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At Forum, Experts Slam Russian 'Disinformation' Campaigns Aimed at West
Voice of America
Cindy Saine
Friday, September 15, 2017

WASHINGTON — The German Marshall Fund says it has documented Russian interference in the elections or political affairs of at least 27 countries since 2004, ranging from disinformation campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to cyber attacks.

The Helsinki Commission held a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill focusing on what it called the "scourge" of Russian disinformation conducted both at home and abroad.

“Through its active measures campaign that includes aggressive interference in Western elections, Russia aims to sell fear, discord, and paralysis that undermines democratic institutions and weakens critical Western alliances such as NATO and the EU,” charged Republican Senator Corey Gardner.

“Russia’s ultimate goal is to replace the Western-led world order of laws and institutions with an authoritarian-led order that recognizes only masters and vassals.”

US election meddling

Other experts agreed during a session in which few if any defenders of Russia were represented, reflecting the increasingly adversarial relationship between the two countries. Molly McKew of the communications consulting firm Fianna Strategies spoke with VOA about reports that Russia targeted U.S. voters on social media during last year's presidential election campaign.

“I think even the Kremlin is surprised at how easy it is to use social media as an amplification tool for the kind of narrative that they do,” she said.

McKew said opinion polls show most Americans do not believe disinformation could work on them. But she says the Russian government uses marketing and basic psychology to influence people to vote for a certain person or to stay at home on election day.

In an era when many get their own personalized news feeds on Facebook or Twitter, she said, people can be targeted individually with what she calls ads, smears or lies.

RT, Sputnik broadcasts

U.S. complaints of Russian disinformation have focused frequently on the broadcasts of the Moscow-backed RT television network and Sputnik news agency, which have denied they are spreading propaganda.

When it was reported this week that the FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin, the news agency said in a statement:

"We are more than happy to answer any questions the [Department of Justice] or the FBI might have. Sputnik is a news organization dedicated to accurate news reporting. Our journalists have won multiple media awards throughout the world. Any assertion that Sputnik is anything but a credible news outlet is false."

However Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing, who also spoke at the forum, agreed with others on the magnitude of the Russian threat and said the United States must counter Russian disinformation, but do so by with objective news and information.

“The United States will not do propaganda,” said Lansing, whose agency oversees U.S.-funded broadcasting around the world. “And in fact we have a firewall protection, a legislative firewall that makes it impossible for the government to interfere with our independent editorial decision-making.”

Lansing, who oversees the Voice of America and several other U.S. government-funded broadcasters, said he has seen a "global explosion of propaganda and lies," and that his agency is focused on getting accurate information to Russian speakers around the world.

The forum was shown a promotional video for "Current Time," a Russian-language news network jointly operated by VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which Lansing said, "helps viewers tell fact from fiction."

"The Russian strategy seeks to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts," Lansing said. "The BBG is adapting to meet this challenge head on by offering audiences and alternatives to Russian disinformation in the form of objective, independent and professional news and information."

Germany, France elections

Melissa Hopper of Human Rights First said Germany appears set to fend off attempts by Russia to interfere in its elections later this month. She said Berlin acted early, after the U.S. election last November, to establish a government-wide task force to counteract Russian manipulation of social media.

Hopper also said France was successful in thwarting Russian interference during its elections in April and May, with the French media agreeing not to cover information that came from cyber attacks.

But she warned that Russia has quite an “arsenal” at its disposal, including a worldwide media program with an annual budget of more than $300 million. She said Russian online media “weaponizes” false media narratives, especially about minority populations such as immigrants or LGBT communities, which can lead to physical threats in the real world.

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  • Twenty-Five Years of the Helsinki Commission

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Commission members did not simply speak out on human rights abuses; they also traveled to the Soviet Union and the communist countries of East-Central Europe, meeting dissidents and ``refuseniks'' and seeking to gain access to those in the prisons and prison camps. At first, the Commission was viewed as such a threat to the communist system that its existence would not be officially acknowledged, but Commissioners went anyway, in other congressional capacities until such time that barriers to the Commission were broken down. The Commission focus was on helping those who had first inspired the Commission's creation, namely the Helsinki and human rights monitors, who had soon been severely persecuted for assuming in the mid-1970s that they could act upon their rights. Ethnic rights, religious rights, movement, association and expression rights, all were under attack, and the Commission refused to give up its dedication to their defense. Eventually, the hard work paid off, and the beginning of my tenure with the Commission coincided with the first signs under Gorbachev that East-West divisions were finally coming to an end. Sharing the chairmanship with my Senate counterparts--first Alfonse D'Amato of New York and then Dennis DeConcini of Arizona--the Commission argued against easing the pressure at the time it was beginning to produce results.   We argued for the human rights counterpart of President Reagan's “zero option'' for arms control, in which not only the thousands of dissenters and prospective emigrants saw benefits. They were joined by millions of everyday people--workers, farmers, students--suddenly feeling more openness, real freedom, and an opportunity with democracy. Dissidents on whose behalf the Commission fought--while so many others were labeling them insignificant fringe elements in society--were now being released and becoming government leaders, people like Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and Czech President Vaclav Havel. The independence of the Baltic States, whose forced incorporation into the USSR was never officially recognized by the United States, was actually reestablished, followed by others wishing to act upon the Helsinki right to self-determination.   Of course, Mr. Speaker, those of us on the Commission knew that the fall of communism would give rise to new problems, namely the extreme nationalism which communism swept under the rug of repression rather than neutralized with democratic antiseptic. Still, none of us fully anticipated what was to come in the 1990s. It was a decade of democratic achievement, but it nevertheless witnessed the worst violations of Helsinki principles and provisions, including genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and brutal conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans as well as in Chechnya, the Caucuses and Central Asia, with hundreds of thousands innocent civilians killed and millions displaced. Again, it was the Commission which helped keep these tragedies on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, holding hearings, visiting war zones and advocating an appropriately active and decisive U.S. response. In the face of such serious matters, too many sought to blame history and even democracy, equated victim with aggressor and fecklessly abandoned the principles upon which Helsinki was based. Again the Commission, on a bipartisan basis in dialogue with different Administrations, took strong issue with such an approach. Moreover, with our distinguished colleague, Christopher Smith of New Jersey, taking his turn as Chairman during these tragic times, the Commission took on a new emphasis in seeking justice for victims, providing much needed humanitarian relief and supporting democratic movements in places like Serbia for the sake of long-term stability and the future of the people living there.   In this new decade, Mr. Speaker, the Commission has remained actively engaged on the issues of the time. Corruption and organized crime, trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery, new attacks on religious liberty and discrimination in society, particularly against Romani populations in Europe, present new challenges. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the latest Commission Chairman, has kept the Commission current and relevant. In addition, there continue to be serious problem areas or widespread or systemic violations of OSCE standards in countries of the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucuses, or reversals of the democratization process as in Belarus. The Commission was born in the Cold War, but its true mission--the struggle for human rights, democratic government and the rule of law--remains as important now as it was then. It remains an essential element for true security and stability in the world, as well as, to paraphrase Helsinki, for the free and full development of the individual person, from whose inherent dignity human rights ultimately derive.   To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I wish to erase any illusion I have given in my praise for the Helsinki Commission on its first quarter of a century that it had single-handedly vanquished the Soviet empire or stopped the genocidal policies of Slobodan Milosevic. No, this did not occur, and our own efforts pale in comparison to the courage and risk-taking of human rights activists in the countries concerned. But I would assert, Mr. Speaker, that the wheels of progress turn through the interaction of numerous cogs, and the Commission has been one of those cogs, maybe with some extra grease. The Commission certainly was the vehicle through which the United States Government was able to bring the will of the American people for morality and human rights into European diplomacy. To those who were in the Soviet gulag, or in Ceausescu's Romania as a recent acquaintance there relayed to me with much emotion, the fact that some Americans and others were out there, speaking on their behalf, gave them the will to survive those dark days, and to continue the struggle for freedom. Many of those voices were emanating in the non-governmental community, groups like Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Through the Helsinki Commission, the voice of the United States Congress was heard as well, and I know that all of my colleagues who have been on the Commission or worked with it are enormously proud of that fact.

