New Legislation Gives Belarusian Government Authority To Monitor Internet Use

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Recent legislation passed by Belarus will now give the federal government monitor the internet use of its citizens.

The decree, set to take effect on July 1, requires that the nation’s internet providers save all data concerning the websites visited by internet users in the nation for one year.  Upon request, that information must be turned over to law enforcement agencies.  Internet providers also will have to restrict access to any website that the government chooses.

National security concerns were the impetus for the legislation, according to Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko.  “To ensure the security of the state and it’s citizens,…Internet service providers will be required to identify devices used to connect to the Internet and keep information on those devices and the services provided.”

Criticism from the larger European community has called the decree a restriction of individual freedom.  Lucia Morillion, of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), commented that “whatever…president [Lukashhenko] is calling this decree, it is not done to improve the situation of Internet freedom in the country.”  Another response from the RWB declared that Belarus had “[fallen] to the level of North Korea and China…as an enemy of the Internet.”

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) was also quick to condemn the legislation, which will give the government greater control over what has been one of the few remaining arenas of free speech in the Eastern European country.  “It is complete control of information” said Andrei Bastunets, deputy chairman of the BAJ.

Belarus has long been criticized by international press watchdog organizations for the government’s extensive control over the country’s media.  There are currently no independent television or radio stations, and virtually all of the remaining opposition newspapers have been shut down by the government.

The recent internet legislation is likely to further damage the recent attempts by Belarus to become part of the larger European economic and political community.  President Lukashenko, who was re-elected to office in 2006 by results that were disputed by opposition groups in Belarus, has held the office since 1994.  Recent efforts by the President to gain better relationships with Europe has shaken the long-standing relationship that Belarus has traditionally had with Russia.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – EU Calls Belarusian Internet Decree ‘A Step In Wrong Direction’ – 4 February 2010

AFP – Opposition attacks Belarus Internet crackdown – 2 February 2010

DEUTSCHE WELLE – Belarus to further tighten Internet control – 2 February 2010

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Strasbourg On Holocaust Remembrance Day

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism on Wednesday.


Jewish cemetery3
Photo: One of the desecrated tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Strausbourg. [Source: Ynet]
According to The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella group of Jewish organizations throughout France, there was extensive damage done to a number of the tombs in the Cronenbourg cemetery.  In addition to swastikas being drawn on 18 gravestones, the German words “juden ruas”, or “Jews out”, were written on one of the tombs.  Another 13 tombs were overturned.

After learning of the desecration, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that he “firmly condemns this unbearable act, the expression of odious racism.”  A member of the Israeli Knesset, Shlomo Molla, who was in Strasbourg attending events marking Remembrance Day, commented on the tomb’s vandalism.  “It was a horrible sight, which probably stemmed from the rising anti-Semitism [in] Europe.”

The fact that the vandalism occurred on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is believed by some to be more than a coincidence.  Laurent Schmoll, a leader in Strasbourg’s Jewish community, noted that the vandalism occurred “at the moment we celebrate the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and I think there has to be a link.”

This is not the first time that Strasbourg’s Jewish cemeteries has been targeted by anti-Semitic messages.  Similar acts in previous years have occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Strasbourg, a city home to approximately 17,000 Jews.

For more information, please see:

AP – Jewish cemetery desecrated in eastern France – 27 January 2010

JTA – French Jewish cemetery vandalized – 27 January 2010

YNET – Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg desecrated – 27 January 2010

Russian Opposition Organization Appeals Ban on Freedom of Assembly Rally

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – The Russian opposition group The Other Russia has declared its intention to appeal the rejection of their application to stage a rally supporting the need for greater freedom of assembly rights in St. Petersburg.

The Other Russia had intended to stage the rally on January 31st along one of the main avenues of St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect.  The city’s Law and Order Committee rejected the organization’s permit to hold a rally, citing concerns about the potential protest’s effects on local traffic.  Immediately after the Committee announced its rejection, the opposition group stated that it would seek a legal appeal to the decision.

