Monthly Archives: December 2012

That was the year that was

WordPress.com just sent us this 2012 annual report for our little wireless blog.

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Here’s an unintentionally hilarious excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

That’s right: in the coming year, we’re selling out seven times at the gentrifying above-mentioned center, but until then, read the complete report.

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Campaign Kazakhstan Takes Protest to Tony Blair (London, December 17, 1 p.m.)

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Free all political prisoners!

Kazakhstan is a one man dictatorship. Workers across the country are paid starvation wages whilst a tiny minority become fabulously wealthy. When people stand up for their social, human, workers rights, they face vicious repression. Kazakhstan is constantly ranked amongst the lowest in the world for press freedom, human rights, but amongst the highest for corruption and embezzlement. Tony Blair has acted as an apologist for this regime, speaking on its behalf many times.

But this has not stopped people fighting back. The repression is met with a heroic fighback by many in Kazakhstan. Kazakh president Nazarbayev is preparing the way to become the next Mubarrak or Ben Ali.

Aron Atabek
Aron Atabek, a poet and dissident, has been imprisoned for 5 years now for supporting the struggle of residents of Shanrak. They were evicted with no offer of alternative accommodation. For the ‘crime’ of helping in negotiations with the authorities and the residents, Aron was sentenced to 18 years. He has been in solitary confinement for 2 years, denied access to his family. This is illegal under international law. We demand his immediate release, along with all those imprisoned as a result of the Shanrak struggle.

Vadim Kuramshin
Human rights activist and lawyer Vadim Kuramshin has recently been sentenced for 12 years in a retrial, after a jury threw out the charges a few months earlier. Getting rid of all pretense of a fair trial, neither Vadim nor his representatives were not allowed to attend.

Vadim is in prison simply because he is a throrn in the side of the regime, highlighting the many human rights abuses that occur throughout Kazakhstan. For more details on the campaign for Vadim, see our website below.

Who are Campaign Kazakhstan?
Campaign Kazakhstan fights for democratic, social and workers’ rights in Kazakhstan. Through its campaigning material and its web-site, it highlights the conditions facing workers there and organises international solidarity. Many trade union branches and human rights groups have supported Campaign Kazakhstan internationally. Paul Murphy MEP has raised the campaign’s demands in the European Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alan Meale MP and Billy Bragg have all supported the campaign.

Campaign Kazakhstan appeals to human rights and press freedom organisations, trade unionists and all those who support democratic, social, worker and political rights in Kazakhstan to:

a) Add their names to the list of sponsors and supporters of the campaign
b) Send letters of protest about the denial of democratic rights in Kazakhstan
c) Spread the word about the situation in Kazakhstan
d) Join protests, lobbies and other campaigns
e) Make a donation through the website and ask your colleagues, family and friends to do the same

campaignkazakhstan.org

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Counterpunch
December 13, 2012
The World Bank Brings Nazarbayev University to Kazakhstan
by Allen Ruff and Steve Horn

A year ago, on Dec. 15, 2011,  Kazakhstan state security forces opened fire with U.S.-supplied weapons on oil workers on strike since the preceding May for increased wages and better conditions in the Caspian Sea company town of Zhanaozen. According to the official count, 15 workers died and upwards of 70 were wounded. Unofficial accounts reported much higher number of casualties.  Several hundred miles to the east in the capital, Astana, business went on as usual that day for the Western faculty members and administrators at the recently built multi-billion dollar Nazarbayev University, a joint venture involving the country’s authoritarian regime, the World Bank, and a number of major, primarily US “partnering” universities. This is the first of a three-part series, stimulated by news of the “Zhanaozen Massacre” and initial word of “global university” dealings in Kazakhstan.

Part One

A number of prestigious, primarily U.S.-based universities are quietly working with the authoritarian regime in  Kazakhstan under the dictatorial rule of the country’s “Leader for Life,” Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In a project largely shaped and brokered by the World Bank in 2009 and  2010, the regime sealed deals with some ten major U.S. and British universities and scientific research institutes. They’ve been tasked to design and guide the specialized colleges at the country’s newly constructed showcase university.

As a result, scores of academics have flocked to the resource rich, strategically located country four times the size of Texas. They remain there despite the fact that every major international human rights monitor has cited the Nazarbayev regime for its continuing abuse of  civil liberties and basic freedoms.

