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UKRAINE: A Ukrainian blogger under threat of extradition in the EU

A Ukrainian blogger under threat of extradition in the EU

 

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

Recently, Anatoliy Sharij, a Ukrainian blogger living in an EU country for several years, was accused by the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) on “High Treason” under the controversial Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. This article states that ‘an act willfully committed by a citizen of Ukraine in the detriment of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability, defense capability, and state, economic or information security of Ukraine: joining the enemy at the time of martial law or armed conflict, espionage, assistance in subversive activities against Ukraine provided to a foreign state, a foreign organization or their representatives, shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of ten to fifteen years.

Sharij is also accused of committing ‘willful actions inciting national, racial or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of  national honor and dignity’ under Article 161, Part 1, of the Criminal Code which provides for a prison term of five years. Kyiv would like to have him extradited. If so, he would spend many years behind bars for using his freedom of thought and expression.

 

These two very serious accusations did not remain unnoticed to Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) which started to investigate the issue. From open sources, it has quickly appeared that he was portrayed as a journalist being pro-Kremlin, pro-Putin, pro-Russia. This sort of accusation is quite common in a polarized country like Ukraine where since the murder of Gongadze in 2000 a number of other journalists and bloggers have been assassinated, attacked or imprisoned. Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporter Without Borders and other NGOs have widely reported on these issues. As usual, HRWF has wanted to look for the facts beyond the smoke of the fast food media.

 

Since 2014, Sharij has been feeding a blog which has 2.5 million subscribers and 4 billion views, according to him. Among his followers, 50% are from Ukraine, 30% from Russia and the rest from Russian-speaking people all over the world. Since he became a blogger, he criticized the successive presidents and governments of Ukraine but also members of the Verkhovna Rada, civil servants, oligarchs, neo-Nazi networks and mafia rings. Corruption and mismanagement of foreign funding are two major issues he has investigated.

 

For years, the success of his blog in Ukraine has been disturbing all those who run or want to run the country. After Presidents Yanukovych and Poroshenko, it is now the turn of President Zelensky. When Human Rights Without Frontiers met him in early September, he said, “I believed in Zelensky and I supported his candidacy during the last presidential campaign because I had been very disappointed by Poroshenko but now I have multiple reasons to criticize President Zelensky as he is not respecting his electoral promises.”

 

As it could be expected, Sharij got all sorts of threats, including physical ones by neo-Nazis. In the summer of 2011, an unidentified aggressor shot in his car but fortunately he was not hurt. The Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior concluded that he had staged this attempt on his life, which Sharij vehemently denies. The car shooting incident was cited as an example of attacks on journalists in Ukraine in the Human Rights Watch report for year 2011.

 

In 2012, under the administration of Yanukovych, Sharij fled to Lithuania because he feared for his life and he got political asylum in that EU country. This status is rarely challenged once it is granted but in 2015, the main Lithuanian news website in English, Delfi, titled one of its news “Anatoli Sharij, a favorite friend of Putin.” Sharij says that he sued Delfi about this and that the media outlet was not able to provide any evidence of its assertions.

 

The Immigration Department was however requested to reconsider the blogger’s status but concluded there was no objective reason to start such a procedure. Some more attempts initiated by unidentified actors were made to have his status reviewed but the Immigration Center sticked to its first decision.

 

Last but not least, four days after President Gitanas Nausėda of Lithuania paid an official visit to Ukraine on 18-19 March 2021, the Ukrainian blogger received a letter from the Lithuanian Department of Migration in which he was asked if there were any real threats against him in Ukraine. He answered with a detailed and documented list of a series of incidents and threats he had been the target of.

 

On 14 April 2021, less than a month after the meeting between President Zelensky and President Nausėda, the blogger received another letter from the Immigration Department saying that he was deprived of his residence permit in Lithuania. Two days later, on 16 April, he received another letter informing him that a procedure for “withdrawing his refugee status” had been initiated.

 

In early June 2021, some Lithuanian media announced that Sharij had been stripped of his political asylum status.

 

This administrative decision is being appealed by his lawyers. A court is expected to release its ruling by the end of September but the blogger told Human Rights Without Frontiers “I am not optimistic. This is obviously a politically motivated case.”