The planned rally is part of the larger Strategy 31 movement in Russia, a long term effort to bring the issue of continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly to the attention of the Russian public.  The campaign’s name is based on Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee each Russian citizens’ fundamental right to assemble.

The Other Russia leaders have indicated that regardless of the city’s final determination about their permit to hold the rally, their members will follow through will the protest as planned.

The city of St. Peterburg’s rejection of the rally permit continues a trend in major Russian cities where local authorities have cited various reasons to forbid rallies organized by opposition groups.  When those rallies have been granted permission to occur they have often faced the police detention of those involved.  Earlier this month thirty-four protesters were arrested by Moscow police during an event remembering the deaths of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russian Opposition To Fight Rally Ban In Court – 27 January 2010

AFP – Rights protesters arrested in Moscow – 20 January 2010

AP – Moscow rally in memory of slain lawyer, journalist – 19 January 2010

EU Court Finds UK Provision of Anti-Terrorism Statute In Violation of Human Rights Convention

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that a provision of a United Kingdom anti-terrorism law violated an article of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Court ruled that sections 44-47 of the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act 2000, which gave police the authority to ‘stop and search’ any person without ‘reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing,’ violated a section of the Convention that ensures privacy for the individual and the family.  Under those sections, the police have been able to require an individual to remove certain articles of clothing and all objects from their pockets, as long that the officer believed that person may have objects that could potentially be used in a terrorist act.  Failure to adhere to such a request requested possibly in a fine or possible imprisonment.  In striking down this authority, the Court noted that rather than providing an objective test for which the police could use to determine when the search authority, the power could be applied based on the “‘professional intuition’ of the police officer.”

The case decided by the ECHR was brought In 2003 by British citizens Kevin Gillian and Pennie Quinton, who were stopped and searched by London police while traveling to an arms demonstration protest.  Both Gillian and Quinton sought judicial review in the UK legal system, appealing their claim to the nation’s high court, the Law Lords, but their claims was eventually dismissed.  Following the Court’s decision, Quinton indicated that he was pleased with the court’s ruling.  “There has to be a balance between private life and security.”  He also noted that “the Court has shown that section 44 is an invasion of people’s right to liberty and privacy.  Hopefully the government will have to put a fairer law in place to protect us.”

Until the court ruling earlier this month, the use of the authority by police in the United Kingdom had become more common.  While approximately 33,177 people were stopped in 2004, the police had used the authority 117,200 times in 2008.  Prior to the ruling, the Metropolitan Police had already indicated that the use of the authority would be reduced as a result of its growing controversial nature.

The Court noted that “the absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised.”  Additionally, there lacked any safeguards against abuse of the authority.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has indicated that the government was disappointed with the Human Rights Court’s ruling.  “We are considering the judgment and will seek to appeal.”

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES – Strasbourg court rules against UK ‘stop and search’ powers – 25 January 2010

CNN – Britain to fight ruling on police searches – 13 January 2010

BBC – Stop-and-search powers ruled illegal by European court – 12 January 2010

THE GUARDIAN – Stop and search powers illegal, European court rules – 12 January 2010

24 Russians Detained At March Remembering Slain Activists

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Twenty-four people were detained on Tuesday by Moscow police during a rally in remembrance of the killing of an activist human rights lawyer and a prominent reporter.

Approximately one thousand marchers attended the rally in remembrance of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  Markelov had worked with human rights victims in Chechnya while Baburova, a journalist for the Novaya Gazeta, had published a number of articles critical of extremist Russian nationalist groups.  Both were murdered after leaving a building in downtown Moscow where they had been attending a news conference.  Protesters at yesterdays rally declared that those neo-Nazi nationalist forces were responsible for their deaths.

Leading human rights activists, including representatives from For Human Rights and the opposition political party Yabloko, were in attendance at the rally.  Russian human rights activist Gary Kasparov noted that those Russians who had been willing to speak out on human rights issues were becoming targets for extremist groups, and the government was not taking the necessary steps to protect them.