  • Troubling Trends: Human Rights in Russia

    The purpose of this hearing was to highlight the improvements in human rights in Russia since and to focus on the areas in which reform is still needed. The politicized imprisonments, restrictive legislation that muzzles Internet publications, defamation lawsuits has made independent media outlets struggle to survive and impunity in violent attacks against journalists. These attacks against the media were focused on well-known cases and extraordinary circumstances in Russia. From burdensome registration requirements and visits by the tax police to the confiscation of entire print runs and imposition of crippling fines, from criminal charges for defamation of individuals, institutions or the state, free media faces myriad threats and challenges today.

  • Eightieth Anniversary of the Birthday of Dr. Andrei Sakharov

    Mr. Speaker, today I would like to call to the attention of my colleagues the 80th anniversary of the birth of the late Dr. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, one of the truly great figures in the struggle for human rights in the 20th century. On May 21 of this year, Dr. Sakharov would have celebrated his 80th birthday. A brilliant physicist, Dr. Andrei Sakharov enjoyed the respect of his colleagues and the material privileges provided by Soviet officialdom for his work in helping to develop the Soviet atomic bomb. He could easily have continued to enjoy his elevated status in Soviet society, but his conscience would not permit it. He became deeply convinced that the arms race was pointless and a threat to mankind. When he protested privately to Soviet authorities, he was ignored. In 1968, Dr. Sakharov circulated his groundbreaking essay entitled, “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Co-Existence and Intellectual Freedom,” in which he drew the connection between human rights and international security. For this challenge to the system, he was barred from military research, and when he continued to protest, he was fired from his work.   In 1975, Dr. Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but Soviet authorities would not allow him to travel to Oslo to receive the award. In January 1980, without any legal procedure, let alone a trial, Dr. Sakharov was picked up on the streets of Moscow by KGB agents and spirited off to exile in the city of Gorky. At the same time, the Kremlin, under the leadership of former KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, launched a crackdown on Soviet dissidents. In 1984, Dr. Sakharov's wife, Dr. Elena Bonner, was convicted of “defaming the Soviet political and social system” and sentenced to join him in exile. Even in these dark hours, Dr. Sakharov, continued to speak out against the war being carried out by Soviet forces in Afghanistan, to defend persecuted human rights activists in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and to address vital issues of disarmament and peace. On three occasions, Dr. Sakharov went on a hunger strike to protest the mistreatment of his friends and colleagues in the human rights movement. During his confinement, his notes and his manuscripts were stolen from him by KGB thugs. President Reagan declared his sixtieth birthday, May 21, 1980, “Andrei Sakharov Day.” In December 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev lifted Dr. Sakharov's exile and “invited” him to return to Moscow. In 1989, Dr. Sakharov was elected to the Congress of People Deputies, an organization that had previously been the rubber stamp legislature for the Soviet Union. In the short time that he served, Dr. Sakharov joined a handful of other elected leaders to press for real reforms in the Soviet Union.   On December 14, 1989, the world was saddened to learn of this great man's death. In its coverage of ``the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century,'' Time magazine noted that, “By the time of his death in 1989, this humble physicist had influenced the spread of democratic ideals throughout the communist world. His moral challenge to tyranny, his faith in the individual and the power of reason, his courage in the face of denunciation and, finally, house arrest--made him a hero to ordinary citizens everywhere.'' Although Andrei Sakharov has passed on and the Soviet Union is no more, the issues that he and his colleagues confronted still challenge us today. “Small wars,” like the bloody conflict in Chechnya, have replaced the big Cold War. Human rights continue to be violated. Arms control and security issues are high on the agenda. Several years ago, Dr. Bonner bequeathed Dr. Sakharov's papers to an American university bearing the name of one of our country's greatest jurists--Justice Louis Brandeis. This is a priceless gift not only to Brandeis, but to our entire nation. A generation of young people who have grown up since the fall of the Soviet Union, will be able to study Dr. Sakharov's writings on civic responsibility, non-violence, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other aspects of human rights and what we now call the human dimension. Mr. Speaker, on this, the eightieth anniversary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov, I urge Americans young and old to acquaint themselves with Dr. Sakharov's struggle for peace and human dignity, and to support educational efforts such as the Sakharov archive at Brandeis to preserve the legacy of an intellectual and humanitarian giant of the 20th century.

