Putin, Kadyrov & Lukashenko Named as Freedom of Press “Predators”

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter

PARIS, France – Media watchdog group “Reporters Without Borders” released an updated list of the top forty enemies of the press on Monday, May 3, 2010, to mark the UN-backed World Press Freedom Day. The group named Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a top “predator” in their annual compilation of global leaders who suppress freedom of press. Also on the list were Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin President Ramzan Kadyrov, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Russia was the only country with two politicians on the list.

The report states that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promoted: “a climate of pumped-up national pride that encourages the persecution of dissidents and freethinkers and fosters a level of impunity that is steadily undermining the rule of law.” As evidence of the growing level of impunity, the report cited the killing of five journalists in 2009, which brought the total figure of journalists killed in Russia since 2000 to twenty two.

The report also stated that after the chaotic post-Soviet years under former President Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s leadership effectively consolidated “control” over national media outlets.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, known as “Putin’s guard dog,” has been linked to the deaths of a number of journalists and activists, including reporter Anna Politkovskaya [killed in Moscow in October of 2006], and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova [gunned down in Chechnya in July of 2009].  Those journalists who do continue to operate in Chechnya, continue by abstaining from publishing criticism of either Kadyrov or the Russian state.

Kadyrov was quoted as saying: “The press must be in the service of the Chechen people’s unity.”

According to the report, under the leadership of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, free press has effectively been eradicated in Belarus, and the state has obtained a monopoly on printing and distribution facilities. Independent journalists in Belarus, forced underground, have returned to the clandestine methods of publication and distribution used during the Soviet era. The report also notes that the Lukashenko government has determined “to put an end to online anarchy,” and regularly monitors online activity.

Elsewhere in Europe, the report states that the Basque separatist group in Spain, Eta, and criminal gangs in Italy have threatened and intimidated journalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Media watchdog group names freedom “predators” – 3 May 2010

Radio Free Europe – ‘Predators of the Press’ List Released – 3 May 2010

Reporters Sans Frontières ReportPredators 2010 – 3 May 2010

The Moscow Times – Kadyrov, Putin Called “Predators” of Media – 3 May 2010

President Medvedev Pledges Investigation Into Most Recent Russian Prison Death

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has pledged to fully investigate the most recent death of a prisoner being held while awaiting trial in a Moscow jail.

Prisoner Vera Trifonova, 53, died on Friday at the Matrosskaya Tishina prison near Moscow while being held on fraud charges.  At the time of her death, Trifonova was being held in the same prison that Sergei Magnitsky was in when he died last year due to an untreated medical condition.

Medvedev’s quick response to reports of the death off Russian prisoner comes after the intense national and international scrutiny that Russia and its prison system faced last year following the death of prominent lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  The Russian Investigative Committee stated a comprehensive investigation would be made into the facts surrounding Trifonova’s death.

In the aftermath of Magnitsky’s death, twenty leading officials in the Russian prison system were fired.  It was determined that Magnitsky had developed pancreatitis while in prison but did not receive the proper medical attention.

Prior to her death, Trifonova had been suffering kidney failure and diabetes.

Trifnova’s defense attorneys stated that they had petitioned for her release prior to trial because of her fragile medical condition.  “However, the pre-detention center’s administration, investigators and court officials decided that [Trifnova was] able to withstand the conditions of the ward.  Perhaps the story with Magnitsky did not teach anyone a lesson.”

Vladimir Zherebyonkov, a member of Trifnova’s defense team, also alleged that the chief investigator in Trifnova’s case had offered to release her from prison if she confessed to the charges against her.  “They have actually led her to death.  Knowing that she needed special medical care, like hemodialysis, they still put her in prison, where she could not have received such aid, of which the prison administration chief said at the very state.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Another prison death at Moscow jail being probed – 1 May, 2010

RIANOVOSTI – Russia’s Medvedev orders full investigation into prison death – 1 May, 2010

TAIWAN NEWS – Russia investigates another prison death – 1 May, 2010

INTERFAX – Woman who died in prison Friday was offered freedom in exchange for confession – 30 April, 2010

RIANOVOSTI – Russian prosecutors probe death of seriously ill woman in pre-detention center – 30 April, 2010

Report on Religious Persecution

 By Jonathan Ambaye
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

 JOS, Nigeria-The United States commission on International religious Freedom released a new report this week about the level of religious persecution around the world. The report identifies over two dozen countries as offenders. Some of the countries include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. Egypt has been noted to discriminate against those who are members of minority Muslim sects in the country. Many are known to be imprisoned because of their faith, some fired from their jobs, and kicked out of universities, amongst many other things.

 Of all of the countries identified for religious persecution, Nigeria has been getting the most attention for its impunity violations.  In the past ten years 12,000 people have been killed in a cycle of violence between Christians of Southern Nigeria and Muslims in the North.  Last week two Christian journalists were killed in Northern Nigeria.  The murders are believed to have been committed by young muslim men who were answering calls to the cell phones of the deceased journalists, bragging about what they had done.  The deceased were identified as Nathan S. Dabak, an assistant editor at a newspaper of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, and Sunday Gyang Bweade, a reporter at the publication.

