NEWS - Archive May 2010

Headlines 28 May, 2010

27/5/2010- Migrant support group KISA is being sued for up to €2 million for defamation by lawyers Christos Clerides and Xenis Xenofontos in a further twist to the online death threat allegations made earlier this month. Clerides and Xenofontos are suing the non-governmental organisation for sending via email a proposed statement to other NGOs and individuals containing “purely defamatory and malicious” content and “false allegations” against them. The writ was also served to the executive director, Doros Polycarpou, and president, Doros Michael, of the NGO, who now face claims for damages of between €500,000 and €2 million. In early May, police seized the laptops of Xenofontos and his wife after a complaint was made by journalist Makarios Droushiotis that a local blog, Christofias-watch, published content with threats against his life. The contentious anonymous post said only in Cyprus was it possible for someone like Droushiotis to live: “Only in Cyprus is it possible for collaborators, whores and brownnosers of the conqueror (and the nobody in question is all of the above) to peddle their garbage. The traitors deserve fire and axe. Throw the collaborators into a pit and cover them with lime.” Xenofontos, the alleged blog administrator, hired the services of Clerides who criticised police tactics, accusing the latter of illegally “tapping” the telephone and internet communications of his client and violating his human rights.

Clerides, a former deputy, argued the authorities were being too heavy-handed in their approach, exercising a form of intellectual terror against opposing views and violating the right to freedom of speech. He also suggested they should not have taken the blog threats too seriously. Last week, KISA distributed a proposed statement in which it called on NGOs and individuals to strongly condemn the recent online death threats against Droushiotis. It argued that the journalist was “hated by bigots” for his desire to see a peaceful reunification of Cyprus. While respecting freedom of expression, KISA condemned and has “zero tolerance for people and acts of incitement to violence and violations of other people’s human rights and life” as found on the blog. It also noted “grave concern” that both Clerides and Xenofontos represented Cyprus on the management board of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), a body mandated to protect and monitor human rights in the EU, and went on to heavily criticise the two lawyers.

According to Polycarpou, as a result, Clerides sent an email last Friday afternoon, threatening them with legal action if they did not withdraw the statement and make a public apology. Given that it was a long weekend, KISA officials did not see the email until Tuesday morning when they were also served with a summons for a lawsuit claiming damages up to €2 million. “KISA, as an NGO charged with combating discrimination, racism and intolerance, considers it a duty to criticise these phenomena, wherever they come from, and is a member of the Platform of NGOs of the FRA. It is in this context that it took the above initiative, which was not intended to personally insult Mr Christos Clerides and the way he handles his legal duties,” said a KISA statement yesterday. Polycarpou and Michael yesterday noted that as a small, struggling organisation they could not even afford legal representation. They highlighted that in the past, they had much stronger reasons to sue people for defamation on many occasions but never did so.

More recently, last Saturday, the blog in question, Christofias-watch, ran an article accusing KISA of acting as the long arm of the “regime” of President Demetris Christofias. “Now the Christofias regime, through para-state mechanisms of intellectual violence, is trying to muzzle Christos Clerides,” said the online article. “We are an independent NGO, we prefer political dialogue,” said Michael, who along with Polycarpou called on Clerides to discuss the matter rather than take them to court.
© The Cyprus Mail



27/5/2010- For the second time in five years, the European Committee of Social Rights has condemned Greece for continued serious and widespread discrimination against Roma in respect of housing rights. In an unprecedented re-examination under the collective complaints system, the Committee unanimously upheld all of the main substantive allegations in a collective complaint filed in March 2008 by INTERIGHTS in partnership with Greek Helsinki Monitor. The decision on the merits is available here. The complaint detailed the Greek Government’s continuing failure to provide adequate housing and related infrastructure for the Roma as well as its involvement in over 20 forced evictions since 2004. It also highlighted the systematic discrimination experienced by the Roma and the failure of the Government to provide adequate safeguards and remedies for this vulnerable community. There are approximately 300,000 individuals of Roma origin living in Greece and due to the absence of suitable housing, many are dwelling in 52 improvised and dangerous encampments.

The complaint marks a turning point in the Committee’s work, being the first time it has been asked and agreed to re-examine an issue that it has previously considered. In returning to this issue, the Committee found that not only had Greece made insufficient progress in implementing recommendations from the previous decision but it had also committed significant new breaches of its housing obligations. The result is that the housing situation for most Roma families has worsened in the last five years. Commenting on the decision, Iain Byrne, a Senior Lawyer at INTERIGHTS who worked on the case, said: “This decision clearly demonstrates that governments can no longer fail to implement their economic and social rights obligations and expect to be let off the hook. By dismissing the Greek Government’s objections to a re-examination of the complaint, the Committee has sent a clear signal that victims should not be denied access to justice. It is to be hoped that, in contrast to its record over the last five years, the Greek Government will take concrete action to address the Committee’s serious concerns.”

