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Posts tagged ‘Kazakhstan’

Three Friends of Boston Bomber Plead Not Guilty to Cover-up Charges.

Three friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared in court on Friday, pleading not guilty to separate charges of lying to investigators and conspiring to obstruct justice.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19-year-olds from Kazakhstan, are charged with impeding the investigation into the April 15 attack that left three dead and about 200 injured by trying to conceal and cover-up evidence

Robel Phillipos, 19, another college friend of Tsarnaev’s, pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to police after the attack.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon blasts, police carried out a massive manhunt for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who allegedly planted two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line.

The indictment alleges that after the FBI released photographs of the suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sent Kadyrbayev a text message suggesting that he go to Tsarnaev’s “room and take what’s there.”

The three young men then went to Tsarnaev’s dormitory room and removed a laptop and a backpack containing fireworks and other items, prosecutors allege.

Later that night Kadyrbayev is accused of putting the backpack in a garbage bag and placing it in a dumpster outside their apartment.

During later questioning, Phillipos hid these events from police and “in so doing, he made numerous false and misleading statements to the agents,” according to the indictment.

Kadyrbayev’s lawyer Robert Stahl said his client had “no criminal intent to obstruct justice to assist Dzhokar in any way.”

“My client is shocked and horrified as the rest of us about what happened and there was no context for him to put this in because Dzhokar was not radical, not religious and never expressed any of these views.”

The latest arraignment comes from a superceding indictment which combines the case of the first two suspects — who had already pled to the charges — with that of Phillipos.

“Today’s arraignment of Robel Phillipos on the indictment is simply a formal step in the court process and does not represent any new development in the case,” his lawyers said.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face up to 20 years in prison and the prospect of deportation from the United States if convicted. Phillipos faces up to 16 years in jail if he is found guilty.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a shootout with police, while his younger brother — who has pleaded not guilty to 30 counts, 17 of which are punishable by death — was later arrested, wounded and hiding inside a small boat in a nearby backyard.

On Thursday, the parents of Tamerlan’s wife Katherine Russell, appeared before a grand jury to answer questions about the attack, local media reported.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

IRS Morality: Defend Planned Parenthood, Audit Adoptive Families.

Douglas Shulman
Douglas Shulman was the U.S. commissioner of Internal Revenue. (ACLJ)

Earlier this week, in a feeble attempt at humor on Facebook, I posted: “If you haven’t been audited by the IRS during the Obama administration, can you even call yourself a conservative?” Given the scale of the abuses, I should probably just shorten it and say, “Only RINOs don’t get audited.”

My wife and I got audited in 2011, with the IRS examining every inch of our adoption the previous year. The process was painful, but we got through it, and our refund may have been adjusted by a few dollars (the amount of the adjustment was so small, I don’t actually remember). In other words, the audit was a gigantic waste of time—for the IRS and for our family. A Facebook commenter, however, pointed me to a report that made me rethink the experience.

As we get word that the IRS has harassed a number of pro-life groups, including at least one alleged demand that a pro-life group not picket Planned Parenthood, check out this statistic: In 2012, the IRS requested additional information from 90 percent of returns claiming the adoption tax credit and went on to actually audit 69 percent. More details from the Taxpayer Advocate Service:

  • During the 2012 filing season, 90 percent of returns claiming the refundable adoption credit were subject to additional review to determine if an examination was necessary. The most common reasons were income and a lack of documentation.
  • Sixty-nine percent of all adoption credit claims during the 2012 filing season were selected for audit.
  • Of the completed adoption tax credit audits, over 55 percent ended with no change in the tax owed or refund due in fiscal year 2012. The median refund amount involved in these audits is over $15,000 and the median adjusted gross income (AGI) of the taxpayers involved is about 64,000. The average adoption credit correspondence audit currently takes 126 days, causing a lengthy delay for taxpayers waiting for refunds.

While many returns had missing or incomplete information (more on that in a moment), what was the outcome of this massive audit campaign? Not much:

  • Despite Congress’ express intent to target the credit to low and middle income families, the IRS created income-based rules that were responsible for over one-third of all additional reviews in FY2012.
  • Of the $668.1 million in adoption credit claims in tax year (TY) 2011 as a result of adoption credit audits, the IRS only disallowed $11 million — or one and one-half percent — in adoption credit claims. However, the IRS has also had to pay out $2.1 million in interest in TY 2011 to taxpayers whose refunds were held past the 45-day period allowed by law.

