Russian Ethnic Minority Leader Arrested Near Sochi After Group Protested Genocide

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOCHI, Russia – A leader of Russia’s Circassian ethnic minority was arrested by authorities on Friday in the latest instance of Russia’s crackdown on protestors near the Sochi Games.

A protester dawns a Circassian flag at the Sochi Olympic site. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Asker Sokht, a moderate Circassian activist who has been considered an ally to the Kremlin, was arrested after dozens of Circassian activists were arrested on February 7th while attempting to protest at the Sochi Olympics. On Friday, Sokht was detained and sentenced to eight days in custody for “hooliganism and disobeying police.”

Last week, Sokht was quoted criticizing the Sochi Olympics for its opening ceremony. The February 7th opening ceremony traced the cultural history of Russia, but did not acknowledge the Circassian ethnic minority group.

“It is clear that behind the alleged hooliganism or disobeying charge against him are his critical statements about the Olympics in Sochi,” a Circassian activist group stated in a letter addressed to the regional governor demanding Sokht’s release.

Thousands of Circassians were displaced out of the Sochi Region by the Tsarist army when it invaded the Persian-controlled North Caucasus region. This event led to a fifty year war which killed thousands more Circassians.

Circassian activists have expressly opposed the Winter Olympics being held in Russia, as the Circassians claim that Sochi is the site their people’s expulsion from Russia. In 2007, an anti-Olympics campaign called No Sochi 2014 was created with the aim to “strip Russia of the Sochi Olympics based on it being the location of the Circassian Genocide.”  Circassians view the Sochi Games as particularly offensive because they fall on the 150th anniversary of the alleged genocide.

Circassian activists have attempted to convince the Kremlin to acknowledge the Circassian persecution. “This is deeply sad for Circassians. Even those who weren’t strongly associated with the nationalist movement and were fairly assimilated in Russia interpret this as an insult to the Circassian people,” stated Adam Bogus, the leader of a Circassian council in the town of Maykop, which is roughly 150 miles from Sochi.

Russia has enforced a large-scale ethnic crackdown in the North Caucasus region, where Islamic insurgency has caused conflicts for years. Citizens in this region allege invasive security measures and racial profiling both ahead of, and during the Sochi games.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Russia Detains Circassian Leader Protesting Sochi Olympics – 17 February 2014

CNN – Russia Arrests Leader of Circassian Ethnic Minority – 17 February 2014

International Business Times – Circassians Protest Winter Olympics Being Held at Sochi Genocide Site – 17 February 2014

Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty – Circassian Leader Reportedly Detained Near Sochi – 17 February 2014


NSA Ally Spying On Indonesian Government’s Communication With US Law Firm

By Brandon R. Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – In a document released by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the United States National Security Agency (“NSA”), an Australian intelligence agency kept tabs on communications between a US law firm and the Indonesian government and shared their findings with the NSA.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Indonesia Foreign Minister g Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta on Monday (Photo Courtesy The Guardian).

Though the US law firm has not yet been positively identified, it is believed to be the Chicago based firm, Mayer Brown, which had been retained by Indonesia.  Indonesia had needed legal advice as it was in a trade dispute with the United States.  The communications involved here were protected by the attorney-client privilege, yet could still lawfully be used by the NSA so long as it was for intelligence purposes.

While it is not yet known whether this data was collected so that the US would have leverage in any future talks with Indonesia, the data would be “highly useful intelligence for interested US customers.”  The N.S.A. has since declined to answer any questions regarding this incident, including whether the collected information was shared with any of the United States trade officials or negotiators working on the Indonesia dispute.

Duane Layton, a Mayer Brown lawyer involved in the trade talks, said he did not have any evidence that he or the firm had been subject to surveillance but said that he “always wonder[s] if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age.”

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not issued a specific statement regarding the document, but did say that any material gathered by Australia is “for the benefit of our friends and to protect our citizens and the citizens of other countries.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa meanwhile does not understand how a dispute over shrimp exports from Indonesia to the US would have an impact on global security.  Additionally, he said that “neighbors like Indonesia and Australia should be looking out for each other, not turning against each other . . . we should be listening to each and not listening in.”

The Obama Administration routinely emphasizes the NSA’s sweeping power as necessary to fight terrorism, yet recent documents released by Snowden show that that the NSA spies on trade negotiations, and communications among economic officials in other countries.  While the NSA has not denied that they possess such information, they remain steadfast in denying engagement in economic espionage.

Australia, which is part of the Five Eyes Alliance (the other members include Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States), is often accused of helping the NSA collect data that it would otherwise unlawfully be able to collect, though the NAS has repeatedly said it does not utilize such measures.


For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Uncalled for Clarifications by Tony Abbott – 16 Feb. 14

NY Times – Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm – 15 Feb. 14

The Voice of Russia – NSA’s Australian Allies Spied On Indonesia-Contracted US Law Firm – 16 Feb. 14

Washington Post – Indonesia Baffled By Spying On Shrimp Spat – 17 Feb. 14

Violent Protests Erupt in Bangkok, 4 Killed

By Brian Lanciault
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand–Gun battles exploded Tuesday between Thai police and anti-government protesters in Bangkok.  Four people were killed and dozens have been wounded as authorities made their most aggressive attempt yet to remove demonstrators from the streets.

