NEWS - Archive May 2012

Headlines 25 May, 2012


Campaigners who used Eurovision to highlight rights concerns now expect to pay price for speaking out.
By Shahla Sultanova, IWPR-trained freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.

25/5/2012- As Azerbaijan prepares for the Eurovision Song Contest finale on May 26, local human rights groups are warning that once international media interest wanes, the government will launch a crackdown to punish those who used the event to criticise its record. Winning the right to host Eurovision was a major coup for the
government, which saw it as a chance to advertise a country that remains unfamiliar to many Europeans. For human rights groups and the political opposition, however, the contest was an opportunity to draw international attention to restrictions on free speech and other concerns, which some argued made Azerbaijan an unsuitable host for the pan-European event. A campaign called “Sing for Democracy” made the link explicit. In the run-up to Eurovision, several conferences on human rights have been held place in Baku, and protest rallies have taken place in the city centre for the first time in years. Activists predict, though, that the limited freedoms which now exist will be curtailed once Azerbaijan ceases to be in the limelight.

Ulvi Hasanli, head of the Azad Genclik (“Free Youth”) organisation which held a protest on March 17 and took part in events during Eurovision week, said that retribution was inevitable, and that he expected to see activists and journalists being blackmailed, arrested and beaten up. “The Azerbaijani government had high expectations of winning recognition from the world community and fostering an attractive image. It didn’t happen. We were the ones who destroyed that image,” he said. “They are very angry about that, and they will definitely try to teach us a lesson.” Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, said she was expecting arrests to follow the contest, to put a stop to any hopes of liberalisation. “Civil society activists will be main targets for punishment, for talking to the European community about so many of the negative realities of Azerbaijan. Not just activists but their family members as well will be targeted,” she said.

“Azerbaijan’s government is scared of its own people. It is afraid of an ‘Arab Spring’ happening in Azerbaijan. There have been a number of protests during Eurovision. The government will therefore take every step to intimidate people so that they don’t carry on afterwards.” The Azad Genclik group has issued a statement warning foreign tourists to be careful in their hotel rooms, given that journalists have been filmed secretly for the purposes of blackmail in recent times. The reference was to April 2011, when secret footage of journalists Natiq Adilov and Qan Turali in their hotel rooms was broadcast on Lider TV. The same channel aired a sex tape showing Azer Ahmedov, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, in October 2010. In March 2012, a secretly-filmed video showing journalist Khadija Ismayilova and her boyfriend at home; this followed threats and blackmail clearly aimed at curbing her investigations into high-level corruption. Senior officials dismiss warnings of reprisals, although Elnur Aslanov, head of political analysis and information in the Azerbaijani president’s office, accused activists of spreading false information
in a deliberate attempt to spoil Azerbaijan’s image.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to talk about pressure or retribution,” he said. “Eurovision is a gift that grants the young state of Azerbaijan recognition in the world. There is no division into government and opposition in Eurovision; it’s about the whole of Azerbaijan.” Idrak Abbasov, a journalist from the Zerkalo newspaper, pointed out
that the government had already begun dispersing rallies before Eurovision was even over. Police moved into break up protest marches on May 21 and 24. “People will come under harsh pressure after Eurovision,” Abbasov warned. “The main methods that will be deployed against activists, students who took part in rallies, and youth organisations that promote human rights through the European media will be blackmailing them and accusing them of dealing drugs. Even those who have posted
negative comments about Azerbaijan on Facebook will be targeted.” Abbasov, an award-winning journalist, was beaten up by oil company security guards on April 18 while filming the demolition of houses in Baku’s Sulutepe region, and is still bedridden. Abbasov expressed concern that activists from the Sing for Democracy
campaign would be singled out for punishment. The movement, launched by over 30 human rights organisations to press Eurovision organisers to demand greater democracy in Azerbaijan, held a march through central Baku on May 23.

