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#Newsletter Exclusive / True Story Project

Regional Press Review (18-24 Feb)

RUSSIA

“Release” Alexei Navalny, European Court of Human Rights tells Russia. 

  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) requested the release of opposition activist and Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny. “The Court grants an interim measure in favor of Aleksei Navalny and asks the Government of Russia to release him,” the European Court of Justice declared. Navalny’s staff also provided a copy of a letter addressed to Navalny’s counsel, Olga Mikhailov, from the EMCDH reminding her of the resolution and the intention to alert the Russian government. (Deutsche Welle, February 17)

Russia arrests 19 suspected militants for planning Caucasus terror attacks.

  • Russian intelligence services detained 19 alleged militants of a radical Islamist movement, accusing them of planning attacks in the North Caucasus. The Federal Security Service (FSB) reported the arrests after carrying out searches at “their places of residence and secret gatherings.” The police seized a machine gun, an automatic rifle and over 40 copies of extremist documents. An improvised explosive device weighing more than 3 kilograms of TNT was also uncovered in the surrounding woodland area as part of the search. (Euronews, February 17)

Russian activist gets suspended sentence for ties with opposition group. 

  • Russian activist Anastasia Shevchenko has been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for performing activities on behalf of a “undesirable organization,” in what Amnesty International has called a “travesty of justice.” A judge from the October District Court in Rostov-on-Don City found Shevchenko guilty of having connections with the opposition movement Open Russia, a British-based institution supported by former exiled oil baron and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. (Radio Free Europe, February 18)

U.S. Ambassador says Navalny poisoning, jailing is not just an internal Russian matter. 

  • The U.S. Ambassador to Russia has dismissed Moscow’s statement that last year’s poisoning of opposition leader Navalny and the mass demonstrations prompted by his current imprisonment are strictly domestic Russian affairs. Ambassador Sullivan declared that the “United States has no interest in fomenting dispute within Russia or encouraging protests.” (Radio Free Europe, February 18)

Alexei Navalny fined for “defaming” Russian veteran. 

  • Alexei Navalny was sentenced on charges of defamation by the Moscow Court, just a few hours after the same court upheld a jail term on charges onseparate parole infringement. His supporters believe both allegations are part of the Kremlin’s politically driven plot to silence opposition to the Russian President. The court ordered Navalny to pay a fine of $11,481 in the defamation case. (Deutsche Welle, February 20) 

Sweden charges man for selling “high-tech industry” information to Russian diplomat

  • The Swedish prosecutors charged a 47-year-old man of secretly spying forRussia in the high-tech sector. The suspect, whose identity has not been revealed, has been accused of selling classified information to a Russian diplomat for many years. The information is reported to have concerned the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo and the heavy goods vehicle giant Scania. Prosecutors reportedthat the man had secretly moved content from his work computer to his private computer via USB memory sticks. (Euronews, February 22) 

President Putin and President Lukashenka conclude talks as West ramps up pressure. 

  • The Russian President and his Belarusian counterpart spent six hours together at Russia’s Black Sea resort in Sochi discussing about their stalled unification attempts. Their meeting came as both face mass demonstrations at home and rising pressure from the West over police crackdowns on opposition activists and nonviolent demonstrators. The Russian press service declaredthat their agenda centered on improving Russian–Belarus tiesin terms of strategic cooperation, economic links, energy and integration within the context of a union state. (Radio Free Europe, February 22) 

Ukraine accuses Russian networks of new massive cyber-attacks. 

  • Ukraine accused unidentified Russian internet networks of major attacks on Ukrainian security and defense websites, but did not provide any specifics of any harm done or indicate whoit thought it was behind the operation. Kiev has previously accused Moscow of orchestrating massive cyber-attacks as part of a hybrid waragainst Ukraine, allegationsthat Russia rejects. It was reported that the attacks started on February 18 and were directed against websites belonging to Ukraine’s Security Service, the council itself and some other state institutions and strategic enterprises. (Reuters, February 22)

ARMENIA

Prosecutors seek to criminalize defamation of Armenian officials. 

  • Armenian prosecutors have drafted legislation that would make defamation of government, law-enforcement and other state officials a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. All forms of defamation were decriminalized in Armenia in 2010, as recommended by the Council of Europe. Armenia’s leading media organizations expressed serious concern over the bill, saying that it could be used by the authorities as a “tool” against legitimate criticism and describing it as a “logical continuation” of recent legislative measures aimed at restricting press freedom in the country. (Azatutyun February 18)

President signals lingering concerns over pan-Armenian charity. 

