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Europe and Central Asia
The situation of human rights defenders in countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia deteriorated in 2012. Rather than encouraging respect for human rights, the economic growth of countries such as the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan was accompanied by increased repression against civil society, and appeared to reinforce the indifference of state authorities towards the recommendations of international human rights bodies. The effort to smear HRDs with propaganda that human rights are a vehicle for Western interests was increasingly used by governments and government-affiliated media outlets in theregion. HRDs working on environmental rights and abuse of economic interests, on minority rights and on the rights of LGBTI people faced intimidation and attacks in a majority of countries in the region.
Azerbaijan, Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine introduced legislation restricting freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, as well as strengthening State control over independent media and the Internet. In Azerbaijan, amendments to the Law On Freedom of Assembly made organisers liable for any actions by protesters and increased penalties for unauthorised demonstrations. In the Russian Federation numerous legislative initiatives were passed in relation to public gatherings, criminal libel, the Internet, treason, freedom of expression and foreign funding (see Section 1, Overview). Of particular concern is the designation of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding as ‘foreign agents’, in that it aims to foment public hostility against them. It may result in increased intimidation and attacks in particular by extreme nationalist groups, which have previously targeted HRDs. The very same day that the law entered into force, the words ‘foreign agent’ appeared on the walls of two human rights groups. Human rights defenders working in North Caucasus continued to be particularity vulnerable to attacks be cause of the almost total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators. Numerous threats and attacks on HRDs remained unreported due to fears that doing otherwise would expose them and their families to more risks. The killings of Natalya Estemirova and Zarema Sadulayeva are still not fully investigated.
In the United Kingdom, in December, a State-commissioned report found that State agents actively furthered and facilitated the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. The UK Government reiterated its refusal to honour their previous commitment to hold a full public inquiry into the murder.
In August, environmental rights defender Volodymyr Honcharenko died after three days in intensive care in Ukraine. He was brutally attacked after holding a press conference in which he presented information about the illegal dumping of chemically contaminated and radioactive metal waste. No arrest has been carried out in relation to the attack.
The use of tax regulations to target HRDs remained a common practice, particularly in Belarus. Following the imprisonment of Ales Bialiatski, sentenced for alleged tax evasion in late 2011, other human rights defenders were summoned for questioning by tax inspectors in 2012 or were requested to submit tax documents in the context of investigations reportedly opened at the initiative of security officials. The space for civil society in Belarus remained extremely limited and all HRDs faced intense surveillance. The use of the legal system against human rights defenders remained a familiar tactic by states in the region, with unsubstantiated charges such as hooliganism, bribery of public officials, fraud, and terrorism commonly used in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Uzbekistan. In Azerbaijan, several HRDs were sentenced to long prison terms following trials marred by irregularities, and several others remained in pre-trial detention. Some of the detained HRDs complained of torture or ill-treatment, but these allegations were not investigated. HRDs and journalists working on forced evictions also faced judicial harassment, attacks and intimidations.
In France, a prominent Algerian HRD, director of the Geneva-based NGO Alkarama, was arrested in January following an extradition request from Algeria – a tactic commonly used by the Algerian government to target human rights defenders and political opposition figures in exile. A court subsequently qualified the request as ‘grotesque’. Nonetheless, the human rights defender spent nearly six months in detention. In Uzbekistan, a number of HRDs remained in prison and were routinely placed in solitary confinement, denied adequate medical treatment, and denied visits by family members. Several HRDs were harassed by public officials and received summons to appear before the police, the office of the prosecutor or the National Security Service. In numerous cases, the summons had no legal basis. Public officials also threatened and put pressure on individuals who were supported by human rights defenders, in order to co-opt them into accusing the HRDs in question of exaggerating facts, lying or extorting money from victims.
In Turkmenistan, human rights work remained banned and the work of independent journalists was closely monitored by the authorities. The Internet, which is accessible by only a very small part of the population, even in urban areas, remained under strict state control. In Tajikistan, independent media outlets critical of the government faced defamation lawsuits. Amparo, one of the leading human rights organisations in the country, was closed down by court order which cited only minor administrative irregularities as justification.
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01 September 2008
- League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADOM) (Moldova)
- Committee on the Administration of Justice (Northern Ireland)
- Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Association
- European Roma Rights Centre (Hungary)
- Humanitarian Law Centre (Former Yugoslavia)
- Human Rights Consultants (Ireland)
- Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT)
- Insan Haklari Dermegi (Turkey)