Kazakhstan now serves as a key hub for the application of the World Bank’s “knowledge bank” agenda, a vivid case study of the far-reaching nature of a corporate – and by extension, imperial – higher education agenda. . . .

Read the rest of the article here.

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“If you want to live, you pay them” (Kopeisk Prison)

nplusonemag.com
3 December 2012

“If you want to live, you pay them”

On Saturday, November 24, 2012, hundreds of prisoners at Penal Colony No.6 in Kopeisk, Russia walked out onto the roofs of the prison with banners in order to protest the horrific conditions inside. The signs, some of them allegedly written in blood, plead for help. The protest led to a violent confrontation between the police and the prisoners’ relatives gathered outside the prison gates—the protest had been staged on a visitors’ day.

The following are three testimonies: the first a statement from Valeria Prikhodkina, a member of the Public Monitoring Committee of the Chelyabinsk region; next, a description of conditions inside Penal Colony No.6 from former inmate Mikhail Ermuraki, who was released in April 2012; and, finally, human rights activist Nikolai Shur’s interview with Russian independent news site slon.ru upon visiting the prison on Tuesday.

Valeria Prikhodkina

Public Monitoring Committee, Chelyabinsk

[Source: Bolshoi Gorod. Published November 25, 2012]

Saturday was visiting day at the prison. People started coming early in the morning, some having traveled long distances. All visitors were stopped at the prison gates without explanation. Something was going on inside. Suddenly, the riot police stormed into the prison along with other police forces and even fire trucks. The visiting relatives began to panic.

The inmates had organized a strike; they went out into the prison yard and refused to go back inside.

More relatives gathered at the gates. By evening, it seemed that military operations were underway inside the colony: you could hear screams, people were running on the roofs, and then prisoners hung out a sheet with the message “People, help us” written on it. Members of the Public Monitoring Committee arrived, but they were not admitted into the prison. After they left at around 23:00, a bloodbath began. The police beat the prisoners with sticks, indiscriminately and swinging wildly.

From among our colleagues, only Oksana Trufanova stayed. She met the prison warden and was told that the prisoners had captured the watchtower and that she would not be allowed inside. She went into the grounds as far as she could and then left when she found she could go no further. While we were talking to her on the phone, we suddenly heard screams and the line went dead. It turned out that the riot police had attacked the assembled crowd of relatives to disperse them. Oksana was hit on the head with a police club and she lost consciousness. I don’t know anything about the drunken young people they’re talking about in official reports. I think it’s just nonsense. Who visits prisons? Mothers, wives—they’d been standing at the shut prison gates in the cold since the morning.

This particular penal colony is, of course, problematic, and we tend to visit it more often than we do other places.

If you come to a prison and the prisoners don’t say anything or tell you everything’s fine, that’s no reason to believe that it’s a regular Young Pioneer summer camp. Prisoners only start speaking when they can’t take it anymore and believe it can’t get any worse. Apparently that’s what happened in Kopeisk.

We are currently reviewing the case of Nikolai Korovkin along with the prosecutor’s office. Investigators have kept themselves busy by refusing all our requests since June. We have a lot of evidence that he was simply beaten to death. The authorities claim he died of late stage AIDS. The problem with that story is that he only spent two months in the penal colony after his trial. So either something happened to him in prison or they sent a gravely ill man to the penal colony. We have found someone who witnessed the beating.

Another prisoner, Daniil Abakumov, when he wound up in a pretrial detention facility, disclosed details and wrote a statement. But then they sent him back to the colony. I can’t even talk about what happened to him after that, but there is video of his testimony online. We’re talking about extortion, beatings, rape—in a word, torture.

Why does all of this go on? They’re trying to shake the relatives down for money. I don’t know whether it’s for themselves or for the colony as whole. Prisons in Russia are being reformed right now, and the penal colonies are supposed to be outfitted to European standards. But they don’t have the money for it. And so the relatives are paying for everything from fans to game consoles. You want to be paroled? That will cost you. Do you want your son or husband to be safe from beatings? That will cost you.

There aren’t standard rates—they stop at nothing. Someone was bringing them desk lamps, someone else, toilets. And the relatives were the ones who took out the loans, who actually bought these toilets, in exchange for parole. Parents are constantly complaining that their children are completely eligible for parole but it is not being granted because they can’t afford to pay the authorities. They were extorting money from Korovkin as well.