  • President Sarkissian will call an emergency meeting of the governing board of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, which launched an international fundraising campaign in September that received $170 million from Armenians from around the world. More than $100 million of those proceeds were redirected to Armenia’s Government, in a move that Sarkissian criticized as “undermining donors’ trust” as he urged the Government to release a detailed report on how it has used the aid. Hayastan’s board is headed by Sarkissian and comprises other top state officials as well as diaspora philanthropists. (Azatutyun February 17)

Another anti-Pashinyan mayor prosecuted. 

  • Armenian prosecutors have brought criminal charges against yet another local government official who had demanded PM Pashinyan’s resignation following the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The mayor of an administrative unit comprised of Agarak, Meghri, and nearby villages has been charged with abuse of power over a plot of agricultural land rented by an Agarak resident since 2007 and subsequently sub-rented at a much higher price. The mayor stated that he “can’t understand what [his] alleged crime is all about,” adding that the land was leased before he was elected. (Azatutyun February 19)

Armenian opposition announces non-stop protests. 

  • The Homeland Salvation Movement, a coalition of 16 opposition parties, has announced what they say will be “non-stop” civil disobedience actions. The morning following a large march on Monday, 25 people were detained for trying to prevent PM Pashinyan from entering the government building. Opposition leader Manukyan stated that Pashinyan’s resignation will be sought either through street demonstrations or through “rebellion,” prompting Armenia’s Prosecutor General to open a criminal case for “public calls for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order.” (OC Media February 23)

 AZERBAIJAN

UN agencies, Japan aid Azerbaijan to address humanitarian needs after Karabakh war.

  • The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Japanese Embassy have sent aid to Azerbaijan’s war-torn areas. The UNFPA has sent 32 emergency ISRH kits consisting of medical and reproductive health supplies, the UNHCR office sent 30,000 blankets, 10,000 square meters of plastic tents, 4,000 kitchen sets, 443 sets of sanitary and hygienic accessories, 12,000 pillows and 2,554 mattresses, and the Japanese government decided to allocate an urgent grant of $1.2 million to Azerbaijan to tackle the humanitarian crisis. (Today.az February 19)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria’s Parliament voted down presidential veto on PPC amendments related to special prosecutor. 

  • Bulgaria’s National Assembly on February 17 overturned President Radev’s vetoes on amendments to the country’s Penal Procedure Code and the urban planning law. The Penal Procedure Code bill, which envisions the appointment of a special prosecutor with the authority to investigate the top ranks of the prosecutor’s office, was vetoed by the President over not “offer[ing] a just and sustainable solution to the problem of lacking effective investigation of the Prosecutor-General or Deputy Prosecutor-General.” The veto was backed only by the two largest opposition parties, who described the position of the special prosecutor as a “legislative Frankenstein.” (Novinite February 17)

EC: Bulgaria breaches EU regulations on racism and xenophobia. 

  • The European Commission will send a formal notification to Bulgaria, Belgium, Finland, Poland and Sweden that they have not fully transposed European regulations to combat racism and xenophobia. Bulgaria has failed to correctly transpose the criminalization of specific forms of hate speech, especially regarding publicly justifying, denying or grossly trivializing international crimes against humanity and the Holocaust. All five countries have two months to answer the questions raised by the EC. (Novinite February 18)

Bulgaria: 26 political parties and 8 coalitions registered for April general election. 

  • So far, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has registered 26 political parties and eight coalitions for the parliamentary elections in April, with four more political formations in the process of registering. 18 parties and nine coalitions ran for Parliament in 2017, with four parties and one coalition surpassing the 4% threshold. (Novinite February 18)

GEORGIA

PM Giorgi Gakharia resigns over Melia’s detention. 

  • Georgian PM Gakharia has stepped down, citing difference of opinion with his fellow colleagues over the imprisonment of the United National Movement’s Chairman Melia, who was sent to pre-trial detention by the Tbilisi City Court. “Unfortunately, I could not reach a common understanding on this matter with my team and decided to resign. I want to hope that this step would contribute to reduced polarization in our political space, since I believe that polarization and confrontation pose the greatest risks to our country’s future and economic development,” the Georgian PM stated. (Civil.ge, February 18) 

President: immediate de-escalation, constructive dialogue needed. 

