Daily Archives: October 26, 2009

How police rebranded lawful protest as ‘domestic extremism’

policeman takes photographs of CND protesters

A policeman takes photographs of CND protesters at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in March 2008. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex Features

• Forces gather details of single-issue protesters

• Activists claim monitoring has echoes of the cold war

guardian.co.uk | Oct 25, 2009

by Rob Evans, Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor

As demonstrations go, it was more of a lighthearted affair than a threat to the nation.

About 600 climate change campaigners had gathered outside the Drax power station in North Yorkshire. They had chosen to demonstrate there because the huge plant is the UK’s biggest emitter of carbon. The protesters were mainly families with young children, accompanied by clowns, cyclists, baton twirlers and, according to some reports, a giant ostrich puppet.

It was not completely without incident. Two protesters climbed a lighting pylon at the edge of the site and four others broke through the fence. About 30 others were arrested for public order offences.

Under the heading of “not much a fight, more like a festival”, the Guardian reported that the predicted battle between the police and activists wanting to close the plant down had not materialised.

It was the type of demonstration which has been going on for decades in Britain. But the police appear to have had another, completely different view of the 2006 protest.

After the demonstration, the first in what has become an annual gathering known as Climate Camp, North Yorkshire police conducted a review along with government officials. Internal papers obtained by the Guardian show they called it “the first time domestic extremism took place against national infrastructure in the county”.

The term “domestic extremism” is now common currency within the police. It is a phrase which shapes how forces seek to control demonstrations. It has led to the personal details and photographs of a substantial number of protesters being stored on secret police databases around the country. There is no official or legal definition of the term. Instead, the police have made a vague stab at what they think it means. Senior officers describe domestic extremists as individuals or groups “that carry out criminal acts of direct action in furtherance of a campaign. These people and activities usually seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process.” They say they are mostly associated with single issues and suggest the majority of protesters are never considered extremists.

Police insist they are just monitoring the minority who could damage property or commit aggravated trespass, causing significant disruption to lawful businesses. Activists respond by claiming this is an excuse that gives police the licence to carry out widespread surveillance of whole organisations that are a legitimate part of the democratic process.

They also warn that the categorisation carries echoes of the cold war, when the security services monitored constitutional campaigns such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement because alleged subversives or communists were said to be active within them, although they said the organisations themselves were not subversive.

The domestic extremist term was coined by police involved in tackling criminals involved in animal rights groups sometime between 2001 and 2004. Many of these activists were prepared to resort to violence to promote their aims, most notoriously digging up a grandmother’s grave.

The police were successful in jailing many of the animal rights campaigners who were committing crimes. However, there are fears the police’s domestic extremism apparatus, which evolved to counter sometimes violent criminals, is now looking for new targets to justify both its budgets and its existence.

There are three little-known organisations at the heart of this apparatus. They work in tandem under the direction of Anton Setchell, who is national co-ordinator for domestic extremism for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

The main branch is the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), essentially a giant database of protest groups and protesters in the country.

Housed at a secret location in London, its purpose is “to gather, assess, analyse and disseminate intelligence and information relating to criminal activities in the United Kingdom where there is a threat of crime or to public order which arises from domestic extremism or protest activity”.

Police in England and Wales collect intelligence on individuals and then feed it to the NPOIU which, Setchell said, “can read across” all the forces’ intelligence and deliver back to them “coherent” assessments.

Setchell said the “fair proportion” of the intelligence comes from Special Branch officers and police who monitor and photograph demonstrations.

Sensitive information from informants in protest groups and covert intercepts are handled by a section of the NPOIU called the Confidential Intelligence Unit.

The NPOIU database consists of entries indexed by descriptions of people, nicknames or pseudonyms.

Originally it was confined to animal rights groups, but was expanded in 1999 to “include all forms of domestic extremism, criminality and public disorder associated with cause-led groups”. It contains some information supplied by companies that hire private investigators to spy on protesters, sometimes by infiltration.

Setchell argued that there were robust safeguards to protect the human rights of individuals on the database. He said it was possible that protesters with no criminal record were on the databases, but police would have to give a justified reason.

“Just because you have no criminal record does not mean that you are not of interest to the police,” he said. “Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once.”

The second part of Acpo’s triumvirate, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu), helps police forces, companies, universities and other bodies that are on the receiving end of protest campaigns.

Netcu’s job is to give “security advice, risk assessments and information that can minimise disruption and keep their employees safe”. Its head, Superintendent Steve Pearl, says his 16-strong unit works with police forces across the country, keeps detailed files on protest groups, rather than individuals, and liaises with thousands of companies in aviation, energy, research, farming and retail.