Rasul Jafarov, Sing for Democracy’s campaign coordinator, said retribution was inevitable but would not be immediate. “There will be pressure on activists like us, but not immediately following Eurovision. The government wouldn’t be foolish enough to do it right after the song contest, when the country will still be getting a significant amount of attention. It will happen some time around the autumn.” Rashad Hasanov from the Positive Change youth organisation, which has also taken part in the protests, said punishment would be selective and designed to be a deterrent to others. “I wouldn’t say harassment will increase [overall] after the contest ­ it took place before Eurovision, and it will continue afterwards,” he said. “The government will certain people as a lesson to the rest.”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting



25/5/2012- Moscow’s mufti Albir Krganov has appealed to the capital’s Bureau for Human Rights over nationalistic slogans and graffiti which he says insult the feelings of believers and non-Russian nationals. Krganov – vice chairman of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia – said the body had received a large number of complaints from believers over xenophobic graffiti.In particular, they reported such slogans as “Russia is for Russians” covering the walls along the railroad to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. It is worrying that in Russia – a multinational and multi-confessional country – some people allow themselves to express nationalistic statements, the mufti noted to Russian News Service. “I simply wanted to draw attention to the problem so that the society would think about it. Fences and walls belong to someone and they should watch what’s written on them,” Krganov stressed.

In response, the Human Rights Bureau issued a statement calling on Russian Railways (RZD) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to give an ear to “the glaring problem.” “Nationalistic slogans and symbols are dangerous since they are insulting and, also, inspire people with fear for their safety as well as for the future of the country,” the document reads. Extremist statements on buildings near railroads are especially dangerous as they "poison the eyes and souls of tens of thousands of people.” The head of the bureau, Aleksandr Brod observed that railway administration does not always erase xenophobic graffiti. “More attention must be paid to such nationalist activities, especially since according to reports they create special groups for their tricks,” the body’s website quotes him as saying.

Thousands of people including foreigners travel by train and what they see on the walls of railway stations and buildings around is – to some extent – the face of the country, Brod noted. “I wish this face didn’t cause concern. The law enforcement agencies shouldn’t turn a blind eye on these crimes,” the organization’s website quotes him as saying.



24/5/2012- The introduction of tougher penalties for crimes motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religious or political beliefs drew closer after parliament unanimously approved the necessary legal amendments in their second reading. Last February, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced that he had instructed Justice Minister Chris Said to review hate crime laws in the wake of public outcry following an assault apparently motivated by the two victims’ sexual orientation. Laws covering offences motivated by racial or religious hatred were already on the books, with many introduced in 2009. What Dr Said’s office came up with is a number of amendments to the Criminal Code which uniformly replace references to them with references to “gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion.”

The amendments cover a wide range of crimes, including causing bodily harm, arson, incitement, harassment, threats and the wilful damage of goods. In each case, they would increase the legal punishment for such crimes by one or two degrees if their motivation on the grounds mentioned is proven. As debate on the second reading drew to an end on Tuesday evening, opposition deputy leaderAngluFarrugia observed that while the provisions were commendable, further efforts would be needed in this regard. He warned that the law alone would not change perceptions overnight. In his winding-up speech, Dr Said was in agreement, pointing out, among other things, that such efforts had to be coupled with efforts in the education system, which would help promote the acceptance of differences in opinions and characteristics to avoid such crimes from occurring in the first place.

The minister noted that he was glad to see the opposition agree with the amendments proposed, describing them as not extensive but significant. Parliament, he said, was sending a clear message that it wanted a society that respected persons regardless of who they were or what they thought. Unsurprisingly, given the preceding discussions, the bill was approved unanimously in its second reading, and parliament also unanimously approved sending it to committee.
The Malta Independent



A Reformist priest from a tiny Bernese village is under investigation by church leaders after it emerged that she helped run a fanatical anti-Islamic website.

