Russia 090820 Basic Political Developments

Medvedev Proposes Ending Jury Trials for More Crimes

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Medvedev Proposes Ending Jury Trials for More Crimes
20 August 2009The Moscow Times

President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday proposed further restrictions on jury trials and suggested changing jurisdiction rules for extremism and terrorism trials.

Medvedev, speaking at a Security Council meeting in Stavropol, said suspects accused of committing crimes as part of a criminal group should not be allowed to be tried by jury in court.

“Jury trails fail for a variety of reasons. We need to think about teams of professional judges considering these kinds of charges,” Medvedev said, Interfax reported.

Last December, Medvedev signed a controversial law barring suspected terrorists from being tried by jury. The widely criticized initiative was pushed through the State Duma by United Russia, whose leaders argued that jury trials in the North Caucasus often resulted in the release of terrorists.

Human rights activists and legal experts said the change compromised the entire premise of jury trials and offered protection to police officers who used brutal methods to extract confessions from suspected terrorists in the North Caucasus.

Genri Reznik, one of the country’s most prominent defense lawyers, and Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva criticized Medvedev’s proposal as a new attempt to undercut jury trials, arguing that it would further diminish suspects’ rights in court.

Alexeyeva, however, said that moving terrorism trials from the clannish North Caucasus republics to other Russian regions might be a good idea.

Medvedev said at the meeting that the law should be changed to allow suspected extremists and terrorists to be tried outside their native regions so that “bandits and corrupt people can’t put pressure on the courts.”

“If we cannot properly hold them accountable here, we will do it in another place — in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kamchatka,” he said.

The current Criminal Procedure Code, however, already allows trials to be moved to other jurisdictions under a range of legal pretexts.

20.08.2009 - Vedomosti/ The Moscow Times

Finance Ministry Backs Tax-Evasion Changes

The Finance Ministry has backed a State Duma proposal to not bring criminal charges against individuals accused of tax evasion for the first time.

The proposed government note on changes introduced by deputies to the Tax and Criminal codes, which would ease the punishment for individuals not paying taxes, was published Tuesday on the Finance Ministry’s web site.

A group of United Russia deputies, led by Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, proposed the changes July 1, which would end criminal proceedings against first-time offenders who pay the taxes, penalties and fines before a preliminary investigation is completed.

Additionally, the proposed changes would considerably increase the size of tax evasion that would bring criminal charges. For individuals, the criminal charges for major tax evasion would rise to 500,000 rubles unpaid (if the percentage of unpaid taxes is more than 10 percent of the overall sum) or up to 1.5 million rubles ($47,000). Massive tax evasion would be up to 2.5 million rubles (when 20 percent is unpaid) or 7.5 million rubles ($234,000).

For legal entities, the figures were also increased.

The deputies also proposed that police not punish individuals until a tax inspector has registered a violation.
65 Vietnamese in Forest

Migration officials confirmed Wednesday that they had found 65 illegal Vietnamese migrants living in a Moscow region forest after they lost their jobs because of the closure of Moscow’s Cherkizovsky Market, Interfax reported.

Forty-eight migrants without any identification documents were found in the forest near Malakhovka, 30 kilometers southeast of Moscow, on July 30, and another 17 were found in the same forest on Aug. 6, Interfax said.

The migration officials denied news reports earlier this week that put the number of migrants in the forest at 200.

The migrants had worked at an illegal sewing factory that made goods for Cherkizovsky Market, which was closed by Moscow authorities in late June. (MT)

‘Ghost’ bus takes migrants to Russia

Published: Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Associated Press

Note: AP reporter Mansur Mirovalev and AP photographer Alexander Zemlianichenko followed dozens of migrants on an illegal bus for a six-day trip from Uzbekistan to Russia. Here is their story.

BUKHARA, Uzbekistan — On paper, the bus does not exist.

It has no schedule, and no route. It shows up mysteriously, and just as mysteriously, the dozens of men who await it know when it is coming.

Every year, the ghost bus — and its many cousins throughout Uzbekistan — transports hundreds of migrants to Russia, crossing two state borders and 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of steppe, desert and farmland. The men it carries do not exist on the books either, but Russia needs their labor, and they need the money.

Russia’s enormous oil wealth and its plummeting population have turned it into the world’s biggest immigration destination after the U.S., attracting 10 to 15 million labor migrants a year from former Soviet states. Uzbeks make up between 2 million and 4 million of them. They build houses, till the soil and work in Siberian oil towns and even on the Pacific Coast, eight time zones and more than 6,000 miles from home.

Scrawny and swarthy, seasoned by the Uzbek sun and Russian frosts, with a wilted face and the bloodshot eyes of a man who has not seen a doctor in years, Saidullo Sadykov is a veteran labor migrant in Russia. The 54-year-old Uzbek takes the ghost bus every year to what he calls his battlefield.

The bus emerged in the late 1990s, back when it was legal. But in January 2006, a rattletrap bus broke down in the western Usturt plateau, and all 30 passengers froze to death, their bodies turned into ice cocoons. Russia-bound buses were prohibited.

