NEWS - Archive March 2014

Headlines 28 March, 2014

Number of Muslims in prison doubles in decade to 12,000 (UK)

The number of Muslims in the prison population has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in a decade, figures from the Ministry of Justice show.

28/3/2014- The dramatic rise prompted calls for ministers to investigate whether police and the courts are treating Muslims more harshly, with some suggesting the rise is due to Islamophobia. Muslims represent only 4.7 per cent of the population in England and Wales, according to the most recent Census, yet one in seven prisoners (14 per cent) in England and Wales is a Muslim, according to the statistics. In some jails the proportion of Islamic inmates is more than one-third, and in Whitemoor, a Category A prison in Cambridgeshire, it is as high as 43 per cent. The Muslim prison population has increased from 5,502 (7.7 per cent) in 2002 to 11,729 in 2013 (14 per cent) and is set to continue rising rapidly because of the large numbers of Muslim teenagers in youth jails. Other jails with a startlingly high proportion include Isis (34 per cent) and Feltham (33 per cent), both in London. Some research suggests around one-third of Muslim inmates are from Caribbean or African backgrounds. The shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who obtained the statistics, said: “It is astonishing and a huge concern that one in seven prisoners is Muslim. This is compared to just one in 20 of the population.

He said the Government’s “complacency [on the issue] is breath-taking”. Penal experts point out there are large numbers of teenagers and young men of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage in the peak age group for criminal offending of 15 to 25. Muzammil Quraishi, a senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at Salford University, said: “Young Muslim men are under the official gaze from their school days onwards – they have the lens of the state turned on them. Certain populations can become suspect populations in the eyes of the law enforcement agencies.” Amal Imad, of the charity Muslim Aid, suggested that poor educational performance, problems finding fulfilling jobs and family breakdown were factors in the increasing numbers of Muslims behind bars. She said: “It may be that they can’t integrate into society, they don’t think they have a positive chance to integrate into society.” Mizanur Rahman, a spokesman for the organisation Muslim Prisoners, blamed the spike on Islamophobia and racism among police officers.
The Independent

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Russia's Largest Gay Club Shuts Down

After enduring months of homophobic attacks, including gunfire and toxic gas, Russia's largest gay nightclub, Central Station, has finally closed its doors for good.

27/3/2014- The club management surrendered to a spate of harassment in late February, after a group of men allegedly blocked the front gates, preventing patrons from entering the building safely, according to staff members who were on the scene. The well-known club was widely considered a haven and a symbol of freedom for the country's besieged LGBT community. "All was [taken] by our enemies," lamented former club dancer Alexander Moskalets. "It's all gone." "They really stopped the normal work of our club," said a manager, who asked that his name not be used out of safety concerns. "Of course, I'm sad," he added, "but I was ready for this situation."

Prior to the shutdown, "Nightline" aired a special report on the Moscow nightclub after a months-long investigation into the business's effort to survive. "Nightline" traveled to Russia amid evidence of escalating violence against the LGBT community there following the passage the Kremlin's controversial "anti-gay propaganda" law. The report revealed a number of anti-gay attacks that had spread fear among young patrons and staff, forcing several to flee the country for safety, while clinging to their hope for a better life outside of Russia where gay people are more accepted. 

Drag performers, who for years famously lit up the stage at Central Station, expressed deep sadness about the club's demise. "For me, it is a shock," said 21-year-old "Viktor" who fled Moscow three months ago for San Francisco. "[The club] is the place where I met wonderful and unique people; artists and friends," he said. "I hate, with all my heart, those people who have made efforts to shut it down." "Viktor," who painfully said goodbye to his sister before our cameras in December, said he firmly holds the police and the Russian government accountable for leaving the staff vulnerable when they directly asked for help and protection.

After enduring gunfire, gas and water attacks, vandalism and video surveillance provided by a mysterious "Morality Patrol", former club manager Andrew Lischinsky, in December, wrote an open letter to President Vladimir Putin asking him to help keep the club safe. "It's the decision of our government ... and they must protect us," he said. In a country where homosexuality is widely looked down upon, he said, "it's very important to find friends, to spend your free time, to enjoy your life -- we would like to have places where we can feel safe and be open." "Of course, we have not a lot of rights in our country, in Russia," he told "Nightline", as he waged a battle to save the club, "but, we'd like to have rights to visit places for us." In the end, there was no reaction to Lischinsky's plea for protection, said Moskalets, looking back. "Nobody hears, or [nobody] wants to hear us," he said. Like many of his friends, he continued to perform at the club throughout the attacks, as a statement of pride, but now plans to re-locate to the U.S. this spring.

