EU stands with Russian civil society

Brussels 23.07.2021 “Russian authorities recently announced a number of new decisions targeting independent media outlets, journalists and civil society organisations” reads the statement by the European External Action Service spokesperson on the continued crackdown on independent media outlets, journalists and civil society in Russia.

“The Institute of Law and Public Policy (ILPP) and a number of journalists were designated as so-called “foreign agents”, and the media outlet Project Media, Inc. was declared a so-called “undesirable organisation”. In addition, the association of lawyers and journalists Team 29 (Komanda 29), defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia, decided to cease its activities following pressure and unjustified accusations by the Russian authorities”.

“The cumulative impact of these latest developments, in conjunction with a raft of repressive measures targeting highly respected NGOs and individuals in Russia, results in further quashing dissent, opposition, critical voices and independent institutions from the Russian public sphere. This is particularly worrisome ahead of the State Duma elections in September”.

“The European Union has repeatedly condemned Russian laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”, as they run counter to Russia’s international obligations and human rights commitments, including with regard to freedom of expression and association. We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities to reverse these decisions and to stop the unabated crackdown on civil society and independent media”.

“The European Union stands in solidarity with Russian civil society, human rights defenders and independent journalists and will continue to support them in their important work”.

Hungary receives support

Brussels 28.06.2021 Heading against the all-out campaign of the liberal mainstream against Hungary’s recently adopted child protection law, several European politicians rushed to its defense, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó wrote on his Facebook page. (Image belovw: Prime Minister Viktor Orban with his grandchildren).

Hungary’s new law, which enacted a variety of anti-abuse and anti-pedophile laws, also banned LGBT content or content that promotes children changing their gender from being shown to children under 18. The law has been criticised by the president of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

“The liberal mainstream has launched an unscrupulous fake news campaign against Hungary because we have made it clear that parents have the exclusive right to educate their children about their sexual orientation. But no matter what they say about us, we won’t let go of it! Get your hands off our children!” Szijjártó wrote, causing further polemics.

However Szijjártó has underlined the fact that there were those who “stood by us in spite of the terror of opinion from those who commit stigmatising, lying attacks. Thank you for standing by our country, you can count on us too!”

Among those who support Hungary were politicians in Poland, Italy, Estonia, and Slovakia.

“Children and families must be protected from being affected by any indoctrination activity. (…) There are clear rules that parents have the right to raise their child. I want to underline this very strongly, because I have a very deep conviction that it is a good attitude for parents to be able to decide who and on what principles can hold any kind of teaching-educational activities,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

According to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the Hungarian law must be “satisfactorily explained”.
“I can’t judge, we agreed that we should discuss it in a V4 framework to make sure the interpretations are correct,” Babis has underlined.

“We are a little concerned about what is happening around Hungary. In Hungary, a law has been passed in the parliament to combat pedophilia, and there are also provisions dealing with homosexual education. (…) Is this a reason to exclude someone from the EU?” said former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, adding that “the whole EU and the whole European Commission stood on its head”.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party also came to the defense of the Hungarian law.

“Each state is free to decide how to organise its own schools, universities and judiciary. I don’t understand the interventions,” he said.

HUNGARY: Leyen expresses “legal concerns”

Brussels 23.06.2021 “This Hungarian bill is a shame. I have instructed the responsible commissioners to send a letter to express our legal concerns before the bill enters into force”

This bill clearly discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation. It goes against the fundamental values of the European Union. Human dignity, equality and respect for human rights.

“We will not compromise on these principles. I have said it before: I believe in a European Union where you are free to be who you are and love whomever you want. I believe in a Europe which embraces diversity.
I will use all the powers of the Commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed. Whoever they are and where ever they live within the European Union”.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg led the charge against Hungary’s anti-LGBT law while the European affairs ministers from the 27 EU countries met to discuss the rule of law. In total, 16 member states out of 27 expressed their disapproval of the Hungarian law.

Last week, the Hungarian parliament passed a new law tabled by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that bans the portrayal of homosexuality and sex reassignment during school education material and TV programmes addressed to people under 18 years of age.

