Freedom Blog: Archive
 
Meet Gene Sharp  (September 13, 2008, 11:04 AM)
 

Gene Sharp is a shy retiring academic who sends shivers through the bodies of dictators and their repressive regimes.

From Iran to Venezuela,  Mr. Sharp has been identified as a threat to freedom bashing rulers who accuse him of promoting non-violent techniques that are a threat to their strong armed tactics.

Mr. Sharp is guility of this charge. While he is not a swashbuckling adventurer his powerful weapons are ideas and informaion. From Dictatorship To Democracy is a handbook that has been used by dissidents in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Ukraine and many more countries.

Mr. Sharp's success demonstrates that one person can make a big difference.

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Conversation With Reporter On The Ground In Georgia  (August 15, 2008, 12:47 PM)
 

Today, tanks, refugees, and communication outages disrupted the conversation but Koba Likwardadze of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty told about Russian forces mobilizing outside of Gori and refugees fleeing. Also on the call was Jeffrey Gedmin, President of Radio Free Europ, and the head of the Georgian Service David Kakabadze.

Coverage of the conversation can be found here, here, here.

Thanks to the Heritage Foundation for making this informative call happen.

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Exclusive Analysis Of Russian Intentions In Georgia  (August 14, 2008, 10:31 AM)
 

From the start of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, Russia's propaganda machine has been spewing forth their biased view of the situation. Through Russia Today and friendly (if not wholly owned blogs) they have accused Georgia of false premeditated atrocities, they have described themselves as good samaritan onlookers and defenders of the oppressed.

What follows is an internal memo from experts at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Radio Liberty has reporters on the ground throughout the region including Georgia and Russia. The memo about Russia's intentions, written today:

Subject: Is Moscow indeed sincere about the war?
 
Russian officials, as well as pro-government media has kept talking about the perfidious attack by Georgians on South Ossetia, to make the public believe that the only aggressor in conflict is Georgia itself and to put Russia in a better tactical position. But number of facts hint that the Russian leadership has been long preparing for or, at least, anticipating a bigger military conflict in Caucasus this summer.
 
 * In mid-July a major military exercise "Kavkaz 2008" was conducted by Russian defense ministry in Southern federal district, which also included the area where latest fighting took place. Moreover, 58th army (which was the main force in South Ossetia crisis from Russian side) was center-staged in this maneuvers.
 
 * Few months ago Russia sent military rail-road units to repair communications in Abkhazia. Moscow claimed that they were purely on humanitarian basis to help the civilian population. Those troops later left but the real military used the railroad to invade Abkhazia as conflict in South Ossetia started. Matthew Bryza,  the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, cited that fact August 11 in Tbilisi: "We heard statements that the Russian railroad troops that had entered Abkhazia a couple of months ago were there on a humanitarian mission. And now we know the truth about why those forces were there. It was to rebuild the railroad to allow ammunition and other military supplies to aid a Russian invasion."
 
 * On August 12, Tatarstan official news agency reported the death of 22 year old contractee Yevgeni Parfenov from Kazan, who was killed in South Ossetia fighting. He served with 22 brigade of GRU's (Russian military intelligence) special forces, stationed in town of Botaysk, Rostov region. First his name was on the list of killed peacekeepers, but GRU troops are different and they weren't meant to be present in conflict zone.
 
 * The way and the energy, how Russian public opinion is manipulated, the extent the official media, first of all TV, brought the level of mass hysteria to unprecedented scale shows that Moscow made respected preparations for propagandistic support of the war long ahead.
 
* Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer told the N.Caucasus Service of RFERL that Russia began to prepare an invasion of Georgia in April this year. The ultimate goal of the operation is regime change, according to the analyst. Prominent opposition leader, former presidential advisor Illarionov thinks that  "the war was a spectacular provocation that had been long prepared and successfully executed by the Russian siloviki -- those in government with connections to the military and security organs -- that almost entirely repeats in another theater at another time the "incursion of Basayev into Daghestan" and the beginning of the second Chechnya war in 1999".