  • President Zurabishvili reacted to the latest events and tensions in Georgia linked to the anticipated arrest of the UNM’s Chairman, stressing the need to de-escalate the state of affairs and to engage in constructive dialog between the parties. “Nine months ago, I made a personally difficult and painful decision for society that was aimed at maintaining state stability, and which served to prevent a political crisis and polarization,” President Zurabishvili declared. (Georgia Today, February 19)

Georgian police storm opposition HQ to arrest leader Nika Melia. 

  • Georgian police searched the main opposition party’s HQ to seize its chairman, Nika Melia. Last week, a Tbilisi court decided that Melia, who is accused of organizing mass violence throughout anti-government demonstrations in 2019, should be put in pre-trial custody. The former Georgian PM declared that the arrest of the opposition leader could contribute to a further deterioration of the political situation and endanger the well-being of the country and its citizens. (Euronews, February 22) 

Interior Ministry, Georgian Dream report cyberattack. 

  • The Ministry of Interior and the ruling Georgian Dream Party reported in separate statements on 23 February that their information systems were cyber attacked. The statements come in the wake of United National Movement Chair’s detention. (Civil.ge, February 23)

MOLDOVA

“Criminal group of fugitive oligarch Plahotniuc continues to influence things”—Grigorciuc

  • The individuals loyal to the former Democratic leader Plahotniuc continue to do well even after he fled the country, stated President of the “Right to Justice” Human Rights Group Grigorciuc, alluding to the former prosecutor of the General Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Special Events, who is now working for the State Guard Service. “Even if the powers have shifted—but following developments in the country, it seems to me that nothing has really changed—a lot of people who helped Plahotniuc’s criminal group continue to commit crimes against the people and some of them continue to hold their posts,” Grigorciuc stated. (IPN, February 18) 

Moldova made progress when it comes to sustainable human development, UNDP report. 

  • Moldova has made substantial positive progress in the area of sustainable human development. Even so, the current crisis of COVID-19 has aggravated emerging weaknesses and put substantial pressure on the small and open economy of Moldova. (IPN, February 19)

Alexei Rogov: Enthusiasm shown by diaspora at presidential elections will still exist at snap elections. 

  • If an early parliamentary election is held, the diaspora’s optimism from the presidential election will be preserved, declared Alexei Rogov, a Moldovan who settled in Canada 20 years ago. ”I think Maia Sandu enjoys credibility and the enthusiasm persists as the people are waiting for changes,” Rogov declared. (IPN, February 20)

Situation in Transnistrian region is a constant source of risks, MP. 

  • PAS MP Motpan declared that the situation in the Transnistrian territory of the Republic of Moldova is a persistent source of danger to public security and people. According to the MP, even though the issue is more current than ever, the chances for settling the conflict remain unclear. (IPN, February 22)

ROMANIA

Romanian lawmakers pass law that abolishes their “special pensions”. 

  • Romania’s Parliament has passed a draft law that abolishes the so-called “special pensions” for lawmakers that completed at least one full term in the Parliament. One of the amendments passed by the lawmakers stipulates that the special pensions awarded in the past will also be abolished. (Romania Insider February 18)

Romanian PM, Slovak Foreign Minister meeting. 

  • PM Cîţu encouraged mutual investments and economic exchanges during his meeting with the Slovak FM Korčok, who is on an official visit to Bucharest. During the talks, there was an extensive exchange of views on the conduct of vaccination campaigns against COVID-19. Cîţu conveyed his appreciation for Slovakia’s constant support for Romania’s two major objectives: accession to the Schengen Area and to the OECD. (Actmedia February 17)

Dan Barna and Ambassador Noble discussed how to reduce the cost of work visas for Romanian workers. 

  • Deputy PM Barna discussed with British Ambassador in Bucharest Noble about finding a solution to reduce the cost of work visas for Romanians who want to work in the United Kingdom. According to Barna, the relations between the United Kingdom and Romania have a “major” development potential both at institutional and economic level. (Actmedia February 17)

Commission urges Germany, Portugal, and Romania to correctly transpose the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive. 

  • The European Commission on February 19 sent letters of formal notice to Germany, Portugal, and Romania for incorrectly transposing the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive; the deadline to do so was June 27, 2017. The Commission has assessed and concluded that several provisions of the Directive have not been correctly transposed into national law in these three Member States. (Actmedia February 19

PM Cîţu says Romania could join Schengen this year. 

  • PM Cîţu has declared that Romania could join the Schengen area this year if the report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) is favorable. The PM also discussed the country’s plans for adopting the single European currency, which he claims could happen after 2024, with the adoption of the Euro becoming possible in 2027 or 2028. (Romania Insider February 19)

TURKEY

Turkey: student protesters at risk of prosecution. 

