Russia moves to silence civil society’s ‘undesirable’ contacts


russia authoritarian IMRRussia’s largest grassroots election watchdog, Golos, has been almost driven out of existence by a law passed three years ago that saddled it with a “foreign agent” label – which connotes “spy” in Russian. But a new law to curb ‘undesirable’ NGOs could prove fatal, writes CSM’s Fred Weir:

This may not just shutter Golos, but could silence a whole range of Russian civil society for merely communicating with groups that the prosecutor feels pose a threat to Russia’s constitutional order, defense, or national security. The draft blacklist prepared by the State Duma last week includes a who’s who of major international nongovernmental institutions, including the Moscow Carnegie Center, the corruption watchdog Transparency International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

“If any Russian is invited to a conference abroad, authorities can scan the list of sponsors and block that person if an ‘undesirable’ group is involved,” says Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “Any foreigners trying to come to Russia for any reason can be refused if they have links to such groups.”

“This law is much more dangerous, and has far wider applications, than the previous ones,” he says. “It’s not just aimed at shutting up people inside the country, but anyone, anywhere.”

russia Lyudmila Alekseyeva RFERLMeanwhile, Lyudmila Alekseyeva (right), one of Russia’s most outspoken and widely respected rights advocates, has returned to President Vladimir Putin’s council on human rights and civil society three years after quitting the advisory body, RFE/RL reports:

Alekseyeva, 87, says she wants to defend nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) against what she called the “outrageous” abuse of a controversial law that has branded many NGOs as “foreign agents.”…She quit the council in June 2012 in protest over Kremlin interference in the process of selecting new members, becoming one of several activists to leave amid anger over Putin’s return to the presidency, the “foreign agents” legislation, and restrictions imposed on the Internet and public demonstrations…..

But she told RFE/RL that the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights was one of the most reliable links with the authorities and “cannot be ignored during these difficult times.”

‘Nobody is safe anymore’

“There are such outrageous things happening there,” Russian media quoted her as saying…”All hell has broken loose in the regions” …. Authorities across Russia “are simply setting scores with organizations that are unfavorable to them, stripping them this way of their right to operate.”

Russia’s human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova ombudsman this week slammed the controversial law approved by Putin that allows the authorities to ban international NGOs deemed “undesirable.”

“We can prove that we now exist only on Russian money, but we are still on the list of ‘foreign agents,’ and all we still face all sorts of official interference,” says Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of Golos. “I guess we have to wait and see how this new law will be applied. But it looks like nobody is safe anymore.”

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Angola turns tables on campaigning journalist Marques de Morais

angola rafaelmarquesProminent human rights and democracy advocates are appealing to Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos over the prosecution on criminal defamation charges of campaigning journalist Rafael Marques de Morais.

“Despite what was understood to have been a negotiated agreement between Mr. Marques de Morais and government authorities late last week, we are deeply concerned that that agreement is now being reversed,” the letter states. “Instead, it appears that the court will issue a verdict in the case later this week; a conviction could result in a prison sentence and the indefinite revocation of his passport.”

The Public Prosecutor’s demand that Marques be found guilty of criminal defamation “is a clear sign of abuse of the judiciary to intimidate those who dare to speak truth to power in Angola,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.

“This case reflects a broader deterioration in the environment for freedom of expression in Angola, including the increasing use of criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists and routine police abuse of, and interference with, journalists, activists, and protesters peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” say the signatories, including Art Kaufman, Senior Director of the World Movement for Democracy, Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of the PEN American Center.

angola Diamantes-de-Sangue2-150x150Angolan prosecutors sought a suspended one-month jail sentence for anti-corruption activist Rafael Marques de Morais on Monday, despite a deal to drop defamation charges against him, AFP adds:

“Despite the agreement reached between the parties, the prosecution has asked for a one-month suspended prison sentence,” his lawyer David Mendes said. He vowed to appeal against any sentence when the verdict was handed down, which is expected to happen on Thursday.

Marques said he felt “tricked” in the wake of the deal he had secured with the generals. “After all this, the state asks that I be sentenced, saying that I had failed to give evidence.”

former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, Marques’s writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption through his journalism and his work with Maka Angola, an Angolan platform supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Mali’s moment of truce?

FILE - In this July 27, 2013 file photo, Malian Tuareg soldiers loyal to Col. Major El-Hadj Gamou listen during a visit by Mali's army chief of staff in Kidal, Mali. Tuareg separatist rebels agreed to sign a peace deal with the government in just over a week’s time but that hasn’t stopped them from attacking towns and encroaching further south toward Mali’s capital. The toll has risen to 30 dead in recent days. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

At least 200, 000 citizens marched in Mali’s capital, Bamako, this week to support the peace and reconciliation agreement signed on 15 May. The demonstration was an initiative of the Coordination of the Associations of Civil Society.

Mali hosted 22 heads of state to witness the signing of the long-awaited peace agreement between its government and insurgency leaders, notes Sahel political analyst Kamissa Camara. Arab and Tuareg militants rebelled against the government in 2012, unilaterally declaring an independent state, Azawad, in northern Mali. The revolt triggered a military coup that put an end to 20 years of democracy and stability. The peace accord follows strong international pressure to end the violence.

However, the agreement will not guarantee stability in northern Mali, she writes for Al-Jazeera:

The security situation there and years of failed promises to address the marginalization of northern communities have created deep mistrust among the various stakeholders. For lasting and durable peace to prevail, the government must ensure a genuine devolution of power that takes into account the ethnic diversity in northern Mali and fair distribution of revenue to improve service delivery and infrastructure in the peripheral regions…..