In addition to drawing attention to those responsible for the deaths of Markelov and Baburova, those participating sought to draw more scrutiny on the growing prominence of extreme nationalist groups in contemporary Russia.  Sergei Udaltsov, a human rights activist who attended the rally, noted that “we are here to say our firm “No” to nationalism, fascism, and inactivity of authorities.”

The protesters arrested were held by police on the grounds that they were participating in a march that had deviated from the permitted march route.  The city had originally denied a permit for the rally but eventually agreed to the event with certain restrictions.  Participants were not allowed to carry signs with political symbols and they could march in groups no greater than fifty people.  According to the Interfax agency the police put those who had been arrested onto buses before transferring them to another location.

Regarding the arrests at the rally, a police spokesman offered an explanation for the decision by police to arrest the protesters.  “[Those] twenty four people were detained after they tried to hold an illegal march.  There was an agreement with the authorities for a rally, but after the rally they provoked police by trying to stage a march.”

Nikolai Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, members of a neo-Nazi group, were arrested in November and charged with the killing of Markelov and Baburova.

For more information, please see:

MOSCOW TIMES – 500 Rally in Memory of Markelov – 20 January 2010

AP – Moscow rally in memory of slain lawyer, journalist – 19 January 2010

DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR – 30 arrested in unauthorized Moscow demonstration – 19 January 2010

OTHER RUSSIA – 600 Participate in Memorial March for Slain Lawyer – 19 January 2010

REUTERS – Police Detain 24 At Russian Rally For Murdered Activists – 19 January 2010

Discrimination Against Roma Children Continues In Czech Schools

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Report, Europe

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Discrimination against Roma children continues to exist in the the public educational system in the Czech Republic, according to Amnesty International.

The report by the international human rights watchdog indicated that it has become common practice in the Czech Republic for the children of Roma, or Gypsies, to be transferred by the government to schools designed to house those with mental disabilities.  These schools, now known as ‘practical’ schools, offer limited academic opportunities.  The limited opportunities result in many Roma becoming unable to receive the necessary vocational or academic skills to obtain adequate employment.  Approximately fourth-fifths of the students in these alternative schools are of Roma descent, while only 2% of the children of the non-Romi majority attend.

The Europe program director for Amnesty International, Nicola Duckworth, has stated that “education is a way out of a vicious circle of poverty and marginalisation that affects a large part of the Roma population in the country.  Unless the Czech authorities give them equal opportunities, they will be denying Romani children their chances for a better future and full participation in the life of the country.”  The Amnesty International report, which studied four schools in the eastern portion of the country, calls for an immediate freeze on the placement of any student in the ‘practical’ schools in the 2010-2011 school year.

There are approximately 300,000 Roma in the Czech Republic, and over 8 million Roma in all of Europe, mostly in the center of the continent.  The Roma have historically faced educational and work discrimination across Europe.

This report does not mark the first time a human rights group that attempted to push for a change regarding the treatment of Roma in the Czech school system.  Over a dozen organizations, including the European Roma Rights Center, have sought to end the segregation that is resulting from the student transferring process.  In 2007, as a result of a case brought by eighteen Roma, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Czech Prague to discontinue this practice, amending the educational system if necessary.  Amnesty International, in its report, stated that the changes made by the Czech government following the 2007 court ruling have not been sufficient.

The Czech government has offered no response to the conclusions drawn in the Amnesty International report.

For more information, please see:

SOFIA ECHO – Amnesty: End segregation in Czech schools – 14 January 2010

ROMEA – Amnesty International calls on Czech Republic to guarantee full education for all – 14 January 2010

AP – Report: Czechs Still Segregating Gypsy Kids – 13 January 2010

BBC – Amnesty says Czech schools still fail Roma Gypsies – 13 January 2010

FINANCIAL TIMES – Roma children segregated in Czech schools – 13 January 2010

French Legislator Proposes Ban On Wearing of Veils In Public

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Legislation offered in the French parliament on Thursday that would result in a complete ban on individuals wearing veils over their faces in public.

