European Theater

Salvini to face charges over migrant detention

The Italian Senate voted Feb. 12 to lift former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's parliamentary immunity over his treatment of asylum seekers. Under Italian law, Salvini had immunity from criminal prosecution over actions he had taken while serving in the cabinet. But, at the request of prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, the Senate voted 152-76 to strip Salvini of his immunity, thus formally authorizing prosecutors to press charges against him for his decision to refuse entry to approximately 131 asylum-seeking migrants last July.

Exiled Crimean Tatar TV threatened with silence

The only Crimean Tatar TV channel is facing a new threat to its existence—this time not from the Russian occupiers of Crimea, but the Ukrainian authorities. A dramatic cut in state funding for ATR TV has coincided with Kiev's decision to drop Tatar-language services on the state network UATV in favor of a new Russian-language channel to be broadcast into rebel-held territory in Ukraine's heavily Russophone east. ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev reported Jan. 17 that the station has reduced production of its own programming by 90% due to underfunding. He said that of the 35 million hryvnia allocated to the station in Ukraine's 2019 budget, only 15 million had actually been received.

Maidan martyrs betrayed in Ukraine prisoner swap

Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.

Russia deploys Cossacks to police Crimea

Russia's Interior Ministry has announced that "Cossacks" will be deployed, together with the de facto police, in patrolling occupied Crimea, as well as in "carrying out anti-drug measures and educational work with young people." So-called "Cossacks" were used, together with other paramilitaries, during the annexation of the peninsula in 2014 to carry out violence and brutality that Russia did not want attributed to official security fources, and the group Human Rights in Ukraine believes there are strong grounds for fearing that a similar role is planned again, and that "educational work" means propaganda for the Russian military.

World Court to rule on discrimination in Crimea

The International Court of Justice ruled Nov. 8 that it has jurisdiction to hear a case filed by Ukraine against Russia over claims of ethnic discrimination in annexed Crimea, as well as Moscow support of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east. The case argues that Russian abrogation of the rights of the Crimean Tatars violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The claims concerning the eastern separatists invoke the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. Moscow had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that Kiev was attempting to use the proceedings to reach a ruling on the legality of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. This argument was rejected, meaning that the case may now move forward—five years after it was brought.

Catalan independence leaders get prison terms

Spain's Supreme Court on Oct. 14 ordered imprisoned nine Catalan political leaders—with sentences ranging from nine to 13 years for the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds—over their role in organizing the 2017 independence referendum. The sentences are each followed by equal periods of absolute ineligibility for public office. Oriol Junqueras—the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking of the defendants—received the longest sentence. Three others were found guilty of disobedience and fined. The sentences have sparked protests in the region, with assembled crowds causing flights to be canceled at Barcelona's airport. Police used batons and rubber bullets to regain control of the facility. Demonstrators also gathered at Barcelona's Plaça San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government, and erected barricades across roads and rail lines elsewhere in the city. Catalonia's feared anti-riot force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has been mobilized to clear the streets. (BBC Newsround, Jurist, The Local, Spain; infoLibre, Spain)

Trump's phone call: the view from Ukraine

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced that the House is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely opponent in next year's race. The transcript of that call (not, apparently, verbatim) was released by the White House Sept. 25.  Trump of course called the impeachment inquiry "the single greatest witch-hunt in American history," and tweeted that the inquiry is PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT (all caps). (Jurist)

Scores of Ukrainian detainees remain in Russia

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov  was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a long-awaited prisoner swap—35 from each side. Among those Sentsov was exchanged for is a suspect in thw downing of Flight MH-17 that killed 298 people in 2014.. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought. (HRW, CNNHuman Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group said the "upbeat noises" in Western media about a "normalization" in Ukrainian-Russian relations "seem at very least premature."

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