A French court today acquitted a journalist who had been sued for libel by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, for calling her "a dictator's daughter," rue89.com reported.
Augustin Scalbert, a correspondent for the online publication rue89.com tweeted earlier today "On a gagné!" [It is won!] regarding his libel case, which the president's daughter filed in May over
href="http://www.rue89.com/2010/05/20/sida-louzbekistan-reprime-a-domicile-mais-parade-a-cannes-151972">his article in May 2010 criticizing her charitable activities, which were alleged to have included payment for an appearance by Italian actress Monica Belluci. She sought €30,000 (US$43,000) in damages.
Scalbert essentially pleaded the truth defense regarding the characterization of the "dictator," summoning human rights activists from Uzbekistan and marshalling reports that illustrated how Karimov's rule in his country is a brutal dictatorship, as numerous journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed for their work, and thousands of Muslims have been imprisoned and tortured on charges of extremism.
Efforts by Karimova-Tillyaeva's lawyer to present character references only backfired, as a letter from the European Union's Europa House citing grants given to a charity for disabled children run by Karimova-Tillyaeva only raised questions from European parliamentarians about EU funding of the Karimov regime. After German MEPs inquired about the funding of Uzbekistan's government, the EU was forced to back down from transferring further grants to the Uzbek state-created charity.
Imagine an identification document with no citizenship -- no country and no religion, too, as the late John Lennon would say. Georgia on July 1 voted to issue such “status-neutral” papers for the residents of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This is not because Tbilisi had a sudden fit of cosmopolitanism and does not believe in national borders anymore. Quite the opposite. The government hopes that the IDs and their attached benefits will help nudge residents of the two separatist regions back into the Georgian fold.
Holders of the IDs “will be entitled to the same civil rights and social benefits” available to all Georgian citizens, as well as the ability to travel abroad, according to the Georgian government's Action Plan for Engagement. Most residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia now can only travel abroad with Russian passports.
Officially, Tbilisi maintains that the de facto governments of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are passive offshoots of Moscow. The ID proposal is seen as an attempt to bypass those power structures and reach out to the territories' residents themselves.
Mission impossible? Nearly 20 years have passed since both territories effectively parted ways with Tbilisi, and, with recognition from four countries (Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru) now under their belts, said power structures see little reason for anyone to carry around a Georgia-issued ID card with them.
The European Council on Foreign Relations recently released an interesting study called "What Does Turkey Think?", which consists of several essays by prominent Turkish analysts who take a look at key keys issues facing Turkey foreign and domestic policy. The whole study is worth reading, but I found an article written by Osman Baydemir, the Kurdish mayor of Diyarbakir, particularly interesting -- especially in light of recent events.
Baydemir is a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, which was able to get 36 of its members into parliament following Turkey's recent elections. The party, though, is refusing to take parliament's membership oath because several of its MP's are currently in jail awaiting trial on terror-related charges and the courts are refusing to release them.
Although Baydemir's article came out before the election, it sheds light on how the BDP looks at Turkish politics and what animates its own politics. From his piece:
For those who are not in power, there is little democracy. There is no legal protection for workers whose factories are closed down, for women who are murdered by their husbands, and for children given 100-year jail sentences for throwing stones at armed policemen, or for regions in which the natural environment has been destroyed. The most significant cause of insecurity is the fact that, from the day it was founded, the republic has been informed by a belief that “the people do not know what is best for them, but we do”. This has shaped efforts to modernise and then democratise society from the top down, using radical methods to realise an exclusionist enlightenment mission.
Azerbaijan may have canceled joint military exercises with the U.S. two years in a row, but security cooperation between the two countries is still on track, says U.S. ambassador to Baku Matthew Bryza. A senior Pentagon official visited Baku last week and among the agreements made was to take part in two new sets of military exercises later this year, Bryza said in an interview with Trend:
Last Friday's bilateral security dialog was very positive and achieved several concrete results, said Bryza.
"One is that we are going to accelerate our cooperation to help Azerbaijan protect its critical energy infrastructure. Two - move ahead with some military exercises and cooperative programs including one that will take place in Romania in August, one other one will be in Germany involving a hundred and more Azerbaijani solders with the NATO partners," said the ambassador.
Bryza acknowledged that U.S.-Azerbaijani relations haven't been the best for the last couple of years, the period in which Baku twice, without much explanation, canceled the bilateral military exercises that were supposed to take place in Azerbaijan.
"We did go through a difficult period for several months but I strongly feel that we not only have come out of the negative trend but we've built on an already existing strong foundation and we are moving forward," he said.