The legislation’s sponsor is Jean-Francois Cope, the President of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party (UMP) in the National Assembly.  President Nicolas Sarkozy is a member of the UPM.  Cope has argued that the ban is necessary on the grounds of public safety and to protect the ‘dignity’ of women.  “Permanently masking one’s face in public spaces is not an expression of individual liberty.  It’s a negation of oneself, a negation of others, a negation of social life.”  Under this legislation, those women failing to abide by its provisions would face fines of up to 7,000 euros.  Men who force women to wear a veil would face even higher fines.

This is not the first time that the issue of hear of veils and headscarves have become issues of public debate in France.  In 2004 Islamic headscarves and other certain religious symbols from school classrooms.  In the summer of 2009 a committee was established in the French parliament to hold hearings on a potential future ban on the wearing of veils in public.  President Sarkozy also commented last June that the presence of veils in France were a “sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women” in and were “not welcome”.  The President has not indicated, however, whether he supports Capo’s legislation.

Criticism to the proposed legislation has come from other French politicians.  The French Labor Minister Laurent Wauquiez commented that Cope was using this issue as a means of self-promotion.  The center-left Socialist Party opposes the ban.  National politicians have also indicated that the proposed legislation could be struck down by EU Courts, to which France is subject to.

Cope also introduced a resolution on Tuesday meant to reaffirm the nation’s values against “radical practices which harm them.”

Approximately 5 million Muslims currently live in France.  However, a recent news report noted that only approximately 400 women wear a veil, which is not required by Islam, in the country.

For more information, please see:

AP – France may ban Muslim veils – 12 January 2010

DAILY NEWS – No veiled threat – France mulls fines for wearing a burka in public – 8 January 2010

UK EXPRESS – France In Bid To Fine Those Who Wear Veils – 8 January 2010

AFP – French draft bill to fine burqa-wearing women – 7 January 2010

Human Trafficking Violates Antislavery Convention, Says European Human Rights Court

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The outcome of a human trafficking case involving a Russian woman transported to Cyprus has resulted in a significant change in the definition of human slavery and the protection of immigrants for many nations in Europe.

In its ruling on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) determined that the act of human trafficking violates the antislavery provisions of the treaty for which all nations who are party to the European Convention on Human Rights are subject to.  Under this new application of the Court’s jurisdiction, each member nation that is the destination or origin of a sex trafficking case is required to independently investigate this matter.

The events that brought about this change in law centered on Oxana Rancheva, a young Russian woman who died after she had been transported to Cyprus in 2001 for the purpose of working in a cabaret.  Rancheva died while attempting to flee in March of 2001 from an apartment building in which she had been held against her while.  Following her death, her father brought her case before the ECHR.  In review of the facts of this case, the ECHR concluded that both Russia and Cyprus had failed to properly investigate the parties that had engaged in the human trafficking in their respective countries.

The Court found Russia and Cyprus to have violated Article Four of the European Convention on slavery.  Cyprus also “violated the girl’s right to life and right to protection under the law” by failing to determine how Rancheva had arrived in Cyprus and what she was doing there, while Russia should have done more to determine how Rancheva was originally recruited to perform in a foreign cabaret.  The Court ordered the government of Cyprus to pay damages to the family of the woman involved.

The Court decision was welcomed by immigrant rights groups.  Doros Polycarpou, the leader of one such group in Cyrus, commented that the Court’s ruling was significant because “the Republic of Cyprus must finally get the message that we are no longer an isolated village where whatever we do stays between us.”

Rancheva had arrived in Cyprus on an artist visa, a bureaucratic instrument that the Court commented had been used in recent years to allow for the importation of women to the island nation to be exploited.  Three thousand such visas were issued in 2007.  Calls from international organizations for the elimination of this type of visa loophole resulted in its recent discontinuance.

Prior to the Court’s decision, the national government of Cyprus had publicly acknowledged its violations of international law in regards to this case.  However, the ECHR decided to rule on this case anyway, breaking with the court’s past tradition on not hearing cases in which “the defendant admits guilt”.