  • Human Rights Problems in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to call attention to the lamentable human rights situation in Kazakhstan. On April 4, in a meeting with Kanat Saudabaev, Kazakhstan's new Ambassador to Washington, I welcomed his desire for cooperation and his willingness to improve his country's image, but I emphasized that Kazakhstan's reputation has indeed been badly tarnished and that concrete actions, not implausible pledges of democratization, were necessary. Considering the recent political trends in that important Central Asian country, I would like to share with my colleagues a number of the concerns I raised with Ambassador Saudabaev. As a Washington Post editorial pointed out on May 1, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has recently been intensifying his longstanding campaign of repression against the political opposition, independent media, and civil society. Especially alarming is the escalation in the level of brutality. In the last few months, several opposition activists have been assaulted. Platon Pak of the "Azamat'' Party was stabbed on February 7. Fortunate to survive, he said his attackers told him to "deliver their message to the head of his political party.'' On March 1, Ms. Gulzhan Yergalieva, the Deputy Head of the opposition "People's Congress of Kazakhstan'' and a well-known journalist, was--along with her husband and son--attacked and robbed in her home. Prior to these incidents, both opposition parties strongly criticized the Kazakh Government's running of an electoral reform working group. In late February, Alexandr Shushannikov, the chairman of the East Kazakhstan branch of the "Lad'' Slavic Movement, was beaten by unknown assailants in the town of Ust-Kamenogorsk. Less violent harassment of the opposition has continued unabated. Amirzhan Kosanov, the Acting Head of the Executive Committee of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), found threatening graffiti in the stairwells of his apartment building, on the doors of his apartment, and on neighboring buildings on March 17. Later that night, hooligans threw rocks at the windows of the apartment of Almira Kusainova, the RNPK's Press Secretary. In one case, a large rock shattered one of the windows. To add insult to injury, Mr. Kosanov has been barred from leaving Kazakhstan. He is the former Press Secretary of Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Kazakhstan's former Prime Minister and now the exiled head of the RNPK. Claiming Mr. Kosanov had access to "state secrets,'' the authorities have confiscated his passport--even though he had left Kazakhstan many times before. To round out the campaign against Mr. Kosanov, a series of articles and reports in pro-government media have accused him of adultery and pedophilia. In addition, Pyotr Afanasenko and Satzhan lbrayev, two RNPK members who were Mr. Kazhegeldin's bodyguards, were sentenced in April 2000 to three years in prison for a weapons offense; an appeals court upheld the convictions. The OSCE Center in Almaty has stated that it considers the charges to be political in nature. Moreover, these two individuals, as former members of the security forces, should be in special prisons instead of being incarcerated among the general prison population, where they are in danger. Along with the targeting of opposition activists, the ongoing crackdown on freedom of the press has continued. Most media outlets have long been under the direct or indirect control of Mr. Bapi, who was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay $280 in court expenses, was immediately pardoned under a presidential amnesty. Still, his conviction remains on the books, which will prevent him from traveling abroad, among other restrictions. Mr. Bapi is appealing the verdict. As for Mr. Gabdullin, the prosecutor's office issued a press release on April 6 stating that it had dropped the case against him due to "the absence of [a] crime,'' although his newspaper has not yet received formal confirmation. While both editors are currently at liberty, as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) points out, their newspapers cannot publish in Kazakhstan because local printers will not risk angering local officials. In an April 17 letter to President Nazarbaev, CPJ concluded that "we remain deeply concerned about your government's frequent use of politically-motivated criminal charges to harass opposition journalists'' and called on him "to create an atmosphere in which all journalists may work without fear of reprisal.'' Apart from intimidating individual journalists and publications, Kazakhstan's authorities have taken legal action to restrict freedom of speech. The country's Senate on April 17 approved a draft media law that limits the retransmission of foreign programs and will also subject Internet web pages to the same controls as print media. Moreover, media outlets can be held responsible for news not obtained from official sources. In other words, if the New York Times or CNN runs stories Kazakhstan's leadership finds distasteful, Kazakh media outlets risk legal sanction for re-running those reports. Considering the ongoing investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice into high-level corruption in Kazakhstan, it is easy to draw inferences about what kinds of stories the authorities would eagerly spike. Indeed, although Mr. Gabdullin and Bapi were formally prosecuted for articles in their newspapers, both had also previously signed an open letter, published in the January 15 edition of Roll Call, expressing their support for the investigation. Mr. Speaker, Kazakh authorities have also stepped up harassment of NGOs. The OSCE Center in Almaty, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), and Internews-Kazakhstan had jointly organized public forums in 9 regions of Kazakhstan to educate local citizens, media, and interested parties about the proposed amendments to the media law. After the law's passage, local organizers of these Forums on Mass Media were called in to the Procuracy for "conversations.'' Other government agencies which took part in this intimidation were the Tax Police and the Financial Police. According to OSCE sources, the authorities offered local NGOs "friendly'' advice about not working with the OSCE and NDI. In Atyrau, one NGO contacted by the Financial Police did not even participate in these forums but that did not stop the police from sending a written request. Finally, Mr. Speaker, to round out a very depressing picture, Kazakhstan's parliament is reportedly working towards the adoption of amendments to the law on religion that will severely limit freedom of conscience. The draft provisions would require at least 50 members for a religious association to be registered (the law currently requires 10). In order to engage in "missionary activity,'' which would involve merely sharing religious beliefs with others, individuals--citizens or not--would have to be registered with the government, and religious activity would be permitted only at the site of a religious organization, which could bar meetings in rented facilities or even private homes. Violation of these provisions could lead to a sentence of one-year in prison or even two years of ``corrective labor,'' and to the closing of religious organizations. These draft amendments to the religion law were introduced in Kazakhstan's parliament in early April. According to the U.S. Embassy in Almaty, no date has been scheduled for discussion of the legislation though it is expected the measure will be considered before the current session ends in June. The U.S. Government, the OSCE, and other international agencies have expressed concern about the possible restriction of religious liberty, and there is reason to fear the worst. In recent months, the attitude underlying these draft amendments has already had a real impact on believers. American citizens who did humanitarian work in several cities in Kazakhstan have been harassed, intimidated and eventually deported. The formal cause of their expulsion was violation of administrative regulations but one official told an American the real reason was because they were Christians. In one particularly brutal, ugly case, Americans who had been told to leave the country were preparing to do so when the authorities brought them back from the airport so they could be videotaped for TV broadcasts portraying them as engaging in various sorts of subversive activities. An American family preparing to leave Ust-Kamenorgorsk was harassed by a Kazakh security official who threatened to spend the entire night in their tiny apartment to make sure they left. It took several hours before he could be persuaded to leave, despite the fact that his presence was frightening a pregnant American woman. Jehovah's Witnesses have also reported stepped-up harassment and intimidation. Over the past few months, central and local media have been attacking Jehovah's Witnesses, who are depicted as religious extremists. In one bizarre case, according to the Witnesses, a television station broadcast video footage of Islamic terrorists, who were described as Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as footage of a police raid on a meeting held in a private home. Kazakhstan's new Administrative Violation Code, which went into effect in February, allows the suspension or prohibition of religious organizations for evading registration or for violating assembly rules. This has already been used to suspend the activity of a group of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kyzyl-Orda. A similar case is pending in Taraz. Just today, May 16, Keston News Service reports that authorities have declared a Baptist church in the town of Kulsary (Atyrau region) illegal and ordered it to stop all meetings, claiming that it may not function until it is registered. In fact, Kazakh law does not ban activity by religious communities without registration, but the regional prosecutor upheld the ban. Church leaders intend to appeal the decision, but local lawyers are afraid to take such a case. Keston further reports that on April 10, the authorities in Kyzylorda fined a Baptist church 7,750 tenge (about $53) and suspended its activities until it obtains registration. In February, police had raided a Kazakh-language service at that church, demanding that participants show their identity documents and write statements about the gathering. They confiscated religious writings in Kazakh and Russian, and took five people, including the leader of the service, Erlan Sarsenbaev, to the police station. According to the Baptists, the police told them "During the Soviet times, believers like you were shot. Now you are feeling at peace, but we will show you.'' When Sarsenbaev refused to write a statement, police officers "began to hit him on his neck, abdomen and head with a plastic bottle filled with water.'' Finally, they forged his signature, and wrote the statement on his behalf. As President Bush recently said, "the newly independent republics of Central Asia impose troubling limits on religious expression and missionary work.'' This trend in Kazakhstan is especially disturbing because despite the consistent consolidation of presidential power and general crackdown on opposition and dissent, relative religious freedom had been one of the bright spots. It seems this bright spot is about to disappear. Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, Erlan Idrisov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, visited Washington. In his public speaking engagements, he focused on Kazakhstan's emphasis on stability and its desire for good relations with its neighbors. These are understandable priorities which the United States has every reason to support. But Minister Idrisov simply discounted charges of human rights problems, arguing on May 2 at the Carnegie Endowment that the above-mentioned Washington Post editorial is "not the final word'' on the human rights situation in his country. Minister Idrisov may disagree with any Washington Post editorial, if he likes. But when you consider many other sources, such as the State Department's report on human rights practices, the Committee to Protect Journalists (which last year named President Nazarbaev one of the world's ten worst enemies of the media), and the OSCE Center in Almaty, the overall impression is clear and indisputable. Despite official Kazakh claims about progress, the human rights situation is poor and threatens to get worse. If President Nazarbaev wants to change that impression and convince people that he is sincere about wanting to democratize his country, he must take concrete steps to do so. The time is long past when we could take his assurances at face value.  

