Posts Tagged ‘Chechnya’

Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2018 awarded to Oyub Titiev

October 9, 2018

 

The sixth Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights – has been awarded to the head of the Grozny office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechyna, Oyub Titiev (Russian Federation). The prize was presented at a special ceremony on 8 October 2018 at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/ ]

Oyub Titiev, in detention since January 2018, is a prominent human rights defender and head of the Grozny office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechyna. In this capacity, Mr Titiev succeeded Natalia Estemirova, murdered in 2009, and has made a widely recognised contribution to the defence of human rights in the region by reporting on abuses by the local authorities. Mr Titiev being in detention, the prize was presented to Aleksandr Cherkasov, Chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Centre Board.

We are fully aware of the difficulties that Mr Titiev and his colleagues face. This prize is a recognition of the work he and Memorial are doing,” the PACE President said. “It is also a message to all those who work in this region to affirm the principles of the rule of law and human rights. Keep up the good work, you can count on our support, Liliane Maury Pasquier added.

The two other shortlisted nominees – Rosa María Payá, a young Cuban democracy and human rights activist [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/08/rosa-maria-paya-carries-on-the-work-of-her-father-in-cuba/], and Nabeel Rajab, a prominent democracy and human rights defender in Bahrain [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nabeel-rajab/ ] – also received diplomas during the ceremony.

Fo amor on this and other awards see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/vaclav-havel-prize-for-human-rights-pace

http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=7218&lang=2

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/russiaunfairly-jailed-human-rights-defender-honoured/

Now arson attack on Memorial’s office in Ingushetia

January 17, 2018

Memorial / memohrc.org

Unknown arsonists wearing masks torched the office of Russia’s prominent human rights group Memorial in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia on 17 January in the morning. Security camera footage captured two masked men climbing into the organization’s office in the town of Nazran and setting three rooms on fire. The attack comes a week after the arrest of Oyub Tityev, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, on (fabricated) drug charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/]

Amnesty International and Front Line (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/memorial) – amongst others – condemned the attach, while TASS reports that the Kremlin calls not to draw conclusions on oppression of human rights defenders in Chechnya. “I don’t think that it is right to draw such conclusions after the head of the Memorial Center’s Chechen branch was caught with drugs,” he said. “An investigation is underway, and only investigators are eligible to say if accusations are credible. We don’t believe it possible to draw any general conclusions in this case,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peksov added. While commenting on the fire at the Memorial Center’s office in Ingushetia, Peskov said that “that is two different republics, two different regions of Russia.

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/masked-arsonists-torch-memorial-human-rights-office-in-north-caucasus-60201
http://tass.com/politics/985454

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-42718183

Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev arrested on trumped-up charges

January 15, 2018

 
The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.

This blog has paid attention to many cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Chechnya, especially since two of the laureates of the MEA were linked to work there (the Joint Mobile Group (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/) in 2013 and earlier Lyda Yusopova in 2004 http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/lidia-yusupova/]. But things continue to be extremely difficult, as shown by case of Oyub Titiev, who heads the regional office of the Memorial, and was arrested last week. Open Democracy (on 12 January 2018) in partnership with OVD-Info, wrote about this and other politically-motivated arrests in Russia (see below in green). Front Line (12 January 2018), Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, US State Department, IFEX and others spoke out on the case.

On the morning of 9 January, Oyub Titiev (60) was detained by people wearing the uniform of traffic police officers. A friend of the human rights defender who witnessed the arrest from his car, said he had wanted to stop to speak with Titiev, but Titiev indicated he should drive past. Titiev’s lawyers were not allowed to see him for several hours. That evening Titiev was charged with possessing drugs (Article 228). He categorically denies the accusation. On 10 January police arrived at Titiev’s home looking for his son and brother, and when they did not find them they forced all the other family members out of the house, locked the doors and took the keys. The law enforcement officers wanted to use the fact they had the keys to influence Titiev’s relatives, since to gain entrance to the property the family members would need to go to the police station. On 11 January a court in closed session remanded Titiev in custody for two months.