For more information, please see:

CYPRUS MAIL – ‘Handed over as if she was his possession’ – 9 January 2010

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Rights Court Raises Sex-Trafficking Oversight – 8 January 2010

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE – Cyprus and Russia violated human trafficking laws: court – 7 January 2010

Bulgarian Journalist, Critical of Organized Crime, Gunned Down In Sofia

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOFIA, Bulgaria – A Bulgarian investigative journalist and radio host, who has written a number of books exposing the extent and influence of organized crimes in Bulgaria, was killed by a number of unknown gunmen in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia today.  Boris Tsankov, 30, was killed at the entrance of a federal government building in the center of the city.  Two of Tsankov’s bodyguards were also wounded.

Tsankov’s books have focused on the influence that organized crime elements hold in Bulgaria.  His most recent book, entitled The Secrets of the Mobsters, resulted in Tsankov receiving a number of death threats in recent years, including the bombing of his home in 2006.  Stefan Bonov, a known criminal leader in the country, was arrested in November of this past year for threatening Tsankov.  Tsankov’s writing have also discussed connections between prominent Bulgarian businessmen and known criminal persons.  In a recent interview, Tskankov claimed to have specific information regarding internal struggles within Bulgaria’s criminal leaders, as well as information gleaned from a meeting he conducted with former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s son.

Bulgaria has experienced an increased number of targeted killings in 2008.  In all, approximately 150 contract killings have taken place since 2001. Of the suspects arrested in these murders, hardly any have been convicted.

The newly elected center-right government of Bulgaria, led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, has promised to do more to prevent these targeted killings and fight the continued existence and influence of organized crime and corruption in the country.  Recently, the European Union has called on this government to do more to fight this corruption and the country’s criminal elements.  Concern over continued corruption recently resulted in the EU cutting large amounts of funding that had been appropriated to Bulgaria.

While Tsankov’s writings appear to be the likely explanation for his assassination, some have suggested others reasons motivations for his killing.  At the time of his death, Tsankov allegedly owed money to a number of parties who had sponsored his radio program.

The government’s investigation into Tsankov’s murder is currently ongoing.

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES – Author of book on local mafia shot dead in Bulgaria – 6 December 2010

BBC – Bulgaria journalist Boris Tsankov gunned down in Sofia – 5 December 2010

FINANCIAL TIMES – Gunman kill investigative journalist – 5 January 2010

SOFIA ECHO – Former radio host shot dead in Sofia – 5 January 2010

Aftermath of Russian Prison Scandal Results in Wider Prison Reforms

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed legislation this week aimed at reforming his country’s prison system.

Under the new legislation, which amends the country’s criminal code, those who commit a tax crime but then agree to pay the back taxes, as well as the appropriate fine, will avoid any jail time.  Those awaiting trial for tax crimes also can no longer be jailed during the pretrial proceedings.  The requisite amount of money that will qualify a particular situation for the application of more serious tax evasion charges has also been increased.  Responsibility for future alleged tax crime investigations will also be shifted from the Interior Ministry to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Medvedev has indicated that it is his hope that these changes will decrease the common practice in Russia of prosecutors attempting to force suspects in giving confessions rather than carrying out a proper investigation.

These changes are part of a larger groups of proposed reforms that President Medvedev says are necessary to modernize Russia criminal justice system which “has not changed for decades”.  There are also expected to be additional changes in the future regarding those convicted of economic and non-violent offences.  These reforms come in the aftermath of the death of lawyer Sergei L. Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion for more than a year.  Regional and international focus on this incident increased the pressure on Russia’s leaders to take this action.

Medvedev also dismissed Alexander Piskunov, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service system.  Piskunov’s dismissal marks the twentieth firing of a leading prison system official since the death of Magnitsky this past December.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Medvedev bans imprisonment of tax offence suspects – 29 December 2009

CBS – Russian President Bans Tax Crime Suspects’ Jailing – 29 December 2009

MOSCOW TIMES – No Jail for Tax Suspects – 21 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Russia: No Jail for Tax Fraud Suspects – 29 December 2009

RT – Medvedev goes mild on tax evasion – 29 December 2009

Serbian Official Resigns Due To Failure To Catch War Criminal

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – The failure to capture war criminal Ratko Mladic and bring him to justice has resulted in the resignation of the Serbian government official responsible for capturing him.

