Day: October 12, 2006

Russia Submits New Anti-Tbilisi Resolution

Russia is still quietly trying to get an anti-Georgia resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council. RIAN reports that a new draft resolution is being pushed by the Moscow delegation:

“We included proposals from another draft resolution, which was earlier presented by Germany,” Maria Zakharova, press secretary for Russia’s mission to the UN, said.

Forum 2000 Honours Anna Politkovskaya

Via Prague Watchdog

Forum 2000 Honours Anna Politkovskaya

By Tomáš Vršovský

PRAGUE – A group of prominent intellectual leaders attending a conference in Prague held a moment of silence for the slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Monday.

The participants in the Forum 2000, an annual meeting of world renowned intellectuals, politicians, religious leaders and activists organized by former Czech President Václav Havel, did not ignore Saturday’s contract murder of Politkovskaya in Moscow. The panel discussion “Human Rights Revisited” opened with French philosopher Andre Glucksman’s harsh condemnation of the killing. “People who defend human rights in Russia are lone figures.”

Russian economist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky said, “I wanted to speak about the developments in Russia, but after this incident I actually don’t need to. We live in an authoritarian and corrupt system.” He then added that Russia has entered a new stage in which “political opponents are murdered in the middle of Moscow in broad daylight.” At his request the forum participants held a minute of silence to honor Politkovskaya.

Václav Havel welcomed the Forum’s mentioning Politkovskaya during the discussion. “We want friendship with Russia, but that requires openness, otherwise it would be a false friendship. Therefore, we should clearly remind the Russian leadership that there is no longer a Soviet Union; it’s impossible to blackmail Georgia, wage war in Chechnya and exploit the Ukraine.”

Forum 2000 was founded in 1996 as a joint initiative of Václav Havel, Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Its aim is to identify the key issues facing civilization and to explore ways in which to prevent escalation of conflicts that have religion, culture or ethnicity as their primary components. It wants to provide a platform to discuss these topics openly and to enhance global dialogue. It also intends to promote democracy in non-democratic countries, support civil societies, respect human rights and allow for religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance in young democracies.

An Extraordinary Life


An Extraordinary Life

A Chechen journalist recalls the part Anna Politkovskaya played in his life – and that of many others.

By Timur Aliev in Grozny (CRS No. 361 11-Oct-06)

Just over two years ago, the newspaper of which I was both editor and publisher ran into trouble. We couldn’t go on, as every print house in the North Caucasus had refused to print “Chechenskoye Obshchestvo” – someone high up had pressured the police into stopping us publishing.

It was during a presidential election campaign in Chechnya, and clearly someone feared that independent reporting might interfere with the Kremlin’s man getting in.

I travelled the length and breadth of the North Caucasus but couldn’t find a printer willing to deal with us. But one day the phone rang – it was Anna Politkovskaya, who’d heard about the problems we were having. Up until that point, I was barely acquainted with this renowned reporter for the Moscow-based paper Novaya Gazeta.

“Timur, I’ve heard you’ve got a problem,” she told me, getting to the point immediately. “I’ve spoken to my editor and we’re prepared to offer you a page in Novaya Gazeta so you can at least tell readers what’s going to be in your next edition.”

I responded by thinking aloud, “We need to think how to do it.”

But Politkovskaya – never one for shades of grey – cut me off, saying, “What’s there to think about? What good is that to me?” And the next issue of Novaya Gazeta duly came out with a whole page devoted to an account of the problems we were having, and excerpts from some of our reports.

That wasn’t the last time I was helped by Anna Politkovskaya. When I won the Andrei Sakharov prize for Russian journalism, one of the jury members told me I got it because she fought my corner.

Politkovskaya herself won a huge number of human rights and journalistic awards both at home and abroad. She often travelled to other countries to speak as an expert on Chechen and Caucasian affairs – and used every such occasion to talk about the problems facing Chechnya, not as a free trip to Europe, as her detractors sometimes said.

“It’s very, very important. Opportunities to be heard by important people in Europe come up only rarely, so one can’t miss them – one needs to get the most out of them,” she said.

For people in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was tantamount to a miracle-worker.

Zareta Hamzatkhanova, a researcher with the Memorial human rights group’s office in Grozny, worked with Politkovskaya on the case of Mehti Mukhayev, a man wrongly convicted of a crime. She said her colleague was fuelled by her nerves.

“She wrote about the torture this man had suffered and told his story in full, with no thought for the possible repercussions it might have for her,” said Hamzatkhanova.

People in Chechnya had faith in her. “Just about every person that came to the Memorial office with a problem asked to meet Politkovskaya. They all thought that if Politkovskaya wrote about their case it would really help,” said Hamzatkhanova. That was actually true – many of the major human rights issues in Chechnya became widely known about because she wrote about them.