Netcu was set up in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in 2004 by the Home Office which, Pearl said, was “getting really pressurised by big business – pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks – that they were not able to go about their lawful business because of the extreme criminal behaviour of some people within the animal rights movement.”

Pearl denied the unit was engaged in mission creep but admitted that environmental protesters had now been brought “more on their radar” as they had been “shutting down airports, and shutting down coal-fired power stations, more recently stopping coal trains, hijacking coal trains and ships in the river Medway.”

The third leg of the trio, the National Domestic Extremism Team, was set up in 2005 and consists of detectives who help police forces around the UK.

Initially, the team focused on animal rights activists, but has fanned out to look at any crimes “linked to single issue-type causes and campaigns”, Setchell said.

The team draws on intelligence from the NPOIU database and, the Guardian has learned, is located on the seventh floor of 10 Victoria Street in central London, a building previously occupied by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Police gather personal details of people who attend political meetings and protests in nationwide intelligence databases

british police stateDetailed information about the political activities of campaigners is being stored on IT systems. Photograph: Fiona Hanson/PA

Thousands of activists monitored on network of overlapping databases

guardian.co.uk | Oct 25, 2009

Police in £9m scheme to log ‘domestic extremists’

by Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Matthew Taylor

Police are gathering the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, and storing their data on a network of nationwide intelligence databases.

The hidden apparatus has been constructed to monitor “domestic extremists”, the Guardian can reveal in the first of a three-day series into the policing of protests. Detailed information about the political activities of campaigners is being stored on a number of overlapping IT systems, even if they have not committed a crime.

Senior officers say domestic extremism, a term coined by police that has no legal basis, can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.

Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the “terrorism and allied matters” committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100.

An investigation by the Guardian can reveal:

• The main unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), runs a central database which lists thousands of so-called domestic extremists. It filters intelligence supplied by police forces across England and Wales, which routinely deploy surveillance teams at protests, rallies and public meetings. The NPOIU contains detailed files on individual protesters who are searchable by name.

• Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. One man, who has no criminal record, was stopped more than 25 times in less than three years after a “protest” marker was placed against his car after he attended a small protest against duck and pheasant shooting. ANPR “interceptor teams” are being deployed on roads leading to protests to monitor attendance.

• Police surveillance units, known as Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and Evidence Gatherers, record footage and take photographs of campaigners as they enter and leave openly advertised public meetings. These images are entered on force-wide databases so that police can chronicle the campaigners’ political activities. The information is added to the central NPOIU.

• Surveillance officers are provided with “spotter cards” used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.

• NPOIU works in tandem with two other little-known Acpo branches, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu), which advises thousands of companies on how to manage political campaigns, and the National Domestic Extremism Team, which pools intelligence gathered by investigations into protesters across the country.

Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, will next month release the findings of his national review of policing of protests. He has already signalled he anticipates wide scale change. His inspectors, who were asked to review tactics in the wake of the Metropolitan police’s controversial handling of the G20 protests, are considering a complete overhaul of the three Acpo units, which they have been told lack statutory accountability.

Acpo’s national infrastructure for dealing with domestic extremism was set up with the backing of the Home Office in an attempt to combat animal rights activists who were committing serious crimes. Senior officers concede the criminal activity associated with these groups has receded, but the units dealing with domestic extremism have expanded their remit to incorporate campaign groups across the political spectrum, including anti-war and environmental groups that have only ever engaged in peaceful direct action.

All three units divide their work into four categories of domestic extremism: animal rights campaigns; far-right groups such as the English Defence League; “extreme leftwing” protest groups, including anti-war campaigners; and “environmental extremism” such as Climate Camp and Plane Stupid campaigns.

Anton Setchell, who is in overall command of Acpo’s domestic extremism remit, said people who find themselves on the databases “should not worry at all”. But he refused to disclose how many names were on the NPOIU’s national database, claiming it was “not easy” to count. He estimated they had files on thousands of people. As well as photographs, he said FIT surveillance officers noted down what he claimed was harmless information about people’s attendance at demonstrations and this information was fed into the national database.

He said he could understand that peaceful activists objected to being monitored at open meetings when they had done nothing wrong. “What I would say where the police are doing that there would need to be the proper justifications,” he said.