Rasim Ljajic had indicated earlier in the year that he would resign if he was unable to capture Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, and deliver him to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ITCY) by the start of the new year.  Until this development Ljajic had held the responsibility within the Serbian government of tracking down the war criminal who was first indicated by an international tribunal of the Hague in 1995.

Serbian unit chief

Photo: Official Rasim Ljajic has led the Serbian unit in charge of capturing war criminal Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is charged with ordering the killing of approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and orchestrating the 43-month siege of Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia-Bosnian War.  He is indicted for charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity relating to the massacre.

In his resignation letter to the Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, Ljajic indicated that despite his decision to step down he had confidence that the unit he has headed for four years would achieve their objective.  “The past year has been the most successful so far.  We have never worked so hard…and I am certain that such an effort must have results.”

After the war between Yugoslavia and the breakaway republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina ended in 1995, Mladic lived free from prosecution in Serbia until recent years, when he then allegedly went into hiding.  The effort to capture Mladic began when a specialized unit was formed, with Ljajic in charge.  In the addition to the formation of a unit created for the purpose of capturing Mladic, the Serbian government has also offered a reward of 1 million euros for his capture.

The efforts of this Serbian unit to track down Mladic and deliver him to the ICTY has been seen as a sticking point in the possibility of Serbia receiving European Union membership in the future.  The government of the Netherlands has blocked Serbia’s entry into the EU, demanding that Serbia first must prove its commitment to capturing Mladic and others charged with crimes in the war.

Ljajic will remain in his posts as the Serbian Social Affairs Minister and as president of the National Council for Cooperation, which coordinates Serbian government efforts with the Hague.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Serbian official hunting genocide suspect Mladic resigns – 29 December 2009

AP – Serbian official quits over failure to get Mladic – 29 December 2009

BCC – Serbia minister quits for failing to catch Ratko Mladic – 29 December 2009

EPOCH TIMES – Serbian War Criminal Investigator Steps Down – 29 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Serbian Minister Quits War Crimes Team – 29 December 2009

Militant Russian Separatists Claim Credit for Killing of Orthodox Priest

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, RussiaThe killing of a Russian Orthodox priest last month was the responsibility of a Islamist militant group based in the Northern Caucasus region, according to the website of the separatist group’s leader.

Doky Ymarov, the separatist leader, declared on his website earlier this week that “one of our brothers who has never been to the Caucasus took up the oath of [Doky Ymarov] and expressed desire to execute the damned Sysoyev.”  The identity or affiliation of the shooter who killed Daniil Sysoyev, the Orthodox priest, last month in the Saint Thomas Church in Moscow has yet to be confirmed.

Ymarov went on to explain that the killing of Sysoyev was brought on by his distribution of pamphlets viewed as insulting to Islam.  “Those in the future who defame Islam and insult the religion of Allah will suffer the fate as Sysoyev.”  Ymarov has pledged to unite the various militant Islamist groups in the Caucasus region towards achieving the goal of establishing a separate nation governed by Islamic Sharia law.

Sysoyev had received past death threats for his efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity, as well as his books on his observations of the Russia’s responses to Islam’s presence in Russia, entitled “An Orthodox Response to Islam”.  Sysoyev also published a text encouraging Russian women against marrying Muslim men.

The death of Sysoyev marks the second death of a Russian Orthodox priest in the last two months.  Additionally, according to the Interfax News Agency there have been twenty-six Orthodox priests killed in Russia since 1990.  The Caucasus region has also seen the killing of a number of Islamic clerics in recent years.  The killings of religious leaders have heightened the tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the more than twenty million Muslims currently in Russia.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Islamists claim killing of Russian priest – 26 December 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Militants Claim Russian Priest Slaying – 26 December 2009

VOA – Wave of Clergy Killings in Russia – 23 December 2009

TELEGRAPH – Russian priest who criticised Islam assassinated in his church – 20 November 2009

European Human Rights Court Finds Discrimination In Bosnian Constitution

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch, Reporter

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that the national constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina discriminates against Jews and Roma and must be amended.