Yet the latest accord appears sensitive to many of the concerns expressed by Malians from the north, notes Camara, a senior program officer for West and Central Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy:

It accommodates many of the demands by the rebel groups and even offers greater representation of the northern populations in the national government. Specifically, it provides for a formal mechanism to transfer 30 percent of the national revenue from Bamako to local authorities starting in 2018. The government remains open to further consultations on granting more authority to elected regional councils. The current fragilities and past failures in providing lasting solutions to the northern rebellions offer ample opportunities for the Malian authorities to foresee and avert potential problems. Ultimately, addressing the long-standing political demands of the Tuaregs and other northern communities requires a commitment to tackle poverty, marginalization, underdevelopment and impunity in northern Mali.

“Beyond concerns about Mali’s territorial integrity and regional security threats, a lasting peace will be realized only if the rule of law and human rights become integral parts of all ongoing reconciliation and reconstruction efforts,” Camara concludes.


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Don’t conflate regime change with democracy support

advancingdemocracyTrying to have a conversation about supporting democracy comes with a lot of baggage these days, notes Paul J. Bonicelli, the Executive Vice President at Regent University, and former Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Agency for International Development:

Critics of George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan equate the administration’s policy of regime change with its other and more far-reaching policy of democracy support — what Bush called the “freedom agenda.” The critics conflate regime change with democracy support and that leaves the latter looking like an armed imposition of democracy. They are wrong.

The Bush administration sought regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan first and foremost for national security reasons, Bonicelli writes for Foreign Policy:

The president included in his war aims the desire to help Iraq and Afghanistan become constitutional democracies because he believed it was right and because he believed it was practical, and one cannot blame him for that. The United States in the 21st century could hardly remove Saddam Hussein and the Taliban and then put new dictators in their places.

Moreover, he believed in what academics call the democratic peace theory — that world peace is augmented as more states become democratic. So the United States did not impose democracy from outside but rather aided liberated Iraqis and Afghans in their attempt to build democratic states. We did not create a democratic opposition out of thin air. For years, citizens of these countries (many as exiles) had been risking their lives in this endeavor. It insults them to pretend otherwise. 

So while it is legitimate to criticize the decision to topple the regimes, once they were toppled the only acceptable policy was to try to help Iraqis and Afghans build democratic states. And with these wars President Bush was not inaugurating a new policy of “imposition of democracy through regime change.” No such policy ever existed; the administration did not argue that it was going to impose democracy by force.


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Can autocratic Erdogan stay at helm in Turkey?

turkey2A U.S. journalist claimed Wednesday that his honorary Turkish citizenship was revoked on the orders of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over a critical article that saw him branded an “enemy” of Turkey, AFP reports:

Writing in The Boston Globe newspaper, reporter Stephen Kinzer said he arrived in the southern city of Gaziantep Tuesday to receive the honor in recognition of a New York Times story in 2000 that led to ancient Roman mosaics in Gaziantep being saved…..But the plans went awry after the presidency allegedly sent Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Sahin, who was to present the award, a fax describing Kinzer as “an enemy of our government and our country.”

Attached to the fax was an article penned by Kinzer that included a paragraph accusing Erdogan of increasing authoritarianism.

“Once seen as a skilled modernizer, [Erdogan] now sits in a 1,000-room palace,” the article read, referring to Erdogan’s gigantic presidential palace in Ankara, seen by opponents as a symbol of his authoritarian extravagance.

“[He is] denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control. Strong leaders can descend into this kind of political madness. It’s no wonder we’ve soured on them.”

turkey winepTurkey’s next parliamentary vote is set for June 7, and if predictions hold, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will continue a run of dominance that began in 2002, notes analyst Soner Cagaptay.

But if the Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crosses the 10-percent electoral threshold necessary for parliamentary representation, Erdogan’s quest to transform Turkey into a presidential system could become complicated, he writes in a new report for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

Other unknowns surround the fate of the conservative Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the leftist People’s Republican Party (CHP), which has made some progress in recent years but failed to outpoll the AKP. In his latest Institute study, Cagaptay examines the shifts in Turkey’s political landscape that facilitated the AKP’s rise and discusses the challenges that await Erdogan. For context, he compares Turkey’s dominant-party system to similar cases in Mexico and Japan, among others. Moreover, he recommends steps for Washington, given Turkey’s regional importance and its role in helping the United States defeat the Islamic State.

Turkey is a key U.S. partner in the Middle East, especially in the context of the U.S. war against ISIS, he notes. With Turkish society split down the middle, significant tensions will emerge along with the emergence of a dominant-party system. Washington should focus on alleviating these tensions to help promote stability in a key ally by taking the following steps:

(1) stressing to the AKP leadership that its frequent efforts to eliminate or “tame” society’s pluralistic elements damages not only human rights and democracy but also the AKP’s own chances of remaining a positive force in Turkey’s development;

(2) engaging broader Turkish society and avoiding conflation of Erdogan and the AKP with the will of the Turkish majority; and

(3) avoiding “punishment” of the AKP or Erdogan for various policies, slights, and other deviations from “good ally” behavior. With this last tendency, the United States would risk isolating not just AKP supporters but larger segments of the Turkish populace as well.

“As for Turkey’s EU prospects, the situation looks bleak,” Cagaptay notes. “The country’s membership process is closely linked to convergence with the EU in areas of foreign policy and liberal democracy. Given the deterioration of human rights and liberties in Turkey since 2007—following the party’s near-majority victory and spotlighted harshly in spring 2013 by the government crackdown against protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park—a breakthrough in its EU accession process under the dominant AKP seems highly unlikely.” RTWT

Soner Cagaptay, the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, is the author of The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power (Potomac Books), named by the Foreign Policy Association as one of the ten most important books of 2014.

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