The bill, approved during Pride month, was facing the condemnation from high-ranking officials of several EU countries and political groups in the European Parliament. The outrage over the Hungarian law was discussed by the EU Council, with the Benelux ministers gathering linked-minded countries in a critical statement against the legislation.

Following behind-the-scenes consultations, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden and Latvia endorsed the Benelux text. Italy waited until the end of the meeting to add its name to the list, while Austria and Greece did so the following day.

“[The law] represents a flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and hence deserves to be condemned. Inclusion, human dignity and equality are core values of our European Union, and we cannot compromise on these principles,” the countries said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has expressed his opinion during the radio programme “Good morning, Hungary”, explaining that the law is not anti-gay, but defending children’s rights. “This is a law about the protection of our children” the Hungarian Prime Minister has underlined.

CoE calls Spain to release political prisoners

Brussels 21.06.2021 The Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, has officially called on Spain to release Catalonia’s political prisoners and withdraw the extradition requests for their exiled colleagues. The parliamentary assembly of the institution green lighted a report by its Committee on Legal Affairs on the situation of political leaders behind bars in Spain and Turkey by 70 votes in favour, 28 against and 12 abstentions. They also overturned one by one and by a large majority the amendments of Spain’s PSOE and PP representatives who wanted to reduce the report’s critical content.

Latvian Socialist Boriss Cilevičs, who acted as rapporteur, visited Catalonia in February 2020 in order to write a report on political prisoners in Europe for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe after a score of council deputies proposed the initiative a month earlier.

During the session on Monday, rapporteur Cilevičs opened the debate, with a speech upholding his work and saying the convictions are “disproportionate” and “do not comply with the rule of law.” The representative highlighted that the politicians and activists are facing “a long time in jail, similar to rapists” for issues such as votes in parliament and peaceful protests during the exercises of their mandates.

While Cilevičs acknowledged that the referendum was held despite not being allowed by the Constitutional Court, he also reminded that holding such a vote was decriminalized in Spain. He said that disobedience – not carrying prison – could have been a reasonable crime for which to be convicted, but sedition “requires elements of violence” and the rallies ahead of October 1, 2017 were “peaceful.”

The politician, who also rejected the independence campaigners “using the report to promote separatism,” defended that public representatives should be “allowed to make statements that go against the Constitution.”
Spain’s resounding defeat: Council of Europe demands release of Catalan political prisoners and return of exiles

Report passed by a majority of 70 to 28 calls convictions “disproportionate” and demands withdrawing extradition requests for exiles.

EU supports Crimean Mejlis

Bruxelles 05.06.2021 “On 1 June, a so-called, Russia-run court in the Ukrainian city Simferopol sentenced in absentia Mr Refat Chubarov, Chairman of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar People’s self-governing body, to six years of prison and a fine for politically-motivated charges.

The European Union does not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula and therefore does not, and will not, recognise this “sentence” by an illegal court. The sentencing of Mr Chubarov constitutes a serious violation of his human rights and another example of the persecution of the Crimean Tatar community by the Russian “authorities”.

“It further illustrates the severe deterioration of human rights on the Crimean peninsula since its illegal annexation. The ban on the activities of the Mejlis must be reversed without further delay.

“The EU reiterates that all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens on the Crimean peninsula must be released immediately”.

The Crimean High Court ‘has sentenced’ Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis, or representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar people to six years imprisonment and a RUB200 000 fine (approx. EUR2 000). The verdict and sentence both represent the political message, while Russian authorities banished Chubarov from his homeland within months of its establishing their jurisdiction in Crimea, and the trial was held in absentia.

The verdict was passed in absentia  because the leader of the Mejlis, which is listed in Russia as an “extremist ogranisation”, but nowadays is located in Ukraine. The court found Chubarov guilty of organising riots outside the building of Crimea Parliament on February 26, 2014, which led to incidental death of two people. The head of Crimea, Sergei Aksenov, also supported the court’s decision, stating that Chubarov is a “professional provocateur”.