There aren't too many details about the new exercises planned for Romania and Germany. I asked Adil Baguirov, managing director of the U.S. Azeris Network, for his take. He says exercises held outside the country are less susceptible to Russian or Iranian pressure:
As 2012 fast approaches, it is not the smell of Mayan doomsday, but electioneering, that is once again taking hold of Kazakhstan.
On one side, the government is mobilizing for an orderly political season by dripping out a few sweeteners aimed at fostering public confidence in the status quo.
Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on Twitter (where else?) on June 30 that salaries for public sector employees will be hiked by 30 percent starting from July. This follows a trend of similarly generous pay rises over the past couple of years.
In another gesture aimed at containing gas and food prices, the government is also extending its ban on fuel exports to next year.
Similar woolly welfare pronouncements should be expected on a fairly regular basis as we head toward 2012, when parliamentary elections are expected.
The main problem undermining Kazakhstan's nominally democratic parliamentary system is that only one party is currently represented in the lower house: President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan, whose monolithic presence on Kazakhstan's political scene is ever reminiscent of the Soviet-era Communist Party.
Eurovision, the Super Bowl of European pop music, is headed next year to Azerbaijan, but questions linger about whether Baku has what it takes to host the annual celebration of glitz and electric tunes. Funds for infrastructure updates and pageantry are not at issue here. Rather, the biggest question is quickly becoming whether Azerbaijan can ensure the security of journalists, performers and fans from its neighbor-cum-foe, Armenia.
The song contest’s official website reported on June 29 that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) held talks with Azerbaijan’s public broadcaster, Ictimai TV, about the 2012 event. “EBU presented a detailed planning, venue requirements, information about security and accreditation…” to the Azerbaijani side, stated a release on the Eurovision website.
Azerbaijan has yet to name the venue for the contest. Options include building a new arena.
The EBU requested that the government provide security guarantees for everyone during the event, and freedom of expression in line with the European standard; something that is not Azerbaijan’s strongest point, rights groups say.
On June 27, the Azerbaijani government was described as a "Consolidated Authoritarian Regime" by Freedom House, an influential American civil rights advocacy group.
Critics argue that two recent incidents similarly detract from Azerbaijan's Eurovision image.
Here’s some rare – if tentative – positive news for a detained journalist in Tajikistan. Authorities appear ready to drop the most serious charges against BBC reporter Urinboy Usmonov – membership in a banned Islamic extremist group. But he still faces accusations that could test Tajik law and further erode media freedoms.
Usmonov was nabbed on June 13 and later charged with belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The arrest, concerns he may have been beaten in custody, and authorities’ apparent unwillingness to allow Usmonov access to counsel prompted an international outcry and demands for his immediate release. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, said the “trumped-up charges” were designed to silence a government critic.
The BBC’s Russian Service reports that Usmonov, 59, still faces charges of contacting members of the radical group – which has never been linked to violence and is legal in some western countries, such as the UK – and reporting their statements without alerting authorities. Yet his lawyer says Tajik law guarantees the right for journalists to protect their sources, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Turkmen-Uzbek border crossing at Farap, April 2009
Another big dump this week of alleged State Department cables by the activist organization WikiLeaks, from Ashgabat -- with no explanation of why this, why now. Possibly it's due to the second anniversary of the Iranian uprising after the failed June 2009 elections, as all five new published cables, ranging in dates from February 2009 to January 2010, are about Iran.
"Obama has not kept his promises," groups of truckers solemnly tell Iran Watcher regarding the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An estimated 70,000 Iranians pass through Turkmenistan every year, says the cable.
Another cable dated March 23, 2009, says hundreds of Iranian tourists took a 140-mile bus ride to spend the Nowruz spring holidays in Ashgabat, where they can buy cheaper clothes and other goods -- and apparently women can take a break from wearing their veils. A comment like this opens up the question of whether fears are justified that Iranians would influence Turkmens, who have lived an isolated existence in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, toward religious extremism, or whether the more secular Turkmens in fact might influence Iranians.
The moral ramifications of propping up the regime of President Islam Karimov have also become more evident lately. Members of two German parties – the Green and Free Democrats – have called on the EU to refuse a €3.7m grant to a charity run by the Uzbek president’s daughter Lola Karimova, uznews.net reported.
The European Union-Uzbekistan dialogue took place June 23-24, human rights activists report, but nothing is known about it. The meetings are held behind closed doors, and it's not certain to what extent the EU representatives in Tashkent or Brussels consult with domestic and international human rights groups.
Poland has now assumed the rotating presidency of the EU for six months, so Polish diplomats reportedly organized the meeting, which is part of an agreement of cooperation between the EU and Uzbekistan.
A number of human rights groups presented cases to the EU on the eve of the dialogue, in the hopes that at least some kind of token gesture would result, as with the release of poet Yusif Juma last month.