 

In the meantime, the blogger decided in 2015 to look for a safe haven in another EU country as, in Lithuania, he had started to receive again lots of threats as an alleged friend of Putin. During his interview with Human Rights Without Frontiers, he strongly denied such an unfounded relationship as pure propaganda meant to discredit him and silence him:

 

“As a Ukrainian citizen my position is that Crimea is part of Ukraine.

I have the same opinion concerning the whole of Donbas but I disagree with our government about its diagnosis of the situation there and its policies.”

 

 

Photo credits: youtube.com





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FINLAND: About Päivi Räsänen case and Jehovah’s Witnesses case in Belgium

About Päivi Räsänen case and Ghent criminal court decision against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

HRWF (09.05.2021) – In the last few years, we have seen attempts by private and public actors in Europe to interfere in the internal life of religious communities and sometimes to criminalize some long-standing practices in the name of some human rights.

 

The case of Päivi Räsänen in Finland is a good example of the clash between freedom of conscience, thought, opinion and expression about religious beliefs on the one hand and hate speech on the other hand.

 

In another case, the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium has been recently sentenced to a very heavy fine by the Criminal Court of Ghent on charges of discrimination and incitement to hatred for teaching their members to practice social distancing (shunning, as it is known in their theology) with excluded and disassociated members. They are now told to renounce this teaching and this habit. The verdict is being appealed.

 

Courts and the judiciary are increasingly used by various private and public actors to try to forcibly modify the teachings of religious organizations, whether they are historical or not. These institutions are taking over a practice that is forbidden to states by international and European standards on freedom of religion or belief: interference in internal matters of religions. (See below)

 

We can expect that this trend will continue and accelerate in Europe. This will be a challenge not only for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR) but also for  the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxemburg where religious freedom case law has grown exponentially, spanning labour law issues, tax exemptions, religious divorces, refugees, privacy, proselytism, and ritual slaughtering.

 

 

Some Jurisprudence of the European Court

Manoussakis and Others v. Greece (1996)

“47. The right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.”

Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria (2000)

“78. Nevertheless, the Court considers, like the Commission, that facts demonstrating a failure by the authorities to remain neutral in the exercise of their powers in this domain must lead to the conclusion that the State interfered with the believers’ freedom to manifest their religion within the meaning of Article 9 of the Convention.”

Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v. Moldova (2001)

“123. (…) the Court observes that the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality, as defined in its case-law, is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs and requires the State to ensure that conflicting groups tolerate each other, even where they originated in the same group.”

The Moscow Branch of The Salvation Army v. Russia  (2007)

“92. The Court points out that, according to its constant case-law, freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.”

Church of Scientology of Moscow v. Russia (2007)

“72. The State’s neutrality and impartiality, as defined in its case-law, is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia (2010)

“99. The State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality, as defined in the Court’s case-law, is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs.”

 

Further reading about FORB in Finland on HRWF website

https://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Finland-2021.pdf 





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SOUTH & NORTH KOREA: A law banning balloons carrying leaflets to North Korea

CSIS (22.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/38zJa4e – The South Korean National Assembly last week approved legislation that imposes stiff fines and jail terms for sending leaflets, USB sticks, Bible verses, and even money across the 38th parallel into North Korea via balloons. Under the legislation, South Koreans could face fines of up to $27,000 (30 million South Korean won) and up to three years in prison for violating the law.

 

The legislation was adopted by the National Assembly in a partisan vote supported overwhelmingly by the ruling Democratic Party but boycotted by the opposition party. Opposition lawmakers refused to participate in the vote as a symbol of protest. The opposition parliamentarians attempted to delay passage of the legislation by nonstop speeches against the bill. Assemblyman Tae Yong-ho, who had been a North Korean diplomat and was deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in London before he defected to the South, spoke for 10 hours. Tae said the law was “aimed a joining hands with Kim Jong-un and leaving North Korean residents enslaved for good.” But the Democratic Party used its three-fifths parliamentary supermajority to stop the speeches and bring the issue to a final vote.

 

The legislation now awaits the signature of President Moon Jae-in, and there seems to be little doubt he will sign it. The National Assembly is dominated by Moon’s political party, and his government has voiced its support for the bill. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha defended passage of the legislation arguing that freedom of expression should be limited because balloon leaflets “endanger the safety of people living in border regions.” She said, “Freedom of expression, I think, is absolutely vital to human rights, but it’s not absolute. It can be limited.”

 

Despite some claims that the balloons were endangering the safety of those living in the border region, little concrete evidence has been supplied about the danger. In recent years, in fact, the most common danger reported along the border has been North Koreans firing into the South to prevent a soldier from defecting or simply harassing South Korean border troops.