Titiev took up the post of head of the Chechnya office of Memorial after the kidnapping in Grozny and subsequent murder of his predecessor Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. The Chechen public figure Ruslan Kutaev, who heads  the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, was also charged with illegal acquisition and possession of drugs. On 20 December 2017 he was released having served over three years in prison. There is evidence that Kutaev was tortured following his arrest. According to human rights defenders, the charges were trumped up.

The European Court of Human Rights is tired of hearing identical cases concerning torture in Russia, and has therefore asked Russia to pay compensation to Ildar Dadin on the basis of a simplified procedure. The European Court has proposed that Russia admit to violations of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment with regard to Ildar Dadin during the latter’s transfer to a prison colony and in the prison colony itself. The Court decided not to ask the Russian government for commentary.

In December 2015 activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for “repeated violation of the rules for holding public events” (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). In 2014 Dadin had been arrested four times and fined for taking part in public protests. Later, his prison term was reduced to two-and-a-half years. On 22 February 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s conviction.

Five members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) have been banned from visiting Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) and the so-called Kremlin Central, which is on the territory of Matrosskaya Tishina. According to the authorities, this is because the five members of the PMC are witnesses in the criminal prosecution of another member of the PMC, Denis Nabiullin…

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/titiev

https://www.thedailybeast.com/frame-up-the-outrageous-arrest-of-a-chechen-human-rights-defender

https://news.trust.org/item/20180110165044-wbsm1

later followed: https://memohrc.org/en/news_old/speaking-grozny-tv-ramzan-kadyrov-revealed-real-reason-behind-arrest-human-rights-defender

Fritt Ord and ZEIT awards to Eastern European media: Elena Milashina, Seymour Hazi and Nashi Groshi

May 13, 2016

Fritt Ord and ZEIT-Stiftung have given their 2016 awards to: Read the rest of this entry »

Chechnya, War Without Trace, a film worth seeing

March 28, 2016

The difficult work of human rights defenders in Russia, and Chechnya in particular, has been demonstrated time and again in the social media including this blog (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/). In the film “Chechnya, War Without Trace” award-winning journalist Manon Loizeau, who spent the past 20 years covering the Chechen conflict, returns to the places she knew well, filming undercover, to examine the lasting effects of conflict with Russia. Gone are the minefields and piles of rubble, replaced with broad avenues, luxury boutiques and glass-fronted skyscrapers. It’s virtually impossible to see there was ever a war. But under the surface problems persist. The few lawyers working on torture issues proudly display their Martin Ennals Award. The link above is just the trailer; for the full film: contact Java Films; contact@javafilms.fr; +33 174713313; www.javafilms.fr.

 

Russia: closing offices and attacking human rights defenders

March 17, 2016

An update on the situation human rights defenders in Russia is unfortunately needed too frequently. Recently the Martin Ennals Foundation condemned the attacks on its 2013 Laureate, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) which is known for its courageous work in opening legal cases on behalf of victims of torture in Chechnya. On March 9th, they were travelling together with journalists and the group was physically attacked, their confidential notes stolen, and the vehicles they were in burned. Their offices in Ingushetia were also attacked. The international and local media have reported (see list at bottom of the post). This is part of an ongoing pattern of threats and intimidation directed against JMG.

Now, Human Rights Watch and others report that yesterday (16 March) Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, one of the founders and participants of the Joint Mobile Group, was attacked as he was leaving his hotel in Grozny. They also pelted him with eggs, and threw flour and bright antiseptic liquid on him, which stained his face and clothes.  “The attack on Igor Kalyapin shows again that it’s open season on human rights defenders in Chechnya,” said Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account for a series of vicious attacks in recent years is like a bright green light for further attacks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Russia: Grozny Office of Joint Mobile Group, Russian MEA Laureate 2013, burnt and staff threatened

December 14, 2014

Igor Kalyapin at Press ConferenceAFP, Front Line, Human Rights Watch’  Moscow office report that the office of the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) in Grozny, Chechnya, was torched after they criticised the Kremlin-supported Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who had called for collective punishment against families of Islamist insurgents (such as burning their houses). It is only the latest chapter in years of harassment and murder of human rights defenders investigating torture, kidnapping and war crimes in Chechnya. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio Prague: interesting interview with People In Need Director Simon Panek