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Russian Foreign Minister: Forget Georgian Territorial Integrity  (August 14, 2008, 10:06 AM)
 

If anyone thought that Russia is actually taking action to defend against what they described as Georgian aggression (within Georgian territory, may we add) Russia's Foreign Minister has openly declared that in his eyes and presumably the eyes of Putin, The Kremlin, etc.) Georgia has no right over any territory. Read here.

Previously, the Russians publicly demanded that Georgia's President be sacked. I guess the world should have taken that as a sign they had an aggressive agenda.

Michael Ledeen has an insightful analysis at National Review.

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Eastern European PM's Unite To Defend Georgia's Freedom  (August 14, 2008, 9:12 AM)
 

Click here to watch this short clip.

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China: Religious Persecution Increases  (October 8, 2007, 9:19 PM)
 

There is growing evidence that the Chinese government is cracking down on religious believers in the run up to the Olympic Games.

Veritas Rex has good short analysis of why communist systems can not tolerate religious freedom. 

 

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Is This Why Anna Was Murdered?  (October 7, 2007, 4:48 PM)
 

UPDATE:

Photographs of Anna Politkovskaya courageously taking on Putin and the Putinized Russian State.

Kudos to  Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty for keeping Anna's story and fight in the public eye.


Kim Zigfeld has important information about Putin's propoanda machine at Pajamas Media. 

Robert Amsterdam has link to video interview with Anna.

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China Continues Crackdown  (October 6, 2007, 10:39 AM)
 

We have posted an article about China expanding its repression of access to information by blocking RSS feeds.

Blogs are covering this story: Down Load Squad, Switched,  Mashable, Tech Crunch, and a Feed Is Born.

While bloggers are covering this important story the Main Stream Media is largely ignoring it, as it does most every anti-freedom move made by the Chinese government.

Just in the last few weeks, China refused to pressure the Burma junta to stop its violent repression of dissidents and it successfully stopped the International community from pressuring the Burmese government.

Now it is tightening repressive policies against citizens and there is no condemnation by the international community.

If China pays no price for these actions it will continue to do employ such tactics.

Sign the caseforfreedom petition so we can keep you informed on how you can be part of the movement to free the Chinese people and oppressed people everywhere. 

 

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Politkovskakya Remembered  (October 5, 2007, 1:47 PM)
 

The murder of Russian journalist Anna Poliykovskaya continues to reverberate. This week Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty held conference to mark the anniversary of her murder. At the conference Edward Lucas, deputy editor of the international section of the "Economist" said that, Anna's murder was a symptom of a process that started with the failure to eradicate the KGB and has "accelerated more when Putin took over..." Lucas believes that repression continues to increase in Russia.

Anna's important, posthumously published,  memoir A Russian Diary should be read by all.

Some more blogs in tribute to Anna: here, here, here .

Update: The politcs behind Anna's murder and more on Anna from Open Democracy. 

 

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China's Political Past and Future  (October 3, 2007, 1:20 PM)
 
Open Democracy has an interesting post on the political lineup in China. Like all non-Democratic States, there is a great deal that is not known about who wields the power of the State in China.

By looking back and forth this analysis provides an informative look at the political process leading up to the Party Congress. Read it here.  
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Russian Authorities Move Against Radio Broadcasts  (October 3, 2007, 8:16 AM)
 
The Putinization of Russia involves harassing and closing down independent news sources. In Izhevsk, an intrepid operator of a radio station who carries Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe radio broadcasts was told by his local telephone company that they found four listening devices in his wiring.

The owner of the station is also an enemy of the State because he is a proud Baptist.

This treatment of Russian citizens is all too common, and while the state grows more and more intolerant of freedom the world responds this way.
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Insightful Profile of Russia's Opposition to Putin  (September 29, 2007, 5:15 PM)
 
David Remnick analyzes Russia's opponents to Putin's increasingly repressive regime. Kasparov takes center stage but others share their views. Read the New Yorker article here.

