Unrest in Ukraine Erupts into Violent Protests

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko was among several injured in protests against a recent ruling that convicted three men of plotting to blow up a statue. The protests came amidst lasting tensions from the government’s refusal to strengthen ties with the European Union.

Yuriy Lutsenko was injured during the recent protest, requiring bandages to his head, as well as a patch to his right eye. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

On 10 January 2014, protests erupted after a court sentenced three nationalists to six years in prison.  The convicted persons allegedly conspired to blow up a statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin in 2011. Protesters claimed that the trial was fixed against the men.

During the night of 10 January, protesters attempted to prevent police from taking the convicted men away from the court building. In the clash with police that followed, over ten activists, three Members of Parliament, and several journalists were injured. Some received fractures, brain trauma, and unconsciousness.

“As we see, the authorities do not stop in their acts of repression, it is not enough for them to deprive us of our rights, they want to put people in jail, give them six-year prison terms, just because they were talking about their rights,” said protester Dmytro Bulatov. “And they want to break our bones.”

By early 11 January, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman reported that eleven protesters had been injured, with two of them hospitalized, including former Ukrainian Interior Minister and current opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko.

Yanukovych pardoned Lutsenko in April 2013, after four years of imprisonment on charges of embezzlement and ordering illegal surveillance. Lutsenko had been a key figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought Yanukovych’s rival Yulia Tymoshenko to power.

Lutsenko was struck in the head and hospitalized in intensive care during a clash with riot police. He suffered a concussion, requiring bandages and a patch over his right eye.

“The doctors diagnosed a closed head injury, a concussion, three subcutaneous hematoma, and an open wound on the face. There was no breach of the skull, thank God,” said Lutsenko’s wife, Iryna. “He was conscious, but not the whole time. He asked for people not to take revenge, because the Berkut [riot police] just obey orders. So he is asking people not to take revenge.”

Ukrainian tensions have been elevated since President Viktor Yanukovych’s abrupt refusal to sign an association deal with the European Union in November 2013, which would have established closer ties between Ukraine and the Western bloc. Yanukovych’s decision sparked protests into December 2013, which constituted the largest Ukrainian anti-government movement since the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Lutsenko led the organization of the most recent protests, during which pro-EU demonstrators remained in central Kyiv, demanding the resignation of the government and new elections.

The Kyiv prosecutor’s office said it would investigate the actions of both protesters and police.

Leader of Svoboda Union Andriy Ilyenko said that abusive police fighters were photographed after removing their masks, and would be held accountable for their actions.

To ease tensions, Ukrainian officials must acknowledge that citizens have shifted toward an affinity for Western ties.

For further information, please see:

Independent – Ukraine Opposition Leader Yuri Lutsenko Injured in Police Clash – January 11, 2014

Interfax-Ukraine – Three MPs, Over Dozen Activists Seriously Injured in Clash with Berkut, Says Svoboda – January 11, 2014

Los Angeles Times – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Former Ukrainian Minister Hospitalized in Clash with Police – January 11, 2014

Telegraph – Ukraine Opposition Leader Injured in Fresh Kiev Clashes – January 11, 2014

French Cities Tell Dieudonne That His Tour Is Done before It Begins

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Despite France’s ability to nationally ban comedian Dieudonne’s tour, the Interior Minister Manuel Valls called on local officials to make similar decisions, based on the content of Dieudonne’s show. Dieudonne threatened to appeal.

Dieudonne vowed to appeal, after French cities and towns banned his comedy tour. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Several French towns and cities have banned Dieudonne’s controversial comedy act due to its alleged anti-Semitism, including Marseilles, Tours, Nantes, and Bordeaux. Dieudonne has never paid one of his several fines for anti-Semitic outbursts. He continues to claim bankruptcy from his Theatre du Main d’Or in Paris.

French President Francois Hollande has urged officials to enforce the authorized bans. “I’m calling on all state representatives, especially prefects, to be alert and inflexible. No-one should be able to use a stage show to openly promote anti-Semitic ideas,” said Hollande.

Dieudonne vowed to appeal. While Dieudonne has appeared on stage several times with holocaust denier and historian Robert Faurisson, Dieudonne contended that he is not linked to Faurisson or French right-wing extremists. Instead, Dieudonne claims to be a mere anti-establishment anti-Zionist.

Dieudonne’s attorney, Jacques Verdier said, “The cancellation of a performance is an act of censorship. If there is no public disorder then it is a troubling artist that one wishes to forbid.”

Verdier further stated that he would seek an injunction to overturn the “recommended” bans, which went around French Constitutional provisions leaving the decision to prefects. The comedian has already sold nearly 6000 tickets for his Nantes performance, and remains booked for several French venues until June.