At the same time that the attacks were taking place, Central Station also was in a dispute with the building owners over its lease agreement, which was originally arranged with a former landlord. According to the outlet Queer Russia, the current landlord claimed the club vacated the premises because of a Moscow Arbitration Court resolution. The landlord did not respond to "Nightline's" requests for comment. Whether the final swipe to terminate the club was a mandate or exhaustion from unchecked harassment makes little difference to the many performers who saw Central Station as a symbolic refuge and a home worth fighting for in a country where their rights have become arguably restricted. "If the government is against gays, how can gays get the government's help?" asked Arkady Gyngazov, who was one of the first staff members to flee the country. "They're allowed to do with gays whatever they want in Russia." Gyngazov now lives in Washington D.C., and is seeking asylum. "A bad sign was sent when the anti-gay law was passed," he said. "The fact that the club finally closed shows us that people are powerless."

But not everyone is giving up on gay life in Russia. The owners have found a new location for a brand new club, according to members of the management, which they hope will open for business this coming summer. "Most of the staff is eagerly waiting for this moment!" said Moskalets. When asked if there were fears that the harassment could follow club-goers to the new venue, one manager simply said, "I try not to think about it."
ABC News

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Army bullying, harassment and discrimination complaints rise sharply (UK)

Number of complaints made rose by 12% in 2013, as watchdog says system for dealing with them is neither efficient nor fair

27/3/2014- Reported cases of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the army increased significantly last year and the complaints system is failing, an official watchdog said on Thursday. The increase of 12% in the number of complaints reversed a recent downward trend, Susan Atkins, the service complaints commissioner, said in her annual report. Female personnel made a disproportionate number of complaints about harassment and discrimination, but the army did not specify their nature, Atkins said. "This significantly undermines their ability to explore if there are particular problems experienced by minority groups [in the army] and must be addressed", she said. "It remains a source of much regret to me that I have not been able, within the powers I have been given, to ensure that service personnel are treated fairly throughout their service careers, including when they make a complaint."

The service complaints system was not working efficiently, effectively or fairly and was not sustainable, Atkins told the defence secretary, Philip Hammond. She said the principle reason for unfairness in the system lay in the delay in pursuing complaints, particularly in the army and RAF. Her report includes case studies which, she said, showed how a "slow, ineffective and unfair system can exacerbate the wrong complained about, including damage to mental health". Atkins' report came just two weeks after Hammond announced plans to give her new powers. Her post will be transformed into that of an independent service complaints ombudsman. None of the goals she had set for the armed forces to achieve by the end of 2013 were met, Atkins said. Her report found that of the army's 12% increase in complaints last year, only 25% were resolved within the 24-week target and that only 26% of complaints made in 2013 were closed during the year.

In the RAF, there were 35% fewer new complaints, but only 29% of those made were resolved during the year and only 23% within the 24-week deadline. By comparison, although complaints made in 2013 in the Royal Navy almost doubled, 78% were resolved within 24 weeks, giving them the best performance of the three services. Atkins said: "Although the working of the service complaints system is much improved since 2008, for the sixth year running I have been unable to give ministers and parliament an assurance that the system is yet working efficiently, effectively or fairly." Defence minister Anna Soubry said: "The progress made is recognised in her report, and I am pleased to see that the navy in particular is resolving complaints more quickly. I do of course realise that despite such improvements, there is still a long way to go before we have a system that is fully fair, effective and efficient."
The Guardian

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Russia's Foreign Ministry says Kiev is trying once again to shift the blame

26/3/2014- Moscow continues to collect information about violations of ethnic Russians' rights in Ukraine and will publish them shortly, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, March 26. The ministry said it was “surprised by the irresponsible and unfounded statement of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yevgen Perebyinis about ‘growing xenophobia in Russia’.” “The so-called facts he cited have no proof. Kiev is trying once again to shift the blame,” the ministry said. “Unlike Ukrainian far-right forces which openly march in Ukrainian cities, wearing Nazi symbols, eulogize Bandera and other nationalist henchmen, and desecrate monuments to liberator soldiers, Russia is actively preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa, Kerch, Sevastopol, Simferopol and other cities from the Nazi invaders. However, Kiev seems to have other priorities now,” the ministry said. “Moscow continues to gather and systematize numerous facts of gross violations of the rights of the Russian-speaking population and representatives of other ethnic communities in Ukraine by homebred ultranationalists and neo-Nazis. This information will be made public in the very near future,” the ministry said.
ITAR-TASS

