Russian Activist Punk Band Press Conference Disrupted by Protestors in Sochi

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Demonstrators disrupted Russian punk band Pussy Riot as the former political prisoners attempted to hold a press conference.

Costumed heckler, joined by five university students, disrupted Pussy Riot’s press conference for the punk band’s newest anti-Putin music video. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

In 2012, Russian dissident musicians Pussy Riot rose to international fame by storming a Moscow cathedral, where they performed a provocative song that denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin. Band members Maria Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina imprisoned for hooliganism and inciting religious hatred. Authorities released them, alongside other political prisoners, shortly before the Olympics began in Sochi.

However, Pussy Riot immediately returned to denouncing the Kremlin, as well as conditions inmates endure in Russian prisons.

On 18 February 2014, police in Sochi detained members of Pussy Riot, human rights activists, and journalists in connection with an alleged theft at the band’s hotel. All charges were dropped and the detainees released within hours.

On 20 February 2014, Pussy Riot released an angry music video—“Putin Will Teach You to Love Your Country”—against Putin’s crackdown on free expression, as well as the Sochi Olympics’ price of $50 billion. In the song, Pussy Riot sings about the “constitution being lynched,” government pressure against Russia’s independent television station, and last week’s sentencing of environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to a penal colony for three years.

“The goal is to show what it’s like to be a political activist in Olympic Sochi,” said Pussy Riot member Tolokonnikova.

The video included the previous day’s footage of Cossacks—descendants of the former patrolmen of Russian borderlands—whipping the band members shortly after their song began near a “Sochi 2014” sign.

While foreign media prepared for a news conference with the band at a Sochi hotel, a hotel employee informed journalists that the conference room was unavailable. Several dozen journalists went outside, where uniformed police and undercover security officers waited for band members to arrive.

As the four Pussy Riot members approached with arms locked, five male university students, accompanied by a man dressed in a giant chicken suit, pulled out raw chickens and chanted, “We like sex with chicken” in mangled English. Then the students and costumed chicken attempted to disrupt the news conference.

The man in the chicken costume said, “We don’t like people who have sex with food. We don’t want them here.”

“We don’t understand their behavior and that’s why we’re protesting,” said 23-year old Sergei Barashov, one of the anti-Pussy Riot demonstrators. Barashov expressed concern that the punk band would desecrate a recently-built Russian Orthodox cathedral on the outskirts of Sochi’s Olympic Park.

For further information, please see:

CNN International – Beaten But Hardly Tamed, Pussy Riot Strikes Back in Sochi – February 20, 2014

Guardian – Pussy Riot’s Tour of Sochi: Arrests, Protests – and Whipping by Cossacks – February 20, 2014

New York Daily News – Bondy: Pussy Riot Slams ‘Total Police and Security Control’ of Winter Olympics at ‘Secret’ Press Conference – February 20, 2014

Reuters – Pussy Riot Mocks Russia’s Olympics in Music Video – February 20, 2014

New York Times – Members of Russian Protest Group Attacked by Cossacks in Sochi – February 19, 2014

Truce Between Ukrainian Government and Opposition Deteriorates As 100 Killed in Latest Fighting in Kiev

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – Gunfire erupted between government security forces and opposition protesters at Independence Square in Kiev on Thursday.

The aftermath of the latest violence in Kiev on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The latest violent scuffle occurred just two days after a breakout of violence that left 28 people dead, and mere hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce between government security forces and opposition leaders on late Wednesday evening.

As a result of the latest violence, approximately 100 people were killed and 500 were injured in the clashes, according to the opposition forces’ medical team. The Ukrainian government has not released its own casualty numbers, but Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko stated that 25 police officers were injured and an unknown amount were killed. There were also allegedly hostages taken during the violence.

The Ukraine’s hostile situation began in November, when President Yanukovych nixed a trade deal with the European Union, and decided to deal with Russia. A conflict between an alliance with Russia and cooperation with the European Union has permeated the Ukrainian government for years.

It is not specifically known exactly what sparked Thursday’s violence, as conflicting reports indicate protestors throwing Molotov cocktails, and security forces pursuing opposition forces. Interior Minister Zakharchenko stated the violence was “provoked exclusively by the opposition leaders.” President Yanukovych’s office also indicated that the protesters of broke the truce. “The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters,” a statement from the President’s office said.

An individual working for the opposition as a medical respondent accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by “professional snipers.” “They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck. They didn’t give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives,” she stated.

European Union officials were scheduled to meet to discuss possible sanctions against the Ukrainian government on Thursday, which could include freezing assets and restricting the visas of officials deemed responsible for violence in that country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged President Yanukovych to accept EU aid in negotiations with the opposition. Russia’s foreign ministry, however, appeared to criticize Western diplomatic efforts. “The ongoing attempts to obtrusively intervene from outside, threat with sanctions or trying to influence the situation in any other ways are inappropriate and can’t lead to anything good but can only aggravate the confrontation,” Russian spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich stated.

Ukrainian athletes dawned black mourning bands and held a moment of silence Thursday at the Sochi Olympics.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Truce Crumbles Amid Gunfire in Ukraine, Protesters Claim 100 Dead – 20 February 2014

Reuters – Ukraine Truce Shattered, Death Toll Tops 50 – 20 February 2014

The Telegraph – Ukraine Protests Live: Death Toll Mounts Amid “Sniper Attacks” As Fresh Fighting Breaks Truce – 20 February 2014

New York Times – Ukraine Leader Strains For Grip As Chaos Spreads – 19 February 2014


*For live video coverage of the Events in Kiev, click here.




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


Spanish Border Authorities Shoot at Migrants, Government Offers Millions Spanish Nationality

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

– The European Union wants answers regarding at least fourteen migrants who drowned after Spanish border authorities fired rubber bullets at them. This comes amidst a possibility that Spain will offer nationality to any of the world’s nearly five million Sephardic Jews, as amends for their ancestors’ exile.