  • Democracy Under Siege in Belarus

    Mr. President, I wish to update my Senate colleagues on developments in Belarus in my capacity as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission. The Commission continues to pay close attention to events in Belarus especially as they impact democracy, human rights and the rule of law.   May 7 marked the second anniversary of the disappearance of Yuri Zakharenka, the former Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs. In 1999, General Zakharenka, who had been critical of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka and had attempted to form a union of officers to support democracy, was put in a car by unidentified men and taken away. He has not been heard from since. His fate is probably similar to other prominent Belarusian opposition figures who have disappeared over the last few years, notably Victor Hanchar, Antaloy Krasovsky and Dmitry Zavadsky. The Belarusian authorities have had no success in investigating these disappearances; indeed, there are indications that the regime of Alexander Lukashenka may have been involved. Opinion polls in Belarus have shown that a clear majority of those who are aware of the disappearances believe that they are the work of the Lukashenka regime.   These disappearances embody the climate of disregard for human rights and democracy that has persisted since the election of Mr. Lukashenka in 1994. That disregard has intensified following his unconstitutional power grab in November 1996.   Presidential elections are planned for later this year. Unfortunately, recent developments in Belarus do not inspire confidence that these elections will meet OSCE standards for free and democratic elections. Despite commitments made to the OSCE, Belarusian authorities continue to unlawfully restrict freedom of assembly and to beat and detain participants in peaceful demonstrations, as illustrated by the April 21 protest by youth activists. On April 27, Valery Shchukin, deputy of the disbanded Belarusian parliament, received a three month sentence for the dubious charge of ``malicious hooliganism.'' And on May 7, police arrested opposition activists who marked the anniversary of Yuri Zakharenka's disappearance. The activists held placards reading: ``Where is Zakharanka?''; ``Who's Next?''; and ``Where are the Disappeared People--Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasousky, Zavadsky?''   Lukashenka continues his harsh assault on OSCE's efforts to develop democracy, characterizing domestic elections observers supported by the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) as ``an army of bandits and collaborationists.'' This is only the last in a series of incredible accusations against the international community, including far-fetched allegations that $500 million had been earmarked in support of the opposition candidates. On April 25, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Friemut Duve canceled his visit to Belarus to protest the denial of a visa to his senior advisor, a U.S. diplomat Diana Moxhay who had earlier served at the U.S. Embassy in Miensk. The visit was to have examined the difficult media environment in Belarus, especially in light of the forthcoming presidential elections.   I continue to have grave concerns that Presidential Directive No. 8, which imposes restrictions on assistance from abroad offered to NGOs for democracy building and human rights including election monitoring, could be used to block NGO activities and important OSCE AMGroup projects in Belarus.   These and numerous other recent occurrences call into question the Belarusian government's willingness to comply with freely undertaken OSCE commitments and raise doubts as to whether the Lukashenka regime intends to conduct the upcoming elections in a manner consistent with international standards.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I call upon the Belarusian authorities to conduct a real and public investigation of the disappearances. Furthermore, I urge the Belarusian Government to take the steps necessary in order for the presidential elections to be recognized as free and democratic as outlined by the March 7 Final Statement of the Parliamentary Troika. These are: transparency and democracy in the preparation and implementation of the elections, in particular the process of registration of the candidates, the composition of electoral commissions and counting of votes; equal access for all candidates to the mass media; refraining from harassment of candidates, their families and supporters; and freedom in carrying out their work for all those engaged in domestic election observation.

