11 July 2011, 23:30

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of July 4-10

Second All-Caucasian Forum "Mashuk-2011" for youth of Northern Caucasus; meeting of members of the Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights with Dmitry Medvedev in Nalchik; new "spy scandal" and sentence to defendants in resonant case on espionage in Georgia; fighting against "laser hooliganism" in South of Russia, – look these and other events in the review of the week of July 4-10, 2011, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

NCFD: young activists prepare their projects at Forum "Mashuk-2011"

On July 4, the slope of Mount Mashuk in Pyatigorsk hosted an opening ceremony of the Second All-Caucasian Youth Forum "Mashuk-2011". The event is held in two streams. The second stream is scheduled for July 11-19. The forum will be attended by over two thousand talented young people from Northern Caucasus and adjacent foreign countries.

The total fund allotted for grants will make up to 100 million roubles; that is, almost every second participant can hope for a grant worth from 50 to 300 thousand roubles. The forum sections are form by activity areas. The first stream will include authors of projects on the topics "Volunteerism: members of student and volunteer groups" and "Workers of the service and tourism". The second stream will include authors of the projects on the topics "Journalists and bloggers" and "Entrepreneurs and innovators".

The forum participants are not only drafting their projects and take part in sports activities; they also get acquainted with traditions of their regions, meet politicians and creative figures.

For the first time the "Mashuk" Youth Forum was held in Pyatigorsk in 2010. Then, the participants of the camp-forum were 2000 young people from seven subjects of the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) and from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In total, after two streams of the youth camp top 50 projects in eight areas were selected and provided with guaranteed state support. Last year, the grant fund of the Youth Camp "Mashuk-2010" was 10 million roubles.

Nalchik: Medvedev listened to rights defenders on situation in Northern Caucasus

On July 5, Nalchik hosted a meeting of the members of the Presidential Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights with Dmitry Medvedev. The audience touched on the topics of the role of public organizations in setting up the public dialogue, conflict settlement, counteracting extremism and building the state-confessional relations on a qualitatively new level. Also, the meeting discussed the situation in Northern Caucasus and the fight against terrorism.

In the course of her presentation, Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of the Committee "Civil Assistance" and a member of the Board and Head of the Network "Migration and Law" of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", gave Dmitry Medvedev an "alternative report" about investigation of the murder of Natalia Estemirova, in which human rights activists conclude that the official inquiry is on the wrong track. Besides, Gannushkina gave the Russian President a letter with the report of four organizations on "how investigatory procedures are conducted in the Chechen Republic." Ms Gannushkina also about the threats addressed to rights defenders.

After the meeting, Dmitry Medvedev met President of Kabardino-Balkaria Arsen Kanokov, and later – the Muftis of Northern Caucasus, where he called on Muslim leaders to help to return no-Caucasian nationals to the Caucasus. The Muftis, who spoke about persecution of members of Muslim communities, problems with construction of mosques, unjustified ban of certain Islamic books, starting of day-and-night Islamic TV channel, believe that the dialogue with the president has become more confidential in nature.

According to Emil Pain, the head of the Centre for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies, in terms of advocacy and policy of particular small actions, this meeting will positively affect the future of Northern Caucasus.

Georgia: sentence to alleged spies for Russia, and new detention on similar suspicions

Last week, Georgia saw two resonant events related to intelligence activities.

On July 6, the Batumi City Court passed a sentence on an espionage case, which was conditionally treated by secret services of Georgia as "Enver". According to the Georgian MIA, the "Enver" network was shadowed for 4 years; arrests of suspects were conducted in November 2010. The Batumi Court found nine figurants guilty of spying – four citizens of Russia and five citizens of Georgia, and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 11 to 14 years. The convicts' advocates have already promised to challenge the verdict, believing that there were no objective evidences of their clients' involvement in the presented crimes.

The trial took place behind closed doors. Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry had treated the Tbilisi's statement about revealing the spy network as a "propaganda trick". However, Vano Merabishvili, the head of the MIA, said that the detention of a group of citizens accused of spying for Russia was not directed against Russia.

In the morning on July 7 the Georgian police conducted arrests of four photo reporters, including the personal photographer of President Mikhail Saakashvili, and charged all of them of espionage in favour of Russia. The case was classified as secret. According to lawyers, their clients deny the charges against them.

On July 9, the MIA of Georgia disseminated information that the photographer Irakli Gedenidze had confessed of spying. In the evening on July 7, one of the detainees – photographer of the Georgian MFA Georgi Abdaladze – went on a dry hunger strike in protest against his detention. On July 8 his health condition deteriorated, but he is not going to abandon the hunger strike as a form of protest.

Colleagues of the detainees held solidarity actions in Tbilisi. During one of them photographers stated that "the government keeps the public's eyes closed by interfering with journalists' work." However, the authorities say that the arrest of photo reporters had nothing to do with their professional activities and find "any attempts to associate photographers' detention with the freedom of the media to be inappropriate and outrageous."

South of Russia in fight against "laser hooliganism"

Last week, the authorities of some of the regions in South of Russia called for severe punishment for the so-called "laser hooliganism", a phenomenon that appeared in the country, including its southern areas, most recently – unidentified hooligans use laser devices to blind aircraft crews, causing emergency situations and threats to safety of passengers.

Especially many cases of this sort were registered in the Rostov region; the last one took place in evening on July 2, when the pilots of passenger "Boeing", performing the flight Moscow-Rostov-on-Don were blinded by a laser beam while landing in Rostov Airport. The crew managed to safely land the plane, which was carrying 95 passengers. Similar cases have occurred in the airports of Grozny and Sochi.

On July 5 it became known that the Chief Department of the Russian MIA for the Rostov Region had developed and brought their proposals to the State Duma on adding the Administrative and Criminal Codes with articles assuming liability, depending on the severity of the gravity of arising consequences, ranging from a fine to 10 years of imprisonment, if as a result of this kind of "hooliganism" a human death occurred.

Sergey Gorban, Vice-Governor of the Rostov Region, believes that the issue should be considered in terms of terrorism, since we are talking about people's safety. According to his story, the legal department of the Rostov regional government is considering a possibility of a respective law at the regional level. Mr Gorban has explained that the issue of banning the use of laser pointers should be considered in the framework of federal legislation and added that "bans cannot solve this issue."

In Chechnya, on July 4, the local leader Ramzan Kadyrov demanded to withdraw laser pointers from sale throughout the republic. It was by means of such laser pointer that on July 3 the pilots of a passenger airliner at the airport in Grozny were almost completely blinded. The laser hooligan was a 16-year-old boy, a resident of the village of Petropavlovskoe in the Grozny District. He was brought, along with his mother and elder brother, to the MIA, where they had a personal talk to the MIA head Ruslan Alkhanov. The teenager was released after the talk and warned that if he did anything of the kind again, he would be attracted to liability as a terrorist.

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