Grandmother who objected to gay march accused of hate crime

Daily Mail | Oct 25, 2009

By Andrew Levy

Shock: Grandmother Pauline Howe had never been in trouble with the law before

Shock: Grandmother Pauline Howe had never been in trouble with the law before

After witnessing a gay pride march, committed Christian Pauline Howe wrote to the council to complain that the event had been allowed to go ahead.

But instead of a simple acknowledgement, she received a letter warning her she might be guilty of a hate crime and that the matter had been passed to police.

Two officers later turned up at the frightened grandmother’s home and lectured her about her choice of words before telling her she would not be prosecuted.

Mrs Howe, 67, whose husband Peter is understood to be a Baptist minister, yesterday spoke of her shock at the visit and accused police of ‘ wasting resources’ on her case rather than fighting crime.

‘I’ve never been in any kind of trouble before so I was stunned to have two police officers knocking at my door,’ she said.

‘Their presence in my home made me feel threatened. It was a very unpleasant experience.

‘The officers told me that my letter was thought to be an intention of hate but I was expressing views as a Christian.’

Mrs Howe’s case has been taken up by the Christian Institute, which is looking into potential breaches of freedom of speech and religious rights under the Human Rights Act, either by Norwich City Council or Norfolk Police.

And homosexual equality pressure group Stonewall has branded the authorities’ response ‘ disproportionate’.

Mrs Howe claims she was ‘verbally abused’ while distributing ‘Christian leaflets’ at the march in the centre of Norwich in July. She said someone ‘whispered something in my ear and disappeared’. She fired off a letter to the council describing the march as a ‘public display of indecency’ that was ‘offensive to God’.

She wrote: ‘It is shameful that this small but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals.’

The letter went on to describe homosexuals as ‘sodomites’, said homosexuality had ‘contributed to the downfall of every empire’ and added that ‘gay sex was a major cause of sexually transmitted infections’.

But Mrs Howe told the Sunday Telegraph her comments were an expression of her beliefs, not homophobia. She received a response from the council’s deputy chief executive, Bridget Buttinger, who said it was the local authority’s ‘duty… to eliminate discrimination of all kinds’.

She went on: ‘The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation.

‘Your details and details of the contents of your letter have been recorded as such and passed to the police.’

The two police officers later turned up at her home in Poringland, near Norwich, and informed her the contents of her letter had caused offence.

The incident has echoes of the case of a pensioner couple who were lectured by officers from Lancashire Police on the evils of ‘homophobia’ and ‘hate crimes’ after criticising gay rights in a letter to Wyre Borough Council. Joe Roberts and his wife Helen, both Christians, were later awarded damages.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said yesterday: ‘People must be free to express their beliefs  –  yes, even unpopular beliefs  –  to government bodies without fear of a knock at the door from police.

‘It’s not a crime to be Christian but it increasingly feels like it.’

Stonewall’s chief executive, Ben Summerskill, said: ‘Clearly her views are pretty offensive but nevertheless this [response] is disproportionate.’

Norfolk Police defended their treatment of Mrs Howe, saying: ‘We investigate all alleged hate incidents. In this instance the individual concerned was visited by officers, the comments discussed, and no further action was taken.’

Secret court raids homes, seizes billions from elderly

  • Families made to pay to access own bank account
  • Homes of elderly raided in search for documents
  • 3,000 complaints in first 18 months of new system

Secret court seizes £3.2bn from elderly… and even forces furious families to pay to access own bank account

Daily Mail | Oct 25, 2009

By Jason Lewis

Threatening: The Court of Protection's anonymous London tower block

Threatening: The Court of Protection's anonymous London tower block

A secret court is seizing the assets of thousands of elderly and mentally impaired people and turning control of their lives over to the State – against the wishes of their relatives.

The draconian measures are being imposed by the little-known Court of Protection, set up two years ago to act in the interests of people suffering from Alzheimer’s or other mental incapacity.

The court hears about 23,000 cases a year – always in private – involving people deemed unable to take their own decisions. Using far-reaching powers, the court has so far taken control of more than £3.2billion of assets.

The cases involve civil servants from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which last year took £23million in fees directly from the bank accounts of those struck down by mental illness, involved in accidents or suffering from dementia.

The officials are legally required to act in cases where people do not have a ‘living will’, or lasting power of attorney, which hands control of their assets over to family or friends.

But the system elicited an extraordinary 3,000 complaints in its first 18 months of operation. Among them were allegations that officials failed to consult relatives, imposed huge fees and even ‘raided’ elderly people’s homes searching for documents.

Carers trying to cope with a mentally impaired loved one, forced to apply for a court order to access money, said they felt the system put them under suspicion as it assumed at the outset that they were out to defraud their relatives.