March 28, 2014

Since its foundation in the early 1990s, Prague-based People in Need [Člověk v tísni] has become one of the biggest NGOs in Central Europe. Founding member Šimon Pánek has for many years been the organisation’s director, and Ian Willoughby of Radio Prague did an lengthy interview with him on 24 March 2014. The conversation touched on targeting of aid, politics, international perception and plans for the future. It has become a most interesting interview that shows how in two decades a NGO in Central Europe can develop into a serious and mature organisation, still mostly local but with international potential. The transcript of the interview follows below:

I first asked Pánek what for him had been its standout projects of the last 20 years-plus “What was important was one of the very first projects, SOS Sarajevo, a big fund-raising campaign in the Czech Republic and relatively massive humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Sarajevo during the war. That was a formative period for us, for sure.

“The second important period I regard as when we were approached by students from Belarus and Cuban immigrants in the second half of the 1990s with a simple question: did you forget that we are not free yet?

“They said, you got your freedom, you got rid of the Communist regime, but we still have Lukashenko, we still have Castro – it’s a bit unfair to forget that we are in a bad situation.

Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková

(Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková)

“At that time we basically established the second department of People in Need, dealing with human rights, or supporting human rights defenders.

“The third pillar was established again at the end of the 1990s when in the North Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem the mayor started to build a wall between a Roma settlement and the majority…”

This was the notorious Matiční Street.

“Yes, Matiční Street. And we were shamed. We were sitting around the table – I still remember the day – and one of my colleagues said, if we are able to operate in Chechnya, if we are able to do illegal work and support dissidents in Cuba, Burma, Belarus, we should be able to try to do at least something in such a shameful situation in our own country.

“So we started with social work at that time, and now we are running 10 offices around the Czech Republic with almost 200 employees working in 60 localities, dealing with social exclusion and all other connected things.”

Could we get back to the political activities of People in Need? You were saying that you support the opposition in countries like Cuba, Burma – do you have a kind of neo-conservative approach, where you’re trying to in a sense export democracy to these countries? Neoconservativism has been largely discredited politically, I would say.

“Yes, I absolutely agree that the word democracy was discredited, mainly through the Bush era.

“The push for more democracy with a really very simple approach – the more money I pour on the one side, the more democracy will appear the other – we never shared. We’ve never tried to push or export things.

“What we do is we try to support the people who are there in their activities, their interests.

“We do basically the same thing that same things that were done from Sweden, Britain, France, Germany – to a certain extent from the US as well, but mainly from European countries – during communism for [Czechoslovak] writers, intellectuals, dissidents.

“And I think to say ‘opposition’, it means we are supporting the political opposition – in the vast majority of situations that’s not true. We are supporting student groups that want to discuss the economy…”

But they want regime change.

“Some of them. Or regime improvement. They want to get freedom to travel, they want free access to the internet.

“Of course from the point of view of dictatorships or authoritarian regimes we are breaking some of their laws. But is the law legitimate if it deprives people of free access to the internet in the 21st century? I don’t think so.

“We are basically helping people to get very basic things that you and I can have here on any corner.

“What’s important is that if any change is going to happen and to be sustainable, it’s the destiny of the people there. If they can’t read books by Václav Havel or about the economy, or get access to the internet or even publish what they write, I think it’s unfair.

“We are basically helping them to overcome the obstacles and oppression which, in our opinion, illegitimate, undemocratic regimes are imposing on their own people.”

You mentioned Václav Havel. He was a great supporter of People in Need and of you personally – at one point he said that you could follow him as president some day. What did his backing mean to People in Need, especially internationally in terms of creating your profile?

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

“Well, of course it was very important to have a person like Václav Havel here. We did not cooperate directly as much as it might appear – it was more of a convergence of the same principles, values and ideas.

“On the other hand, in some cases yes, we were carrying messages from Václav Havel to people in Burma, Cuba, East Timor, Chechnya.

“It was very important for the people to hear that we are coming from the Czech Republic and that Václav Havel is sending his greetings, whatever.

“Because his life was kind of a fairy tale for people living in unfree countries. And a big hope that if a powerless writer can win over a very strong regime, sooner or later freedom will come even to their countries.

“Internationally, yes it helped, probably. On the other hand, I think 20 years of work without any major mistakes or problems, high credibility among people, a few tens of thousands of stable supporters, I mean financial supporters which we have in the Czech Republic – these are important factors as well, of course.”