 In response to the religious persecution in Nigeria one interdenominational Christian religious group based in Nigeria called on Christians and Muslims in the country to be more tolerable of one another and live in harmony.

 Other countries identified in the report were North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Iraq. The list has grown by five since the State Department released a list of its own in 2009.

 For more information please see:

 CNN – Religious Persecution Is Widespread Report Warns – 29 April 2010

Mission Network – Christians Murdered…- 29 April 2010

Nigerian Compass – We Must Live In Harmony..- 28 April 2010

American Drones To Target Yemeni Cleric

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’NA, Yemen – Armed US drones have been deployed to target Anwar Al-Awlaki, one of the world’s most wanted Islamist terrorists following reports that he was involved in last week’s failed suicide bomb attack against Britain’s ambassador to Yemen.

The cleric, who allegedly had ties to the September 11 hijackers, later praised the Fort Hood killings and said Muslims should only serve in the US military if they intended to carry out similar attacks.

He is also believed to have played a role in the radicalization of Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the British-educated Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jet last Christmas.

Mr Obama took the highly unusual step of authorizing the assassination of an American citizen after US intelligence officials convinced the White House that the radicalization of impressionable young Muslims by al-Awlaki’s sermons posed a major threat to national security.

Senior US intelligence officials say they have stepped up their efforts to target Al-Awlaki following new evidence that the American-born cleric is taking an increasingly operational role in the operation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

But experts caution that unless Yemen diversifies its approach – which led to success in neighboring Saudi Arabia – increased military action as well as overt cooperation with America may ultimately backfire.

“Up until Christmas Day 2009, Al-Qaeda … was stronger in Yemen than it had ever been before. Over the last few months, they’ve taken a series of hits … but none of these have been sort of the debilitating blow that’s going to knock the organization off its tracks for any sustained period of time,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University in New Jersey.

For more information, please see:

Telegraph UK – American Drones Deployed To Target Yemeni Terrorist – 2 May 2010

One India – Obama Orders Deployment Of US Drones To Target Yemeni Terrorist – 2 May 2010

CSM – Why Yemen’s US-Aided Fight Against Al-Qaeda Could Backfire – 2 May 2010

Violent Clashes Erupt Between Protesters and Police Over Austerity Measures Which Will Primarily Affect Workers and the Poor

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ATHENS, Greece – Annual May Day marches in Athens erupted into violent clashes between leftist demonstrators and Greek police.  Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets to protest proposed austerity measures as disproportionately harmful to the nation’s workers and poor.

According to AFP, one demonstrator described the government cutbacks as “the biggest attack on workers for centuries.”  He added: “They want to return us to the 19th Century – this is not going to be a battle but a war that will last for months and even years.”

Greek riot police used tear gas to disperse the rioters in Athens as rioters threw bottles, rocks and petrol bombs at police and television vans. Rioters in Athens and Thessaloniki also vandalized banks and government buildings.

Yannis Papangopoulos, head of the Confederation of Greek Workers, said:  “These policies are totally unfair.  They place all the burden on the have-nots to pay the price of this crisis and not the plutocracy . . . There will be a social explosion once they begin to bite.”

The measures that the ruling Pasok Party hopes to implement include an injection of roughly 120 billion euros into the Greek economy over the next three years, as well as stringent reforms and tax increases.  This involves a reduction of collective bargaining rights, abolition of additional wages paid to supplement low public sector salaries, and the overhaul of the pension and health systems.  Effectively, the measures will eradicate nearly every right acquired by Greek workers and unions over the past thirty years.

Spiros Papaspirou, head of Greece’s Adedy civil servants union, said: “The bill should go to those who looted this country for decades, not to the workers . . . This is the most savage, unjust and unprovoked attack workers have ever faced.”

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has said that the measures are necessary in order to prevent complete economic collapse and to assure the nation’s survival.

For more information, please see:

BBC INTERNATIONAL – Greece police tear gas anti-austerity protesters – 1 May 2010

GUARDIAN – Greece erupts in violent protest as citizens face a future of harsh austerity – 1 May 2010

LOS ANGELES TIMES – Violent May Day Protests in Athens – 1 May 2010

Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Causes Concern

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOUISIANA, United States-On April 20, 2010, an oil rig owned by oil company BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  The explosion killed eleven workers and has caused great damage to the waters surrounding the rig.  The rig sank a few days after the explosion.  Since then, oil has been continuously streaming into the Gulf of Mexico causing great concern from environmentalists, industry, and citizens in the southern United States.

.  Since the explosion, approximately 1.6 million gallons of oil have flowed into the Gulf.  However, the exact amount of oil may never actually be known because it is difficult to measure how much oil actually came from the well. The well sits almost 50 miles off the coast the coast of Louisiana and 5,000 feet under the sea.  It may take those charged with the clean up a great deal of time to stop the well from leaking into the Gulf.  Early estimates stated that 210,000 gallons of oil can flow from the well per day until the leakage is stopped.