Russian independent medium dissolves

Brussels 31.05.2021 Newsru site which has functioned primarily as a news aggregator in recent years, said it was not possible for them to continue operations for economic reasons.

“Many thanks to all of you who have been reading us for 21 years. We know for sure that many stayed with us all this time. Lately there have been 3 million of you a month” reads the announcement of Newsru site.

“From August 1, 2000 to May 31, 2021, every day we tried to fulfil our professional duties with utmost honesty, namely, to tell what is important in the country and in the world, to compose an objective information picture of the day.
“At the very beginning of the century we were NTV.ru, for the first time in Russia a television news site was created, the very same NTV, the 20th anniversary of the destruction of which was remembered quite recently.
“For most of our employees today, working on this information site has taken most of their lives. Many of us have worked here since its opening.

“We stop working for economic reasons, but they are caused precisely by the political situation in our country. After 2014, it became clear that not only geography and foreign policy, but also the domestic economy were changing radically.

“Our picture of the day began to differ so much from the picture preferred by state resources that large advertisers stopped cooperating with us after the events of 2014, and the rest began to be especially afraid this year.
“More and more often we had to write about the adoption of restrictive laws that could affect us ourselves any day. We had to label more and more respected people and sources of truthful information as foreign agents and extremists.
“The situation in the economy and in the legal field makes the high-quality work of NEWSru.com more impossible.
“We say goodbye to you, but for now we leave open the entire archive accumulated over 21 years of work. And this is 1 million 172 thousand 931 news (not including this one). This history of the events of the 21st century is extremely important for understanding what is happening today. The archive will help you not to be naive and gullible, it will help you to compare the facts and answer many questions.
“For us, this is the last message for today.
“We sadly say goodbye to our totally unique and loyal audience.
“Your NEWSru.com.

Airlines: Russia attempts to retaliate

Brussels 28.05.2021 Airlines revealed Russia has blocked some European flights avoiding Belarus airspace in a standoff over the arrest of a Belarusian journalist, as his parents pleaded Thursday for international help to get him released.

The G7 global powers also demanded Minsk release Roman Protasevich and the EU’s foreign policy chief threatened hard-hitting economic sanctions.

Belarus’s strongman President Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying Roman Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23.

A nervous-looking Protasevich was last seen in a video released by Belarusian authorities on Monday in which he was seen supposedly admitting to helping to organise mass unrest, a charge that could land him in jail for 15 years.

“I want you to relay our appeal everywhere, throughout the world, to government representatives, to EU countries, to EU leaders, to US leaders: I am appealing, I am begging, help me free my son,” his mother Natalia told journalists in Warsaw, visibly moved.

Roman’s father, Dmitry said his son was “a tough man” and “a hero”. After almost three decades of service in Belarus armed forces Dmitry was sacked by Lukashenko order as a demonstrative punitive measure for his son’s political activity.

“Throughout his life he fought for the truth and passed it on to people, which is why Lukashenko committed this despicable act,” he said.

The family and their lawyer confirmed that they have not had any communication with their son since his arrest.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Thursday, May 27, demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of Protasevich, “as well as all other journalists and political prisoners held in Belarus”, in a joint statement published by the British government.

Minsk: 17-old defendant suicide

Brussels 26.05.2021 On the evening of May 25 in Minsk, 17-year-old Dmitry Stakhovsky, a defendant in the criminal case for participating in the “mass riots” on August 9-11, 2020 (part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code), committed suicide by jumping from a 16-storey building. He had left in social net VKontakte post before his death, in which he explains his act by pressure of the criminal prosecution because of his participation in the rallies: “The investigation committee is to blame for that.”

It is known that Dmitry was an orphan, lived in a hostel. It was the employees of this hostel who pointed to the guy as a participant in the protest actions, after which he became a defendant in the criminal case under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code. It is known that on the afternoon of May 25, he was interrogated in this case. In his post on VKontakte, the guy noted: “If they did not continue to pressure me mentally, I think I would not have dared to take such a terrible act as suicide. But my strength was running out.”