  • Resolution on Kalmyk Settlement in America

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution congratulating the Kalmyk people in the United States on the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in this country. The resolution also encourages continuing scholarly and educational exchanges between the Russian Federation and the United States to encourage better understanding and appreciation of the Kalmyk people and their contributions to the history and culture of both countries. The Kalmyks were originally an ethnic Mongolian nomadic people who have inhabited the Russian steppes for around 400 years. The present Kalmyk Republic of the Russian Federation is located north of the Caspian Sea in southern Russia. During World War II, the Kalmyk people were one of the seven “punished peoples'' exiled en masse by Stalin to “special settlements'' in Siberia and Central Asia for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. There were about 170,000 deportees. After World War II, several hundred Kalmyks who managed to escape the Soviet Union were held in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. For several years, they were not allowed to emigrate to the United States because of prejudice against their Mongolian ethnicity. However, on July 28, 1951, the Attorney General of the United States issued a ruling which cleared the way for the Kalmyk people in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany to enter the United States. In the fifty years since their arrival, the Kalmyk emigres and their descendants have survived and prospered. Moreover, they are the first community of Tibetan Buddhists to settle in the United States. While adapting to much of America's diverse and modern culture, the Kalmyk have also sought to preserve their own unique traditions. Many continue to practice the Tibetan Buddhist religion. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kalmyk community of the United States has been able to re-establish contact with the Kalmyk people in the Russian Federation. For the past ten years, a wide exchange has been developed between relatives, students and professionals. Mr. Speaker, our country is so much richer for the presence of our Kalmyk-American citizens. I urge my colleagues to join me and my colleagues Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Wamp, and Mr. Hastings, in congratulating the Kalmyk-American community on the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in the United States by cosponsoring and supporting this resolution.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    This hearing discussed Ukraine’s future, given its pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems. Commissioners and witnesses mentioned how these issues discouraged foreign investment and expressed a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state.  Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the United States could best help Ukraine achieve this.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    The rationale of this hearing, which Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell presided over, was increasing concern as to Ukraine’s trajectory. More specifically, pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems had raised legitimate questions concerning the directions that Ukraine had appeared to be headed. Needless to say, the relationship between the CSCE and Ukraine has been an important one. It was against this backdrop of rampant corruption, which Campbell said discouraged foreign investment, a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state, and the recent anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster that the Commission examined how the U.S. could best help Ukraine in the development of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and a market economy.

  • Atmosphere of Trust Missing in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, this fall, the Belarusian Government is planning to hold their second presidential elections since independence.  Judging by the continuing actions of the repressive regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka, free, fair, and transparent elections--consistent with Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments--will be very difficult to achieve. Democratic elections require an all-encompassing atmosphere of trust and a respect for basic human rights. Unfortunately, recent actions in Belarus do nothing to encourage such trust. Most recently, on March 25, Belarusian authorities cracked down on participants of the Independence Day march, arresting and beating several protestors, subsequently fining and jailing some, including Belarusian Popular Front Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka, who received a 15-day sentence on March 29, Ales Byaletsky, head of the human rights center "Viasna", who received a 10-day sentence, and Yuri Belenky, acting chairman of the Conservative Christian Party, who also received a 10-day sentence. Also detained and beaten was 17-year-old Dmitri Yegorov, a photojournalist for a Grodno-based, non-state newspaper. On the day of the march, Belarusian state television accused the opposition of “seeking to draw Belarus into some bloody turmoil", reflecting its increasingly shrill tone of late. Earlier this year, for instance, Belarusian television claimed the CIA was intensifying "subversive activity" as the presidential election draws nearer. On March 24, Belarus' KGB chief pledged on Belarusian television to intensify surveillance of foreigners in order to prevent them from interfering in the country's domestic matters. On March 12, Lukashenka signed Decree #8, which essentially imposes restrictions from abroad offered to NGOs for democracy building and human rights, including election monitoring. Moreover, the Belarusian Government has claimed that the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group's (AMG) domestic election observation project does not conform with the Belarusian Constitution and Mr. Speaker, I am also concerned about recent assaults on religious communities. Last month, the Council of Ministers restricted visits by foreign clergy for “non-religious" purposes--including contact with religious and other organizations, participation in conferences and other events, or charitable activities. Government officials are also refusing to register some Reform Jewish communities because they do not have “legal'' addresses. In February, state-controlled Belarusian television aired a documentary alleging Catholicism as a threat to the very existence of the Belarusian nation. And in January, leaders of Belarus' Protestant community alleged that state newspapers carried biased articles that present Pentecostals as “wild fanatics." Religious freedom is not the only liberty in peril. Freedom of the press and of self-expression are also in jeopardy. Editors of a variety of newspapers are being fined on fictitious and trumped-up charges for violating the Law on Press and Other Mass Media. Various periodicals are being confiscated and destroyed, and distributors of independent newspapers have been arrested. Youth organizations have been accused of engaging in activities that weaken the Belarusian statehood and undermining socioeconomic stability. Teenagers have been arrested for picketing and protesting, and others have been detained for distributing newspapers or pasting stickers advocating reform and calling on the authorities to solve the cases of political disappearances. Belarusian Television and Radio (BTR) has also canceled scheduled addresses to be made by potential presidential candidates or opposition leaders. The Deputy Minister of Education has ordered heads of the educational community to ban seminars conducted by the People's University. Lukashenka has also undertaken repressive acts against the potential presidential candidates and their families in an attempt to thwart their campaign progress. Family members of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir have become the target of persecution. Chigir's wife has been accused of interfering with the work of the police, and his son, Alexander, has been charged with large scale larceny. Chigir is not the only potential candidate whose actions have been thwarted by Lukashenka. Semyon Domash's meeting with potential voters at the Tourist Hotel was canceled on orders from the Mogilev authorities and a director of the clubhouse of the Brest Association of Hearing-Impaired People lost her job after hosting a February 3 voters' meeting with Domash. Vladimir Goncharik, a labor leader, has had to deal with newly state-created "unions" trying to muscle out unions supporting him. Two officials of a manufacturing plant were reprimanded by a Borisov city court for hosting a meeting between Chigir and employees at the plant. When one looks at these and other recent actions of the Lukashenka regime, the inescapable conclusion is that the regime has created an unhealthy environment in advance of the elections. Mr. Speaker, the regime's behavior is obviously not conducive to the promotion of free and fair elections. A few weeks ago, President Lukashenka stressed the need to establish an atmosphere of trust in bilateral Belarusian-U.S. relations. I strongly encourage Mr. Lukashenka to translate his words into concrete deeds that will encourage this trust and lead to the emergence of Belarus from its self-imposed isolation from the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.