Many believe that the oil spill will be worst in the history of the United States.  Until the Gulf spill, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was the largest in the history of the United States.  Besides damage to the waters surrounding the oil well, many have become concerned with the oiled waters reaching the coastlines of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.  Environmentalists are concerned with the destruction of the habits of many fish and corral reef in the Gulf.  They are also concerned with the destruction of the marshlands around Louisiana.  The marshes around Louisiana protect the coast from violent storm surges. Fishermen are also worried about their economic future.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen has been appointed by President Obama to lead cleanup efforts from the explosion.  He also is in charge of efforts to stop the spillage of the destroyed oil well.  President Obama will visit the oil spill on Sunday to assess the damage.  Also, President Obama has halted all new offshore oil drilling until the causes of the explosion and oil leakage are answered.

For more information, please see:

MSNBC-Gulf oil spill balloons, could move east-1 May 2010

NY TIMES-In Gulf Oil Spill, Fragile Marshes Face New Threat-1 May 2010

CBS News-Axelrod: No New Drilling Until Cause of Oil Spill Determined-30 April 2010

Egypt Rejects Claims It Gassed Gaza Tunnel

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – An Egyptian intelligence official on Thursday denied allegations leveled by Hamas that Egypt pumped gas into a cross-border tunnel used to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip, killing four Palestinians.

Egypt has been under pressure to shut down the hundreds of tunnels that are a key economic lifeline for the blockaded Palestinian territory but which are also used to bring in weapons for the Islamic militant group.

The intelligence official confirmed that Egyptian security forces destroyed the entrances to several tunnels this week, but said that no gas was used in the operations. He said that Egypt routinely blows up the mouths to the tunnels to seal them off, and that the blast and an ensuing fire could quickly use up all the oxygen in the confined space, causing people caught inside to suffocate.

Egypt’s denial comes a day after Hamas accused Egyptian forces of killing four Palestinians by pumping gas into a smuggling tunnel. The Hamas Interior Ministry said in a statement late Wednesday that the gas used to try to clear the tunnel was poisonous. It said six people were also injured.

It was not immediately clear what evidence Hamas was basing its allegations on.

Mohammed al-Osh, the medical director of the Abu Yusef al-Najar hospital in the Gaza border town of Rafah where some of the dead and injured were taken, could not confirm those killed had inhaled poison gas. He said the hospital did not have the equipment or specialists needed to conduct the necessary tests on lungs and clothing.

The United States and Israel have been pushing Egypt to do more to try to close the tunnels, which provide Hamas with a lifeline helping it to stay in power in Gaza. Weapons and other contraband regularly move through the tunnels.

But the 1.5 million residents of the impoverished Gaza Strip also rely on the tunnels to bring in food and commercial goods like refrigerators and clothing.

Many of the tunnels, dug with electrical drills and running side by side under the border, are just high enough to enable workers to move on all fours. Their entrances are covered by tents and they are equipped with motorized pulleys to haul goods and generator-powered lighting.

For more information, please see:

Press Trust Of India – Egypt Denies Pumping Gas Into Gaza Smuggling Tunnel – 29 April 2010

AP – Egypt Rejects Claims That It Gassed Gaza Tunnels – 29 April 2010

NPR – Egypt Rejects Claims That It Gassed Gaza Tunnels – 29 April 2010

UPDATE: 2 Ranchers Sentenced for Ordering the Murder of Nun Aiding Indigenous Farmers

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of the Dorothy Stang Center
Photo Courtesy of the Dorothy Stang Center

PARA, Brazil-A court convicted two ranchers for ordering the murder of a U.S. nun and environmental activist, Dorothy Stang in 2005. Prosecutors argued that the two men hired gunmen to kill the seventy-three year old nun because she blocked them from seizing land that the government had given to Amazonian farmers. Both men were sentenced to thirty years in prison.

Dorothy Stang had been working in the Amazon for thirty years to preserve the rainforest and protect the rights of rural workers against large-scale farmers. She was shot and left to die on the side of a muddy rainforest road where loggers and ranchers have deforested large sections of the rainforest.

Human rights groups protested a delay in the prosecution, which was widely viewed as a test of Brazil’s ability to combat impunity in the Amazon region. A court acquitted Vitalmiro Moura in 2008, an event President Lula de Silva called a “stain” on Brazil’s international image. The recent conviction is the result of a retrail. Judge Raimundo Moises Alvez Flexa told the AP that the conviction “sent a clear message that the law will be applied to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status.”

However, both the judge and Greenpeace have stated that more convictions for these types of crimes are necessary in order for activists to truly be protected.  The Pastoral Land Commission estimates that in the past ten years up to 2008, three hundred and sixty-five people were killed  over similar land disputes. Only around eighty gunmen have actually gone to jail for these murders.

Rebeca Spires, a nun who knew Dorothy Stang called the convictions a milestone victory given the “endless supply” of gunmen. Spires told the AP that “the verdict sends a strong message to other masterminds that the impunity is ending.”

For More information, please see:

AP-Brazil: Last Rancher on Trial for U.S. Nun’s Murder-1 May 2010

BBC-Second Brazil Rancher Jailed Over U.S. Nun’s Murder-1 May 2010

Washington Post-Second Brazil Rancher Sentenced in U.S. Nun Murder-1 May 2010