There are rumors that if a prisoner complains, they break his hands. I don’t have any proof of this, but this kind of injury, fractured fingers, is very common in the Chelyabinsk region, and often ends in amputation. Especially in this colony, where there have been several cases. No one will say what happened. And what would you say if they broke your fingers?

Yes, this penal colony is mostly populated with “maximum security” inmates, repeat offenders. But the government admits that 30% of the incarcerated are there undeservedly, while in reality the number is even greater. As human rights advocates, we are not concerned about what people are in prison for. People are people. They have been convicted and sentenced to incarceration. No law legislates slave labor, humiliation, round-the-clock beatings and torturous conditions.

Mikhail Ermuraki 

Former Inmate at Kopeisk No. 6

[Source: Openspace.Ru. Published November 27, 2012]

When I left No. 6 on Monday evening it was still cordoned off. They had started letting buses in, but they weren’t letting cars in. There were a bunch of OMONvehicles. A bunch of traffic cops. The bloody sheets [the demands on the sheets were written in blood—Openspace.ru] that prisoners had written “People on the outside, help us!” had been removed from the barracks and towers yesterday, when the riot police had gone into the colony.

I’ll say this: it was reasonable people in No. 6 who organized themselves. They don’t want to be beaten. They decided they can’t take it anymore. They’ll either slit their wrists, commit suicide or go down swinging. This wasn’t an uprising, but a declaration of their rights. Around 6 PM Moscow time on Monday I got a call from the prison and was told that 250 people, including those who had been on the roof in Kopeisk over the weekend, were sent to the medical unit, and the majority of them had been made to stand in the yard naked. They stood there naked for no less than five hours, keeping in mind that on Monday, it was -9 degrees Celsius in Kopeisk. They weren’t allowed to drink or put on clothes.

When I was there, things like this happened as well. It’s a kind of torture. An hour into it, you want to go to the bathroom. You fidget and the guard will tell you to stand still. If you disobey, they drag you into the duty room, put you on the “stretcher” [which involves handcuffing the prisoner’s hands and feet to the bars as far apart as possible—Openspace.ru], start beating you and tell you that you’re so lawless, why are you breaking the code of conduct?

It’s especially horrible in No. 6. The guards take you to solitary confinement and practice on you like you’re a punching bag. They hit you anywhere, even in the balls. Until you’re foaming at the mouth — some people lose consciousness. They don’t care how old you are—20, 48, or 65. I went through this myself. I was released on April 4 of this year, and I went in for oral surgery on April 5 and again on April 10. The two oral surgeons could have wept. I opened up my mouth and told them I’d been walking around in this condition since March 24. My jaw was completely broken: they did that to me in prison. When I got out, I found the mothers of various other inmates and explained to them their sons didn’t write them for months because their hands had been broken.

One of the convicts, Korovkin was his last name, they killed him last summer because he refused to pay them. It goes like this: a new batch of prisoners arrives, and they find out what people’s financial situation is. God forbid they find out that your wife has a hair salon or that your mother-in-law runs a kiosk. Then the extortion begins.

If you want to live, you pay them. They charge 200, 300, 500 rubles. If you don’t pay, they pour chlorine on you, strip you naked, and throw you out into the yard where it’s -20 degrees Celsius. After four days of that, I got pneumonia. I filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office and got solitary for five days as a result. A day in, I lost my voice. Then my blood pressure dropped. Just then investigators from the prosecutor’s office came—I got lucky. They took me out of there to a [regular] cell and the prosecutor asked, “What’s going on here?” I just pulled up my t-shirt without saying a word. There were marks from the beatings on my body, seven stripes four centimeters wide and 12 to 36 centimeters long. They saw this, yelled at the prison authorities, but no one lost their jobs. The worst part is that they’re not letting any human rights advocates into the prison right now.

Nikolai Shur

Member of the regional public commission on prisoners’ rights, interviewed by Roman Dobrokhotov

[Source: Slon.ru. Published November 27, 2012].

Nikolai, today your group was finally allowed into the penal colony. Did you find evidence of violence there, beatings?

During the protest, there was no violence from either side. The prisoner’s protest was completely peaceful: they did not attack anyone. And they ended it of their own free will because they had achieved their goal: to draw the attention of the media, human rights advocates, and the prosecutor’s office to what was happening in the prison.