25/5/2012- The Council of Reformist Churches for Bern, Solothurn and Jura has criticised the priest, and declared her activities on website ‘Politically Incorrect’ to be “incompatible” with her position as a priest due to the “Islam-baiting” that takes place on it, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported. The priest has been involved for a long time with the Politically Incorrect forum, a website frequented mainly by Germans, and has been operating clandestinely, the newspaper reported. It has been alleged that the priest has been funding the website herself, the Tages Anzeiger reported. The prosecutor also believes it possible that she has been contributing some of the racist content, albeit under pseudonyms. The Council had already warned the priest previously for her participation at extreme-right Islamophobic events in Germany. Having reviewed the content of the website, the Council described the articles posted there as “inflammatory and derogatory”. The priest is now accused of breaching anti-racism laws and of failing to prevent criminal acts. Despite the accusations, she has still been permitted by her immediate superiors to continue to preach in the village. An estimated 33 percent of the Swiss population are thought to be Reformist, although numbers much lower than this actually attend service regularly.
The Local - Switzerland



The dropping of war crimes cases and a lack of press freedom are among the main concerns in Macedonia that Amnesty International mentions in its annual human rights report.

25/5/2012- “Respect for human rights deteriorated throughout the year” reads the report on 2011. The human rights group states that Macedonia acted “in violation of Macedonia’s international obligations” when in July 2011 the parliament changed the 2002 Amnesty Law, which granted amnesty to former ethnic Albanian insurgents in the 2001 conflict, to include those charged with war crimes. The move resulted in the prosecution dropping four war crimes cases, returned in 2008 from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to Macedonia. All four cases involved members of the now disbanded Albanian insurgents, some of which now occupy high political positions. As a result of the change to the amnesty law, Skopje Criminal Court ceased proceedings in the “Mavrovo” road workers case at the request of the Public Prosecutor. In 2001 a group of road workers were allegedly abducted, ill-treated, sexually abused and threatened with death before being finally released by the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, NLA. The remaining cases were also swiftly annulled. One of the accused in the “NLA Leadership” case was Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and a former leader of the NLA.

The “Neprosteno” case, alleged that 12 ethnic Macedonians and one Bulgarian had been abducted by the NLA, while the final anulled case had centred on accusations that NLA members had cut off the water supply to the town of Kumanovo. Later in the report, Amnesty argues that “the freedom of expression of journalists and independent media workers was increasingly limited by government interference, ranging from direct intimidation to control of advertising companies”. A large number of defamation cases against journalists are mentioned, as well as the closure of the country’s most popular pro-opposition TV channel, A1 TV, which was widely blamed on pressure by the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski denies such claims. The human rights group also says that government-funded “nationalist monuments exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions” and notes that reports of "ill-treatment by the police continued”. Amnesty mentions the case of Martin Neskovski who was severely beaten by a police officer on 6 June during post-election celebrations in Skopje, and died of head wounds, noting that “repeated public protests questioned delays in the investigation and called for stricter civilian oversight of the police”.

Amnesty says that Macedonia failed to instigate proceedings after a complaint by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin. El-Masri complains to the European Court of Human Rights that Macedonia helped in his unlawful abduction in Skopje in 2003. He says he was ill-treated for 23 days while in detention in Macedonia before being handed over to CIA officers who transferred him to Afghanistan where they tortured him, mistaking him for terrorist. Amnesty also mentions Macedonia’s new anti-discrimination law adopted last year. “The Law lacked provisions for the protection of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people” Amnesty says. The group also slams Macedonia for failing to provide adequate financial assistance and housing for some 1,500 asylum-seekers, including 1,100 Kosovo Roma and Ashkali, who remained in Macedonia after the 1999 NATO campaign against Serbia.
Balkan Insight



3/5/2012- Five people were arrested, more than 20 detained and eight policemen injured late on Tuesday when a group of about 350 people attempted to force their way into an abandoned factory in Patra, where dozens of undocumented migrants are squatting. Police said the crowd that had gathered outside the Peiraiki Patraiki factory consisted of Patra residents who were protesting the fatal stabbing of a local man and supporters of the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi. They clashed with police, who used tear gas to repel the crowd, and set fires outside the factory. Police said that they suffered repeated attacks and were on the receiving end of rocks, flares and other missiles.