For a riveting look at Putin's Russia read A Russian Diary but the late Anna Politkovskaya.
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IRAN:: RFE/RL Journalist Azima Reflects on Her Ordeal  (September 25, 2007, 11:38 AM)
 

Radio Free Europe correspondent Parnaz Azima went to Iran in January to visit her ailing 94-year-old mother, who had fallen down and broken her hip then suffered embolisms. But after Iranian authorities took her passport upon entry, Azima began what became an eight-month ordeal of being unable to leave again as she became one of four Iranian-Americans held against their will. Now, back in the United States, she reflects on what happened in this conversation with RFE/RL correspondent Mosaddegh Katouzian.

PRAGUE, September 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) --
 

RFE/RL: Can you tell us a bit more about why you went to Iran and whether you suspected that you might face difficulties in doing so, given Tehran’s opposition to your employer, Radio Farda, the Persian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the tensions in general between Washington and Tehran?


Azima: I was almost sure that I would be in trouble but I thought that, I mean, in the end I decided to go because otherwise maybe my mother wouldn't be alive. That is the truth. According to her doctors, they told me that they had no hope that she would recover and then suddenly at the hospital they found that she had changed and she told them 'do you know that my daughter is here?' I think it was very important. Before I entered the country she had been in a  coma but when I entered Iran she was in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for the third time because she had an embolism in her lung and also in her leg and her doctor told me that she could face a very difficult situation.


RFE/RL: Once you were in Iran, how did you cope with the stress of suddenly no longer being in control of your own fate?


Azima: I was with my Mom, and many people as well as her doctor told me that my presence there was very good for her health and for her recovery. But there were bad sides as I was feeling that I am constantly under (security) control but maybe it was not like that, I don't know. But I had that feeling, especially during the first two or three months, and then I tried to convince myself that I can’t go on like this, so I tried to just ignore things, and I found that others, my friends and all the others that I knew in Iran were doing the same thing. They felt that maybe they are under control but they ignored it and they continued their ordinary life.


RFE/RL: Now that you are out, has the experience left you somewhat traumatized?


Azima: I don't want to say yes, but I think I am. Because I don't want to give in, or give up. My time in Iran, as I told you, I had good times but also I had bad times. For example, I didn't write anything, or I didn't keep anything in written form because I was all the time thinking that maybe they would again come to my house and make a house search. You never know what will happen.So that is why maybe I am traumatized.

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Russian Dissident Turns Down Carnegie Invite  (September 8, 2007, 10:49 AM)
 

In response to an invite from former  Ambassador James F. Collins to attend a Carnegie Endowment For International Peace launch of a book by Dmitri Trenin that focuses on Russia's supposed promising changes, dissident  Andrei Piontkovsky, author of Another Look Inside Putin's Soul, e-mailed Collins the following:

"Dear Ambassador Collins, thank you for your kind invitation. Unfortunately the day when insightful and optimistic Mr. Trenin presents his objective analysis I have another obligation.

I'll be in Moscow on my own Moscow 2007 trial facing FSB charges of extremism. Please pass Mr. Trenin my fascination with his sense of historical optimism and his intellectual flexibility. 

Sincerely Yours, Andrei Piontkovsky" 

The crime of "extremism" is being abused by the Putin government as it attempts to shut down all  comments by its citizens that are critical of those in power. See the plight of a 71 year  old pensioner and others here and  here.

For information on Piontkovsky's "legal" troubles see here. 

 

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Iran: Motive In Release Of Iranian-Americans Remains Unclear  (September 6, 2007, 11:15 AM)
 

PRAGUE, September 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The decision-making process within the Iranian government is obscure and officials do not officially inform the public about the reasons behind their decisions.   The arrest of the four Iranian-Americans, their detention, and now the release of two of them is a good example of the murkiness of politics in Iran.
 