Dieudonne faces six convictions for hate speech against Jewish persons, based on his routine about gas chambers and deriding of Holocaust victims and survivors. He denied completely that his “quenelle” gesture is a variation of the Nazi salute, but rather is an “anti-establishment sign.”

The quenelle consists of a right hand pointing straight down and touching the left hand to that arm. In late-December 2013, West Bromwich footballer Nicolas Anelka performed the gesture during a goal celebration, in what Anelka described as “a dedication to Dieudonne” rather than an anti-Semitic gesture. France’s sports minister criticized Anelka’s action as “disgusting.”

Critics claim French censorship of Dieudonne may cement his cult-like status; especially if the bans against Dieudonne are overturned on legal grounds.

“Rather than embarking on pre-emptive bans with a shaky legal foundation and uncertain political results, the authorities should concentrate on punishing crimes once they are committed,” said a statement by France’s Human Rights League (LDH).

In this light, France must determine whether its ban on Dieudonne is a prior restraint of his future speech, or a fitting punishment for his continued anti-Semitic comments amidst unpaid fines.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Dieudonne: Hollande Backs Nantes and Tours Bans – January 7, 2014

Euronews – Joke Is on Dieudonne as French Cities Ban His Show – January 7, 2014

The Independent – ‘Anti-Semitic’ Comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala Has His Show Cancelled in France after Nicolas Anelka’s Inverted Nazi Salute – January 7, 2014

Reuters – French Cities Ban Comedian Accused of Anti-Semitic Jibes – January 7, 2014

CNN International – Anti-Semitism Row Shines Light on Fractured French Society – January 3, 2014

Russian President Putin Nixes Ban on Protests at Sochi Winter Olympics

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOCHI, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted a ban on demonstrations at the Winter Olympic venue of Sochi.

President Putin was at a rehearsal of the Games’ opening ceremony on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

President Putin amended a decree to allow activist groups to conduct demonstrations and marches at pre-approved sites. In a statement released by the Kremlin, Putin indicated that the sites would be approved by the venue’s security force. The Russian President was at the Olympic venue as recently as Saturday, when he attended a rehearsal of the Winter Games’ opening ceremony.

“Gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets, which are not directly connected to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could be staged on January 7 – March 21 2014… only after agreeing with… a local security body,” the release stated.

The ban on rallies had been imposed in August as a part of security crackdowns as a direct response to two suicide bombings in Volgograd which killed 34 people. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, however there is are groups in Southern Russia who aim to carve a separate Islamic state out of the region (including Sochi) that are thought to have ties to the attacks.

Campaign groups had been advocating for a lift of the bans, pleading that they violated Russia’s constitution. The International Olympic Committee praised Putin’s decision, the latest in a series of gestures aimed at silencing critics of Russia’s human-rights record.

“It is in line with the assurances that President Putin gave us last year and part of the Russian authorities’ plans to ensure free expression during the Games whilst delivering safe and secure Games,” the committee stated.

The Russian President has planned to utilize the Sochi Olympics to show a political turnaround under his administration after the fall of the Soviet Union. Last month, the Putin also freed several of Russia’s most notorious prisoners: former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two members of the female punk group Pussy Riot.

Human Rights groups have criticized Russia’s treatment of migrant workers, particularly at Olympic sites, and have advocated for a boycott of the Sochi Games over a law banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors, saying it violates basic freedoms.

A December opinion poll showed that President Putin’s public approval rating fell to its lowest level in over 13 years as the country is facing high inflation and a struggling economy.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Sochi Winter Olympics: Vladimir Putin Lifts Blanket Ban on Political Protests – 4 December 2014

Al Jazeera – Russia Eases Restriction on Olympic Protests – 4 December 2o14

BBC News – Winter Olympics: Russia to Allow Protests in Special Zone – 4 December 2014

Russia Today – Putin Lifts Ban on Protests at Sochi Olympics, Orders Area Specially for Rallies – 4 December 2014

Mediterranean Navies Rescue More Migrants Seeking Protection from the European Union

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, European Union – Over 1000 migrants were rescued this week in the Mediterranean region. The European Union has called for countries to continue saving migrants traveling dangerous routes, amidst calls to restrict benefits for EU citizens migrating within the bloc.

Italian authorities rescued over 1000 migrants from the Mediterranean. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

On 2 January 2014, Italian naval authorities rescued 233 migrants who were first noticed New Year’s Day, about 80 miles south of Lampedusa. The boat measured only 33 feet (10 meters) long, and all of the migrants were without life jackets.