Drawing on a large amount of material presented by the complainants, together with the findings of a number of UN, Council of Europe and national experts, the Committee found significant evidence that many Roma continue to live in housing which fails to meet minimum standards of habitability and infrastructure. Many settlements consist solely of prefabricated housing with no electricity, running water or waste collection. The Committee dismissed the Government’s arguments that Greek legislation provides adequate safeguards for the prevention of discrimination, emphasising that in general, but in particular in the case of the Roma, merely ensuring identical treatment as a means of protection against any discrimination is not sufficient. Instead, real and effective equality requires taking into account the different situation that the Roma find themselves. The Committee also concluded that the Government failed to demonstrate that either in law or practice there was sufficient provision for consultation with those to be affected by eviction, including reasonable notice and information on the provision of alternative accommodation. In summary, “no serious efforts are being made to find alternative sites or accommodation.”

In a finding that could also impact on access to justice for other marginalised communities, the Committee also deemed that the legal recourse available was not sufficiently accessible. With many Roma families unaware of the right to challenge an eviction notice, for example, the Committee found that “[t]he special circumstances of Roma families threatened by eviction means that special support should be available including targeted advice on availability of legal aid and on appeals.” The Committee concluded unanimously that there had been a violation of (a) Article 16 of the Charter on the grounds that the different situation of Roma families is not sufficiently taken into account with the result that a significant number of Roma families continue to live in conditions that fail to meet minimum standards and (b) Article 16 of the Charter on the grounds that Roma families continue to be forcibly evicted in breach of the Charter and the legal remedies generally available are not sufficiently accessible to them.

Panayote Dimitras, spokesperson for Greek Helsinki Monitor, said: “The Government must admit that the Roma housing program failed; that most housing loans did not help Roma move out from destitute settlements into adequate homes; that hundreds of forced evictions have been taking place instead. Appropriate authorities must investigate these charges and punish those found responsible. The Government should appoint new persons to implement a new holistic and effective integration plan so as to execute the double Special Charter conviction and avoid a third one in a few years. This new approach requires that authorities work directly with destitute Roma and those really representing them, rather than state-appointed assimilated Roma 'leaders'.”
© Interights



27/5/2010- The 64th meeting of the European Union-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee was marred by tension on Tuesday evening after harsh and judgmental remarks by a Dutch member of the European Parliament. During the meeting, held in İstanbul, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış was responding to questions from the committee when Barry Madlener, a Dutch politician from the Party for Freedom (PVV), stood up and started speaking: “If a referendum were to be held in the Netherlands today, then 80 percent would say ‘no’ to Turkey’s EU membership,” the Anatolia news agency reported. “Why do you recognize the illegitimate KKTC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] elections that are held? Your real friend is Iran’s dictator [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” NTV news channel quoted Madlener as saying. He left the meeting hall after delivering these remarks, NTV reported. While speaking, Bağış recalled Madlener’s remarks about the results of a possible referendum and asked whether Madlener was in the hall. Seeing that he left the meeting, Bağış criticized him for leaving without listening to the answers to the questions he posed. “I will tell those who are curious the answer to that question. Racism is a very dangerous illness. Europe has suffered much from this illness. We see that there are still those who can’t get rid of this in Europe. That’s why the EU is very important,” Bağış was quoted as saying by Anatolia, as he called the EU “the most comprehensive peace project.”
© Today's Zaman



27/5/2010- The minarets initiative weighs heavily on Amnesty International’s annual report on Switzerland’s human rights situation. That report, which alleges rights abuses in 159 countries, is released today. In Switzerland, Amnesty says it worries about a climate of increasing racism, saying the minarets vote allowed for a number of public comments targeting the muslim community. The report quotes heavily from the Council of Europe’s Commission against racism and tolerance. That body said that the minarets initiative never should have been put to a public vote. Amnesty’s report also notes that Switzerland needs to do more to prevent police violence.Just last October the UN Human Rights committee demanded independent bodies to look into complaints against law enforcement. One bright spot in the report: Amnesty does look favorably on Bern’s decision to welcome two former Guantanamo refugees inmates.