“There was always a queue to see her,” recalled Novaya Gazeta’s chief editor Dmitry Muradov. “I’d tell her, you can’t save all the Chechens, you’re not their Joan of Arc. But she insisted that she could.”

Fatima Tlisova, editor of the Regnum news agency’s North Caucasus service, worked with Politkovskaya on several occasions and recalls how she had “her own particular style – all exclamation marks and full volume”.

“Of course, you can write in plain narrative style about the things she was describing, but she was trying to shout her message across,” said Tlisova.

Tlisova believes the murder of Politkovskaya was designed to intimidate Russian journalists in the most public way possible, and she fears the tactic may work. “They’re saying that her murder will awaken the public’s social conscience, but I am worried that the opposite will happen – her passing will make journalists censor themselves,” she said.

In the case of my newspaper, Politkovskaya’s attitude had recently begun to change. She felt we were becoming too uncritical of developments in Chechnya and of leading political figure Ramzan Kadyrov.

On one occasion she wrote to me complaining, “What a pity your newspaper has begun to change, definitely for the worse. It’s a shame ‘Chechenskoye Obshchestvo’ has joined the ranks of those with fallen reputations.”

In fact, there had been changes in Chechnya and in Russia itself – you were no longer allowed to write the things you could have done five years ago.

But it was as if Politkovskaya was oblivious to this – she carried on writing as she’d done five, even ten years earlier. And that was what they killed her for. Her death has become a symbol of those changes.

Tatyana Lokshina, the head of the Moscow-based human rights centre Demos has often visited Chechnya, and sums up Politkovskaya’s contribution as follows, “Among the few Russian journalists who dared to write the truth about the second [1999-2005] Chechen war, Anna Politkovskaya undoubtedly stands in first place.

“It’s almost impossible to believe she’s no longer with us. She wrote about this dangerous subject for so long, she travelled in the region and took such immense risks that many of us came to believe she’d gone beyond the danger point and nothing could happen to her.”

Lokshina recalls how Politkovskaya received threats in 2001 after publishing material alleging human rights abuses at “filtration camps” in Chechnya, and had to leave the country for a while. “But she returned and continued doing the same work,” said Lokshina.

The June 2004 publication of an interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, who later became Chechnya’s prime minister, was another landmark event for Politkovskaya. Again, her friends and colleagues thought it was time for her to call a halt. But as Lokshina said, “She didn’t stop. And it all seemed to pass over.”

“Anna’s reporting was uncompromising, with nothing left out, and it gave her almost iconic status among readers in Chechnya, Russia and abroad,” said Lokshina. “The possibility that she could be killed off in casual fashion seemed unthinkable – it would have been a monstrous, crazy, inhuman crime and would have created a scandal the Russian authorities just couldn’t afford.

“But we were wrong to think that. Anna’s been murdered.”

So what happens now? According to Lokshina, western journalists and politicians are suggesting that there is almost no one left to tell the truth about Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus – “the torture, the abductions, and other monstrous crimes against civilians”.

But she insists they are wrong.

“To fall silent now would be to play into the hands of Anna’s killers, to bury her a second time, and to allow her life to be dismissed,” said Lokshina. “That cannot be allowed to happen. One can’t allow oneself to be afraid.”

Timur Aliev is IWPR coordinator in Chechnya.

The Estamirov Case

There are details of the Estamirov vs. Russia case at the Russian Justice Initiative website:

On 5 February 2000, five members of the Estamirov family were killed by Russian federal forces in a suburb of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, during a sweep operation several days after the federal forces had established control over the capital. The bodies were discovered the same day, burnt and with several gunshots, in the backyard of their own house by a relative. Toita Estamirova, eight months pregnant at the time, had several gunshots to her chest and abdomen. Toita’s one-year old child, Khasan, had gunshots to his head and leg.

Investigators at the scene of the crime collected numerous empty cartridges and observered tracks on the ground made by armed personnel carriers only used by Russian military forces. The investigation has established that the sweep operation was conducted by special police force units (OMON) from St. Petersburg and Ryazan. In spite of this, however, the Russian authorities have failed to hold anyone accountable for the crime.

The case was brought to the European Court by several members of the Estamirov family together with the British barrister Gareth Peirce and the organization Stichting Russian Justice Initiative. The applicants argue that their relatives’ right to life, guaranteed by Articles 2 of the European Convention for Human Rights, was violated. They also complain that they had no effective domestic remedies in respect of the above violations, contrary to Article 13.

Russian federal forces summarily executed at least sixty civilians in the suburbs of Grozny on 5 February 2000. Human rights organizations do not have any information indicating that anyone has been charged for these crimes.

The judgment in the case is expected on 12 October 2006.

Prague Watchdog has more on today’s judgement and the outcome of the case.

There is an HRW account of the February 5 massacre in Novye Aldi here.