Belarus expels Lativa diplomats

Brussels 24.05.2021 Belarus is expelling the Ambassador of Latvia H.E. Einars Semanis, he was asked to leave the country within 24 hours. This was announced by the head of the Belarusian diplomacy Vladimir Makei.

“The Latvian ambassador was invited to the Foreign Ministry in connection with the insult of the state flag of Belarus in Riga,” Makei explained.

Together wit the Ambassador, Belarus expels the entire Embassy staff, ​​with the exception of one administrative officer who is allowed to stay in Minsk.

Explaining the actions of Minsk in relation to the Ambassador of Latvia, Makei called the reaction of politicians of a number of Western countries to the situation with the plane “coordinated actions and a planned provocation.” At the same time, Makei noted that Minsk does not exclude a response from Riga.

The head of the Belarus diplomacy has underlined that no country has yet requested information from Belarus on the incident with Ryanair.

The down spiral of the diplomatic raw in the aftermath of the Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, (pictured above) arrest continues. Protasevich was returning to Vilnius from an economic conference in Greece with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Greek officials explained.

The RyanAir flight, which had been carrying some 170 passengers, should have taken about three hours. As it approached the border between Belarus and Lithuania, a MiG-29 fighter jet was sent to intercept it. After the forced landing Protasevich has been arrested. There is also an information that the other activist with Russian citizenship, travelling with the same board was detained in Minsk.

Alexander Lukashenko, 66, who is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” personally ordered the fighter jet to escort the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport after a bomb threat, his press service said. According to the statement, Lukashenko, an ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”

The EU Council president Charles Michel has defined the incident as an “international scandal”, pointing out that the forceful landing of the civil aircraft was compromising safety and security of all passengers on board and the EU is going to discuss this issue first at the ongoing Summit of the leaders of 27 to ensure the adequate response: “What happened yesterday in #Belarus is an international scandal. It endangered the lives of civilians & threatens international security. We will discuss different options of sanctions today at #EUCO. A strong reaction is needed” Michel said at the doorstep of the meeting in Brussels.

Russia supports Ryanair highjack

Brussels 24.05.2021 Anna van Densky OPINION The defence of Belarus President Lukashenko actions, which have been already defined by some of the EU politicians as “state terrorism”, indicated that Russia has been informed or, even engaged in this operation, which also can lead to a suggestion the the liberation of Protasevich and the other political prisoners in Belarus would be possible through an asymmetric answer. The extensive presence of Russians at French Riviera, purchasing luxury mansions and palaces could become an key to the liberation of all political prisoners in Belarus, just through questioning the sources of their wealth.

“There is no reason why Western countries should be shocked by the Ryanair flight incident, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook on Monday, May 24, clearly defending the actions of Alexandar Lukashenko, who sent MiG29 jet to force civil aircraft landing with purpose of kidnapping the Belarus opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

“What is shocking is that the West has described the incident in Belarusian airspace as shocking. The so-called civilised democracies’ tendency to follow the ‘quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi’ principle has long been irrelevant because the former leaders have lost leadership skills. The blood and suffering of millions of people across the world have yanked the pedestal from under Western demagogues, from where they have been preaching,” Zakharova has underlined.

“Or, they should be shocked by everything, including the moves to force down the Bolivian president’s plane in Austria at the United States’ request and the Belarusian aircraft carrying an anti-Maidan activist. Otherwise, such behavior should not come as a shock to them,” the Russian diplomat emphasized.

During Ryanair flight to Vilnius that took off from Athens was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport on Sunday, May 23, after a reported bomb threat, which came up empty. The Belarusian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case into the false bomb threat. Minsk’s federal authorities specified that Roman Protasevich, wanted in Belarus as a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel deemed extremist, had been among the flight’s passengers. He was detained by law enforcement officers, media reports said.

A joint investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and the French Le Monde revealed the extent to which one of Russia’s most infamous oligarchs — Putin’s childhood friend Boris Rotenberg — is entrenched in the French Riviera. However he was not the only one. Would the EU show the political will for Protasevich liberation start questioning Russians wealth sources at French Riviera?