Tension in the area has risen following the murder of a 30-year-old local man. Three Afghans are suspected of carrying out the attack in an area next to the port, where hundreds of migrants gather in the hope of making it onto a ferry to Italy. Police also reported an attack on Tuesday night on a journalist and a Chrysi Avgi MP after the pair had held a discussion on a local TV station. Officers said that several people attacked the deputy, Michalis Arvanitis, and then set upon the journalist, Apostolos Vouldis, when he tried to deter them.




Greek police fired tear gas against protesters on Tuesday as a mob tried to attack migrants following the fatal stabbing of a Greek man.

22/5/2012- The protesters, which reportedly included members of the far-right group Golden Dawn, gathered outside an abandoned factory where homeless migrants have taken refuge. They threw stones at riot police and set fires to garbage bins in Greece's western port of Patras. A 30-year-old Patras resident was fatally stabbed outside his home on Saturday following a dispute with three men, believed to be Afghan nationals. A 17-year-old Afghan has been arrested over the case. Tension in Greece over immigration and a perceived surge in crime has spiked in recent months, fueled by the country's economic woes. Golden Dawn on May 6 picked up over 440,000 votes in general elections and entered parliament for the first time in Greece's political history. The group has pledged to "scrub the country clean" of illegal immigrants. Patras is a gathering point for thousands of migrants and refugees hoping to sneak onto Italy-bound ferries. One of Golden Dawn's newly-elected deputies was assaulted outside a Patras television station on Tuesday after giving an interview. One of the station's journalists was also hurt in the incident, the Athens News Agency said.
The Telegraph



23/5/2012- A court in Greece on Wednesday postponed for the sixth time the trial of three Greeks, including a neo-Nazi parliament candidate, accused of beating up three Afghan immigrants in Athens a year ago. The defence requested the delay in order to obtain testimony from a police patrolman who allegedly caught the defendants in the act. The trial has now been set for September 25. One of the accused, a woman named Themis Skordeli, recently failed to get elected to parliament with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group which boosted its support in the May 6 ballot on growing immigration and crime fears. Skordeli has been identified as a member of an Athens anti-migrant patrol group formed in poorer districts of the capital with the help of far-right militants. Around a hundred leftist activists had gathered outside the courthouse, shouting slogans against the far-right and the police, and hurling projectiles at the accused, who were evacuated by a strong police escort.

A Greek representative for Human Rights Watch, Eva Cosse, said the postponement was ”very worrying.” ”Greek justice should take efficient action against racist violence which is multiplying in the country,” Cosse told AFP. The defendants face a five-year prison term if convicted. The case is the first of its kind to come to trial in over a decade, although attacks on migrants have become increasingly common in recession-hit Greece. On Tuesday, a violent anti-migrant protest took place in the western port of Patras after a 30-year-old Greek was fatally stabbed over the weekend in a dispute with three men believed to be Afghan nationals. Police said they fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of around 350 people, mainly Golden Dawn supporters, who tried to storm an abandoned factory where homeless migrants have taken shelter. The protesters threw stones, flares and firebombs at the police, damaging a police bus, a squad car and two motorbikes. Eight policemen were hurt. Five people were arrested.


22/5/2012- The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) today published its fourth report on Andorra. ECRI’s Chair, Mr Jenö Kaltenbach, said that, despite positive developments, there were issues of concern, such as incidents of direct and indirect discrimination in employment based on citizenship and the Government’s reluctance to enact comprehensive legislation against racism and racial discrimination. The Ombudsman’s office has taken measures in order to make this institution better known to the public. Special reception classes continue to be organised in order to assist newly arrived pupils who do not master Catalan, as well as Spanish and French. The residence requirement for obtaining certain housing subsidies has been softened. Some measures have been taken to shorten the period provided by law for a permanent residence permit.