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Serbian McDonald's Denies Banning Roma Children

The company managing McDonald’s restaurants in Serbia is to appeal a court ruling that fined the company for discriminating against Roma customers in Novi Sad in 2012

28/3/2014- "Nicefoods Restaurants" says it will appeal against a judgment of the Novi Sad Court, which fined it 100,000 dinars (about 860 euro) for not allowing Roma children to enter McDonald's in the city of Novi Sad in 2012. "Nicefoods Restaurants respect the ruling... but we will use our right and appeal the decision," the company said in a statement. The court ruling on Wednesday said Nicefoods violated Article 52 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination and fined the director of the company, Tomas Rogac, as the responsible person, 20,000 dinars (about 180 euro). The verdict said the security staff in the McDonald’s restaurant banned minors of Roma nationality from coming inside on July 10, 2012.

Vitomir Mihajlovic, from the National Council of the Roma, welcomed the ruling, saying the court's decision gave everyone the hope of taking on powerful companies. "It is important because it is the first court decision to enforce the law banning discrimination, adopted in August 2009. I hope this will have positive effects," Mihajlovic told Radio Free Europe on Wednesday. McDonald's, however, said that during years of operations in Serbia, it had never before encountered such complaints. The company "has never conducted racial or any other kind of discrimination on any grounds and has always respected the rights of all minorities and disadvantaged communities". it said. The word famous burger chain started operations in Serbia in 1988, opening its first restaurant on Slavija Square in central Belgrade.
Balkan Insight

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Online resource gives a voice to victims of racism (Ireland)

Victims of racism can tell their stories online at iReport, which records the number of incidents per region and raises awareness, says Jonathan deBurca Butler

I was in a taxi being driven home. The man started to talk about ‘blacks’. He said a hotel in Cork, which has been closed since 2009 due to flooding, was only fit for the ‘blacks’. He said “they should put them all in there”... “The ‘blacks’ are getting everything ...”

27/3/2014- The quote above is from a case that was sent to a racist-incident reporting system, iReport, which was launched last July by the Irish division of the European Network Against Racism, ENAR Ireland. It enables victims and witnesses to go online and give accounts of racism. “We designed it to meet the best standards for international comparators for racist-incident monitoring, but also to maximise its accessibility,” says ENAR Ireland’s director, Shane O’Curry. “So, online, the form is easy to use and quick, and the language is simple. It asks as few questions as possible, so as not to be off-putting for users.” iReport allows victims to go into more detail about their case, and this may be cathartic for victims. The incidents range from the so-called ‘every day’, casual taunt, such as name-calling, to physical violence. Unsurprisingly, due to its population, Dublin had by far the most cases of reported racist incidents in the system’s first quarterly report. North Dublin accounted for a third of total cases. The rest of the country is by no means immune.

In the St Patrick’s Hill area of Cork City, Muslims who had been attending prayer, in the mid-afternoon, were attacked with sticks by men who had travelled by car to do so. In Limerick, an Asian man had water thrown at him and was verbally abused by a group of youths passing in a car, while a Muslim woman was verbally abused in a shopping centre before being kicked. She reported the incident to the Gardaí, but she has lost confidence in them. Of the 55 incidents in Munster, only nine were reported to the Gardaí; 35 were not reported to the Gardaí; and in the remainder the witness did not know if the incident had been reported to the authorities or not. In many cases, victims feel either too intimidated to go to the Gardaí or think it is pointless. Several, recently published reports suggest that minorities in comparable Western countries are also disinclined to report racist abuse or violence. They feel that all avenues lead to the State, which they often regard with suspicion. As a result, an estimated two-thirds of cases go unreported.

With iReport, ENAR Ireland is hoping to change perceptions among minorities. It sees the removal of barriers to reporting, and a willingness to give voice to the victim, as key. “This system was designed with bridging that gap in mind,” says O’Curry. “People can use this system immediately and without having to go through a mediating body. “Often, within minorities that are racially abused, you develop a sort of thick character around you and you don’t talk about it. Especially among black Africans, Roma and Travellers, their experience of racism is so everyday that it’s unremarkable to them, and they often wouldn’t bother reporting it. “So, tackling that culture is quite difficult and what we’re telling people is that if they give us a story, we will retell it. “We’ll synopsise it and get it out there, but we’ll also crunch the data on it and see if it’s information that we can use to show relationships between, for instance, name-calling and physical attacks. Ultimately, we need to produce data which strengthens our arguments to get better measures to be taken by the State to combat racism.”