Authorities have not said what led them to suddenly release Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Institute.  Esfandiari was charged with serious security crimes, including being involved in what authorities have described as a U.S. plot aimed at destabilizing the Iranian regime.  Officials have only said that the investigation into her case was completed and suggested she would have to return to Iran for the trial.  Azima has also been told that her case remains open and that there will be a court session at an unspecified date.  But there is doubt as to whether there will be an actual trial in their cases or in those of the other Iranian-Americans who have been charged by Tehran.

Bill Samii, an Iran analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis and former RFE/RL regional analyst, believes that the Iranian government realized it got "maximum value" out of the detentions and came to the conclusion that there is no benefit in keeping them.  "The message has been sent to other Iranians that if you cooperate with the U.S. in any kind of activity that could be labeled as anti regime then you face imprisonment at the very least. So they sent a message with Tajbakhsh, with Esfandiari, with Azima, and now the government has realized that if [it] actually has open trials it will look pretty ridiculous for the regime so they just release these individuals, send them home and you can be pretty certain that these people after they've been imprisoned in Iran, if they leave the country, I think they'd be pretty reluctant to go back to Iran."


Esfandiari was released on a bail of about $300,000. Authorities have told Azima that her mother's house -- which was put up as bail for her -- would not be returned. She is facing charges of spreading propaganda against the government.

Samii says Tehran uses the heavy bails as a pressure tool.


"Most of them when they pay these very high bails to get out of jail, they have to mortgage family members' homes, so that's always something that the Iranian government can hold over their heads, basically threatening that if you come back we will arrest you again and you'll lose the bail. Your family member, your mother, or whoever, will lose his or her home."


Analysts believe the arrest of Iranian-Americans is part of a broader crackdown on students, rights activists, and all dissenting voices. The crackdown comes at a time when Tehran is under increasing U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and it's role in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Faraj Sarkuhi, an exiled Iranian journalist, believes that by making the arrests Iran is sending a strong message to its critics.  "One of its goals is to send a message and tell critics to remain silent, if not they could meet the same fate as those who have been arrested. But this message is usually not effective because at least in the past 20 years we've seen that there have been many arrests, many forced [confessions], but despite that Iranian freedom fighters have continued their work inside Iran."

Sarkuhi credits human-rights groups, academics, and others for the release of the Iranian-Americans and also extensive media coverage that brought attention to their plight.

"[They] use all possible methods in their factional disputes or fight against those who oppose them without considering its results. In [the case of Iranian-Americans] nothing new was added to the case of the Islamic republic. Even without the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari and the others the Islamic Republic of Iran was known as being an establishment that violates human rights, arrest critics and opposition members, and executes people."


Some observers have said that by agreeing to allow citizens with dual citizenship to leave the country, Tehran was signaling a willingness not to worsen relations with Washington further.

Analyst Samii, however, says it is not clear why Tehran would make such a move at this point.

"As I speculate, I wonder if the tensions of the Iranian-Americans are somehow connected with the detentions of Iranian military personnel in Iraq. So perhaps there are some sort of negotiations taking place or even if it's not negotiations, a hope on the Iranian side that if we release these people maybe the Americans will release our soldiers who are being held in Iraq."


The United States has welcomed Iran's decision to permit Esfandiari and Azima to leave the country. U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said on September 5 that Iran should also release the other Iranian-Americans who are jailed in Iran.   They include Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, and peace activist Ali Shakeri.

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The Septembers of Shiraz  (September 4, 2007, 9:15 AM)
 
Novelist Daliah Sofer's Septembers of Shiraz takes readers into the world of a well to do Iranian family during the rise of the Islamic Republic. Life is seen through the eyes of a little girl, a father who is put in prison by the Revolutionary Guard, a son who is overseas adjusting to an unfamiliar world, and a wife/mother who must cope with a husband who has disappeared and a world that has changed overnight.

Sofer does an excellent job of showing the world through these very different characters.

And she presents the terror when a relatively free world is transformed into a repressive regime.

