. Perhaps the report's harshest criticism was aimed at the Russian justice system in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus region. The panel cited reports of torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial killing in those area, allegedly committed by the military and security services, saying the perpetrators "appear to enjoy widespread impunity" from punishment for their actions. While the report did not cite specific cases or statistics, it alluded to the unsolved killings of a number of journalists and human rights activists, including the October 2006 shooting of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin foe who exposed widespread human-rights abuses and corruption in Chechnya. In July of this year, Natalya Estemirova, who sometimes wrote for Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, was kidnapped in front of her apartment building in the Chechen capital, Grozny, by four men. Her body was later found riddled with bullets in a field. There have been no arrests in the case. Since Estemirova's killing, Novaya Gazeta does not feel it has the right to put anyone at risk by sending them to Chechnya, Sergei Sokolov, a deputy editor, told journalists recently. Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the PEN American Center on Thursday sent a letter to Medvedev demanding that those responsible for the death of Estemirova be brought to justice. The letter said Estemirova had "accumulated a damning body of evidence linking human rights crimes to Chechen authorities, particularly the militia of local President Ramzan Kadyrov." It called her the 18th journalist murdered in Russia "in direct retaliation for her work" since 2000, and said that in each case those who ordered the killings have escaped conviction.

In Russia outside of the North Caucasus, the impact of the journalist and activist slayings have been subtler but still significant. Most veteran human rights activists are still at work, Ponomaryov said. But fear of violence is driving away a lot of the young volunteers who once contributed to the movement. "We cannot increase the number of volunteers who work with us, because their parents can tell these young people that it is dangerous, don't do it," Ponomaryov said. The author and journalist Yulia Latynina said the recent killings have been "fairly disastrous" for Russia's community of rights activists and journalists. But she said that it was wrong to suspect Russia's federal government of complicity, instead blaming most violence on criminal gangs and powerful regional political figures who are beyond the state's control. "The spate of killings has nothing to do with the state itself, but it has to do with people who can get away with murder," she said. Latynina cited the most recent killing, that of Maksharip Aushev, a journalist and activist with close ties to the current president of the violence-plagued Russian region of Ingushetia. Aushev died Sunday in a fusillade from a passing car while driving along the Caucasus' main highway. Latynina said he was killed hours after appearing on a Russian television channel accusing a previous Ingush administration of corruption, and she suspects those remarks helped trigger his death. The U.N. report didn't just focus on attacks on journalists. It held Russia responsible for reported attacks on civilians by armed groups in South Ossetia in the aftermath of the August 2008 war with Georgia, saying Russia should have moved to stop them, and called for Moscow to investigate those abuses.

It also urged the government to take action against what the panel called an increasing number of hate crimes and racially motivated attacks. The expert panel said it was concerned about violence against lesbian, gay and bisexual persons, including reports of police harassment, adding it was concerned at the "systematic discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation" in Russia. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s, but many Russians are vehemently opposed to expansion of gay rights or gay-rights demonstrations. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is an outspoken foe of gay rights and always has blocked attempts to hold gay pride marches in the capital. The U.N. panel, which assessed how five countries, including Russia, comply with an international treaty on civil and political rights, receives its information from various U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The Associated Press



It was billed as the biggest outpouring of emotion against the abortion law yet.

29/10/2009- Organisers claimed that millions poured through the streets of Madrid in an anti-abortion protest last week, while the media and police estimated numbers of around 250,000. In fact, just 55,316 brave souls made it onto the streets to oppose the government’s plan to increase the legal period from 14 to 22 weeks, according to an independent company Lynce that has found a scientific answer to estimating crowd numbers. So good are Lynce’s methods that the national press agency Efe, has now issued a statement insisting that even the police and media exaggerated numbers by five times. The company has revealed how it calculated the numbers after taking 300 aerial photos at the demonstration. Lynce director, Juan Manuel Gutiérrez confirmed that the protesters used two video cameras, four still cameras and a zeppelin to fly over the march. Computer software then split groups of protesters into bunches and numbered them individually. Although there is still a margin of error involved in the calculations this is only 15 per cent. This means the total number of demonstrators at the march could only have been a maximum of 63,300, still well below the figures estimated by official sources. Guitiérrez set up his company because he was angry about the fact that no one seemed to be able to produce accurate statistics about marches and protests. The figures would range from thousands to millions. He felt everyone would publish what they wanted and no one would question the sources. A spokesman for Efe confirmed that the agency had carefully evaluated the programme, before using it for the first time at the march. The software allocates a unique identification number to each individual silhouette, which means that the vast majority of protesters are counted.
The Olive Press