There had been reports of torture and beatings. Have you been able to confirm them?

Yes, beatings and torture were a regular occurrence in the prison on a mass scale. We were able to gather specific examples of this corroborated by photographic evidence and videotaped testimony, which we will present at a press conference tomorrow.

Were you allowed to see the solitary confinement cells?

Yes, we were allowed in everywhere. In the solitary confinement cells there is a man who has been on hunger strike since the 19th and is in critical condition. They are not allowing doctors in to see him, and today, he cut his veins in desperation. And that’s not the only such case.

What kind of torture goes on at this prison? 

Today, we heard stories of how inmates were given electric shocks. Bracelets are put on their legs to which a generator is hooked up. The generator is cranked up and the person is shocked.

Why do they do this?

For various reasons—mostly in order to extort money.

So you were also able to confirm instances of extortion?

Yes, in large numbers. It wasn’t just a handful or dozens of cases, but hundreds of cases: it really a mass phenomenon.

But the prisoners earn pennies—what can be extorted from them?

They make their relatives bring money or goods. There are a huge number of instances of this.

How much money do they ask for?

One inmate estimated that about a million rubles (about $32 K USD—Trans.) is taken from a unit (a unit contains between 100 and 150 prisoners) per month. Which is to say about 10 to 15 million rubles a month for the whole colony. However, these figures are only from one source: they need to be corroborated.

Your committee will continue to watch this penal colony since it’s highly likely that the administration will decide to get even with the prisoners for their protest.

Yes, the prison administration is just dreaming of this, but right now, they are more concerned with saving their skin than getting revenge.

Do you think they’ll manage to save their skins?

I really hope that everyone guilty will be punished, I sincerely hope for this. If you journalists continue to support us, we might have a chance. 

Translated by Bela Shayevich and Chtodelat News

Photo by Valeria Prikhodkina. Prisoners at Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk holding a sign reading, “The Prison Administration Extorts $. Tortures and Humiliates Us.”

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Russia Riot Prison Dubbed ‘Hell’ by Kremlin Rights Council

[…]

Kremlin human rights council chief Mikhail Fedotov said Thursday a number of inmates had been held in isolation cells for “months or even years.”

“There was one man who could only crawl,” he added. “His legs didn’t work anymore after being kept in a punishment isolation cell for months.”

The disturbances made headlines across Russia and were the subject of intense online debate by the country’s increasingly politicized internet community. Police also made 12 arrests at a November 26 protest against torture in the Russian prison system outside the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FCIN).

“The attention being paid to the abuse in Kopeisk is a great step forward for Russia and another sign that civil society has at last woken up,” veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov told RIA Novosti.

“Four prisoners were killed in this very same prison in 2008 and there was no attention paid to their deaths at all,” he added. “It was as if people thought then this was how things ought to be.”

Investigators have since filed assault charges against five inmates. One prison guard has also been charged with extortion.

“People who complained [about extortion] were beaten,” council member Igor Kalyapin said, adding that “a stream” of complaints to local officials about the alleged abuse had been ignored.

Chelyabinsk Region Governor Mikhail Yurevich said last month the riot was sparked by a “corrupt” system.

The council’s news conference came two days after deputy FCIN head Eduard Petrukhin admitted that attempted reforms of Russia’s prison system had been a “failure”.

More than 700,000 Russians are currently behind bars. Human rights activists frequently complain of sub-standard living conditions, torture, and disease in the country’s prisons.

[…]

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New York City Fast Food Workers on Strike!

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I serve fast food, and I’m striking for my family
A McDonald’s cashier explains why she walked off the job
by Linda Archer
New York Daily News
Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Black Friday, I wasn’t searching the shelves for deals. I was working the cash register at the McDonald’s on 42nd St. just off Broadway. And seeing all of those shoppers out buying gifts for their loved ones made me sad — because it reminded me that fast-food wages aren’t enough, even on the most deeply discounted day of the year.

I earn $8 an hour — which is more than many of my co-workers, who earn minimum wage — but it’s hardly enough to cover my rent and bills, much less leave anything for Christmas presents.