  • Turkish authorities have detained more than 560 protesters in at least 38 cities—with 9 currently in pretrial detention and more than 25 under house arrest—during the weeks of protests against President Erdoğan’s appointment of an academic closely aligned with the Government as rector of one of Turkey’s top universities. Erdoğan and other senior officials have directly encouraged a tough police response throughout and initiated a targeted crackdown on LGBT students and protesters, shutting down the university LGBT club and detaining or raiding the homes of LGBT students. Many of the detained students were subject to conditions such as travel bans and a requirement to sign in at the nearest police station on a regular basis until further notice following release. (Human Rights Watch February 18)

Cyprus slams Turkey over asylum-seeker “burden”. 

  • Cyprus has criticized Turkey for acts it claims are behind the creation of a new migration route that has “disproportionally burdened” it with the EU’s highest percentage of asylum-seekers. Cyprus has the highest proportion of asylum applications in the EU, at 4% of its population compared to the bloc average of 1%. According to Cyprus officials, “the overwhelming majority of migration flows originated from Turkey, a country that fails to implement all agreements regarding migration towards Cyprus.” (Euractiv February 19)

UKRAINE

New project “Legal Education in the Field of Freedom of Expression in Ukraine”. 

  • The Council of Europe’s “Legal Education in the Field of Freedom of Expression in Ukraine” project has been implemented and will be applied over a span of four months. The initiative is financed by the voluntary donation of the Government of Flanders to the 2018–2022 Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine. The cumulative budget of the project is EUR 65,936. The project aims to improve awareness of Ukrainian law students on aspects of international and European human rights legislation, such as the protection of journalists, freedom of association, negative and constructive commitments in this area through customized training sessions. (Council of Europe, February 16) 

Five people detained in FSB raids on homes of Crimean Tatars

  • In the occupied Crimea, members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation searched the homes of seven Crimean Tatars in Bilohirsk, Bakhchisaray, Simferopol, Sevastopol and Sovetsk districts. At least five people have been arrested. Activists of the Crimean Solidarity and the Crimean Childhood project for children of political prisoners are among the detainees. Azamat Eyupov participated in the rally of Crimean Tatars on the Red Square in Moscow in July 2019. (Ukrinform, February 17) 

Ukraine to chair EU Strategy for the Danube region. 

  • Ukraine will be the first non-EU member country to chair the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. “This decision was made by Strategy’s Coordination Center, approving our application to chair from November 2021 to November 2022,” the Minister for Communities and Territories Development of Ukraine declared on Facebook. Ukraine will be responsible for determining the priority areas of cooperation among the countries within the Strategy. (Ukrinform, February 18)

Ukraine arrests ex-Privat Bank official as U.S. prioritizes criminal probe of former owners. 

  • Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau has detained the former deputy chairman of the Ukrainian bank at the center of the FBI’s criminal investigation. Yatsenko was arrested at Boryspil Airport in Kyiv after the prosecutors ordered a private jet pilot to land. (Radio Free Europe, February 22) 

EU stresses need to strengthen cooperation with Ukraine. 

  • EU foreign ministers, who met in Brussels, have decided on the need to strengthen relations with Ukraine, the Western Balkans and other allies and neighbors. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell reported this at a press conference in the aftermath of the meeting. He also drew attention to the fact that they had discussed their security and defense cooperation. “We discussed how a stronger Europe can participate globally with the U.S. in order to provide security,” Borrell added. (Ukrinform, February 23)

HUNGARY

EC launches infringement procedure against Hungary for flouting CJEU ruling on NGOs. 

  • The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Hungary for flouting a ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU concerning its law requiring civil organizations to disclose foreign donors. A second infringement procedure was launched against Hungary for voting against the EU’s standpoint at the United Nations Committee on Narcotic Drugs on the WHO’s recommendations on cannabis and related substances, despite Member States being obliged under EU law to align themselves with the EU’s standpoint on such matters. The EC has also stepped up its infringement procedure against Hungary concerning restrictions to its asylum laws introduced to curb the spread of the epidemic, stating that the regulations ran afoul of EU migration laws. (Hungary Today February 19)

Number of severely poor people in Hungary plunges over past ten years. 