30/10/2009- Spain's lower house of parliament has approved a controversial law which extends from 40 to 60 days the maximum period that illegal immigrants can be held in detention centres before being deported. The draft law also imposes restrictions on parents joining their immigrant children in Spain, which has seen the unemployment rate soar to nearly 18 percent, the highest level in the European Union. It now goes to the Senate, the upper house of parliament, and if it passes as expected the new rules will take effect in 2010. The draft law has drawn widespread criticism from Latin America, from where the bulk of Spain's immigrants come from as well as from rights groups who point out it allows illegal immigrants to be held for longer than criminal suspects. But the conservative opposition Popular Party accuses the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's of not doing enough to curb illegal immigration. Spain's secretary of state for immigration, Consuelo Rumi, said the law was "modern, has integrity, was in favour of integration, reinforces the efficiency of the fights against illegal immigration and puts the focus on order, control and legality."  The new law comes at a time of mounting concern over immigration in Spain, which entered into its first recession in 15 years at the end of last year.One in two Spaniards, 46 percent, see immigration as a serious threat, according to a 2008 poll by the Real Instituto Elcano think tank. The number of immigrants in Spain has rocketed from 500,000 in 1996 to 5.5 million in 2008 out of a total population of 46.7 million people. Romanians make up Spain's largest foreign community with 796,576 members, followed by Moroccans with 710,401 members and Ecuadorians with 413,715.
Expatica News



29/10/2009- The number of Swedes reporting positive experiences with immigrants is on the rise. The most positive reports come from women, young people and individuals with tertiary education. However, more people are critical of the wearing of the Muslim veil (or hijab) in schools and workplaces, according to a new study. In this year's issue of Mångfaldsbarometern, a sociological study by Uppsala University, around 67 percent of the Swedish population indicated having had positive experiences of working or studying with immigrants. Three years ago, the number was only 65 percent, according to Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT). Among those with a lower level of education, the trend was reversed, with only 43 percent reporting positive experiences of working or studying with immigrants. In 2006, the number was 55 percent. Amongst the highly educated, the number of positive responses has increased to 79 percent. The younger Swedish population also characterised their contact with immigrants in a more positive light than older citizens, according to UNT. While positive attitudes towards immigrants have increased, negative attitudes have diminished to around ten percent. Four percent of the population remains extremely hostile to the idea of cultural diversity. At the same time, Swedes increasingly suggest that the hijab should be banned in schools and workplaces and admit to regarding Muslim women as oppressed. 1,016 Swedes participated in the study conducted by the Institution of Sociology at Uppsala University.
The Local - Sweden



The Joint Council of Danish Muslims distances itself from those arrested in the U.S. on chagres of panning a terrorist attack against Jyllands-Posten.

28/10/2009- The Joint Council of Danish Muslims says that terrorism runs contrary to Islam, its values and basic principles and has condemned plans by two men arrested in the United States on charges of preparing attacks in Denmark. ”An attack on any target is the same as an attack on an entire society and its people. We are therefore relieved that the imminent terrorist attack seems to have been averted,” the Council says in a release. The Council’s comments come following disclosures yesterday of the arrests in Chicago on October 3rd and 18th of an American - David Coleman Headley (né Daood Gilani), 49, and a Canadian - Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts in Denmark. “The Joint Council of Muslims stresses that an act of this type would be directly against Islam’s basic principles and core values. Any act of terrorism is and will always be incompatible with Islam,” the Council says.