  • Freedom of the Media in Russia

    Mr. Speaker, I participated recently in a Congressional delegation to Russia, led by my friend CURT WELDON, where we met with government officials and others to assess the economic and political situation in that country and the state of U.S.-Russian relations. As Co-Chairman of the Duma-Congress Study Group on which I serve with Mr. WELDON, and as former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Helsinki Commission, I have traveled to Russia and the former Soviet Union frequently since the early 1980s. We are encouraged by Russia's continued progress, however tentative it may appear at times, towards becoming a democratic state that guarantees the inalienable rights, including religious freedom and respect for human rights and the rule of law, of all its citizens. That is why it is disturbing to see an important tenet of democracy--freedom of the media--being threatened by federal government actions and by local officials as well. The seriousness of this problem has been addressed by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations and has received widespread attention in the Western press, including recent editorials in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. In Moscow, we were briefed by Ambassador Jim Collins, who told us about the threats to the media, particularly NTV and its holding company, Media Most, and we also met with Evgeny Kiselev, head of NTV--the only independently operated television station in Russia--who described incidents of harassment and intimidation directed against himself and other NTV personnel. Moreover, as we have seen in the past, journalists in Russia are under threat of physical attacks, even murder, at the hands of unknown assailants if they offend the wrong people with their reporting Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices-2000, just sent to the Congress by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, as required by law. It is a valuable document that assesses human rights conditions, country by country, around the world and has proven a reliable source of information for Members to better understand how individual governments treat their own citizens. The section on Russia, which covers 45 pages, states that the government ``generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas,'' but that ``serious problems remain, including independence and freedom of the media. . . .'' The report goes on to state ``Federal, regional, and local governments continued to exert pressure on journalists by: initiating investigations by the federal tax police, FSB, and MVD of media companies such as independent Media-Most. . . .'' The report also provides an account of the government harassment of and threats to Mr. Vladimir Goussinsky, founder and chairman of Media-Most, which owns NTV, and his arrest and detention in a Moscow prison. Today, Mr. Goussinsky is confined in Spain, awaiting the disposition of a Russian prosecutor's request for extradition, as Kremlin authorities have been engaged in a series of actions to shut down the country's only privately owned television station, or have it taken over by a government-controlled company. Sadly, Mr. Speaker, these efforts have come to fruition today. Press reports indicate that, in an apparent boardroom coup, the current NTV board, including Mr. Goussinsky, was ousted by the Russian gas firm Gazprom, which says it owns a controlling stake of the station. Mr. Kiselev has been replaced by an associate of the Gazprom directors. Russia's only two other nationwide television stations, ORT and RTR, are already controlled by the government. Mr. Speaker, I urge the government of the Russian Federation to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law by guaranteeing and supporting media pluralism and independence in Russia. Clearly, the foundation of a free and democratic society is a well informed citizenry. That foundation crumbles when freedom of speech and freedom of the media are suppressed. I also urge my colleagues to review the State Department's report on human rights conditions, particularly the section on Russia.

  • Turkey and Possible Military Equipment Sales

    Mr. Speaker, the United States has a longstanding dynamic relationship with our NATO ally, the Republic of Turkey, and I believe that the strength of that relationship relies on forthright candor. I have willingly recognized positive developments in Turkey, and I have sought to present fairly the various human rights concerns as they have arisen. Today, I must bring to my colleagues' attention pending actions involving the Government of Turkey which seem incongruous with the record in violation of human rights. I fear the planned sale of additional military aircraft to Turkey could potentially have further long-term, negative effects on human rights in that country. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I presided over a hearing in March of 1999 that addressed many human rights concerns. The State Department had just released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices covering 1998. Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold Hongju Koh noted in testimony before the Commission that ‘serious human rights abuses continued in Turkey in 1998, but we had hoped that the 1998 report would reflect significant progress on Turkey's human rights record. Prime Minister Yilmaz had publicly committed himself to making the protection of human rights his government's highest priority in 1998. We had welcomed those assurances and respected the sincerity of his intentions. We were disappointed that Turkey had not fully translated those assurances into actions.’ I noted in my opening statement, ‘One year after a commission delegation visited Turkey, our conclusion is that there has been no demonstrable improvement in Ankara's human rights practices and that the prospects for much needed systemic reforms are bleak given the unstable political scene which is likely to continue throughout 1999.' Thankfully, eighteen months later I can say that the picture has improved- somewhat. A little over a year ago the president of Turkey's highest court made an extraordinary speech asserting that Turkish citizens should be granted the right to speak freely, urging that the legal system and constitution be ‘cleansed,’ and that existing ‘limits on language’ seriously compromised the freedom of expression. The man who gave that speech, His Excellency Ahmet Necdet Sezer, is the new President of the Republic of Turkey. Last summer several of us on the Commission congratulated President Sezer on his accession to the presidency, saying, in part: We look forward to working with you and members of your administration, especially as you endeavor to fulfill your commitments to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and commitments contained in other Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documents. These human rights fundamentals are the bedrock upon which European human rights rest, the solid foundation upon which Europe's human rights structures are built. It is worth remembering, twenty-five years after the signing of the Final Act, that your predecessor, President Demerel, signed the commitments at Helsinki on behalf of Turkey. Your country's engagement in the Helsinki process was highlighted during last year's OSCE summit in Istanbul, a meeting which emphasized the importance of freedom of expression, the role of NGOs in civil society, and the eradication of torture. Your Presidency comes at a very critical time in modern Turkey's history. Adoption and implementation of the reforms you have advocated would certainly strengthen the ties between our countries and facilitate fuller integration of Turkey into Europe. Full respect for the rights of Turkey's significant Kurdish population would go a long way in reducing tensions that have festered for more than a decade, and resulted in the lengthy conflict in the southeast. Your proposals to consolidate and strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey will be instrumental in ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity in the Republic. The Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE documents can serve as important guides in your endeavor. We all recall the pending $4 billion sale of advanced attack helicopters to the Turkish army. I have objected to this sale as leading human rights organizations, Turkish and western press, and even the State Department documented the use of such helicopters to attack Kurdish villages in Turkey and to transport troops to regions where civilians were killed. Despite repeated promises, the Turkish Government has been slow to take action which would hold accountable and punish those who have committed such atrocities. And we recently learned of the pending sale of eight even larger helicopters, S-80E heavy lift helicopters for Turkey's Land Forces Command. With a flight radius of over three hundred miles and the ability to carry over fifty armed troops, the S-80E has the potential to greatly expand the ability of Turkey's army to undertake actions such as I just recounted. Since 1998, there has been recognition in high-level U.S.-Turkish exchanges that Turkey has a number of longstanding issues which must be addressed with demonstrable progress: decriminalization of freedom of expression; the release of imprisoned parliamentarians and journalists; prosecution of police officers who commit torture; an end of harassment of human rights defenders and re-opening of non-governmental organizations; the return of internally displaced people to their villages; cessation of harassment and banning of certain political parties; and, an end to the state of emergency in the southeast. The human rights picture in Turkey has improved somewhat in the last several years, yet journalists continue to be arrested and jailed, human rights organizations continue to feel pressure from the police, and elected officials who are affiliated with certain political parties, in particular, continue to be harassed. Anywhere from half a million to 2 million Kurds have been displaced by the Turkish counter insurgency campaigns against the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK. The Turkish military has reportedly emptied more than three thousand villages and hamlets in the southeast since 1992, burned homes and fields, and committed other human rights abuses against Kurdish civilians, often using types of helicopters similar to those the Administration is seeking to transfer. Despite repeated promises, the Government of Turkey has taken few steps to facilitate the return of these peoples to their homes, assist them to resettle, or compensate them for the loss of their property. Nor does it allow others to help. Even the ICRC has been unable to operate in Turkey. And, finally, four parliamentarians, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogÿan, and Selim Sadak, continue to serve time in prison. We cannot proceed with this sale, or other sales or transfers, when Turkey's Government fails to live up to the most basic expectations mentioned above. Mr. Speaker, I think it is also time that the United States establishes an understanding with Turkey and a credible method of consistent monitoring and reporting on the end-use of U.S. weapons, aircraft and service. An August 2000 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) entitled ‘Foreign Military Sales: Changes Needed to Correct Weaknesses in End-Use Monitoring Program’ was a cause for concern on my part regarding the effectiveness of current end-use monitoring and reporting efforts. While we had been assured that end-use monitoring was taking place and that the United States was holding recipient governments accountable to the export license criteria, the GAO report reveals the failure of the Executive Branch to effectively implement monitoring requirements enacted by Congress. For example, the report points out on page 12: “While field personnel may be aware of adverse conditions in their countries, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency has not established guidance or procedures for field personnel to use in determining when such conditions require an end-use check.” For example, significant upheaval occurred in both Indonesia and Pakistan within the last several years. As a result, the State Department determined that both countries are no longer eligible to purchase U.S. defense articles and services. However, end-use checks of U.S. defense items already provided were not performed in either country in response to the standard. DSCA officials believed that the State Department was responsible for notifying field personnel that the criteria had been met for an end-use check to be conducted. However, DSCA and State have never established a procedure for providing notification to field personnel. Currently, the end-use monitoring training that DSCA provides to field personnel consists of a 30-minute presentation during the security assistance management course at the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management. This training is intended to familiarize students with end-use monitoring requirements. However, this training does not provide any guidance or procedures on how to execute an end-use monitoring program at overseas posts or when to initiate end-use checks in response to one of the five standards. In the past there have been largely ad hoc attempts to report on the end-use of U.S. equipment. Therefore, I was pleased to support the passage of H.R. 4919, the Security Assistant Act of 2000 that was signed by the President on October 6. Section 703 of this Act mandates that no later than 180 days after its enactment, the President shall prepare and transmit to Congress a report summarizing the status of efforts by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to implement the End-Use Monitoring Enhancement Plan relating to government-to-government transfers of defense articles, services, and related technologies. I want to commend House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman for his efforts in trying to make our end-use monitoring and reporting programs effective and accurate. I look forward to working with him and others to ensure that an effective and credible monitoring program is put in place without further delay. We must be consistent in our defense of human rights, and our relations, including our military relations, must reflect that commitment. For this reason, Mr. Speaker, I am not prepared to support the sale of additional weaponry and aircraft to Turkey at this time.