ECRI report Switzerland  Measures have been taken to foster the integration of immigrants in areas such as employment, housing and health. The federal bodies in charge of racism and migration have continued to raise awareness on racism and racial discrimination. Steps have been taken to combat right-wing extremism. However, there has been a dangerous growth of racist political discourse against non-citizens, Muslims, Black people and other minorities. Legislation is insufficiently developed to deal with direct racial discrimination, which targets in particular Muslims and persons from the Balkans, Turkey and Africa. Travellers and Yenish communities with an itinerant life style are still faced with a shortage of stopping sites and prejudice leading to instances of discrimination. Legislation governing asylum seekers has been tightened and hostility towards them has increased.
© World Radio Switzerland



26/5/2010- Spain's northeastern town of Lerida is to vote Friday to ban the wearing of the burqa in municipal buildings, the mayor's office said, in an apparent first for the country. A proposal was being drawn up and the majority socialists were behind the push to ban the face-covering Islamic veil in the municipality's buildings, a spokesman for the mayor's office said Wednesday. The town had asked its legal services to look into the possibility of banning the garment in all public spaces in the name of the fundamental rights of women, the official said. "We cannot regulate the usage of the burqa in the road, but we can do that in municipal buildings," he said. Few women wear the full veil in Lerida, a town in the Catalonia region that has about 140,000 residents, one-fifth of whom are immigrants including from North Africa. The garment has sparked intense debate in many European countries, with Belgium deputies last month backing a draft law banning the garment in all public places, including on the streets, in a first for Europe. The text must be adopted by the upper house Senate before it can come into effect. France's cabinet has also approved a draft law to ban the full-face veil from public spaces, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July. Spain's socialist government is opposed to legislating against the burqa.
© Expatica News



28/5/2010- Gay activists on Thursday vowed to stage a weekend pride parade outside the European Commission's building in central Moscow despite a court ruling upholding a City Hall ban on the gathering Thursday. The activists will defy the ban to rally on Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya on Saturday, gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev said at a news conference attended by Chicago Gay Liberation Network activist Andy Thayer, British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell and gay German lawmaker Volker Beck. Organizers had requested that the embassies of several European countries accommodate the event on their grounds but were refused, Alexeyev said. He criticized the diplomatic missions for selling “human rights for the sake of economic interest,” Interfax reported. At least 100 Russians, as well as two or three members of the European Parliament and a number of other European and U.S. activists, are expected to participate. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has called gay pride parades "satanic" and consistently banned them. Gay rallies, held in the city center since 2006, have been routinely attacked by radical Orthodox believers and broken up by police. The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule this year on City Hall's bans on gay parades in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia only in 1993, and homophobic attitudes remain widespread. Last May, more than 30 gay activists, including Tatchell, were arrested for attempting to hold a pride march in the gardens of Moscow State University. In October, a Russian court threw out a request by a lesbian couple to force a registry office to marry them.
© The Moscow Times



24/5/2010- The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) has said there has been a recent increase in anti-Semitism in Ulyanovsk. "One of the recent manifestations of organized fascism in Ulyanovsk was the appearance of the words "Jews Must Die" and swastika in several districts of the city on April 20," the FJCR said in a statement sent to Interfax-Religion on Monday. At a rally devoted to May 1 organized by the Communist Party, "anti-Semitic leaflets were openly distributed and unknown individuals raided the Ulyanovsk Jewish Community Center building on May 9," the document says. On May 10, the Jewish Community Center was attacked again by a group of people, who threw stones at its windows, the FJCR said in its statement. The Anti-Extremism Center of the Ulyanovsk region's Interior Affairs Department is currently investigating these incidents. The statement quotes Valery Rogatsky, deputy head of the Ulyanovsk Jewish Community, as saying that "these sad events are most likely organized, not spontaneous." The FJCR also said anti-Semitic attacks have happened in Ulyanovsk before (specifically, the Ulyanovsk Jewish Community Center and the synagogue were attacked two years ago). Over ten people acting on behalf of the Russian National Union took part in the attack. The attackers painted swastika on the walls of the building, threw Russian National Union newspapers at the synagogue, and shouted threats at Jewish people.
© Interfax-Religion



22/5/2010- The so-called "Senate" or highest appeal level of the Latvian Supreme Court (Augstâkâ tiesa) has let stand a lower appeals court decision clearing Latvian neo-Nazi Andris Jordâns of charges of inciting race hatred. Jordâns was originally sentenced to an 18 month jail term for statements he made at a meeting of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee denouncing Jews and Roma (gypsies) as "not being human". There were a number of Latvian Jews in the audience during Jordan's remarks, which, as some video records show, were delivered in a normal, non-threatening tone of voice. From news reports, it appears that the lower appeals court decision was based on a failure of prosecutors to prove that Jordâns' speech was an incitement to racial hatred. It did not touch the issue of whether there should be hate speech laws (probably more of a question for Latvia's Constitutional Court), simply that the prosecution failed to make its case. Jordans is precisely the kind of hard case (a racist, anti-semitic loony-tune) where it is necessary to separate principle from personality and stand by the broadest interpretation of free speech. Free expression applies to all speech and expression, regardless of its content and with some very, very narrow exceptions (had Jordan's statement immediately been followed by an attack on Jews in the audience, there might be a case, similarly, there could be a case for diminished responsibility based on provocation if a Jewish person from the audience had taken a punch at Jordans). We can all imagine supporting the free speech rights of a kind little old lady who is arrested for verbally protesting the closing of a shelter for stray cats. But the real test case is for people who we really, really don't like and whose politics, if implemented, are dangerous and totalitarian. That means people like Jordâns or some raving Muslim jihadist preacher. Freedom for the thought we hate, as Anthony Lewis more or less formulated it.
© Free Speech Emergency in Latvia



