A 21-year-old U.S. student was an observer in her ancestral homeland Armenia’s disputed February 18, 2013 Presidential election. When Narine Esmaeili, who interns for Transparency International, tried to prevent massive ballot stuffing in Artashat’s polling precinct 17-5, she was physically assaulted by the local mayor’s son and instructed to be a “good girl” – keep her mouth shut – by the police who responded to her phone call. The young woman did the opposite, videotaping a testimony and posting it on YouTube.
A United Nations initiative called Internet Governance Forum is about to have its annual forum in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, to discuss, among other issues, freedom of speech.
Yet in Azerbaijan, people who exercise this fundamental right to criticize President Ilham Aliyev, his family or government risk being threatened, attacked or imprisoned – whether they do so on- or off-line.
“They don’t jail all the bloggers. They pick up two or three who go – in their view – too far,” explains Emin Mill, an Azerbaijani digital dissenter who served time in prison for “hooliganism.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
An unremorseful axe-murderer was freed and rewarded last Friday after the Azerbaijani government secured military officer Ramil Safarov’s extradition – and de facto release – from Hungary.
Safarov had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing – with 16 blows – to death his sleeping Armenian colleague, Gurgen Margaryan, at a 2004 NATO Partnership for Peace course. He then attempted to kill the other Armenian participant, but found a locked door. Safarov proudly admitted to the murder and was convicted to life by a Hungarian court.
While swift to imprison peaceful domestic dissidents, the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, spared no effort to release the criminal, by reportedly showering Hungary with an as much as $3.8 billion loan offer, enabled by the Caspian’s energy riches.
Anton Surapin did what millions do every day: he posted photos of something interesting online. But he lives in ex-Soviet Belarus, the most authoritarian state in Europe, and the photographs in question were of teddy bears that had just parachuted out of the sky carrying a pro-human rights message.
For uploading on his website the controversial teddy bear photos, the twenty-year-old photographer and student was thrown in prison.
Charges against Surapin stem from the July 4, 2012 stunt organized by Swedish advertising firm Studio Total to highlight the clampdown on freedom of expression in Belarus. The company airdropped hundreds of teddy bears on parachutes with placards calling for free speech to be respected in Belarus. The campaign has most recently triggered diplomatic scuffle, with Belarus and Sweden expelling envoys over the controversy.
In the sporting world, countries from the former Soviet Union are used to winning medals. But in terms of gay rights, the only accolades these countries are winning are the wrong ones.
Short of outright criminalizing homosexuality as was the norm during Soviet times, Russia and most of its former satellite states are increasingly violating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. If a 2012 Eurasia Homophobia Olympics were held today, the “winning” countries trampling on the human rights of LGBTI people would be as follows:
Gold Medal: Armenia, for officially (and utterly shockingly) justifying and defending the firebombing of a gay-friendly bar by self-described young “fascists.”
Three young women in Russia may spend seven years in prison for “hooliganism” after a flash punk rock performance at a Moscow church that criticized President Vladimir Putin.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich, alleged members of the controversial band Pussy Riot, were arrested in March 2012 and are being held in pre-trial detention following the politically-fueled performance at Moscow’s famed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
Egyptian air is good for the lungs / Do Tahrir on Red Square!
Pussy Riot lyric
Pussy Riot is a Moscow-based anonymous feminist band that, for the last year and a half, has played unauthorized “flash performances” to protest government policies (watch them in action here). Pussy Riot’s members use their right to freedom of speech – through music – to shed light on what they perceive to be a corrupt government. In an interview with the Guardian, band member “Garadzha” explains:
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
The smallest yet probably oldest of the successive Soviet nations, Armenia prides itself for its ancient traditions. In his International Women’s Day statement, President Serge Sarkissian wishes women “happiness, luck, and healthy and strong families,” commending the preservation of women’s “traditional role.”
Does the latter include being a victim of violence? The Armenian government’s very poor record on combating widespread violence against women may suggest so.
Armenia is the only country among its Council of Europe neighbors without legislation criminalizing domestic violence. Armenia’s government has been arguing that it will pass comprehensive legislation once the Council of Europe finalizes its convention on the issue. It’s been nearly a year since the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence opened for signatures, yet Armenia hasn’t ratified it (see the interactive map of countries that have).
It sounds like a line from Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming comedy The Dictator, but it actually came from a real dictator.
Alexander Lukashenko, the president of ex-Soviet Belarus, said “better to be a dictator than gay” when responding to European criticism of the country’s democratic record. He was alluding to the sexual orientation of some European Foreign Ministers.
President Alexander Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus with an iron fist for almost 18 years. The country’s population is under 10 million and has faced sanctions. Belarus is one of the least democratic in Europe, and is Europe’s only country to have the death penalty. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
“I don’t even remember this war,” said comedian Jon Stewart on The Daily Show on February 13, 2012 after his interviewee mentioned the post-Soviet Armenian-Azerbaijani fight for the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s, an unresolved conflict that has claimed tens of thousands lives and displaced over a million people.
If Stewart is reading this, he should visit www.ourpain.org to commemorate the victims of the war, especially since February was the worst month of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
February 26, 1988, saw the beginning of a pogrom targeting the Armenian population of the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait, arguably setting the stage for the war. Exactly four years later, Azerbaijani civilians were killed during the Armenian takeover of the town of Khojaly in the largest massacre of the war. And on February 19, 2004, an Azerbaijani officer, displaced due to the war, murdered his Armenian counterpart at a NATO training in Europe.
English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, better known for his character Borat, has a new satirical movie in the works – The Dictator, depicting the leader of the imaginary authoritarian Republic of Wadiya. The latter has just launched its website, and the tourism section mentions Amnesty International:
Many dozens of endangered species can be found caged at the Wadiyan National Zoo, including pandas, white tigers, and Amnesty International officials.
Of course The Dictator is a comedy (see the trailer), but it will presumably highlight – through humor and exaggeration - human rights violations and abuse of power. In that sense, it may be worth watching it, of course after the Wadiyan National Zoo sets Amnesty International officials free so that they can make it to the Annual General Meeting in Denver in late March and continue fighting for a world without abuse of power!
Now, visit our online action center to fight real-life abuses.