 

North Korean Pressure to End Balloon Launches

 

North Korea’s leaders are adamantly opposed to the balloons carrying leaflets and other information. In their April 2018 meeting, President Moon and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un agreed to end their psychological warfare and lower animosity at a time when both sides seemed positive about the possibilities of reconciliation.

 

Six months ago, Kim’s powerful sister Kim Yo-jong gave a furious denunciation of “South Korea’s inability to halt civilian balloon leafleting and demanded it ban the activity.” She called North Korean defectors involved in the balloon leafleting “human scum” and “mongrel dogs,” and she challenged the South to deal with the problem: “Now that the mongrel dogs are doing others harm, it is time to bring their owners to account. I would like to ask the South Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct done by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the ‘nuclear issue’ in the meanest way at the most untimely time.”

 

Kim Yo-jong threatened that should Seoul not act as Pyongyang demands, it “had better get themselves ready for the possibility of the complete withdrawal of the already desolate Kaesong Industrial Park following the stop to tours of Mt. Kumgang, or shutdown of the north-south joint liaison office whose existence only adds to trouble, or the scrapping of the north-south agreement in military field which is hardly of any value.” [In North Korean usage, “south” and “north” are never capitalized in reference to the two Koreas.]

 

Just hours after Kim Yo-jong issued her tirade against the leaflet balloons, the South Korean government responded that it would take immediate action to prohibit the sending of fliers via balloon because they caused “tension” with the North. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Unification said, “most leaflets have been found in our territory, causing environmental pollution and increasing burden on local people to get rid of them.”

 

But the real risk for the Moon government is that by responding so quickly to the derisive dressing down from Kim Yo-jong, it may give Seoul the appearance of being overly eager to accede to Pyongyang’s demands. Such a response weakens Seoul’s ability to negotiate with the North. The quick capitulation by the South only encourages Pyongyang to take a tougher stance in the future.

 

North Korea underlined that it was less interested in rapprochement with the South than in getting its own way by force when a few days after these events, the North destroyed the large building in Kaesong built by the South Korean government as a joint liaison office where the two Koreas could maintain offices for better communication and cooperation. The two-year-old building reportedly had cost the South some $70 million, but it was, in the words of the North Korean official media, “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion.” The “tragic” action was, in fact, deliberate North Korean action.

 

The South Korean National Assembly took six months to adopt the legislation prohibiting balloons on the border, but it is clear that both the Kim family in the North and Moon in the South are concerned that time is short to make progress on reconciliation. Moon was chief of staff to South Korea’s president Roh Moo-hyun (February 2003-February 2008). Roh held his only summit with North Korea’s then-supreme leader Kim Jong-il in October 2007, and his term as president ended four months later. Moon himself has been anxious to make progress with North Korea so that he will not find himself out of time before making significant progress in engaging the North. His single five-year term ends in May 2022—in just 18 months. The sense of urgency appears to be driving the South Korean government.

 

The Impact of Balloons in Getting Information to the North

 

Balloons carrying leaflets, USB flash drives, and money are periodically launched into the North by South Korean human rights organizations. Their effectiveness is debated. Proponents argue that balloons are an important way of getting external information into the North, while opponents argue that they are an environmental problem and can be dangerous. The North’s crocodile tears for the environmental damage caused by balloon-carried leaflets are not matched by concern for the economic impact on the environment in the North.

 

A RAND Corporation study of publicly available information assessed the state of balloon and drone technology for delivering information into North Korea. The study compared efforts in Korea with early Cold War efforts using balloons to deliver information in Central Europe. Based on modeling, it concluded that balloons launched under favorable wind conditions could potentially penetrate deep into North Korea, but based on anecdotal reports, they do not get far beyond the border region. The study suggested that balloons are “saturating” the border area with leaflets, but they do not reach further into the country.

 

Studies conducted by U.S. international information organizations have assessed how North Koreans are getting external information based on interviews with refugees and travelers recently arrived from North Korea. There are limitations on access to information because of North Korean hostility to anyone seeking information about the country, but these studies represent the best currently available sources of information. This first study was done in 2012, but more recent information continues to suggest that balloon-delivered leaflets are not a principal source of external information.