However, the criminal legislation in place relating to racism and intolerance is not exhaustive. Specific training on racism and racial discrimination should be provided to judges, prosecutors and lawyers. The possibility for seeking redress for forms of discrimination based on citizenship are limited and a fully fledged integration policy is not yet in place. In its report, ECRI has made a number of recommendations to the authorities, among which the following three require priority implementation and will be revisited by ECRI in two years’ time:
# Apply the principle of the sharing of the burden of proof when discrimination complaints are brought before civil/administrative courts.
# Train judges, prosecutors and lawyers on racism and racial discrimination, including on relevant criminal legislation.
# Rely on the work of the National Equality Commission to devise and coordinate an integration policy.

The report, including Government observations, is available here. It was prepared following ECRI’s contact visit to Andorra in September 2011 and takes account of developments up to 8 December 2011.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance



A report condemning Denmark’s treatment of immigrants and foreigners has been criticised by a think-tank for being biased

25/5/2012- Immigrants in Denmark suffer racism and discrimination according to a report released this week by the Council of Europe’s anti-discrimination organisation, the ECRI. The report found that while Denmark created the Board of Equal Treatment in 2008 to handle complaints of discrimination and has introduced measures to integrate immigrants into the labour market, Danish immigration policies are still unnecessarily strict. The report argued that the criteria for obtaining Danish citizenship, family reunification and permanent residence are very difficult for non-ethnic Danes to meet. A press release accompanying the report also stated that “the negative political discourse on immigrants, including Muslims, has had a disproportionately adverse effect on these groups in a number of important areas of policy."

The ECRI made three key recommendations to the Danish government. These included reviewing the family reunification laws to remove discriminatory elements, increasing efforts to recruit ethnic minorities into the police, and increasing the funding for non-governmental organisations working to increase co-operation between marginalised groups and the authorities. Not everyone was convinced about the impartiality of the report, however, as the European Council anonymised many of the sources reporting racism and discrimination in Denmark. The anonymous reports include concerns about the difficulty of raising complaints against individuals and politicians for making disparaging remarks about immigrant groups, particularly Muslims.

“Civil society actors have informed ECRI that they have in many instances made complaints against these politicians to no avail,” the report states without revealing who these civil society actors are. According to the law professor Eva Smith, Denmark’s ECRI representative, claims made in the report are supported by testimony from at least two independent sources. But with the report stating that “some media have continued to portray minority groups, in particular Muslims and Roma in a negative light,” Jacob Machangama from libertarian think-tank Cepos, argued that the reports findings are biased. “It’s a deeply biased view that Danish media promotes racial discrimination,” Machangama told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “There is no justification for it. If you spoke to the chairman of [the journalists' union] Dansk Journalistforbund, you would probably get a different point of view.”

Machangama pointed out that two outspoken anti-immigration organisations were interviewed for the report, SOS mod Racisme and the human rights organisation Dokumentations- og rådgivningscenteret om racediskrimination (DRC), and could be the two sources needed to support the claims in the ECRI report. The head of the DRC, Niels-Erik Hansen, confirmed to Jyllands-Posten that he was one of the sources. He said that he told the ECRI that despite a slight easing in immigration law, the policies were still very heavy-handed and that it was still difficult to pursue cases of discrimination. “We are continuously pointing out Denmark’s problems abiding by international conventions. So we can’t exactly paint a rosy picture of Denmark to the ECRI,” Hansen said. “I understand that Jacob would liked to have been consulted but it makes sense to ask those who specialise in discrimination.”

The report is not fully up to date, however, and only covers developments up until December 2011. The new government that came into power in September promised to ease immigration law and earlier in May several major reforms came into force, including the abolition of the point system for family reunification and the immigration test (invandringsprøven), as well as a reduction in the economic safety net from 100,000 kroner to 50,000 kroner.
The Copenhagen Post


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