There are so many crises around the world and there are always fresh ones it seems – how do you decide which ones to target with aid?

“It’s a very good question, but of course it brings us back to the ultimate question – does this really make sense?

“We try to sit around the table and estimate critically if we are able to really make some change, if it’s reasonable in terms of the size of the crisis and in terms of the resources and capacities which we are able to generate here in the Czech Republic.

“If not, we often cooperate with our colleagues from Alliance 2015, which is eight organisations from Europe.

“If we are able to get together a few hundred thousand euros for a crisis, if it’s in one of the countries where the partner organisations are working, we just channel the money through them. Because there is no sense in spending the money on extra offices, cars, flight tickets.

“What we really don’t want to have is more flags on the map. Often less is more. To be focused and to really be able to achieve more and to go deeper in addressing the needs of the people and the causes of the crisis is more important than how many countries we are active in.”

Does the fact that People in Need comes from the Czech Republic influence how you are seen in different parts of the world?

“Absolutely. Coming from a small Central and Eastern European country has some advantages, but also some disadvantages. The disadvantages are that we really had to work hard to get on the mental map of big institutional international donors.

“The advantage is that we are not seen as having any other agenda. Still people coming from the US and strong Western European countries are… seen with greater suspicion.

“We come from a very small state without imperial ambitions, without really big influence. Basically people welcome us and I think they tend to trust us more quickly than NGOs coming from very strong countries with support from very strong governments.”

How would you like to see People in Need develop into the future?

“The last 20 years were interesting in one regard – we never made any plan as to how big we wanted People in Need to be, or how much money we wanted to turn over every year.

“We were always responding to needs which came from outside, humanitarian needs or the big floods in the Czech Republic, or issues connected with social exclusion, mainly of Roma people.

“It’s slightly changing, because we are too big to just respond. We are discussing more and more some new fields.

“The staff is getting older, including us in the management, which is probably good for the stability of the organisation.

“What I’ve seen during the last few years and what I think is extremely interesting and extremely important is that we are kind of materialising into systemic objectives our experience and cumulative knowledge from concrete work with beneficiaries in humanitarian development, social work, education.

“So while continuing with direct work we are more and more dealing with governments, inter-governmental bodies, coming with different suggestions, procedures.

“We are trying in different fields, like debt issues among the socially weak part of the population in the Czech Republic, to bring in education, some system improvements.

“This is a new ambition – not just to help people do concrete things which are making some change, but trying to address the causes, not just the symptoms but the causes of different problems.

“This is mainly in the Czech Republic, because you can hardly address the causes of the wars in Africa from our level. But in the Czech Republic our systemic work, policy work often, is more and more important. We are basically trying to improve how the state, how the system works.” 

Radio Prague – Work with human rights activists abroad like Western support for dissidents under communism, says PiN chief Pánek.

Chechen President Kadyrov tries to intimidate Joint Mobile Group

March 6, 2014

Igor Kalyapin – as President of the Joint Mobile Group [JMG] – is recipient of the 2013 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [http://www.martinennalsaward.org which contains an excellent short film on his work] as well as the 2011 Front Line Defenders new MEA_logo with textFrontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedAward [http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/16876].   In spite of this, he is continually subjected to a defamation campaign, the most recent incident taking place on 25 February 2014, at a meeting of the Civil Chamber of the Chechen Republic, where the Head of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, accused Igor Kalyapin of being a “traitor of the nation” and a man who defends “bandits and drug addicts” and “promotes his personal interests”.

On 25 February 2014, Ramzan Kadyrov further accused the human rights defender of using human rights work to make a career. Kadyrov stated that there are ‘real’ human rights defenders in Chechnya and that the Republic does not need ‘Kalyapins’. This statement was broadcast by the state TV channel Vainakh. Kadyrov went on to list cases which are being investigated by Igor Kalyapin and the JMG (such as Islam Umarpashaev and Ruslan Kutaev – more information on these cases on: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/.)

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2013 CEREMONY OF THE MEA ALREADY ON VIMEO

October 10, 2013

24 hours after the event, those who missed the 2013 ceremony of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders can already see the highlights on Vimeo.  Gives absolutely good impression of the impressive evening.