 

The balloon launch events do have value to North Korean human rights groups in South Korea. They provide valuable media attention with frequent photographs and video images of huge balloons carrying information leaflets and other information to the North. For such groups, the media events are very useful in calling attention to their cause. The fact that the two North Korean defectors who have been elected to serve in the National Assembly were very vocal in their support of the balloons indicates their view of the value of such actions. While they may not be the best means of getting external information into the North, they do serve a very important role in the North Korean human rights community in the South.

 

Negative Reaction against the Ban in the United States and Elsewhere 

 

South Korea is obviously sharply divided over the issue of banning balloons, but vocal disapproval from South Korea’s allies has been harsh. The United States, which by tradition has given particular emphasis in its political culture to freedom of speech and expression, has been most critical of the legislation. There have been no statements of support from the United States for stopping balloon launches.

 

Reportedly, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun confidentially expressed concern about the balloon prohibition during his recent visit to South Korea. Due to the strong alliance relationship between the two countries, however, the former U.S. special representative for North Korean policy did not express these concerns publicly, but several sources indicate that he did convey them in private to senior South Korean officials. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris also reportedly expressed U.S. concerns to South Korean officials. South Korean newspapers have also reported such expressions of concern.

 

In response to a press query on the leafleting ban, a State Department spokesperson said on Monday, December 22, “With regard to the DPRK, we continue to campaign for the free flow of information into the DPRK,” and “As a global policy, we advocate for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” While South Korean government officials have argued that the balloon ban does not infringe on freedom of expression, the legislation is clearly identified that way by opponents and some foreign governments.

 

Justice Michael Kirby of Australia, the former chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, also suggested that the incoming Biden administration is likely to have similar freedom of information concerns about prohibiting balloons. In an interview, Kirby cited Americans’ strong commitment to the freedom of information even when individuals disagree with what is being said. The Australian jurist expressed his opinion that the incoming U.S. president is “likely” to strongly oppose limiting freedom of expression.

 

Members of Congress have also spoken out critically of South Korea’s ban on balloons, including Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Korea, an organization of members who are generally very supportive of the South. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), another senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement saying that the legislation could “deepen the brutal isolation imposed on millions of North Koreans by the dictatorship in Pyongyang.” Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), the Republican co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives, said that the Commission will hold hearings on the South Korean law in the next few weeks.

 

Leaders of U.S. human rights organizations have likewise expressed concern about the new South Korean legislation. Manpreet Singh Anand, regional director for Asia-Pacific programs at the National Democratic Institute said, “Criminalizing those who are merely facilitating access to information can do irreparable harm to human rights defenders and will likely embolden the regime in Pyongyang to make more anti-democratic demands.”

 

Critics of the balloon ban legislation, in addition to Justice Michael Kirby of Australia, include Lord David Alton, an important human rights voice who is a member of the British House of Lords. Alton in a letter to the British foreign secretary said that “The purpose of this bill is to silence North Korean human rights and religious activities and voices from South Korean soil, in pursuit of the development of improved inter-Korean relations.”

 

Unfortunately, the balloon legislation has become a partisan political issue in South Korea rather than a serious effort to deal with North Korean human rights abuses or the inter-Korean relationship. There is no assurance that even with the silencing of freedom of expression in banning balloons that the North Koreans will take any action to improve inter-Korean relations. The consequence, however, could be erosion of the South Korean relationship with the United States, which is important for the people of both countries. If previous experience gives us any expectation for the future, the North is more likely to blow up another building, even if balloon-carried information is halted, than it is to make a significant positive gesture toward reconciliation with the South.

 

 

Ambassador Robert R. King is a senior adviser with the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Previously, Ambassador King served as special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the U.S. Department of State from November 2009 to January 2017.





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For Russia, journalist’s self-immolation is a wake-up call

Irina Slavina’s last message was: ‘For my death I ask you to blame the Russian Federation.’

 

By Eva Hartog

 

POLITICO (09.10.2020) – https://politi.co/3lInVlK – Before the pallbearers walked out there was a protracted silence. Then, as Irina Slavina’s two children led the white coffin carrying her scorched corpse toward the hearse, the crowd of several hundred broke out into spontaneous applause.

 

To many of her supporters, Slavina’s self-immolation was an act of stoic self-sacrifice and the ultimate rallying cry. Many compared her to Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself on fire to protest Soviet occupation in 1969.

 

On October 2, Slavina made her way to the Interior Ministry, sat down on a bench between two bronze figures, a monument dedicated to Russian law enforcement “through the ages,” and set herself on fire.