Opposition politicians said the system, set up by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, needed to be overhauled to take account of the fact that most people were ‘honourable and decent’ and had their loved ones’ best interests at heart.

The Government now says everyone should establish a lasting power of attorney to state who should look after their affairs should they become incapacitated – although most people will be utterly unaware of this advice.

Only 60,000 people in Britain have registered these ‘living wills’ with the authorities, and the problems begin when someone is suddenly, unexpectedly mentally impaired.

Without this document, relatives must apply to the courts and the anonymous OPG, part of the Ministry of Justice based in an office block in Birmingham, is required to look into the background of carers to decide if they are fit to run the ill or elderly person’s affairs.

The organisation has 300 staff, costs £26.5million a year to run and is headed by £80,000-a-year career civil servant Martin John, a former head of asylum and immigration policy in Whitehall. It prepares reports for the Court of Protection, based in a tower block in Archway, North London.

In many cases relatives have to complete a 50-page form giving huge amounts of personal information about themselves, their family, their own finances and their relationship with the person they wish to help care for.

The majority of applications are decided on the basis of paper evidence without holding a hearing. But applications relating to personal welfare, or large gifts or settlements, may be contentious and require the court to hold a hearing to decide the case.

These hearings, before a senior judge, examine evidence and witnesses, who can be compelled to appear. The court has the same powers as the High Court, but is closed to all but the parties involved in the case and their lawyers. The Press and public are banned.

The presiding judge then decides whether a family member can become a ‘deputy’ acting for their mentally impaired loved one. If no one is available, or if the judge decides a family member is not suitable, the court can appoint a local authority or in some cases a solicitor to carry out the task.

The OPG then charges an annual fee of up to £800 to supervise the activities of the deputy, whether they are a family member or a professional appointee.

The court takes over control of people’s finances, which means deputies – whether a relative or not – must get authorisation to pay expenses such as rent and household bills on their behalf.

Only if a relative is given power of attorney before a person is mentally incapacitated will they be able to avoid applying to the court and the OPG for the right to control their assets later.

Any cash controlled by the court is held in the name of the Accountant General of the Supreme Court and administered by the Court Funds Office. In some cases money is voluntarily lodged with the court.

The current Court of Protection replaced a previous body with the same name which had more restricted powers and was overseen by the High Court. The new body can rule on property and financial affairs and decisions relating to health and personal welfare, without referring it to a higher court.

But relatives caught up in the system say they are suddenly confronted by a legal and bureaucratic minefield.

Children’s author Heather Bateman was forced to get permission from the court to use family funds after an accident left her journalist husband Michael in a coma.

In a moving account of her family’s ordeal in Saga magazine, she wrote: ‘Michael and I were two independent working people. We had been married for 28 years. We had written our wills, both our names were on the deeds of the house we shared in London and the Norfolk cottage we had renovated over the years.

‘We had separate bank accounts and most of the bills were paid from Michael’s account. Now, to continue living in the way we always had done, I needed to access the money in his account.

‘The Court of Protection brought me almost as much anger, grief and frustration into my life as the accident itself. [It is] an alien, intrusive, time-consuming and costly institution, which was completely out of tune with what we were going through. It ruled my waking moments and my many sleepless nights.’

Mrs Bateman even had to apply to the court for permission to pay the couple’s daughter’s university fees.

She added: ‘I could write as many cheques as necessary up to £500. But if I needed to access more I had to get permission from the court.’

Sunita Obhrai’s mother Pushpa has lived in council-run sheltered housing for 15 years. About two years ago, the 76-year-old widow started to become forgetful and once left the oven on, and the fire brigade had to be called.

Miss Obhrai claims that without her knowledge the local authority, Buckinghamshire County Council, were appointed to run her mother’s affairs.

Full Story

British cops warned to use politically correct speech

Dixon of Dock Green

Evenin’ all: DIxon of Dock Green

What’s all this then? Police can’t say evenin’ all any more

Daily Mail | Oct 26, 2009

By David Wilkes

With his greeting of ‘Evenin’ all’, Dixon of Dock Green embodied the values of the solid, commonsense copper.

But his reassuring salutation, which began each episode of the classic police TV drama from 1955 to 1976, is one which today’s real-life officers should be wary of using.

According to one force’s official guidelines, it could confuse people from different cultural backgrounds.

Warwickshire Police’s handbook Policing Our Communities, issued to every member of its staff, gives advice on communicating with people from different ethnic groups in a section entitled Communication, Some Dos & Don’ts.