Several riot officers were injured after multiple grenades were launched during the violence between protesters and state authorities. (Photo Courtesy of Euro Pressphoto Agency)

In the midst of growing developments in Thailand’s long-standing political crisis, the country’s anti-corruption body announced it would file charges against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra regarding a rice subsidy scheme that has fuelled middle-class opposition to her government.

The troubled rice scheme, now on the verge of collapse, suffered another hit when the Government Savings Bank (GSB) said it would scrap a loan to a state-owned farm bank that could have been used to prop the scheme up in the face of a depositors’ revolt.

The clashes were some of the most intensive between protesters and security forces since efforts to dispose of Yingluck began last November. The military, which has determined to remain neutral unless police lose control, has not publicly commented on the violence.

The protests are the latest episode of an eight-year political saga broadly pitting the Bangkok middle-class and royalist groups against the poorer, and largely rural supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Witnesses reported hearing gunfire and seeing police fire weapons in the Phan Fa Bridge area near the old quarter of the city. Police said they had come under fire from a rooftop sniper and M-79 grenades.

A policeman was killed by a gunshot and several were wounded by a grenade, security officials said.

The Erawan Medical Center said on its website that three protesters had been killed in the gunfight. The Center said 64 people were wounded but did not indicate how many were police and how many were civilians.

Security officials reported earlier that 15,000 officers were a part of the operation, “Peace for Bangkok Mission”, to reclaim protest sites around central Bangkok’s Government House and other government offices to the north of the capital.

Yingluck has abandoned her offices in Government House in response to protesters, led by a former deputy premier, Suthep Thaugsuban, who have also blocked major intersections since mid-January.

Suthep told supporters at an evening rally in Bangkok’s central business district that protesters would gather on Wednesday outside Yingluck’s temporary offices at a Defence Ministry facility in north Bangkok.

“We are not afraid anymore. Tomorrow we will go to the Defence Ministry office… we will chase them (Yingluck and her ministers) out. No matter where Yingluck is, we will follow.”

Police said they arrested 183 people at two protest sites near the Energy Ministry, which had been cleared of protesters, and Phan Fa Bridge.  The protesters were detained for violating a state of emergency declared last month.

The violence began when clouds of teargas poured out near Government House and soon police were crouching behind riot shields as officers clashed with protesters. It was not clear who had fired the teargas and the authorities blamed protesters.

By the afternoon, police had mostly withdrawn from the sites and the streets were quiet. National Police Chief, Adul Saengsingkaew, told Reuters there were no plans to continue the operation on Wednesday.

The protesters are aiming to oust Yingluck, who is understood to be a proxy for her brother Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon-turned-premier, ousted by the army in a 2006 coup.

The military has remained aloof from the latest crisis, but has a long history of intervening in politics, generally in support of the Bangkok establishment that includes the top brass, royal advisers and old-money families.

At the forefront of the protesters’ grievances is the rice subsidy scheme, a populist move to pay farmers an above-market price that has proved hugely expensive and run into massive funding hang-ups.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission announced an investigation last month and on Tuesday said it was summoning Yingluck to hear charges against her on February 27.

“Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to cause losses to the government so we have unanimously agreed to charge her,” Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a statement to reporters.

The GSB said on Sunday it had lent 5 billion baht ($155 million) to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which manages the rice program and has exhausted all of its resources to pay farmers.

Some GSB depositors, either worried that the loan could destabilize the bank or unwilling to see their money used to help the government, have been rapidly withdrawing their cash. On Monday alone, 30 billion baht ($930 million) was withdrawn.

The protests have also sent ripples through the economy. Data published on Monday showed growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2013. The baht currency has already weakened after Tuesday’s violence.

Yingluck called a snap election in December and has since led a caretaker administration with limited powers.  The elections were met with similar protests.

The main opposition party boycotted the February 2 election and protesters disrupted the process in Bangkok and the south, the powerbase of the opposition. It may be many months before there is the necessary quorum in parliament to elect a new prime minister.

The government, haunted by memories of a bloody 2010 crackdown by a previous administration that killed dozens of pro-Thaksin “red shirt” activists, has until now largely tried to avoid confrontation.

Tuesday’s fatalities brought the number of people killed in sporadic violence between protesters, security forces and government supporters to 15 since the demonstrations began. Hundreds have been hurt.

For more information, please see:

Wall Street Journal– At Least Four Dead in Bangkok Clashes–18 February 2014

CNN News–Thai police clash with anti-government protesters in Bangkok–18 February 2014

Reuters–Four killed in Thai clashes; PM to face charges over rice scheme–18 February 2014

Globe and Mail–Four dead, dozens injured in Thailand clashes–18 February 2014

Bangkok Post–PM charged for rice graft–18 February 2014

BBC–Thailand police and protester clash fatally in Bangkok–18 February 2014