 

There is no doubt she meant to die — footage shows her pushing away a bystander who tried to save her from the flames even as she must have suffered excruciating pain.

 

Several hours earlier she had written a post on Facebook: “For my death I ask you to blame the Russian Federation.”

 

Older social media posts that have surfaced since suggest Slavina had been considering the idea for at least a year.

 

In her home city of Nizhny Novgorod, some 400 kilometers east of Moscow, Slavina held celebrity status as the founder of the independent news website Koza.Press. A one-woman band, it was nonetheless among the most cited outlets in the region, providing relentless coverage of local misdeeds in a no-nonsense factual style.

 

“She was a straight shooter but very balanced, she never let her emotions affect her writing, ” Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, a prominent human rights activist, told POLITICO at a memorial service Tuesday. “But underneath it she suffered.”

 

He recalled her driving him home after he was released from the umpteenth detention and saying: “I can’t live like this. I keep writing about all of this injustice but nothing is changing.”

 

Though many in her circle could recall similar moments of despair, the 47-year-old was known for her stoicism and her suicide has come as a huge shock.

 

Above all, it has drawn new attention to the toxic triple whammy faced by independent journalists in Russia generally, and regional journalists in particular; of financial pressure, harassment facilitated by draconic laws and a seemingly apathetic readership.

 

A day before Slavina’s suicide she wrote that 12 law enforcement officers had raided her apartment at 6 a.m. after forcing open her door, confiscating USB sticks, phones and computers in a hunt for evidence of ties to Open Russia, an organization backed by former oligarch-turned-Putin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

 

The case itself and its connection to Slavina are, to put it mildly, tenuous: She had merely attended an event organized by the election monitoring organization Golos, at a property owned by a local businessman who, to add a tragicomic spin, also heads the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody cult.

 

It is he who is under investigation for supposed links to Open Russia (a connection both sides have denied). But that hasn’t stopped the authorities from implicating Slavina alongside a number of activists and opposition politicians — supposedly as witnesses.

 

“The pressure she was under would have been bearable if it had just been about her personally. But it was affecting everybody who in any way raised their voice,” Marina Chufarina, who as a regional coordinator for Golos organized the event in question, said.

 

Chufarina said she was expecting a similar raid at her own home “any day now.”

 

Slavina was no newbie to harassment. In recent years, Russia has introduced a spate of increasingly restrictive laws and last year alone the journalist was given a taste of a number of them.

 

In March she was convicted of breaking protest laws for leading a small group through the city to commemorate the murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a Nizhny Novgorod native.

 

Just before summer, she was convicted of cooperating with an “undesirable organization” (Open Russia again) for promoting a series of pro-democracy lectures on social media. And in October she was convicted of “disrespecting the authorities” after mocking a memorial plaque to Stalin online.

 

More recently, she was found guilty of “spreading fake news” after writing about an alleged first case of coronavirus in a different town.

 

Combined, the convictions resulted in fines totaling some 160,000 rubles (€1,700) — about five times the average Nizhny Novgorod salary. Moreover, every day spent in court was one she couldn’t spend writing.

 

The use of the lawbook over the fist or bullet — or other means of silencing independent voices which were popular in Russia in the nineties and noughties — might look like evolution. But especially for regional journalists, the constant court cases and raids, or risk thereof, pose an existential threat.

 

“For us crowdfunding the money to replace even a couple of laptops is a big problem,” Andrei Grishin, the editor of independent outlet Vesma in Russia’s Far Eastern Magadan, said.

 

Independent outlets like his face a bind: stripped of state funds they can’t accept foreign grant money lest they be labeled “foreign agents.” Meanwhile, local businesses are wary of placing ads in outlets that might be deemed anti-government. So even in good times, their futures hang by a silver thread — let alone in bad times.

 

“Irina made a radical choice in expressing her protest. But a huge number of editors and journalists at a local level are being pushed in that same direction by the Russian authorities. If nothing changes, I don’t know what will become of Russian journalism in the coming years,” said Grishin.

 

In Russia, harassment does not discriminate by size or location; journalists at large outlets in Moscow are persecuted, too. Famously, the investigative Moscow journalist Ivan Golunov was slapped with drug-dealing charges last summer and more recently the former military reporter Ivan Safronov was detained on treason charges.