Currently in Bosnia only Muslim Bosniaks, Roman Catholic Croats, and Christian Orthodox Serbs are allowed to run for political office, while Jews and Roma are forbidden.  This ruling by the European Court of Human rights came about after two activists, Jakob Finci, a Bosnian Jew and the current Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland, and Dervo Sejdic who is of Roma ethnicity, filed a complaint in the Court in 2006.  Past attempts by both men to run for national office in Bosnia were thwarted by the constitutional provision that the Court ruled on.

Following the ruling, Finci applauded the Court’s action.  “I am delighted that the European Court has recognized the wrong that was done in the constitution 14 years ago.  The Bosnian politicians need to right the wrongs in the constitution quickly.”

Bosnia, as a party to the Convention that established the European Court of Human Rights, is now obligated to amend its Constitution.  In making its decision, the court noted that “authorities must use all available means to combat racism, thereby reinforcing democracy’s vision of a society in which diversity is not perceived as a threat but as a source of enrichment.”  Bosnia had previously agreed to modify its election laws to put them in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, a requirement for EU membership.

The Bosnian Constitution was drafted as a part of the broader Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the nearly four year war in the former Yugoslavian republic between Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian ethnic groups.  The constitution currently separates the population of the nation between “constituent peoples”, including Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs, as opposed to “others”, including Jews and Roma.

Past attempts to amend Bosnia’s election laws have had little success.

For more information, please see:

AP – Court: Bosnia discriminates against Jews and Roma – 22 December 2009

DW – European Court rules Bosnia’s constitution is discriminatory – 22 December 2009

EUROPEAN VOICE – Human rights rebuffs Bosnia – 22 December 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – European Court Condemns Bosnia Over Jews – 22 December 2009

VOA – European Court: Bosnia’s Constitution Unfair to Jews, Roma – 22 December 2009

Spanish Legislation Takes First Step Towards Easing Ban on Abortion

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – The lower-house of the Spanish parliament voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would legalize access to abortion.  Abortion has in almost all cases been categorizes as an illegal act.  This new legalization would all abortions to be legally carried out for the first fourteen weeks of the pregnancy without any government restrictions.

Currently in Spain abortions are only legal in cases of rape or out of concern for the health of the mother.  And while as a matter of law abortions are very difficult to obtain, in practice many of the 100,000 abortions that are legally performed in Spain are carried out under the mother’s health exception.  The bill will now be presented in the upper-house.  If it is approved there, this legislation will face a final vote by the whole parliament.

Legalizing a broader right to access to abortion has been a leading domestic priority for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.  The current Socialist government under Zapatero was able to gather 184 votes in the lower house, Congress of Deputies, by eliminating the most controversial provision of the bill, which would have allowed any woman over the age of 15 the right to have an abortion without their parent’s consent.  In reaching the necessary number of votes, the Socialist government joined forces with smaller political parties in the lower house.

The movement towards legalization has been described by its leaders as a fight for women’s rights.  The Socialist Party’s spokeswoman Carmen Monton declared that this movement is about “…legislating women’s right to decide whether to be mothers.”

The Catholic Church and Popular Party (PP) have led the opposition to this legislation.  A leader of the PP noted at a rally outside the parliament that the legislation would “[banalize] the meaning of human life.”  The Catholic Church has declared that if abortion is legalized, anyone who participates in assisting abortion procedures may face excommunication.

A vote on this bill in the upper house of the parliament is expected to take place in early 2010.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Spanish lawmakers vote to legalise abortion – 18 December 2009

AP – Spanish lawyers vote to ease abortion law – 18 December 2009

EARTHTIMES – Spanish parliament approves liberalization of abortion – 17 December 2009

Leading Russian Prison Officials Fired In Aftermath of Lawyer’s Death

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Following a investigation into the death of lawyer Sergi L. Magnitsky last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired 20 leading national prison officials.