While 46% of the incidents in Ireland were reported by victims, 35% of the reports were submitted by witnesses. That augurs well for what O’Curry sees as the ultimate goal of the site. While the system is being brought to the attention of bodies such as student unions, local authorities and trade unions, O’Curry’s hope is that “this anti-racism tool becomes embedded in mainstream civil society” and that Irish society “becomes an ally in anti-racism”. “My hope for it is that the Government, and Irish society, will sit up and take note of the depths of racism in Ireland and do something about it.” Thankfully, it appears the vast majority of people in Ireland hope for the same.
For more information visit: enarireland.org
The Irish Examiner

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Czech organisation for refugee aid calls Okamura xenophobe

27/3/2014- The Czech Organisation for the Aid to Refugees (OPU) is outraged at xenophobic and racist statements about immigrants by Tomio Okamura, head of the Dawn of Direct Democracy, OPU director Martin Rozumek told CTK yesterday. Along the model of extreme rightist politicians abroad, Okamura seems to be ready to build his political career in this way, Rozumek said. Okamura said after foreigners lose jobs they should return home and stop "sponging on" the Czech welfare system. The Czech Republic should not automatically grant its citizenship to immigrants, he added. Okamura has repeatedly dismissed the allegations that he was xenophobic and racist. "We are appalled at Okamura's words and their incredible resonance," Rozumek said. Okamura told the commercial television station Prima on Sunday that as a nation "we do not have money for appropriate support to Czech citizens, while we are giving money to the foreigners who do not work here." He said in the Chamber of Deputies that it was not desirable for foreigners without jobs to stay in the Czech Republic and collect welfare benefits.

On his blog, Okamura speaks against foreigners being granted citizenship after a few years' stay. "Is it really necessary to give citizenship automatically to everyone who asks for it?" asks Okamura, who is born to a Czech mother and Japanese father. Rozumek said just like Czech workers, employed foreigners paid to the social insurance systems and should be given the opportunity to get some support if need be. Demographers argue that the Czech Republic will face difficulties without foreigners in the future. Czech society is ageing and Czechs have started dying out as the number of new-born babies is smaller than that of deaths. For this reason, the Czech Republic may soon be threatened with a shortage of manpower. Rozumek said the Czech Republic was one of the strictest countries when it comes to the granting of citizenship. The ratio of the immigrants who have become Czech citizens to the total number of foreigners is the lowest in the EU in this country. The EU average is 23 granted citizenships per 1,000 foreigners a year, but in the Czech Republic it is only four.
The Prague Daily Monitor

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Government to launch anti-racism campaign (Czech Rep.)

26/3/2014- The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion is preparing a campaign against racism and hate violence that will target young people aged 15-25 years, within a two-year project funded by the Norwegian funds and the state, campaign coordinator Jaroslav Valuch told CTK yesterday. The campaign will be launched in September. Its aim is to create a "strong communication channel" that would quickly react to racially-tinged misinformation and myths, Valuch said. He explained that the campaign's content should be surprising. The agency plans to primarily use social networks, but it also wants to get more space in the media where victims of racism can give testimonies. The agency will put up a tender for the campaign's provider in May. The anti-racism campaign is part of a broader project that will end in 2016 and cost 37 million crowns in total. Four-fifths will be covered by the Norwegian funds and one-fifth by the state.

The project includes educational activities to be focused mainly on the Moravskoslezsky, north Moravia, and Ustecky, north Bohemia, regions with high unemployment. Moreover, anti-Roman unrest erupted in the Usti region in the past. Apart from teachers, local authorities and town halls as well as police should participate in the project. It should help policemen better identify risks of possible conflicts and be able to calm down the situation, for instance, by informing the public in time, Valuch said. The agency would also like to heavily promote positive examples of cohabitation with minorities since the media mostly report about problematic cases. "We want to twist this trend," he added. The project against violence and racism has long been planned, prompted by the anti-Romany marches staged in the Czech Republic in the past few years, Valuch said.