These days, only corruption keeps the buses alive and greases their wheels. Each year, hundreds of Uzbeks without registration and work permits get deported and barred from entering Russia for five years. They can’t get through computerized passport controls at airports or railway stations, so they get on the bus.

To book a $150 ride, Sadykov goes to see the bus owner.

Azim Azizov, 37, has the look and bling of a movie mobster. He sports four golden teeth, two golden chains on his neck, two golden rings on each hand and the complexion of a retired boxer.

He has two houses under construction in suburban Bukhara and Moscow, two wives and five children. Both marriages are legal in each country. He has two passports, and his fathers-in-law shuttle with him twice a month, helping him earn about $5,000 for each trip.

In Uzbekistan, where an average salary is about $50 a month, it is a fortune.

Despite the money the passengers bring, Azizov treats them with a disdain and arrogance they find natural. Clad in a velvet bathing robe and puffing on an expensive cigarette, Azizov scribbles down their names and their passport and telephone numbers. Some bring thick wads of soums, Uzbek currency. Those unable to pay upfront leave their passports. They will work off their debt with Azizov or his “friends.”

Azizov is part of an informal chain of recruiters who lure Uzbeks abroad with promises of jobs. Some of these recruiters use elaborate schemes to ensure the virtual enslavement of their clients, says Shukrat Ganiev, a Bukhara-based human rights advocate and analyst.

“It’s a profitable business perfected to the last bit and piece,” he says.

A recruiter brings up to 200 people to Russia. Their passports are taken away for registration, the promised jobs never materialize, and the migrants panic, agreeing to work for less, he says.

The economic crisis has multiplied cases of forced labor, enslavement and delayed or refused payment, rights groups say. Some companies hire migrants, only to kick them out without payment after a month or two.

In Russia, most Uzbeks live in squalor and save every kopeck to send to their families. In 2008, they wired home $1.3 billion — almost 10 percent of Uzbekistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank. Remittances from abroad account for 38 percent and 19 percent of the economies in neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, two other major exporters of labor to Russia.

Sometimes, missing migrants return home in sealed coffins. In 2008, the Bukhara airport received 14 of them, Ganiev says. Uzbek officials refused to comment.

Until recently, walls of the Uzbek embassy in Moscow were covered with handwritten notes about missing relatives. Some began with “Dear Uzbek Muslims, help us find...”

On Sadykov’s last day at home, his family prays for his safe return at a 14th-century mausoleum of a Muslim saint.

“It’s like a small hajj,” he says.

When he leaves Bukhara the next morning, his head is covered with the snowy white cap pilgrims wear after making the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

“I’m going to the front line,” Sadykov says.

The Nightingale arrives at a chaotic bus station at noon. This 33-year-old ghost bus is painted lime yellow, with the Russian word for nightingale and the bird’s cartoonish silhouette on its windshield.

Its drivers look like a comic duo — a corpulent, mustachioed six-footer nicknamed Tyson and his scraggy, almost rodent-like sidekick Alisher. Above their seat dangles a souvenir dagger, Muslim worry beads and a laminated Playmate postcard.

Seventy-three men aged 17 to 60 clamber aboard in the scorching sun. There is one woman, Khafiza Ibragimova, whose braid of henna-dyed hair hangs down her long purple dress. She is travelling with Ulmas Tashev, her gaunt brother, to work at an Uzbek restaurant near Moscow.

Azizov’s fathers-in-law are on board. The Uzbek one is a taciturn man in his sixties who dozes most of the time and occasionally drives. The Russian one is The Nightingale’s figurehead owner, Alexander Kopeikin, who gulps vodka shots and chain-smokes.

Its windows sealed and its air conditioner broken, the Nightingale ventilates on the go through ceiling hatches and open doors. It also carries a Russian license plate to avoid the attention of Russian police.

This time, it attracts the attention of Uzbek police instead. They forbid Azizov to use the Russian-registered bus on Uzbek territory.

So Azizov finds a decrepit Uzbek-registered bus to take the passengers to the border with Kazakhstan, about 700 kilometers (440 miles) westward. He brings along Tozagul, a plump and energetic matron who negotiates with police.

The bus breaks down twice, then is forced to stop overnight at a police station in the Kyzyk-Kum desert. The passengers sleep aboard, in the sand and on the warm asphalt. Many wake up with bug bites.

The next day, the lumbering bus is pulled over five times, once by an armed anti-terrorism squad. After each halt Tozagul jumps out to negotiate a bribe, and comes back cursing “greedy redneck coppers.”

By the second sundown, the bus stops at an inn. Tornadoes of bugs swirl around the bare light bulbs, and the desert outside reeks of burning garbage. Arif Ortykov, 52, airs his grievances over a cup of tea.

“If only I could make $150 a month, I wouldn’t go there,” the potbellied welder says.

It takes him two more cups to get to the fact that Uzbeks depend on jobs in Russia because of their large families and unemployment at home.

“If they close borders, we’re all be at war with each other,” he says. “There’s too many hungry and too few well-fed.”