28/10/2009- A few pen strokes thrust Kurt Westergaard into the midst of an international crisis, exposing him to death threats and an alleged assassination plot. Terror charges brought against two Chicago men this week show the 74-year-old Dane remains a potential target for extremists, four years after he drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. "I am an old man so I am not so afraid anymore," Westergaard said Tuesday in an interview with Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published his drawing in September 2005 along with 11 other cartoons of Muhammad. The drawings triggered an uproar a few months later when Danish and other Western embassies in several Muslim countries were torched by angry protesters who felt the cartoons had profoundly insulted Islam. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry. Westergaard has said it took him 45 minutes to make the drawing, considered by many Muslims to be the most offensive of the 12 cartoons. He has rejected calls to apologize to Muslims, saying poking fun at religious symbols is protected by Denmark's freedom of speech. The drawing was meant to illustrate that extremists draw "spiritual ammunition from Islam," but not criticize the religion as a whole, he told broadcaster DR in February 2008 after Danish police uncovered an alleged plot to kill him. "I realize that when issues of religion are involved emotions run high, and all religions have their symbols, which possess great importance," he said. "But when you live in a secularized society, it's clear that religion can't demand some sort of special status. ... "I have a problem with the fact that we have people from another culture who don't accept that we use religious elements in a drawing."

The cartoon uproar forced Westergaard underground, living under the protection of Denmark's intelligence agency, PET. "For my wife and I, it's like a kind of dark depression has descended on us," he told DR. In February last year, Danish police arrested two Tunisians accused of plotting to strangle Westergaard in his home in the western city of Aarhus, close to the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten. Police failed to substantiate the charges against the men and released them. Both left Denmark. Meanwhile, PET moved the couple from place to place — both within Denmark and abroad. Westergaard told DR the couple brought cherished items — "mugs, vases, pictures" — to simulate a sense of home. Meanwhile, police continued to empty the trash, collect the mail and turn lights on and off in Westergaard's Aarhus home, to give the impression he was still living there. Westergaard reacted to the alleged murder plot with characteristic understatement, saying he was "maybe surprised — and a little shocked — to find that a situation like this could arise so suddenly." In the Chicago case, prosecutors said one of the suspects told FBI agents after his Oct. 3 arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that the initial plan called for attacks on Jyllands-Posten's offices, but that he later proposed just killing the paper's former cultural editor and Westergaard. The cartoonist didn't return calls seeking comment. The cartoon crisis polarized a discussion about the integration of Muslim immigrants in Denmark. Many Danish Muslims said the cartoons followed a pattern of degrading comments about Islam by nationalist politicians and in some media.

Westergaard's supporters commended him for defending the freedom of speech. "What I like about him is that he stands firm about his drawing," said Helle Merete Brix, chief editor of a magazine published by Denmark's Free Press Society. "He is a product of the European way of poking fun of authorities, whether they are religious or political." Mohammad Rafiq, a Danish writer of Pakistani origin, called Westergaard "naive" and said he and the other cartoonists had failed to understand what the Prophet Muhammad means to Muslims. "Denmark has failed to build a bridge between the cultures," he said. Asked if he regretted drawing the cartoon, Westergaard gave an unequivocal answer. "No, I don't," he told DR. "I mean, the friction between these two cultures (Muslim and Western) is always there. What will happen in the long run is that our culture — the materialistic, superior culture — will of course win out, and we will have, I think, a modified version of Islam that fits in with our secular society."
The Associated Press



Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic again refused to attend his trial at the Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday. In doing so he missed the opening remarks of prosecutor Alan Tieger.