Russia “Must Pay” Chechen Family

Via BBC:

A European court [the ECHR in Strasbourg] has ordered Russia to pay 277,000 euros (£150,000) in compensation to relatives of a Chechen family shot dead by Russian troops.

Human rights groups say they were innocent civilians executed by a paramilitary police unit.

The court found Russia guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights.

It said five members of the Estamirov family had been the victims of unlawful killing by the Russian state.

They had been found shot dead outside their home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in February 2000, at the height of the second Chechen war.

Amongst the dead were a baby and a heavily pregnant woman.

RFE/RL also has a report.

Svetlana Bakhmina: New Appeal

On October 2, A Moscow district court refused to suspend the six-and-a-half year prison sentence imposed on former Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, who has two young children. Bakhmina’s lawyers had asked for the sentenced to be deferred until her youngest child (now 5) reaches the age of 14.

Now Svetlana Bakhmina’s lawyers have again appealed, reports, citing legal irregularities in the case documents.

Svetlana Bakhmina herself denies all wrongdoing. The tax fraud charges against her are widely seen as politically motivated, like those against former Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who dared to challenge the Kremlin’s authority.

On October 2, she said:

“I am innocent, but a question of even greater importance to me is when I will be able to see my children again,” Bakhmina said. “I think the time I have spent at a detention center has already covered what can be qualified as guilt.”

Putin Day

From Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Grozny celebration in honour of Putin was “voluntary-compulsory”

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – On October 7 a large rally took place in the centre of the Chechen capital involving the participation of thousands of people. The official authorities announced that those who took part were celebrating the Russian President’s birthday.

On Akhmat Kadyrov Prospect (formerly Victory Prospect) the rally participants, dressed in white, dark-blue and red T-shirts bearing an image of Putin’s face and the inscription “Happy Birthday”, performed the Russian national anthem. The words of the anthem were printed on the backs of the T-shirts.

The press service of the Moscow-backed Chechen government stated that the rally was arranged by the republic’s youth organizations. Representatives of the youth of neighbouring regions -– Daghestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Krasnodarsky Kray – were invited for the event.

In order to provide security for the young people taking part in the rally a large number of law-enforcement officers were mobilized. The central section of Grozny was cordoned off, and people had to pass through metal detectors in case anyone was carrying weapons or dangerous explosive objects. Here and there soldiers patrolled with dogs.

This event was given wide coverage in many media outlets. “On Saturday more than 60,000 people linked hands on Grozny’s Akhmat Kadyrov Square and sang the Russian national anthem,” the Internet publication reported. However, many of the rally participants say that their attendance at the event in honour of the Russian President was “voluntary but compulsory”.

“On Saturday I was in lectures at the university when they told us that the lectures were being postponed, and that we were not to go home. Then they made a list of our whole group and gave us all T-shirts with Putin’s face on them. Some students were given Russian flags. After that, we were taken in buses to Grozny, where this rally began. They warned us that if anyone left the rally they would be punished. Precisely how, no one explained,” says Zhabrail, a 20-year-old student at Chechen State University.

Other young people who took part in the rally say more or less the same thing. “We were taken to the rally straight from school. Also on specially chartered buses. We were given free T-shirts with Putin on them. Then we were formed up into a column and sent to Kadyrov Square. There we sang the national anthem, listened to some officials from the Committee on Youth Affairs and some other organizations, and then we went home. Many thought there would at least be a concert, but there was nothing. There was just a big public show, and that was it,” says Said, an 11th-grade student at one of the schools in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district.

“The leader kept shouting some kind of slogans, like ‘Putin is our President!’, then the microphone was turned our way for us to repeat these words, but there was no general response. Practically everyone preferred to keep silent. I personally can’t consider him my President, since my close family – my mother and two brothers – were killed by the war he unleashed here. And there are thousands like me here,” he said.

The young people also say that far fewer than the officially reported 60,000 or even 20,000 took part. “There were probably 5,000 or possibly 8-10,000, but no more. I mean, they were even bringing young folk to Grozny from the distant mountain villages. All this was put on in order to demonstrate the love of Chechen youth for the Russian President, but we know what Putin and his circle have done here,” Zhabrail considers.

“After the rally was over a lot of us just took off the Putin T-shirts and threw them away. It’s the officials who gather round the government feeding trough who love him and constantly demonstrate their devotion to him so they can keep their cosy armchairs. For the ordinary residents of Chechnya Putin is first and foremost the man who began the second bloody war here, who called for Chechens to be “wasted in the outhouse.” He is to blame for the fact that tens of thousands of our women, children and old people have perished. Putin is to blame for “Nord-Ost” and Beslan. We have nothing to thank him for. I regret that our local authorities have simply used us as extras in their show called “The Chechen People’s Love for Putin”, says the respondent.

Translated by David McDuff.