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News: Russia’s Bill Banning Gay Speech, Pepper Spray All The Rage, US Reporters Arrests

by Tanya Domi on November 28, 2011

in Analysis,News,Tanya Domi,Week In Review

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United Russia Calls for Gay Speech Ban

Most Kremlin watchers agree that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party [image, top, 2008] will prevail as the majority in the parliamentary elections scheduled for December 4th, but Putin’s efforts to return to power as president, has all the hallmarks of desperation, perhaps attributable to a substantial drop in support from his traditional base of voters  as his approval rating  sank 13 points since 2010 from a high 80 percent to 67 percent reported in a recent survey by independent pollster Levada-Center.

So it comes as no surprise that a vehement anti-gay measure, gagging speech of LGBT Russians would resoundingly pass a first round victory 37-1 in the St. Petersburg City Council  on November 17th, carried overwhelmingly through the support of United Russia politicians. The Moscow Times reports:

The St. Petersburg bill appeared to be modeled on near-identical legislation passed in the Arkhangelsk region in September. Lawmakers introduced a similar ban in the Ryazan region in 2006.

Although the legislation only prohibits the “promotion” of a LGBT lifestyle, it amounts to blanket bans on expressing nontraditional sexuality in any public form because it is next to impossible to prevent minors from being exposed to it, Ogonyok magazine wrote last summer about the then-upcoming Arkhangelsk ban.

St. Petersburg gay rights activists protested the legislation on Tuesday through a series of one-person pickets — the only form of public protest that doesn’t require permission from authorities. They also pledged to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The bill is an attempt to bank on widespread homophobic sentiment ahead of the State Duma elections on Dec. 4, said Igor Kochetkov, head of LGBT group “Exit” (italics by the NCRM).

“The bill is passed before elections to boost the popularity of United Russia, which is flagging in St. Petersburg,” Kochetkov said by telephone.

“This bill smacks of the Middle Ages,” he said.

Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department condemned the actions of the St. Petersburg City Council on November 23rd in response to a question from a journalist:

We are deeply concerned by proposed local legislation in Russia that would severely restrict freedoms of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and indeed all Russians. As Secretary Clinton has said, gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

We have called on Russian officials to safeguard these freedoms, and to foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens.

The United States places great importance on combating discrimination against the LGBT community and all minority groups.

Between local picketing and international pressure applied by human rights and international gay rights groups, the St. Petersburg City Council has postponed the vote until November 30th.   Putin’s political home began as mayor of St. Petersburg, so a “straight line” can be easily drawn from the St. Petersburg initiative  to declared support last week by United Russia leadership in the Duma, Russia’s federal legislative body, although a similar bill has not been introduced and with new elections looming, such a measure would not be expected to pass this year.  According to the New York Times, United Russia is expected to lose as many as 60 of its 315 seats in Parliament, so demonizing gays is not unexpected and a Putin ploy that enjoys overwhelming support by a virulently anti-gay population is another example that he is willing to pull out the stops for another victory on his seemingly inevitable return to the presidency.  Sodomy between men was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and homosexuality as a disorder was removed from federal laws and regulations in 1999.

NATO Drone Attack Allegedly Kills 24 Pakistani Soldiers

Pakistan has shut down shipping routes to support U.S. troops based in Afghanistan, following a NATO drone attack yesterday that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near a mountainous path. The Pakistan government has called the bloodshed in one of its tribal areas a “grave infringement” of the country’s sovereignty.  Islamabad  also called for the U.S. to vacate Shamsi Air Base, where it maintains its drone aircraft.  The White House pledged to work with Pakistan to investigate the deadly accident, which has likely damaged an already deeply strained relationship that has been in the deep freeze since the U.S. execution of Osama Bin-Laden’s in Pakistan last May.

Middle East Upheaval Unremitting

Egyptian parliamentary elections will be held on Monday, the first elections since the departure of former President Hosni Mubarak in February.  The elections are believed to be wide open and the likely outcome is unknown, to experts, including renowned Egyptian journalist  Ethar El-Katatney, who delivered a brilliant nuanced analysis of the situation on the ground in Egypt on the MSNBC program Up with Chris Hayes, on Saturday.  El-Katatney, who has a Twitter following of +20,000 which has been wracked with massic

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The Arab League applied unprecedented stringent economic sanctions on Syria during a meeting in Cairo on Sunday, when it failed to meet a Friday deadline that would have permitted 500 observers to monitor the country, which continues to kill its citizens with impunity now estimated 3, 500 deaths and counting. The sanctions include a freeze on the assets of Syrian leaders in Arab states, an end to Arab investment and trade with Syria, a halt to dealings with Syria’s central bank, and a ban on travel by Syrian officials to Arab states.  The body will meet again in a week to determine the effectiveness of the sanctions.