So Congress implemented a tax credit to facilitate adoption—a process that is so extraordinarily expensive that it is out of reach for many middle-class families—and the IRS responded by implementing an audit campaign that delayed much-needed tax refunds to the very families that needed them the most. Oh, and the return on its investment in this harassment? Slightly more than 1 percent.

This audit wave got almost no media coverage, but what was the experience like for individual families? In a word, grueling. Huge document requests with short turnaround times were followed by lengthy IRS delays in processing, all with no understanding for the unique documentation challenges of international adoption. Here’s how one adoptive family described the experience:

“It was early June when a letter arrived from IRS explaining that we (and lots of other adoptive parents, as it turns out) were being audited re: our adoption tax credit. The folks at IRS gave us 30 days to gather our receipts, invoices, canceled checks, etc. to document our expenses and submit said documents to their tax examiner.

“If we couldn’t comply within the time limit, they would set aside our request for a credit and we would be out of luck, meaning no more of our money would be refunded to us. If we got them the paperwork, then they would review our records and decide how much more of our money they would refund to us. (Am I bitter? Just a tad bit …)

“Anyway, this might seem to be an easy fix to those unfamiliar with foreign adoption. After all, if you adopt, you work with an agency and that’s a business, right? Businesses give receipts and invoices, right? And everyone has canceled checks, rights? Um, not so much. See, we adopted from Kazakhstan … on the other side of the freakin’ earth … and it’s a cash economy … that uses its own currency … and English isn’t the language of Kazakhstan. The aforementioned issues presented a teensy problem to securing what IRS needed in a timely manner.”

She went on to explain the challenges of documenting expenses (challenges we shared in our own audit, when I ultimately decided it was simply futile trying to document how we spent all the cash we took to Ethiopia). Her post concluded as she wrapped up the audit and waited for the IRS to respond:

“Anyway, here we are, 30 days later. For the last several days, my dining room table has been covered with documents. I’ve been reliving my bad old times of adoption dossier preparation but in reverse this time. I finally got it all compiled, copies made, and the huge package of receipts, invoices, translations and conversions sent off to the IRS via Express mail. Now we wait for an answer … to see how much of our money the IRS will give us back. Let’s see if they can turn it around in 30 days like I had to. Bitter??? Nooooo, not me.”

Is it the IRS’ job to frustrate and obstruct the intent of Congress by targeting vulnerable families? Once again, here’s the Taxpayer Advocate Service:

“With respect to the Adoption Credit, and in particular the credit for adoption of special needs children, the IRS has failed abysmally to take into account that over 45 percent of adopting families are at or below 200 percent federal poverty level, presenting particular communication and functional literacy challenges even as they are desperately in need of the funds which Congress has sought to deliver to them.”

As an adoptive family, it’s sometimes difficult to describe the immense challenges in gathering paperwork, opening your lives to social workers for home studies, then expensive travel to sometimes-corrupt foreign locales to then launch a new life with a child you love immensely but who is also experiencing his or her own culture shock and adjustment.

All of this places a great strain on family finances and emotions. To then face an audit on the other side? All so the IRS can collect a whopping 1 percent additional revenue? It’s beyond the pale. If the IRS is concerned about fraud, it can audit random samples, not the vast majority of adoptive families claiming the credit.

The IRS is a broken institution. Yet despite its moral and legal corruption, it still wields immense power. As Congress investigates wrongdoing, it’s past time to consider fundamental tax reform. In other words, starve the beast. It has proven it can’t be trusted with power.

This article is crossposted at National Review Online.



David French is a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.

Space Trio Lands in Kazakhstan After Five Months in Orbit.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — The first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station landed safely in Kazakhstan with two crewmates on Tuesday, wrapping up a five-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

A Soyuz capsule under an orange parachute raised clouds of dust as it ignited an engine to cushion its landing some 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan at 8:31 a.m. (0231 GMT), Russian television showed in a live broadcast.