"Violence provoked by hatred is not only an attack on an individual, it has an impact on the whole group of people and it threatens cohabitation in society," Valuch pointed out.
"It is generally believed that extremists commit violence. However, they have a minor share in it, ordinary people commit it mostly. Young people who do not consider themselves racists and extremists are joining them, which is very dangerous," he added. In addition, the project should comprise studies on indebtedness and on the relocation of socially excluded groups and their possible departures abroad. The agency will put up tenders for these studies as well.
The Prague Daily Monitor

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Far right extremists disrupt reunification event (Cyprus)

26/3/2014- Around 100 members of far right party ELAM disrupted an event on the Cyprus problem in Limassol, attended by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. Reports said the thugs, who shouted slogans and held Greek flags, appeared outside the Panos Solomonides municipal cultural centre just before the event was scheduled to start at 7pm. They managed to enter the lobby and hurled a flare inside the hall, the reports said. A Turkish Cypriot journalist who tried to take photos was slightly injured, the Cyprus News Agency said. The group was pushed back by police and the event went ahead as scheduled. Reports said police arrested three people. An ELAM spokesman said it was a protest against the presence of Talat.

US Ambassador to Cyprus John Koenig was also present at the event, organised by the technical university, TEPAK, Europe Direct, the EU representation, and Limassol citizens initiative for reunification. In messages from his personal Twitter account, Koenig said afterwards: “Real story happened inside the hall. Cypriots talking about the future. Extremists couldn’t block dialogue.” Talat was the main speaker at the event whose subject was the prospects of solving the Cyprus problem and reunification. The government condemned the attack in the “strongest way.” Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said President Nicos Anastasiades was being kept informed at the presidential palace and was determined not to allow such people to create trouble for the Republic. “We will not allow similar incidents, that bring shame upon us all, to happen again,” he told state broadcaster CyBC. “No one will terrorise democracy and the expression of views.”

Anstasiades will also ask for explanation from those responsible on why the incident had not been prevented. Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said he had not been informed by the police leadership about the event or the measures they were planning to take. He said he found out about the incident from a member of the public and accused the chief of police of keeping him in the dark. “It is not the first but the umpteenth time the police leadership, especially the chief, did not inform me either about event or incidents,” Nicolaou said in a statement. “In fact, oftentimes I am informed about many events afterwards, something which is unacceptable.” He added that he has asked for a full investigation into the incident.
The Cyprus Mail

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Romania Gypsy King Bans Child Marriages

Community 'king' says he and clan elders have agreed that the tradition of Roma marrying under the age of 16 must go - and those defying the ruling will face exclusion.

26/3/2014- Dorin Cioaba, the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies in Romania, says he is ready to take on the controverial tradition of marriages in the low teens. The 43-year-old graduate in law has said that Roma should not get married until they are at least 16. “We are facing a new, modern world. It is time for all of us to change, so we have decided that Roma marriages should not involve people under 16, which still happens," he said. "Our children must first to go to school, and then marry,” Cioaba said on Tuesday, announcing a decision of the Stabor (as it is called in Romani language), a court of the community in Romania.

The Stabor, which Cioaba heads, comprises elder leaders, called bulibasa, of different Roma families. The unofficial courthouse is located in Sibiu, in southern Transylvania, a town that is home to a large community of Roma. “Those who do not comply with the decision risk exclusion from our community as well as legal penalties,” Cioaba added. Early marriages are still common in the Roma community. In 2003, Florin Cioaba, the father of present Roma leader, who was also a Pentecostal pastor, sparked controversy when he married his 12-year-old daughter, Ana-Maria, to a boy aged 15. But Dorin Cioaba is now trying to open up discussion in his own community of 200,000 Caldarari, a Roma group who traditionally worked as smiths and metal workers.

He has opened up the workings of the Stabor to the public, and has also encouraged Roma families to send their children to school as part of a broad attempt to combat the poverty that so often stems from a lack of education. Experts have welcomed Cioaba’s announcement, but say challenging Roma traditions will take time. “Integrating Roma remains a challenge. But staying with their traditions has also left many Roma isolated and impoverished," says sociologist Ciprian Necula. "Bridging this cultural divide remains a central challenge for Roma leaders and Roma people as the community seeks its own way forward in a fast-changing world,” he added. Romania is officially home to some 620,000 Roma, although it is widely believed that their real number is at least twice as large. Many people of Roma origin do not declare their ethnicity on account of the widespread prejudice they face in Romania.
Balkan Insight

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