(05.05.2017) – On 2 May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, daughter of an East German Protestant pastor, raised concerns about the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses during her meeting with Vladimir Putin and stressed that it was important to protect the activities of this religious movement.
Putin, Merkel struggle to move past differences in tense meeting (Excerpt)
Reuters (02.05.2017) – http://nyti.ms/2pfMKIW – …Touching on a sensitive point for the Russian authorities, Merkel said she had raised concerns with Putin about police breaking up anti-Kremlin protests, as well as other issues that human rights organizations say are a cause for alarm.
Those include reports, denied by the local authorities, that homosexuals are being detained and tortured in the Russian region of Chechnya, and a Supreme Court ruling last month banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group as extremist.
“I have in my talks with the Russian president indicated how important the right to demonstrate is in a civil society and how important the role of NGOs is,” Merkel said. “We have heard some very negative reports about the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya and I asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to guarantee minority rights here as well as with Jehovah’s witnesses…
Angela Merkel presses Vladimir Putin on treatment of gays and Jehovah’s Witnesses
New York Times (02.05.2017) – http://nyti.ms/2p3r72p – Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the opportunity of a rare visit to Russia to raise human rights issues on Tuesday with President Vladimir V. Putin, a noted departure from their continuing differences over Ukraine and Syria.
Ms. Merkel said she had talked to Mr. Putin about her concerns on civil rights in Russia, including, among other issues, the persecution of gay men, a new ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the arrests of anti-Kremlin protesters.
“I have, in my talks with the Russian president, indicated how important is the right to demonstrate in a civil society and how important the role of NGOs is,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference in Sochi, Russia, referring to nongovernmental organizations.
“I also spoke about the very negative report about what is happening to homosexuals in Chechnya and asked Mr. President to exert his influence to ensure that minorities’ rights are protected,” she added. He hosted her at his residence in Sochi, her first visit to Russia since May 2015.
There was no indication during the news conference that the two leaders had made progress on other topics during their nearly two-hour meeting, including economic problems like sanctions and differences over Ukraine and Syria.
Germany has repeatedly pressed Russia to fulfill the Minsk peace agreements, which are meant to end the fighting in southeastern Ukraine. Although Mr. Putin endorsed the idea of their importance, he again accused Ukraine of fanning the problems there.
Europe remains Russia’s most important interlocutor, despite the Kremlin’s multifaceted attempts to undermine European Union solidarity and to depict the region as a caldron of anarchy and economic problems and as lacking traditional values. Moscow has repeatedly brushed off criticism of its disinformation and other campaigns in Europe as the product of “Russophobia.”
In Germany, the talks are important for the chancellor as she faces a difficult race for a fourth term in elections scheduled for Sept. 24. Gay rights protesters had engaged in a 48-hour vigil outside Ms. Merkel’s office, demanding that she bring up the issue of gay men in Chechnya.
Asked about recent arrests of protesters in Russia, Mr. Putin said, “Our law enforcement and judicial organs act within the framework of the laws that exist in Russia and will continue to act in that way, observing order and discipline.”
Relations between Germany and Russia have been fraught since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and then destabilized the rest of Ukraine by its not-so-secret promotion of an insurgency in the southeast of the country. Russia also denies interfering in recent elections in the Netherlands and France, with any such plans for the German election this fall probably of particular concern for Ms. Merkel.
Ms. Merkel has led the effort among European leaders to keep Western sanctions in place until the fulfillment of the peace agreements signed in Minsk, Belarus.
One crucial economic matter is building a second branch of the Nord Stream pipeline carrying Russian gas to Europe. The strategy is to bypass Eastern European countries by shipping natural gas under the Black Sea in the south and the Baltic Sea in the north. If completed, the system of subsea pipelines would allow Russia to shut off gas to Eastern European countries during political disputes without disrupting hard-currency earnings from customers in Western Europe.
Germans have been among the staunchest supporters of the plan, while European capitals generally hostile to Moscow are opposed to increasing dependence on Russian gas.
The head of the Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, was quoted in Russian news reports last week as saying that the two sides had agreed on paying for construction costs, with Russia paying about half of the more than $10 billion and five European companies the rest.
The twin issues of Crimea and Ukraine could block any improvement in relations, Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said before her visit. “These are burdensome circumstances which cannot just be talked away,” he said.
Berlin also has doubts about Russia’s intervention in Syria, particularly its support for President Bashar al-Assad in the face of repeated evidence that he deployed chemical weapons against his civilian population.
Mr. Putin also said that the two sides had discussed settling the conflict in Syria; later on Tuesday, he was scheduled to talk by phone with President Trump about Syria.
Asked whether he had influence over Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin said Russia, in tandem with Turkey and Iran, was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation from all sides.”
A cease-fire is a top priority, he said, and will be the focus of talks on Wednesday and the next day in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Mr. Putin is also scheduled to hold talks on Wednesday in Sochi with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that will most likely focus on Syria. Mr. Erdogan said on Tuesday in Ankara, the Turkish capital, that he would discuss possible operations against the Islamic State in Syria with Mr. Putin.
Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin last met in October, when she hosted him, along with the leaders of France and Ukraine, for inconclusive talks on carrying out the cease-fire in Ukraine.
The official reason for the visit on Tuesday was the agenda of the Group of 20 summit meeting in July in Hamburg, Germany, where Ms. Merkel will be the host. It will probably be the first face-to-face encounter between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.
Given the uncertainties of American policy toward Russia, which has moved from warmth from Mr. Trump as a candidate to something more antagonistic, Germany might find itself serving as an intermediary despite its own qualms over the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
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List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: https://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/