On 3 January 2014, an additional 823 migrants in four overcrowded boats were rescued in an operation separate from the 2 January events. Those migrants primarily came from Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Smugglers often use unseaworthy boats packed beyond safe capacities. Frontex, the European Union border agency noted that tens of thousands of people are rescued from the Mediterranean annually. European authorities estimate that, during January to September 2013 alone, roughly 31,000 migrants entered the EU illegally by crossing the Mediterranean.

In a statement released by the Italian navy, the rough seas and the boat’s “precarious state of buoyancy” were the deciding factors in transferring the migrants to the San Marco navy ship. The migrants will be transferred to the port of Augusta, which is located on the island of Sicily. Many migrants came from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Zambia, and Mali.

Refugees seeking asylum in European Union countries frequently travel toward Lampedusa because it is the closest Italian island to Africa. In recent years, many have come from African nations and Syria. In October, 366 migrants from Africa died when a ship to Lampedusa sank just off-shore; within days, another boat capsized, killing the 34 people on board.

For twenty years, most migrants have entered the European Union through Italy, Greece, and Malta, a Mediterranean island.

While Italian authorities rescued migrants spotted around New Year’s Day, the Greek Coast Guard rescued 85 migrants, including 20 women and 15 children, a few miles southwest of Astypalaia, an island in the Aegean Sea. After offerings of food and water, the Coast Guard safely transferred the migrants to Astypalaia, and towed their sailboat to another island.

The Ministry of Mercantile Marine, in cooperation with Greek police, plan to transfer the migrants to a larger island for medical examination and any necessary treatments, as Astypalaia has only one doctor to assess all rescued migrants, in addition to the island’s residents.

Dangerous methods of migrating to the EU have created a call for greater discussions about the issue, amidst calls from Germany to prevent internal migration from encouraging “benefit tourism.”

In addressing both internal and external migration, the EU must ensure that its work to prevent abuse of freedom to one group does not abuse the rights of others.

For further information, please see:

New York Times – Italy: More Migrants Rescued at Sea – January 3, 2014

Reuters – Italian Navy Rescues over 1000 Migrants from Boats in 24 Hours – January 3, 2014

BBC News – Migrants Spark German Coalition Rift Amid Welfare Angst – January 2, 2014

CNN International – Italian Navy Rescues 233 Migrants from Mediterranean Boat – January 2, 2014

Greek Reporter – 85 Illegal Immigrants Found in the Aegean Sea – January 2, 2014

The Creator of the AK-47 Assault Rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Dies at 94

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Izhevsk , RUSSIA – The Russian creator of the AK-47 assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died on Monday, December 23rd at the age of 94.

Kalashnikov passed away last Monday at the age of 94. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Kalashnikov died in his hometown of Izhevsk near the Ural Mountains in Russia, where his gun is still manufactured. No cause of death has been released. Kalashnikov had been fitted with a pacemaker at a Moscow hospital in June and had been hospitalized in Izhevsk since November 17. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “deep sympathy” for Kalashnikov’s family.

Kalashnikov created the AK-47 while being treated in a hospital in Kazakhstan after he was severely wounded in a burning tank during World War II, while still in his 20’s. Five years later, his design was chosen by the Russian military. The “47” in AK-47 stands for the year 1947, the “A” is for “avtomat” (automatic rifle), and the “K” for Kalashnikov.

The rifle, which has killed more people than any other firearm in the world, is officially in service in 55 countries. Several national emblems feature it. However, approximately half of the world’s estimated 100 million AK-47’s are counterfeited copies that were produced without licenses.

Modern versions of the AK-47 are still used by Russia’s armed forces and police more than 60 years after the original rifle went into service in the military in 1949. However, Kalashnikov has stated that his pride in the rifle was mixed with pain in observing it being used by criminals and child soldiers. The AK-47 has also been used worldwide by gangsters, drug traffickers, militants and rebels in various countries.

“It is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my weapon. I created this weapon primarily to defend the borders of our fatherland,” Kalashnikov stated in an address to a Russian arms conference in 2009.

Kalashnikov was born on November 10, 1919 into a large peasant family in the village of Kurya in the Altai region of southern Siberia during the Bolshevik Revolution. During Soviet times, he was twice honored as “Hero of Socialist Labor” and became a Stalin Prize and Lenin Prize laureate. Kalashnikov also was given the rank of colonel in 1969 and subsequently rose to become a two-star general during his time with the Red Army.

Though it is widely believed that Kalashnikov was wealthy from his design, he was not a rich man and lived in a modest Soviet-era apartment in Izhevsk, despite the Kremlin decorations.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Mikhail Kalashnikov, AK-47 Inventor, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

CNN – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Inventor of AK-47, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

New York Times – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013

Reuters – Ak-47 Rifle Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov Dies at 94 – 23 December 2013