King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain ordered the establishment of a committee to “follow up and implement” the recommendations contained within a highly-critical report released this week by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was chaired by the highly eminent Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, an internationally renowned professor of international law.  Among crimes determined by Bassiouni, include torture, physical and psychological and excessive use of force.  The King has directed that the committee report back with recommendations for new legislation and related actions by the end of February 2012.

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a transfer of power to Abdo Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, the Yemeni vice-president this past week, becoming the fourth head of state in the Middle East to step down since the eruption of Arab Spring.  Saleh, who actively led his Army in armed conflict against Yemeni demonstrators was wounded and had surgery for  in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Yemen.  Saleh agreed to a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.  Al-Hadi immediately called for elections to take place on February 21st and was promptly called by Obama aide John Brennan, the director of White House Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism, who commended the announcement.  Yemen has become a close U.S. ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.


Pepper Spray Emerges as America’s Number 1 Non-Lethal Weapon of Choice

When University of California-Davis police pepper sprayed students who were engaged in non-violent civil disobedience on November 18th, the country was repulsed by the video that went viral of its abuse of the disbursal agent and the University chancellor was soundly rebuked by the American public, who subsequently suspended the police chief and two officers and ordered a 30-day report and reviewon police decision-making.  During the past week, Chancellor Linda Katehi apologized to students, agreed to pay medical bills of students who suffered injuries and the arrests were voided. Good ending for the students at least for now. Time will only tell if Chancellor Katehi will hang onto to her job.

But few people could have predicted that the news of the day on Black Friday would be dominated by a pepper spray attack unleashed by a “competitive shopper” in a Los Angeles Wall Mart, who was intent on purchasing a discounted Xbox.  Her actions resulted in injuries to 20 people, according to news reports. News breaking on Sunday afternoon reports that the assailant has turned herself in, but name unknown thus far.

NYPD Issues Memo on Rights of Journalists

According to the New York Times, Ray Kelly, the  NYPD Commissioner issued an internal memorandum to police clarifying procedures to allow reporters to carry out their journalistic activities in order to report on protests by the Occupy Wall Street Movement locally.  The Times report indicated that Kelly “order[ed] officers in New York City not to interfere unreasonably with journalists’ access during news media coverage and warning that those who do will be subject to disciplinary action”.  The NYPD has been criticized  by international and national watch dog agencies for the arrests and detainment of numerous journalists during the past month while reporting on the Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York City.  The arrests of journalists in New York City generated an official U.S. government statement in response to official EU and OSCE concerns by U.S. Ambassador Ian Kelly, who leads the U.S. permanent mission in Vienna at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.  A key section of his statement, that affirms America’s First Amendment rights follows:

There are few issues of greater concern to the United States than the state of Media Freedom within OSCE participating States. We have frequently addressed the issue as a matter of peer review in this hall, and we recognize the reasons for the concerns expressed by the European Union today and by the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media on November 11.

The United States supports the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and we defend the independence of the Representative to make public statements on media freedoms — including to highlight perceived shortcomings in my own country.

As we have said on previous occasions, the Government of the United States neither believes nor pretends that it is beyond reproach on any issue—or that we cannot do a better job of implementing our OSCE commitments — including on media freedom. We certainly can, and we see self-assessment on our performance in the defense of fundamental freedoms as a sign of strength…

Whether in the case of journalists or regular citizens, allegations of wrongful detention would be subject to review and investigation. Mr. Chairman, the United States regrets any incident where any journalist has been treated unfairly. The U.S. Constitution has strong protections for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. It is a matter we take extremely seriously. The United States will continue to monitor these events closely and will provide additional information at a future date.

 Massachusetts Adopts Child Anti-Trafficking Law

Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) signed a child anti-trafficking measure into law that defines those persons forced into prostitution by virtue of being trafficked as “victims”–a new approach to punishment of those who have been historically victimized by the scourge of human sex trafficking.  Massachusetts becomes the 47th state to pass updated legislation to address human trafficking, a burgeoning international crime, that is estimated enables 50,000 persons enter the U.S. annually.

(Images: Arab League map, Egypt)

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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