After being arrested last year on alleged tax-evasion charges and his relationship to British investor William Browder, who was considered a security threat by the Russian government, Magnitsky had been held in a jail in Moscow.  He was awaiting trial for allegedly participating in tax evasion.

Magnitsky had worked as a lawyer for HSBC and Hermitage Capital Management, Browder’s company, prior to his arrest.  Those companies had been under investigation for tax fraud by the Russian government.  According to his supporters, Magnitsky was being pressured by the government to testify against Browder and Hermitage.  In recent years Browder had become a well-known critic of what his saw corruption in the Russian private sector.

According to his lawyers, Magnitsky had been denied medical attention during his time in prison, and this led to his death as a result of heart failure and toxic shock.  The investigation that resulted in the prison officials firing indicated that standard procedures were violated during the handling of Magnitsky.

Pretrail detention, a practice which is commonplace in so-called ‘white-collar cases’, have garnered heightened scrutiny by some in the Russian business community following his death.  The threat of long-term pretrail detention has been used as a form of coercion against others in the past who have been charged with crimes.

The director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Reimer, has commented that it has not been verified whether Magnitsky’s death was a result of the violations of procedure.  Among those fired included the head of the Moscow prisons and the individuals responsible for the medical care of prisoners and pretrial detention.

Regarding his arrest, Magnitsky’s former boss Jamison Firestone has stated that “Sergei was falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers who he accused of aiding a theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury.”  Firestone also noted that the government’s investigation into the prison officials has taken the spotlight off the larger question that still needs answering, why “Sergei was put in prison in the first place and why his conditions were made so bad.”

For more information, please see:

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Russia Fires Jailers After Lawyer Death – 12 December 2009

AP – Russia: Officials fired in lawyer jail death probe – 11 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Top Russian Prison Officials Are Dismissed by Medvedev – 11 December 2009

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Following a investigation into the death of lawyer Sergi L. Magnitsky last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired 20 leading national prison officials.

After being arrested last year on alleged tax-evasion charges and his relationship to British investor William Browder, who was considered a security threat by the Russian government, Magnitsky had been held in a jail in Moscow.  He was awaiting trial for allegedly participating in tax evasion.

Magnitsky had worked as a lawyer for HSBC and Hermitage Capital Management, Browder’s company, prior to his arrest.  Those companies had been under investigation for tax fraud by the Russian government.  According to his supporters, Magnitsky was being pressured by the government to testify against Browder and Hermitage.  In recent years Browder had become a well-known critic of what his saw corruption in the Russian private sector.

According to his lawyers, Magnitsky had been denied medical attention during his time in prison, and this led to his death as a result of heart failure and toxic shock.  The investigation that resulted in the prison officials firing indicated that standard procedures were violated during the handling of Magnitsky.

Pretrail detention, a practice which is commonplace in so-called ‘white-collar cases’, have garnered heightened scrutiny by some in the Russian business community following his death.  The threat of long-term pretrail detention has been used as a form of coercion against others in the past who have been charged with crimes.

The director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Reimer, has commented that it has not been verified whether Magnitsky’s death was a result of the violations of procedure.  Among those fired included the head of the Moscow prisons and the individuals responsible for the medical care of prisoners and pretrial detention.

Regarding his arrest, Magnitsky’s former boss Jamison Firestone has stated that “Sergei was falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers who he accused of aiding a theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury.”  Firestone also noted that the government’s investigation into the prison officials has taken the spotlight off the larger question that still needs answering, why “Sergei was put in prison in the first place and why his conditions were made so bad.”

For more information, please see:

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Russia Fires Jailers After Lawyer Death – 12 December 2009

AP – Russia: Officials fired in lawyer jail death probe – 11 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Top Russian Prison Officials Are Dismissed by Medvedev – 11 December 2009