The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on Feb. 11 annulled the two-and-a-half year prison sentence of Ildar Dadin, who was the first person to be convicted under a new anti-protest law in 2015. Dadin was imprisoned under Article 212.1, a law that allows the Russian government to press criminal charges against anyone found to have serially participated in unsanctioned protests. According to case files, Dadin was arrested five times during rallies held between August 2014 and January 2015. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe welcomed the news of the court's decision and urged the Russian government to change its laws concerning freedom of assembly.
Well, this is some very telling—and deeply disturbing—timing. Let's review what has happened in the one day since Mike Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor over his pre-election phone calls with the Russian ambassador. Trump, having heretofore been completely acquiescing in Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea, now tweets: "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?" On the very day of Flynn's resignation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: "President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea." (Russia's Foreign Ministry quickly responded, no dice: "Crimea is part of the Russian Federation.") Also that fateful day, the Pentagon said that multiple Russian military aircraft buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the flashpoint Black Sea, in "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers. This is said to have happened last week, but it is notable that it is only reported now. Russia of course denies it. (RFE/RL)
Romania's government on Feb. 4 capitulated in the face of a sustained protest campaign and repealed a decree that had decriminalized corruption offenses. Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered the announcement. The decree, removing criminal penalties for official misconduct in which the damages are less than €44,000, was enacted Jan. 31—sparking the largest demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. After three days of mounting protests, an estimated 600,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest and other cities the day before the government blinked. Protests have continued since then, demanding the resignation of the government.
Of the more than 14,000 asylum seekers currently confined to five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, many are facing dire circumstances due to unusually harsh winter conditions, according to a statement released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The migrants are fleeing conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many have been confined for more than ten months, according to the report. A "hotspot" was created in Moria on the island of Lesbos at the recommendation (PDF) of the European Commission to serve as a reception and registration area for refugees, as required by a deal the EU signed with Turkey last March. The report from HRW finds more needs to be done, saying the Greek government should immediately transfer vulnerable refugees to "appropriate mainland accomodations." During a recent visit to the Moria camp, HRW staff reported seeing flimsy, snow-covered tents, and vulnerable refugees in life-threatening living conditions.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
Poland's increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace Dec. 18, chanting "freedom, equality, democracy." President Andrzej Duda admitted the legislation was too controversial, and tellingly made his announcement after consulting with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of his right-populist Law & Justice Party (PiS). Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber Dec. 19, when opposition MPs blockaded the entrance, forcing PiS MPs into another room to vote on next year's budget. The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS government since it came to power in October 2015. The EU this week issued a formal protest of moves to restrict the independence of the judiciary. But this is not the first victory over the PiS regime. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country. (The Guardian, Dec. 21; The Guardian, Dec. 19; BBC News, Dec. 18; The News, Poland, Dec. 16)
The Crimean Tatar community has been subject to systematic persecution by the Russian authorities since the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Amnesty International charges in a report released Dec. 14. The report, "In the Dark: The Silencing of Dissent" (PDF) looks at repressive tactics employed by Russian authorities against the Crimean Tartar community and other dissenting voices in the two and a half years they have been in control the Crimean peninsula. "As the most visible and cohesive group in Crimea opposed to the Russian occupation, the Crimean Tatar people have been deliberately targeted by the de facto local and Russian authorities in a wave of repression aimed at silencing their dissent and ensuring the submission of every person in Crimea to the annexation," said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Program.
The UK government said Dec. 12 it will use its terrorism laws to ban a neo-Nazi group, marking the first time such a step has been taken. The move would make it a crime to be a member of, wear insignia, or work with the National Action, as it would fall under the umbrella of a terrorist organization. While the group rose to prominence for its anti-Semitic and xenophobic stances, they recently began to encourage their members to use violence. The terrorism act provision is being used because the group used their now deleted social media to encourage lone wolf acts and showed members training for battle. Additionally, the group praised the murder of progressive MP Jo Cox and adopted her accused killer's court statement as its official slogan. ("Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.") The measure to ban the group is subject to Parliamentary approval.