  • Russian Arms Sales to Iran

    Mr. Speaker, there is no greater sponsor of terrorism in the world than the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has taken Americans for hostages, given weapons to suicide bombers, and taken the lead in the movement to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. There is no government more radical, more extremist, or more dangerous to our national interests. So why did Vice President Al Gore cut a deal with the Russians to allow weapons sales to Iran? Al Gore himself when he was Senator introduced the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act in 1992. And now he winks and nods to Viktor Chernomyrdin, letting him know it is okay to violate American national interests. Mr. Speaker, the recent bombing of the U.S.S. Cole demonstrated again how serious a threat terrorism is to America and her allies. It is a violation of law to tell Russians it is okay to sell arms to Iran. Worse, it places American lives at risk. And now they are trying to hide it from Congress. We expect better judgment from a man who wants to be our President.

  • Report on the Russian Presidential Elections March 2000

    On March 26, 2000, Acting President of the Russian Federation Vladimir V. Putin, running with the backing of the “Unity” party, was elected by a sizable margin to a full 4-year term. As reported by the Central Election Commission, Putin received almost 53 percent, with 39,740,434 votes out of a field of 11 candidates and the option of voting “against all candidates.” His nearest competitor, Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, tallied a little under 30 percent with almost 22 million votes. The rest of the field showed single-digit percentages. More than 75 million people took part in the election, for a 68.74 percent turnout. A comparatively small number of voters, about 1.5 million, chose the “none of the above” option. Details of the election results are listed below. The presidential election was occasioned by the abrupt resignation of President Boris Yeltsin on New Year’s Day, 2000, and his appointment of Prime Minister Putin as Acting President. Yeltsin had been elected to a second term in 1996. As Acting President, Putin had promoted a no-compromise policy in pressing the war against Chechnya, and created an image of returning Russia to stability after the economic and social uncertainties of the Yeltsin presidency. Putin ran an almost “above it all” campaign, refusing to issue a platform or make significant election-oriented policy statements. In its March 27, 2000 press release, the elections were characterized by the International Election Observation Mission (a joint effort of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  Office of Human Rights and Democratic Institutions, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Council of Europe) as "[marking] further progress for the consolidation of democratic elections in the Russian Federation.”" Both the Communist Party and Yabloko leadership claimed to have “evidence of blatant violations in several regions.” The final report of the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission also found that “Notwithstanding the CEC effort to enforce the law vigorously, candidates, campaign organizations and supporters circumvented the law in some cases.”