Uzbeks have fled their country, a Muslim nation of 27 million, because there are no jobs. In the countryside, farmers are forced to sell cotton to the government at a fixed low price. In the cities, growth is stifled by corruption and state control.

But now, the economic crisis in Russia is likely to send millions of jobless migrants back, which could destabilize Uzbekistan. At least a quarter of migrants have left Russia, experts say, and many of those who stayed have joined the army of illegal workers and day-laborers.

The bus moves all night, passing fields encrusted with salt. It enters the lifeless Usturt plateau, where the passengers froze to death in 2006. It drives by a road sign showing directions to Jaslyk, Uzbekistan’s most notorious gulag, located in impassable sand dunes.

By the third night, the bus reaches a Kazakhstan border checkpoint. The passengers of three other migrant buses are already there. The steppe around is dotted with bushes and human excrement, and two mangy camels bellow in the distance.

Over tea and chewing tobacco, Sadykov instructs the youngest passenger, 17-year old Kamol Shamsutdinov, on how to dodge policemen in Moscow.

“Don’t swerve when you see one, but don’t look him in the eyes,” Sadykov says, sounding like an experienced trapper describing a dangerous predator. Men around them nod their heads. “They can smell your fear,” he says.

Even the Russian police admit to routinely preying on labor migrants.

When looking to detain a labor migrant, police officers “make up anything, because they want to live and eat,” says Mikhail Pashkin, head of the Moscow police trade union. “The state created a system where a policeman cannot survive on his salary.”

Rights defenders are less understanding. “Policemen fleece (migrants) like sheep and beat up those who resist extortion so often that they see these incidents as something usual,” says Russian rights defender Svetlana Gannushkina.

Police officers top the list of people Uzbek migrants fear the most. They also fear skinheads. In 2008, 99 people were killed in Russia in apparent racial attacks, 49 of them natives of Uzbekistan and neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Sova, a Moscow hate crimes watchdog, reports.

To Sadykov, skinheads are easier to avoid than police. “Don’t take suburban trains at night and don’t go outdoors after football games,” he warns Shamsutdinov.

After a night on a dirty reed mat, Sadykov wakes to the sound of honking cars and trucks. “Hope we’ll get through by noon,” he says, putting on his pilgrim cap smeared with sweat and dust.

The border crossing takes nine sweltering hours. Kazakh border guards tell the Uzbeks to line up, and rummage through their bags, throwing their belongings on the dusty asphalt. Then the passengers leave — all but Khafiza Ibragimova.

She has a prior deportation from Russia. She whispers goodbye to her brother and walks away, her head hanging despondently.

The passengers rush to The Nightingale, which is waiting. There are 73 men for 62 seats.

Azizov nonchalantly tells the passengers who did not pay upfront to sit and sleep in shifts.

He occupies his seat of power — an oblong wooden box behind the driver’s seat. Covered with blankets and pillows, it serves as his bed and vault for plastic bags of Uzbek money.

The fathers-in-law, the drivers and respected veterans such as Sadykov occupy the first five rows. The youngest passengers sit and sleep in the aisle, on the dust, next to butt-ends and spits of tobacco.

The bus passes through western Kazakhstan in less than two days, but it takes almost another two days to cross the Russian border at the village of Ilek. Since the bus is too crowded, Azizov tells 11 passengers to stay in the no man’s land.

The passengers again line up with their bags open. Red-faced Russian guards ridicule their shabby clothes and old-fashioned shoes. “He’s gonna dance at a strip bar in these,” one of them says, pointing at a pair of worn-out platform shoes.

The guards tell Azizov to remove some of the Nightingale’s paneling. Azizov says later that the check was “harmless” compared with previous examinations. He says he paid the guards $1,000 for not delaying the bus and letting through several people with prior deportations.

At dawn, eight of the 11 stragglers knock on the bus door. They say three others were deported. Azizov says it is their own fault because they did not bribe him to get them through.

The bus moves past meadows with waist-tall grass and pine forests. Despite the Russian license plate, police pull it over several times. “They stop you less, but charge more,” Azizov says.

Sadykov, his face covered with gray stubble, is getting fidgety.

“We have to hurry to build Moscow,” he tells Kopeikin.

“Moscow was built long ago,” Kopeikin growls angrily. “All you need is our money to run away with.”

Many Russians think the same way, partly because of a massive anti-migrant campaign by the state-controlled media. Experts say it is designed to divert anger over the financial crisis away from authorities to foreigners.

After the sixth night on the road, the bus approaches southern Moscow and stops near Azizov’s unfinished house. Several Uzbeks are installing plastic windows on the third floor.

Azizov collects the passports of 22 passengers who did not pay and herds them in. “They’ll work it off in here,” he says.

Other passengers pour out, smiling happily. They take their bags from the trunk and rush to a nearby bus station.

Sadykov takes off his gray and dusty pilgrim cap, exposing his bald head to a Russian drizzle.

“The battle is beginning,” he says.

In a week or two, the bus will take another load of Uzbeks home. They will bring along second-hand refrigerators, TV sets and gas stoves for their families.

In the meantime, in the giant yard of Azizov’s house, The Nightingale will wait.

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