It states: ‘Don’t assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon or evening, have the same meaning.’

A force spokesman explained: ‘Terms such as afternoon and evening are somewhat subjective in meaning and can vary according to a person’s culture or nationality. In many cultures the term evening is linked to time of day when people have their main meal of the day.

‘In some countries, including the UK, the evening meal time is traditionally thought of as being around 5-7pm but this might be different, say, for a family from America who might have their main meal earlier and thus for them evening may be an earlier time.’

In a section entitled Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Communities the handbook confusingly states that the phrase ‘lesbians and gay men’ is likely to be satisfactory for most situations when talking about sexual orientation, but says ‘ homosexual’ is ‘best avoided’ as the word is ‘interpreted differently by many and relates to sexual practice as opposed to sexual orientation’.

Following a Freedom of Information request to police forces and fire services it also emerged that a number, including Essex Police and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, instruct staff to avoid the words ‘child, youth or youngster’.

They could have ‘connotations of inexperience, impetuosity and unreliability, or even dishonesty’.

The guide used by them also states that addressing someone as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ may ’cause offence’. It suggests ‘young people’ instead.

The same guide also warns against the phrases ‘manning the phones’, ‘layman’s terms’ and ‘the tax man’, for ‘making women invisible’.

Yesterday Marie Clair, of the Plain English Campaign, said: ‘Those writing these guides are overanalysing things. It’s political correctness gone crazy.

‘Is anyone really going to be confused by “evening”? And if you can’t say what a lovely afternoon it is, what are you meant to say – what a lovely 3pm?’

How to be a PC PC

PD*32055796George Dixon, played by Jack Warner (right), might scratch his head over some other advice in the Warwickshire Police handbook Policing Our Communities.

For example, it advises staff to ‘be sensitive to using colloquialisms or terms of endearment that may cause offence (My love, My dear)’.

It also states: ‘Don’t use phrases that include black in a negative context, such as black mark , black day.’

And staff are told: ‘Do take care to be patient and reassuring when accent or language hinders communication. (Remember, a translator could be useful).’

Other words, ‘many slightly archaic and best avoided’ according to the handbook, include: ‘ Passive homosexual – use the term “gay manî. Practising homosexual – ditto above. A woman with lesbian tendencies – just say lesbian.

‘Frequent – use the term “often visited”, “enjoyed going to” – frequent is normally used in reference to criminals.’

Some of the daftest dictats

* Don’t assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon or evening have the same meaning

* Do be sensitive to using colloquialisms or terms of endearment that may cause offence (My love, My dear)’

* Don’t use phrases that include Black in a negative context, such as Black mark `Black day”

* Do take care to be patient and reassuring when accent or language hinders communication. (Remember, a translator could be useful)

* ‘Homosexual’ in most people’s minds relate to men only, this is not the case, however as the word is interpreted differently by many, and relates to sexual practice as opposed to sexual orientation, it is best avoided’

* Other words, many slightly archaic and best avoided, include: Passive homosexual – use the term “gay man”. Practising homosexual – ditto above. A woman with lesbian tendencies – just say lesbian. Frequent – use the term “often visited”, “enjoyed going to” – frequent is normally used in reference to criminals’

Yet another critic of Kremlin intelligence agency assassinated

Maksharip Aushev
Magomed Hazbiyev, the companion-in-arms of killed opposition activist Maksharip Aushev, mourns over his body at Aushev’s father’s house in Nazran, southern Russia October 25, 2009. REUTERS/Kazbek Basayev

Opposition figure in Ingushetia is killed

Human rights activist had led protests against Russian security forces

Washington Post | Oct 26, 2009

By Philip P. Pan

MOSCOW — A popular opposition figure in Russia’s restive Ingushetia province was gunned down Sunday morning in the latest killing of a government critic in the North Caucasus, prompting outrage from human rights groups and raising fears of further violence in the region.

Maksharip Aushev, a businessman who had led mass protests against alleged abuses by the government’s security forces, was driving on a major highway in the neighboring province of Kabardino-Balkaria when a passing vehicle sprayed his car with more than 60 bullets, authorities said. The attack also seriously wounded a passenger.

Colleagues condemned the slaying as an attempt to silence voices critical of the authorities. They said it sent an especially chilling message because Aushev held a post on a human rights council established by Moscow and enjoyed the support of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the local governor appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev last year.