 

But in both cases, visibility has acted as a shield, sparking public protest or at least ensuring the authorities’ actions do not go unnoticed. Sometimes, a regional case breaks through to national headlines such as that of Svetlana Prokopyeva, a journalist in Pskov, who risked landing in jail for “justifying terrorism” in a column but ending up receiving a fine.

 

Most of the time, however, distance from Moscow correlates negatively to visibility, even within the journalistic community. That leaves local journalists extra vulnerable to the grudges and gripes of local authorities equipped with increasingly draconian laws.

 

“For years we covered the news around Slavina. But we failed to see the systematic pressure being applied to one and the same person, our fellow journalist,” Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of the opposition-leaning radio station Ekho Moskvy, said in a broadcast. Venediktov is among those who have signed an open letter demanding the possible prosecution of officials who might have contributed to Slavina’s suicide.

 

Even the Russian authorities seem to have been cowed. Hours after Slavina’s self-immolation, investigators released a defensive statement disputing any link between their raid and her action, saying she had just been a witness. And in a highly unusual personal Instagram post, the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, Gleb Nikitin, pledged he would take personal charge of a probe into her death.

 

But many in Slavina’s circle are unimpressed, asking: If Slavina was only a witness, why was her home raided and her property confiscated? And if the governor appreciated her work, why hadn’t he stopped the authorities from harassing her before? To them, the statements just underscore the arbitrariness of the repression she was subjected to.

 

At the memorial service on Tuesday, Slavina’s inner circle was adamant that her suicide was not the result of mental instability — a narrative peddled by pro-Kremlin media and hinted at by Russian investigators — nor of helplessness. To them, her self-immolation was a final act designed to change minds in a way she felt her journalism could not.

 

“She didn’t want to die tragically, she wanted change,” Maria Popova, an environmental activist whose acquaintance with Slavina goes back a decade, said.

 

Unlike in Palach’s case, however, Slavina’s death has largely been met with stunned resignation. In a city with a population of more than a million and a country of more than 140 million, the turnout of several hundred at the memorial is a drop in the ocean. “Where is everybody? Why aren’t there tens of thousands of people?” asked Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, the rights activist.

 

Some of Slavina’s acquaintances said she had become increasingly demoralized about the general apathy in Russian society and the lack of reader donations. A day after her mother’s suicide, Slavina’s daughter stood in the city center with a handwritten sign saying: “While my mother burned you stayed silent.” The message will have been lost on many of those passing by.

 

Still, to her followers and peers, Slavina is a source of inspiration.

 

Speakers at the memorial service did not mince their words and hundreds marched through the city center towards the site of Slavina’s death opposite the police headquarters, at one point chanting “Butchers!”

 

The website Koza.Press has continued to publish news, for now about Slavina herself. But there are plans to keep it running.

 

And in Magadan, too, work continues unabated. “You’re always internally bracing for some bad turn of events, so you have to take precautionary measures,” said Grishin, the editor of Vesma.

 

“But if they come for us, we’ll know what to do.”

Photo credit: Eva Hartog for POLITICO





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Romanian rights groups condemn ban on gender identity studies

By Luiza Ilie

 

Reuters (17.06.2020) – https://reut.rs/2Z0qSoa – Romanian human rights groups and universities on Wednesday condemned a blanket ban on gender identity studies voted through by lawmakers, which they said would legitimise discrimination against the country’s LGBT minority.

 

Parliament passed the amendment to the education law on Tuesday, pushing Romania’s sexual politics onto the same authoritarian track as neighbouring Hungary and Poland.

 

The bill, approved without public debate, would consign Romanian education “back to the Middle Ages,” student associations said in a statement.

 

The groups, along with universities, said the amendment contravened human rights and freedom of expression, and urged President Klaus Iohannis – who is on record as advocating equality and who must sign all bills into law – to reject it.

 

Socially conservative Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001, decades later than other parts of the European Union, and is one of the only EU states that bar marriage and civil partnerships for same sex couples.

 

Lawmakers had “voted against a segment of the population they should be representing and protecting,” Patrick Brăila, a rights activist for Romanian’s estimated 120,000 transgender people, said in a statement.

 

“As such, they are directly responsible for all transgender people who are discriminated (against).”

 

In Hungary, lawmakers voted last month to ban transgender people from changing their gender on identity documents, while Polish President Andrzej Duda Poland this week compared LGBT “ideology” to communist doctrine in an election campaign speech.

 


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