History has several examples of works of fiction which brilliantly capture important historical events: Novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The Septembers of Shiraz is welcome to this elite group.
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IRAN: Baha'i Group Says Iran Systematically Expelling Student Followers  (August 29, 2007, 6:03 AM)
 

PRAGUE, August 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An umbrella group for the Baha'i Faith religious community says they have evidence that Iranian officials are secretly trying to expel Baha'i followers from that country's universities.

The Baha'i International Community (BIC) said it has obtained a copy of a confidential letter from Iran's Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology that was sent to 81 universities. The letter instructs administrators to expel Baha'i students.  The Iranian government does not officially recognize the Baha'i Faith.


Diane Alai is a BIC representative at the United Nations. She told Radio Farda that more than half of Iran's Baha'i university students enrolled last year have been expelled.  Alai said that, until recently, university entrance application forms required prospective students to state their faith. She said Baha'i followers, who face discrimination in Iran, would have to lie about their faith or not to seek a university education.

"When two years ago the entrance-exam officials changed the application forms, Baha'i young people were able to take part in university entrance exams. Last year, 200 young people -- without being forced to say they were Muslims when they were Baha'is -- were able to enroll at university. However, 128 of them were expelled within a year."


Alai said none of the expellees were involved in any kind of political activity, but were denied further education simply for being Baha'i followers.  In its press release, the BIC says the ministry's letter contradicts assertions from Iranian officials who say Baha'i students face no discrimination in Iran. 

The BIC claims that Iran's 300,000-member Baha'i community in general faces "physical and economic harassment" and other rights abuses.   The Baha'i Faith was founded in Iran in the 19th century. It grew out of the Shi'ite branch of the Muslim faith.  The BIC is a nongovernmental group with consultative status on a number of UN bodies.

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Great Firewall of China  (August 28, 2007, 9:28 AM)
 
Is your website being blocked in China?  Check here: Geat Firewall of China.
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China: State Moves Against Internet Users Continues  (August 27, 2007, 9:49 AM)
 
As CaseForFreedom.org has informed its readers, Yahoo and Microsoft have signed a "Public Pledge of Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry."

Reporters Without Borders says this "marks the end of anonymous blogging" in China.

Human Rights Watch analyzes the role of Internet companies in assisting Chinese curbs on freedom of expression.

Ironically, Boing Boing is reporting on Yahoo responding to the lawsuit involving the jailing of Internet dissidents Shi Tao, Wang Xiaoning, and Yu Ling. The World Organization For Human Rights USA is representing the dissidents who accuse Yahoo of providing their internet information to the Chinese government. Boing Boing is also reporting on the Chinese government's confinement of blogger He Weihua to a psychiatric clinic.

There is also some action in the United States Congress about banning United States participation in the upcoming Olympic Games in China over human rights and trade issues. The Heritage Foundation, which opposes a boycott of the Games in China, argues that the Games will provide an opportunity for the world community to pressure China into changing some of its policies.
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Turkey: Internet Blocking Spreads  (August 22, 2007, 1:24 PM)
 
Several bloggers are reporting that the popular blogging platform Wordpress has been blocked in Turkey.

Is Turkey joining China and Iran in denying use of the internet?

For more coverage check out Ruins of Empire and Ten Percent.
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Iran: Iranian-American Scholar Welcomes Release on Bail  (August 22, 2007, 11:21 AM)
 

From RFE/RL:

 Family and colleagues have welcomed the release on bail from an Iranian prison of Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari and called for a quick return to her family in the United States. Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington who has spent the past three months in jail. She was freed on Tuesday (August 21) on bail of 3 billion rials ($320,000).

Esfandiari appeared tired as she emerged from three months at Tehran's Evin prison. But she expressed joy when asked by Iranian state television in front of the prison gates how she felt:

"A sensation of happiness."


Esfandiari said she was treated well during her time in prison: "The women who worked in the prison were truly remarkable women, and very educated, and had wonderful manners, and we had great interaction. They were very kind and very patient. They embody the exact qualities that someone in such a position in a prison requires."