Yevkurov has reached out to human rights activists and the opposition, offering them a degree of protection, but Aushev’s killing suggests that he, and by extension the Kremlin, may be losing control over the overlapping law enforcement agencies fighting a growing Islamist insurgency in the region.

In an interview with The Washington Post this month, Aushev accused the security forces of conducting an indiscriminate campaign of abductions, torture and killings in Ingushetia that had only strengthened the rebels. He singled out the powerful Federal Security Service, one of the successors of the KGB, as well as local police controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s strongman in neighboring Chechnya.

“I don’t consider them officers. I consider them bandits,” Aushev said over dinner during the wedding of one of his sons.

Two years ago, another son and a nephew were abducted, taken to Chechnya and tortured. Aushev blamed the FSB and won their release by organizing huge street protests, emerging as one of the most outspoken leaders of the opposition to Ingushetia’s governor at the time, Murat Zyazikov, a former KGB officer and an ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

After another opposition figure, Magomed Yevloyev, was shot to death in police custody last year, Aushev agreed to take over his Web site, a news operation that infuriated the authorities with its reports on corruption and human rights violations. He later led protests that helped persuade the Kremlin to fire Zyazikov and bring in Yevkurov.

In a show of support for the new governor, Aushev said he retired from politics and no longer considered himself a member of the opposition. But he had no illusions about the new governor’s ability to rein in the security forces. “From day one, they’ve been sabotaging him, undermining his authority and continuing with the illegal executions and torture,” he said.

Aushev added that the FSB still considered him “enemy number one.”

A month ago, the security forces stopped his car and attempted to take him into custody after he left a meeting with the government. He escaped only because a crowd of motorists, including an aide to the governor, surrounded him.

“If I had been a half-meter closer, they would have tied me up and I would have disappeared without a trace,” he told Caucasian Knot, a Web site that covers the region.

In a statement Sunday, Yevkurov described Aushev’s slaying as a “heinous crime intended to destabilize the region” and vowed to do everything in his power to punish the killers.

One of the governor’s aides, Musa Pliyev, a former member of the opposition who had worked closely with Aushev, said there was little doubt “the murder was a political one” but stopped short of blaming the security services.

“If the authorities who should guarantee the freedom and safety of their citizens fail to do this, then they must be blamed for Aushev’s death and many other human rights activists and journalists who have been killed recently,” he added.

The shooting follows the execution-style killings of two charity workers in the Chechen capital of Grozny in August and of Natalya Estemirova, Chechnya’s most prominent human rights activist, whose body was found in Ingushetia in July.

Russia in U.N. rights dock for journalist murders

U.N. experts grill Russia on Politkovskaya, other murders, ask about independence of judges, Chechnya abductions

Reuters | Oct 15, 2009

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Oct 15 (Reuters) – Russia was grilled on Thursday by U.N. human rights experts over murders of journalists and activists, the independence of its judiciary and abductions during counter-terrorism campaigns in Chechnya.

Georgy Matyushkin, deputy justice minister, led a 24-member delegation sent to defend Russia’s record at the U.N. Human Rights Committee, where debate continues on Friday.

The discussion came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow and called on Russia to prevent attacks on activists challenging the Kremlin. [ID:nLE140486]

“The physical danger to people who speak out on human rights in Russia is still striking,” said Ruth Wedgwood, an American expert on the U.N. panel. “People who are either journalists or human rights activists seem to have a very high mortality rate.”

Wedgwood cited the unsolved murder cases of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, her Novaya Gazeta newspaper colleague Anastasia Baburova, Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two, was shot entering her Moscow home on Oct. 7, 2006. Her family voiced doubts last week about the guilt of two men accused of playing a role in her killing and about the Kremlin’s will to catch the main suspects. “I think that the past still hangs heavily on society. Things from the past can set the tone of lawlessness which is very hard to tamp down,” added Wedgwood, an international law professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.

Committee members also voiced concerns at the effectiveness of criminal investigations in Russia, discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace, police raids on gay clubs and hate speech by some officials.

Nigel Rodley, a British committee member, cited allegations that people were mistreated in police custody in Russia, but acknowledged that the situation had improved since he visited the country as U.N. torture investigator in 1994.

A new mechanism for monitoring human rights in places of detention was encouraging and should help curb abuses, he said.

“Those responsible for questioning (detainees) and interrogations need to know that they don’t know when they might be caught in the act,” Rodley said.

The U.N. committee, composed of 18 independent experts, is examining the compliance of five states including Russia with an international treaty on civil and political rights. Its findings will be issued at the end of the three-week session on Oct. 30. (Editing by Diana Abdallah)