26/5/2010- A flag with swastika and further items featuring Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were found with four Czech youths now tried over an arson attack on a house inhabited by Romanies last year, authorised expert Michal Mazel told the court yesterday. The four youths were active neo-Nazis. They supported other neo-Nazis now in prison and had a number of things with the Nazi theme, Mazel said. They read articles inciting for arson attacks on Romanies from the magazines they were hiding in their homes, said Mazel, who drew up an expert report on the objects found by the police in the defendants' homes. The four, David Vaculik, Jaromir Lukes, Ivo Mueller and Vaclav Cojocaru, face exceptional sentences, up to life imprisonment, if convicted of racially motivated attempted murder. Three of the suspects threw three Molotov cocktails in the windows of a Romany family house in Vitkov. Three of the house inhabitants suffered injuries in the subsequent fire. The worst afflicted was a 1.5-year-old girl Natalka, who suffered severe burns on 80 percent of her body. "These are things directly connected with both historical Nazism and modern European and global neo-Nazism," Mazel said. "They also had a number of magazines with racist and hateful texts. There were appeals to kill members of other ethnic groups as well as appeals to something similar to what happened in Vitkov," Mazel said. Lukes, Ivo Mueller and Cojocaru have confessed to the crime, but denied that it was a deliberate attack on the Romanies. They said they only wanted to burn a store of stolen things in the house.

Mazel questioned this yesterday. "I have never come across any extremists wanted to attack any storage facility. It is to be a sign of racial war that is always waged against people, an ethnic group or a hostile race," Mazel said. Authorised experts said the confiscated things unequivocally proved the defendants were intensively interested in extremist issues and that they lived for the neo-Nazi movement. "This can be primarily seen in their effort to support their imprisoned friends," Mazel said, adding that the defendants were among the worst extremists. Mazel said he had often found the symbol C18 on the things and video recordings. This is the name of a British neo-Nazi terrorist organisation. The defendants also had clothes with the number 18. Mazel said it was a visible allusion to the name of Adolf Hitler for neo-Nazis. Mazel said the found things were clearly witnessing of promotion of racial exclusiveness and xenophobic attitudes. The police found with Cojocaru a neo-Nazi magazine with the texts calling Romanies rubbish or beasts. They call for a racial purge, Mazel said. Mazel said video recordings of neo-Nazi music bands were found among the confiscated things. At the beginning of the trial Cojocaru and Mueller denied active membership of neo-Nazi cells. "I only wanted to belong somewhere," Mueller said. "I liked the fashion, the bomber jackets they wore," Cojocaru said.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



28/5/2010- The Czech Supreme Court (NS) has rejected the appellate review filed by seven right-wing extremists who were punished for promotion of neo-Nazism at the May Day 2007 rally of the National Resistance (NO) group in Brno, CTK has learnt from the database of NS verdicts. The participants in the rally clashed with the police. In 2007, the Brno courts sent the organiser, Tomas Pliska, to two years behind bars. The others received softer sentences. "By attending the NO rally, the accused evidently actively promoted and supported ideals propagated by the NO," the court said. Pliska and the other six convicts challenged the previous court decision describing their behaviour as support to neo-Nazism. They also challenged the court's interpretation of the term nationalism and asserted that the NO does not exist as a coherent and active group. The NS did not accept their arguments. "There is no doubt that the NO is really a movement, though decentralised in a number of cells, whose members know about each other, meet each other and organise joint events," the court said. The clash between the extremists and the police in Brno was one of the biggest in Czech history. The then secretary at the Brno-Centre Town Hall, Radovan Novotny, dissolved the planned rally before it could start over the participants' behaviour and over the NO symbols on their clothes and banners. The participants did not respect the ban and did not disperse. Instead, the rally developed into tough brawls between the participants and the police who were trying to force them out of the town centre. Several people were injured. The seven convicts ranked among the most active participants, video recordings have shown.
© The Prague Daily Monitor


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