28/10/2009- "Despite our warnings, Mr Karadzic is not present," judge O-Gon Kwon noted on what was supposed to be the second day of the trial against him. "He has chosen this course himself and must therefore accept the consequences." The UN judge went on to invite the prosecutors andKaradzic to present suggestions on how the current impasse can be broken. He himself made four suggestions: allow the trial to continue until cross-examination begins, impose a lawyer to representKaradizic, postpone the trial while a lawyer studies the case and appoint an amicus curiae - 'a friend of the court' - to represent the interests of the accused in the absence of a lawyer. These suggestions will be discussed in a separate hearing with both parties next Tuesday. According to his legal adviser Marko Sladojevic, Karadzic will attend this hearing. "Dr Karadzic is not boycotting the trial. He merely needs more time to prepare," says Sladojevic. "Ethnic cleansing was not the result but the aim of the war in Bosnia," the prosecutor said on Tuesday. In a five-hour statement he painted a picture ofKaradzic as a megalomanic leader who in his drive for a pure Serbian state in Bosnia laid the basis for war crimes and ethnic cleansing. "This is the trial of a leader who harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to implement his vision of an ethnically separated Bosnia. That leader isRadovan Karadzic," said Tieger, staring at the blue chair where the accused usually sits. Tieger set out how Karadzic - president, party leader and supreme commander during the Bosnian war (1992-1995) - is responsible for genocide, the siege of Sarajevo and the taking hostage of UN peace soldiers. Tieger illustrated his argument with Karadzic's own words, compromising documents and video images. On the siege of Sarajevo, the prosecutor quoted Karadzic: "Sarajevo will become a black cauldron in which 300,000 Muslims will disappear." And according to Tieger, Karadzic said of Muslims: "They will disappear from the face of the earth."



27/10/2009- The US State Department has stated that “there are ongoing reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation” in Bulgaria in their 2009 Religious Freedom report. The 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom section on Bulgaria stated; “The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits religious discrimination but designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion. Laws executing these provisions are ambiguous, giving scope to arbitrary decisions with respect to public practice of religion by unregistered groups.” The report added; “The Government generally respected the religious freedom of registered religious groups. There were some concerns regarding government registration of religious groups and interference with religious disputes. There were also continuing reports of intolerance from local authorities during the reporting period.” The main criticism in the introduction of the report read; “There were ongoing reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance, particularly in the media, of some religious groups remained an intermittent problem.”

The report also gave many examples of discrimination in Bulgaria including; “On March 3, 2009, three Molotov cocktails were thrown at the mosque in Varna that had been vandalized with graffiti in May 2008,” and “On February 26, 2009, the Orthodox bishop of Veliko Tarnovo led a protest march and presented a petition to the mayor of Gabrovo signed by 5 000 city residents opposing the construction of a Jehovah's Witnesses prayer house in Gabrovo.” Elsewhere in the report, North Korea and Iran were said to be the world's worst offenders in abusing religious freedom, the US State Department confirmed. "It is our hope that the will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual's right to believe or not believe as that individual sees fit," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded, while introducing the report to the press.



26/10/2009- Italian coastguard on Monday moved to rescue a boat adrift in the Mediterranean with some 200 migrants on board. The operation was being coordinated by a team from the Italian interior ministry in Rome and was being assisted by the Italian oil tanker 'Antignano', on the instructions of interior minister Roberto Maroni. The boat had been adrift in rough waters between Italy and Malta for the three days. However, after Italian authorities were alerted, strong winds blew the boat back into Maltese waters. Malta and Libya have refused to intervene or provide help to the migrants. Monday's rescue operation was being carried out in conjunction with authorities in the southern Sicilian town of Ragusa. The migrants were due to be transferred to a reception centre in the southern Sicilian coastal town of Pozzallo in the province of Ragusa. The migrant boat was spotted after one of the passengers sent an SOS from his satellite phone last Friday in a call to Eritrean family members in Italy, who then alerted the authorities. According to relatives of the passengers, there could be as many as 250 people aboard the boat, which may have been at sea for five days. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said there were women and children amongst those on board the boat who needed assistance. Two Italian coastguard vessels attempted to reach the boat on Sunday, but had to turn back due to the bad weather conditions. The Italian interior ministry 'taskforce' includes medical staff who were due to give support local doctors and nurses in Pozzallo. "This will allow rapid medical assistance should this prove necessary," said the Italian interior ministry. Italy has recently drawn criticism from the Vatican, the United Nations and rights groups for a controversial 'friendship' pact with Libya. Under the pact, thousands of migrants have since May been returned to the North African country aboard people smuggling boats intercepted in the Mediterranean by Italian and Libyan patrols. The UNHCR has been especially critical of the new Italian policy of turning back migrant boats. Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no national asylum system. It also has a poor human rights record.


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