  • The proportion of people living in extreme poverty in Hungary has dropped from 23.4% to 8.7% over the past decade, according to Eurostat data. The number of people without enough savings to make emergency replacements basic household appliances has halved, while 2.5 million more people can now afford a week on holiday. Ten years ago one in four people were struggling with mortgage arrears and other loan repayments, reduced now only one in ten people. The number of people who have trouble heating their homes has also dropped to a third. (Hungary Today February 19)

POLAND

EU must take “urgent” steps over Poland’s human rights violations, says NGO. 

  • CIVICUS, an NGO tracking civic freedom, has put Poland on its human rights watchlist, citing repression of protests, a crackdown on LGBTQI+ rights, and attacks on independent media, and calling on the EU to take “urgent and immediate action to address fundamental rights violations.” The watchlist so far included only five countries: Azerbaijan, Hungary, Niger, the Philippines, and the U.S.A. (Euronews February 18)

Commission decides to refer Poland to the CJEU over non-compliance with the Noise Directive. 

  • The European Commission (EC) has decided to refer Poland to the European Court of Justice over its failure to comply with its obligations under the Noise Directive (2002/49/EC). The EC declared adopting action plans is necessary to combat noise that is detrimental to human health; however, the Polish national law does not guarantee the establishment of action plans and does not require action plans to include all necessary elements that are provided for in the Directive.  (EU News February 18)

U.S. State Secretary voices support for Polish-led Three Seas Initiative. 

  • U.S. Secretary of State Blinken has voiced support for the Three Seas Initiative, stating that both he and President Biden “deeply believe in working closely with our allies and partners because we know that there is power and strength in cooperation. That’s what the Three Seas Initiative is all about.” (Polskie Radio February 18)

SLOVAKIA

Sexual harassment widespread in Slovak universities. 

  • The latest nationwide survey from the Institute of Labour and Family Research (IVPR) has found that more than three quarters of all students at Slovak universities experience sexual harassment, with Slovak universities plagued by undesired comments about appearance, sexually charged comments, sexist jokes, demeaning remarks about women and men as well as sexual pressure, and promising benefits in return for sexual favors. Only one third of all students who experience harassment ever report it to someone, with students distrustful of university leadership or lacking information on how to protect themselves from harassment. (Slovak Spectator February 17)

Anti-extremist department no longer exists following general prosecutor’s decision. 

  • When former Justice Minister Žitňanská tasked the Special Prosecutor’s Office with the fight against extremism in 2017, the number of captured and clarified crimes immediately doubled. Despite the uproar and 26 coalition MPs voting against the amendment, General Prosecutor Žilink pushed changes through the cabinet session on February 10 to shut down the individual anti-extremist department, arguing that the five prosecutors who dealt with extremism have significantly less work than the rest of the office. (Slovak Spectator February 16)

Slovakia faces lawsuit from EC due to insufficient air quality protection. 

  • The European Commission (EC) is filing a lawsuit against Slovakia with the European Court of Justice for exceeding the limit value for solid pollutants and for failing to take appropriate measures to improve air quality. Minister Budaj assured that Environment Ministry is preparing new laws for air quality protection. (Slovak Spectator February 18)

SLOVENIA

Signatures collected for law redefining rape. 

  • Collection of voter signatures in support of an only-yes-means-yes rape law got under way on Wednesday. The law is being proposed by the NGO Inštitut 8, who accused one of the Ljubljana administrative unit’s offices of obstruction to signature registering; the unit denied the allegation, explaining that change in procedure was made due to coronavirus measures. 5,000 signatures must be collected for the proposal to reach the National Assembly. (The Slovenia Times February 18)

Head of EP democracy group finds basis to monitor situation in Slovenia

  • Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld (D66/Renew) believes there is sufficient ground for the European Parliament’s Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group to start monitoring the situation in Slovenia. The monitoring group is part of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. The MEP noted that PM Janša would initially not acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, and described as unusual Janša’s attack on Politico author Lili Bayer, accusing her of being “instructed not to tell the truth. (The Slovenia Times February 19)

EU condemns Slovenian PM Janša over insulting journalist. 

  • Brussels has criticized PM Janša for “insulting” a journalist by claiming she had been “instructed not to tell the truth”. PM Jansa made the remarks over a Politico Europe article entitled “Inside Slovenia’s war on the media” that claimed that Janša‘s alleged attacks on journalists had created a climate of fear in the country. In its rule of law report last year, the EU’s executive arm noted that journalists in Slovenia are “frequently victims of online harassment or threats, which are rarely punished by the justice system.” (Euronews February 19)

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