But more than that, the fix I’m in reveals a growing problem with New York City’s economy: that many of our city’s businesses aren’t paying their workers enough to be customers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why on Thursday, I joined with hundreds of fast-food workers to walk off the job and call for wages we can afford to live on. For the first time ever, storefront staff at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other chains are coming together to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference.

At restaurants in Times Square, lower Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and throughout the city, we stepped out from behind the counter because we believe this city will be a better place when jobs pay enough for working people to meet basic needs. For that to happen, the highly profitable, $200 billion-a-year fast food industry (that’s in the U.S. alone), which employs 4 million Americans, has to change.

Fifteen dollars an hour would make a huge difference in my life. I’m 59 and have been working at McDonald’s for almost three years. When I started, they told me that we’d get a raise every six months. That hasn’t happened.

With more money, I could afford to go back to school. I could find a better apartment for me and my 80-year-old mother. I could pay my bills and buy Christmas presents.

I’m not alone. Some 50,000 New Yorkers are employed by fast-food chains as cashiers, janitors, storage clerks and cooks. The number of these low-wage food service jobs is growing as fast as any sector of our economy.

The state minimum wage is $7.25; according to official government statistics, the median hourly wage for New York food service and prep workers is $8.90 an hour. The stereotype is that most of those earning these paychecks are young people trying to get themselves through school or pay the cell phone bill.

That’s incorrect. We are people like Gregory, a 53-year-old KFC worker earning $8.20 an hour who hasn’t gotten a raise since 1998, and Joshua, 28, a stocker for Wendy’s earning $7.25 per hour and not getting enough hours to pay rent, school loans and support his newborn son.

We know change is possible. We’ve seen low-wage workers win victories before. Janitors and cafeteria workers who’ve come together by forming a union already make double what we do.

But in fast food, we’ve been stuck fending for ourselves. Some of our managers have even threatened to withhold pay unless employees sign statements promising not to ask for a raise. Another McDonald’s worker was suspended for trying to get his co-workers to sign a petition in support of our campaign.

We will not go away. I have high hopes that next Christmas, or a Christmas very soon, large fast-food chains will be paying enough so workers can give our loved ones the gifts they want, which will help give our city’s economy the growth it needs.

Archer works at McDonald’s and lives in the Bronx.

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Ukrainian Neo-Nazis Attack Presentation of Journal “Commons” in Ternopil

commons.com.ua

Neo-Nazis attack organizers at presentation of journal “Commons” in Ternopil
December 1, 2012

Ten neo-Nazis assaulted the four organizers of a presentation of the journal Spilne (“Commons”) on December 1 in Ternopil. Spilne is a journal of social critique whose new issue focuses on the subjects of class exploitation and class struggle.

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The presentation was scheduled for 1 p.m. at the regional history museum. At noon, however, the four organizers were attacked right in the museum by ten neo-Nazis, most of them football hooligans from FC Niva (Ternopil). Despite their numerical advantage, the attackers used pepper spray. One of the organizers was hit over the head with a chair and required stitches.

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It is known that the attack was organized by Igor “Juice” Kostyuk, a member of the far-right party Svoboda. Before the presentation, he had threatened the presentation’s organizers online and mobilized the local extreme right.

This was not the first neo-Nazi attack on critical thought in Ukraine. In particular, the extreme right had carried out physical attacks on the Visual Culture Research Center at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University and actively supported moves by the university administration to close the center, the most active venue for critical public scholarship in our country.

The presentation of Spilne was to have been purely educational in nature. The participants intended to discuss forms of abuse by employers (in particular, precarious employment), as well as what things are needed to empower workers and trade unions. “The Nazis thus showed their opposition to the people of Ternopil thinking critically, knowing more about free education, free labor and class exploitation, and taking a skeptical attitude toward myths about migration. It is symbolic that the extreme right now actually hinders the grassroots self-organization of workers and young people,” said Maxim, one of the organizers of the event. “Currently the extreme right can ‘persuade’ opponents only through violence. “

Police came to the scene of the crime and are now deciding whether to institute criminal proceedings.

After the incident, the presentation and discussion took place as planned.

This report is based on an article originally published on the web site gaslo.info.

UPDATE: According to the online Ternopil newspaper Doba, members of the far-right group Trizub (“Trident”) have assumed responsibility for the attack. They were, allegedly, thus protecting “the honor of God and country” (!) from “anti-Ukrainian scribbling.”

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