  • Democracy Denied in Belarus

    Mr. President, I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution introduced by my colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, to address the continuing constitutional crisis in Belarus. As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, during the 106th Congress I have worked on a bipartisan basis to promote the core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus in keeping with that country's commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   Back in April the OSCE set four criteria for international observation of parliamentary elections held this past weekend: respect for human rights and an end to the climate of fear; opposition access to the state media; a democratic electoral code; and the granting of real power to the new parliament. Regrettably, the Lukashenka regime responded with at best half-hearted measures aimed at giving the appearance of progress while keeping democracy in check. Instead of using the elections process to return Belarus to the path of democracy and end the country's self-isolation, Mr. Lukashenka tightened his grip on power launching an intensified campaign of harassment against the democratic opposition and fledgling independent media.   Accordingly, a technical assessment team dispatched by the OSCE concluded that the elections ‘fell short of meeting minimum commitments for free, fair, equal accountable, and transparent elections.’ The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE confirmed the flawed nature of the campaign period.   We recently saw how Slobodan Milosevic was swept from power by a wave of popular discontent following years of repression. After his ouster, Belarus now has the dubious distinction of being the sole remaining dictatorship in Europe. Misguided steps toward recognition of the results of Belarus's flawed parliamentary elections would only serve to bolster Mr. Lukashenka in the lead up to presidential elections slated for next year.   This situation was addressed today in an editorial in the Washington Times. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of this editorial be printed in the Record following my remarks. I commend Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue and will continue to work with my colleagues to support the people of Belarus in their quest to move beyond dictatorship to genuine democracy.   There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: From the Washington Times, Oct. 19, 2000- Battle for Belarus: In Belarus last weekend, the opposition leaders did not light their parliament on fire as their Yugoslavian counterparts had the week before. They did not crush the walls of the state media outlet with bulldozers or leave key sites in their capital in shambles. No, the people living under the last dictator of Europe met this weekend's parliamentary elections with silence. Opposition parties rallied the people to boycott, and what they didn't say at the polls, the international community said for them. The U.S. State Department declared the results ‘not free, fair, or transparent’ and replete with ‘gross abuses’ by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European parliament and the European Union said the same.   The dictator's allies got most of the 43 seats in districts where the winner received a majority of the vote. Where no candidate received a majority of the vote, run-offs will occur Oct. 26, another opportunity for the dictator to demonstrate his unique election methods. However, a record-low turnout in many towns, claimed as a victory by the opposition, will force new elections in three months.   What will it take for the people to push Mr. Lukashenko to follow Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic into political oblivion in next year's presidential election? Nothing short of war, if one asks the international coordinator for Charter '97, Andrei Sannikov. `I don't know how the country survives. [Approximately] 48.5 percent live below the poverty level,' Mr. Sannikov told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. `That increases to 60 percent in rural areas. It would provoke an extreme reaction anywhere else. Here, they won't act as long as there is no war'.   But the people of Belarus are getting restless. Out of the 50 percent of the people who don't know who they support, 90 percent are not satisfied with Mr. Lukashenko and with their lives in Belarus, Mr. Sannikov said. The dictator's behavior before last weekend's elections didn't help any.   In his statement three days before the elections, Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the OSCE, listed just a few reasons why the people should take to the streets: `Since August 30, the Lukashenko regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds, detained, fined or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections, burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party, and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper.'   Mr. Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, was himself a victim last year when he was beaten unconcious, and three ribs and his nose were broken, in what he said was a government-planned attack. He and the rest of the opposition don't want to be victims in next year's election. If the opposition can rally behind one formidable leader, war won't have to precede change, nor will Mr. Lukashenko again make democracy a fatality.

  • Flawed Elections in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, this Sunday, October 15th, Belarus will hold parliamentary elections. Based on the run-up to the elections, the possibility of free and fair elections simply does not exist. Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who illegally extended his own term in office, is once again attempting to dupe the international community into believing that there are viable electoral processes in today's Belarus. The reality is different. The Lukashenka regime has not met any of the four conditions that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe setback last spring, namely, a democratic election law; an end to human rights abuses; access by the opposition to the state media; and genuine powers granted to the parliament. As a result, on August 30, the OSCE and other institutions decided not to send a full-fledged international observation team to Belarus. This decision could have been revisited if the situation in Belarus had improved. However, since August 30, the Lukashenka regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds; detained, fined, or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections; burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party; and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper. My friend, opposition leader Anatoly Lebedka was physically assaulted during a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of opposition leader Viktor Gonchar and his associate Anatoly Krasovsky. I might add that another leader of the opposition, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, remains missing after having disappeared 17 months ago, and two leading opposition members, Andrei Klimov and Vladimir Koudinov, remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Mr. Speaker, governmental interference in the election process appears to be rampant. There are reports that regional and local government executive committees have been threatened to ensure that government supported candidates will be elected. The registration process also showed strong signs of arbitrariness, with the rejection of a large percentage of candidates, especially opposition candidates. According to today's Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty East-Central Europe Report, Belarusian authorities, in an attempt to counter the opposition's call for an election boycott, have begun urging early voting and even threatening reprisals if voters fail to go to the polls. Furthermore, in Brest, the government-controlled local press is publishing election materials devoted solely to one candidate. All of these and other incidents, Mr. Speaker, have contributed to an atmosphere highly obtrusive to free and fair elections. Given the pre-election atmosphere, the international community will be hard-pressed to recognize the new parliament, which succeeds the old, Lukashenka hand-picked parliament that was not recognized by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and much of the international community. Moreover, the current election environment does not in any way inspire confidence that the presidential elections scheduled for next year will be democratic. Mr. Lukashenka would do well to keep in mind that, with the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, he becomes increasingly isolated as Europe's sole remaining dictator.

  • Calling for Immediate Release of Mr. Edmond Pope from Prison in Russian Federation

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time. First of all, I rise in very strong support of the Peterson resolution, H. Con. Res. 404, calling for the immediate release of Edmond Pope from prison in the Russian Federation based on humanitarian reasons. I think it is very important that the chairman of the House Committee on International Relations and the ranking member, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Gejdenson), have moved very quickly on this resolution to bring it to the floor and before our colleagues because this is a very, very important resolution of humanitarian concern.   This resolution calls for the immediate release of Mr. Pope, an American citizen arrested for allegedly spying in Russia and, as we know, in prison now in Moscow since early April of this year. Mr. Pope has been arrested for trying to purchase so-called secret technology that had already been advertised for commercial sale. Mr. Speaker, I would be the first to agree that countries are entitled to protect sensitive information or state secrets; but the case against Mr. Pope is without merit. When we consider that the Russian Government has already released the alleged co-conspirator in this case, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Pope is considered such a danger. As the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Peterson) so passionately and eloquently pointed out, Mr. Pope is seriously ill and the Russian Government has not permitted an American physician to even visit him, which one might expect on simple humanitarian grounds.   Mr. Speaker, the Russian Government recently announced that the Pope case has been turned over to the court. This may look like progress, but experience tells us otherwise. When we look at the long drawn out case of Alexandr Nikitin, for whom it took 4 1/2 years to prove his innocence on trumped-up charges of espionage, I believe it is unlikely Mr. Pope would survive a lengthy judicial process. Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Government has repeatedly raised this case with the Russian Government. Why are they not listening? At a recent hearing of our Committee on International Relations, our Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, reiterated her conviction this case should be resolved quickly in Mr. Pope's favor. Finally, I would note that in connection with this case, a Moscow radio station stated that the Russian security service often considers principles of humanity in deciding whom to release. It seems no other person in Russia today fits that definition. This man is sick, he is innocent, and he needs to be released. Again, I want to thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Peterson) for his great leadership on this case.

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