Her release came about a week after judiciary officials said investigations were completed into her case and the case of another detained Iranian-American -- scholar Kian Tajbakhsh.

It is still unclear whether Tajbakhsh -- who is a consultant with the Open Society Institute -- might be also released.


Both have been charged since their May detentions with security-related crimes.


On Tuesday (August 21), Iran's ISNA news agency quoted an unnamed judiciary official as saying vaguely that Tajbakhsh would be released on bail "in a few days."


There was no word on the fate of Ali Shakeri, a peace activist with dual Iranian-American citizenship who is also jailed in Iran.   Authorities have also refused to allow a fourth Iranian-American, Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, to leave Iran. They have charged Azima with working for Radio Farda and spreading propaganda against the Iranian state.


Azima told RFE/RL today that she's delighted at the release of Esfandiari:  "I'm very happy that Haleh Esfandiari was freed from prison, although it was on heavy bail. But [it's great] that she is no longer in prison. On whether this will have an impact on my case, I can say that so far there have been no changes -- I have no news. I've been in Iran now for about eight months. The way [authorities] treat me is that they pay no attention to me -- meaning that they don't answer or do anything."

Some observers are convinced that these arrests -- along with an intensified crackdown on students, women's rights activists, and critics -- are part of an attempt by the Iranian government to create fear and intimidation and discourage contact between Iranian intellectuals and the outside world.


Snippets of interviews with Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh appeared in a television program in July that Iranian officials claimed proved that the two academics were involved in a U.S. plot to destabilize Iran's Islamic establishment.

Rights groups denounced that program and suggested the two had been forced to make the statements under duress.


Esfandiari's lawyer, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, told Radio Farda on Tuesday (August 21) that her case remains open. But Ebadi is optimistic that Esfandiari will be acquitted:

"Right now, from the judiciary's point of view, the case is open. But she will be out of prison until the day of the court hearing, and I'm sure that she will be acquitted because I'm completely [convinced] of her innocence. The three months she spent in solitary confinement was against the law."


Iranian officials have not said whether Esfandiari will be allowed to leave Iran. Her husband, Shaul Bakhash, a professor of history at George Mason University, has expressed hope that she will be allowed to rejoin her family in the United States.


It is unclear what led to Esfandiari's release or whether international pressure played a role in Iranian officials' decision to let her out on bail.   A number of human rights groups and U.S. politicians have called on Iran to release the detained Iranian-Americans and allow them to leave the country.   Former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton heads the Wilson Center, where Esfandiari works. He is quoted today by "The New York Times" as saying that Esfandiari's release came two weeks after Iran's supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) responded to a June 29 letter appealing for her freedom.


Hamilton said his letter did not refer to any tensions between Iran and the United States, and instead framed the request in humanitarian and religious terms.


The Wilson Center has said in an Internet statement that it hopes for "the safe and quick return of Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima, and Ali Shakeri, who have also been unjustly detained in Iran."

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Russia: Activist Alleges Abuse, Attempted Homicide During Detention  (August 22, 2007, 8:23 AM)
 

From RFE/RL

A journalist and opposition activist who was forcibly hospitalized in a Russian psychiatric clinic is claiming that she was beaten, drugged, and an attempt was made on her life during her internment.
 

Larisa Arap was released Monday (August 20) after being held 46 days against her will in a psychiatric clinic near the northern Russian city of Murmansk.  She made the allegations during an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on the day of her release:


"When the police and the doctors brought me, I was very severely beaten by medical staff in the reception area. Then they bound me, after making me strip naked in front of male patients. There was an attempt to kill me. I was injected with a strong soporific, and I woke up because someone was pulling off me a woman who was suffocating me with a pillow. They put pills into my mouth, forced me to swallow them, and then checked my mouth."


The 48-year-old Arap, who is a member of an opposition group led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, says her forced internment was retribution for an article in which she denounced abuse against young patients at another local mental institution.

She was released after a commission sent by Russia's human-rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, concluded that her detention was unfounded.  Arap's case has raised an international outcry. Reporters Without Borders joined Russian human-rights activists in comparing Arap's case to the Soviet practice of interning dissidents in psychiatric clinics.