Amidst possible nationality offer for hundreds to millions, Spain admits that its border authorities fired rubber bullets to deter immigration. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Each year, thousands of immigrants attempt to reach Europe near Melilla and Ceuta, both Spanish territories along Morocco’s Mediterranean coastline. Many migrants are sub-Saharan African and, currently, Syrian refugees.

On 6 February 2014, a few people attempting to cross the border drowned. They belonged to a group of nearly 200, some of whom tried to climb the razor-wire-lined frontier fence. Those who jumped into the sea hoped to swim around a man-made breakwater separating Moroccan and Spanish waters.

On 13 February 2014, Spain admitted that its border police fired rubber bullets at fourteen persons in attempt to push them back. While all fourteen drowned, only nine bodies were recovered.

“The Ceuta Civil Guard have found at 12:30 this morning on the beach of Almadraba, five meters (16 feet) from the shore, the dead body of a sub-Saharan immigrant. It is the second body found today,” Spanish officials said in a statement.

The European Commission promised to ask Spain to explain why police fired rubber bullets. The Spanish opposition has call for National Police director Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa to step down over the incident.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said she was “very concerned about Spanish police using rubber bullets to deter migrants.”

“I expect clarifications from the authorities,” Malmstrom tweeted.

“This loss of life is appalling,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, “and the Spanish authorities must come clean on what happened – particularly as the Minister’s version of events contradicts earlier official statements. They must determine what went wrong and bring those responsible to account as a matter of urgency.”

“Regardless of whether any of the migrants were hit,” Tigani said, “it will be up to an independent investigation to determine whether the Civil Guard and border authorities acted appropriately. The results of any such investigation must be made public, and anyone responsible for human rights violations brought to justice.”

The news of migrants kept out of Spain comes amidst the Spanish government’s plans to make historic amends for Sephardic Jews who were exiled five centuries ago. In coming weeks or months, a new law would require a grant of Spanish nationality to those who can prove they are descendants of that exile’s victims.

While nearly three million Sephardic Jews can already travel to the EU from Israel with ease, the possibility of an EU passport provides access to residence, employment, and subsidized education throughout the entire 28-country bloc.

Before Spain makes amends for past atrocities, the EU Member State needs to answer for what appears to be a current anti-immigration atrocity.
For further information, please see:

Reuters – Bodies Found in Spain’s North Africa Waters Likely Brings Migrant Drownings to 14 – February 15, 2014

RT – EU ‘Very Concerned’ by Spanish Police Use of Rubber Bullets to Deter Migrants – February 15, 2014

Amnesty International – Spain: Accountability Urged for ‘Appalling’ Migrant Deaths in Ceuta – February 14, 2014

BBC News – EU to Probe Spain over Rubber Bullets Fired at Migrants – February 14, 2014

Seattle Times – Spain Opens Door to Sephardic Jews after Historic Expulsion – February 14, 2014

Spanish Universal Jurisdiction May Soon Become Undone

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – Faced with political and economic pressure from China, Spanish legislatures continued support changes to Spanish universal jurisdiction law. Human rights groups chastised the move as a step backward in international law.


China has rebuked Spanish courts for a decision to issue arrest warrants for Chinese officials in Europe, on grounds of universal jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Almost two decades ago, Spain enacted legislation to support universal jurisdiction. The doctrine allowed Spanish judges to reach beyond their borders to investigate serious human rights abuses. In 1998, Spain made headlines by using the doctrine to arrest Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.

When faced with pressure from the US regarding cases relating to Guantanamo Bay prisoners around 2009, Spain limited universal jurisdiction to cases that had a relevant connection to Spain, as long as no other national court would take the case.

In January 2014, the People’s Party (PP) tabled legislation that would curb the use of universal jurisdiction. The new law would essentially erase Spanish universal jurisdiction, applying the doctrine only for defendants who were Spanish citizens or residents, and only victims and public prosecutors could bring a case.

On 11 February 2014, Spanish Members of Parliament voted to continue support for a bill that limits the Spanish judicial power to try extra-territorial criminal cases. According to human rights organizations, the move would end Spain’s role as a leader in enforcing international justice.

PP Spokesman Alfonso Alonso defended the change, calling universal jurisdiction “inefficient” and something that “promises a lot but leads to nothing more than diplomatic conflicts.”

The vote came after a Spanish court ordered Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Chinese officials, including former President Jiang Zemin, for decades-old human rights abuses. While Spain sought to deepen trade relations with China to boost the European country’s economy, the court order caused China to issue a sharp rebuke.

“China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. “But I believe this incident concerns the sound development of bilateral relations, so we hope that the Spanish government can properly deal with this matter and tell right from wrong.”

“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” said Ignacio Jovtis, of Amnesty International Spain. AIS is among nearly two dozen human rights groups urging the government to abandon the change. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”

Reed Brody, of Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns over the double standards in international justice. “It’s OK to use international justice for El Salvador, Chile and Chad, but when it comes to US or China or Russia, there’s no justice. That really threatens to undermine the entire architecture of international justice.”

To ensure accountability for atrocities committed in the world, the world must deeply consider whether those with great power should run in the face of great responsibility.

For further information, please see:

Euronews – Spain Bows to Chinese Pressure and Backs Law to Curb Pioneering Judges – February 12, 2014

Guardian – Spain Moves to Curb Legal Convention Allowing Trials of Foreign Rights Abuses – February 11, 2014

Reuters – China Bristling, Spain Seeks to Limit Its Judges’ International Rights Powers – February 11, 2014

CNN International – Spanish Judge Issues Arrest Warrants for China’s Former President, Prime Minister – February 10, 2014