A Murmansk court on Wednesday (August 22) is due to examine an appeal filed by Arap's family.

But the appeal may be hampered by a declaration that Arap claims clinic staffers forced her to sign:  "I was forced to sign a declaration in which I agree that I am being treated voluntarily. I refused, after which I was asked to sign another declaration requesting to be released but pledge to get out-patient psychiatric treatment. There was no other solution than to write this declaration. They wouldn't have let me go otherwise."

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RFE/RL: Russian Fiction Writer Faces Possible Libel Charges  (August 20, 2007, 12:27 PM)
 

August 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's modern literary history might soon open a new chapter -- an author facing libel charges for characterizations contained in a work of fiction. Moscow city prosecutors have already questioned Pavel Astakhov about his novel, "Raider," and are now deciding whether to open a criminal case.  The head of the city police's main investigative directorate, Ivan Glukhov, initiated the investigation by asking prosecutors to open a criminal case against Astakhov and his publishing company.
 

According to Glukhov, the novel "contains numerous insulting and libelous deliberations" about the directorate, and defames the reputation of Russian police in general.  In his letter to prosecutors, Glukhov acknowledges that the novel is "literary-fictional," but argues that, because the text refers to a police unit that actually exists, readers are being led to believe that events depicted in the story are true.

The author's lawyer, Mikhail Burmistrov, strongly disagrees. He tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the issue of police corruption is nothing new -- and is even openly addressed by high-ranking officials in Russia. Therefore, Burmistrov says, his client's book is simply touching on a recognized problem:  "He [Astakhov] is not saying anything new, just highlighting some problems more clearly. And, what's most important from a legal perspective, he does not mention a single concrete individual. This is really a work of fiction. And fictional work is that is created by author's imagination."
 

"Raider," which can be described as a crime thriller, follows a plot centered on mergers and acquisitions among companies. The protagonist, a businessman, bribes officers from the investigative directorate, who raid companies and open criminal cases to his benefit. But in the story, a young lawyer confronts the corruption.
 

The possibility that a criminal case could be opened against Astakhov has surprised many. The genre of crime thrillers is very popular in Russia, and the wrongdoings of law-enforcement agencies are often addressed in works of fiction.

Some analysts believe that there are deeper motives behind this case -- that it is intended to serve as a warning to authors by holding the threat of prosecution for what they write over their heads.

Sergei Lukyanenko, arguably the most popular science-fiction writer in Russia today, is among those who feel this way. The author of the hugely popular "Day Watch" and "Night Watch" series spoke to RFE/RL about his concerns:  "Of course this worries me. Because it's easy to cross the line between observing the law, which is an essential part of any civilized country, and abusing the rights of ordinary citizens, abusing freedom of speech, and so on. This is a very difficult thing -- and in the struggle to protect these laws it would be easy to overstep the mark and start to limit a person's right to express himself freely."
 

To some commentators, the possible case against Astakhov also represents part of an ongoing crackdown on independence within the country's legal system.

Apart from being a writer, Astakhov is a successful lawyer. And at various times he has represented Russia's formerly independent television company, NTV -- now owned by state monopoly Gazprom; and Yukos, against which the government led a politically charged campaign.

Some believe that such activities of an independent lawyer may have angered the authorities.
Prosecutors are expected to decide within a week whether to move forward with charges against Astakhov.

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Anna Politkovskaya: A Martyr for Freedom  (May 15, 2007, 3:22 PM)
 

Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian Journalist who focused her career on human rights issues.  While Ms. Politkovskaya held dual citizenship in both Russia and the U.S. she remained in Russia focusing on exposing human rights violations and the suppression of freedom of the Putin regime.  This heroic woman could have left Russia whenever she pleased but remained to pursue her cause and eventually paid for it with her life.

Her memoirs are now available to the english speaking public and should be required reading for all who care about the suppression of freedom and human rights. 

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