“The crew are feeling well,” Mission Control outside Moscow said in a radio transmission, as several search and rescue helicopters hovered around the capsule on a bright morning.

The three astronauts were shown smiling, seated in semi-reclined chairs and covered with blue thermal blankets, waiting for medical tests after their landing.

About 3-1/2 hours earlier, space station commander Chris Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko departed the $100-billion orbital outpost as it sailed 255 miles (410 kilometers) over eastern Mongolia.

“It’s just been an extremely fulfilling and amazing experience,” Hadfield radioed to flight controllers on Monday.

The mission included an impromptu spacewalk on Saturday to fix an ammonia coolant leak that had cropped up two days earlier. Without the repair, NASA likely would have had to cut back the station’s science experiments to save power. The cooling system dissipates heat from electronics on the station’s solar-powered wing panels.

During a 5-1/2-hour spacewalk, Marshburn and Chris Cassidy, who remains aboard the station, replaced a suspect ammonia coolant pump, apparently resolving the leak. Engineers will monitor the system for several weeks to make sure there are no additional problems.

Hadfield made history on Monday when he released the first music video shot in space, turning an astronaut into an overnight music sensation with his zero-gravity version of David Bowie’s hit “Space Oddity.”

The mission of Hadfield, Marshburn, and Romanenko, who blasted off 146 days ago, was the 35th expedition aboard the space station, a permanently staffed laboratory for biomedical, materials science, technology demonstrations, and other research.

Their replacements are due to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 28. Until then, a skeleton crew commanded by Pavel Vinogradov and including NASA astronaut Cassidy and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will keep the station operating.

The crew’s return to Earth comes on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first U.S. space station, Skylab. Three crews lived and worked on the relatively short-lived Skylab between May 1973 and February 1974.

The project helped NASA prepare for in-flight research aboard the space shuttles and the International Space Station, which was constructed in orbit beginning in 1998.

The outpost, which is scheduled to remain in orbit until at least 2020, has been permanently staffed since November 2000.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

McCain: New Boston Suspects Partially Responsible for Security Guard’s Death.

Image: McCain: New Boston Suspects Partially Responsible for Security Guard's Death

By Todd Beamon

Sen. John McCain said on Wednesday that “all of us should be outraged” that three other suspects have been arrested for allegedly trying to cover up the Boston Marathon terror bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

“It’s just incomprehensible that they knew about it,” McCain told Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

The 19-year-old suspects — Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev of Kazakhstan; and Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Mass. — were charged by federal authorities on Wednesday with allegedly trying to cover up the bombings.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, who were pictured with bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Times Square in New York last year, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice by plotting to dispose of a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks belonging to Tsarnaev, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.

Phillipos, who is an American citizen and a roommate of Tsarnaev when they attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, was charged with making false statements to law enforcement officials in a terrorism investigation.

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, noted that MIT security officer Sean Collier was killed by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, who later died in a shootout with police, “after these individuals knew full well that they were responsible for the bombings.

“Maybe you can’t try them for it, but certainly on a moral basis, they are partially — or, to a large degree — responsible for the death of a law-enforcement agent,” McCain said, referring to the three new suspects.

The senior senator is a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who have put forth comprehensive immigration reform legislation. He said such countries as Kazakhstan — where two of the new suspects are from — should be placed on a “watch list” because of known terrorist activity.

“We should look at the process of who’s allowed into this country and under what circumstances, what is their situation and background, particularly from countries where there’s been significant influence of radical Islamic extremism,” McCain said.

Forty percent of illegals in this country have overstayed their visas, McCain told Cavuto — and that was the case of Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev.

He also expressed concern that Tazhayakov, whose visa was terminated on Jan. 4 by UMass because of low grades, was allowed to reenter the country on Jan. 20 in New York.
“This seems to be a common thread throughout this whole catastrophe and tragedy: these individuals, where they came from? How they got here? How they stayed here?

“It would be very appropriate to have hearings as we move forward on the immigration bill to try to fix — at least, in this case — what appears to be a broken system.

“It just seems to me that if these people are able to come and go as freely as one of the brothers were,” McCain added, referring to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who visited Russia for six months last year, “we certainly have a system that needs some repair.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Dershowitz: Government Has Strong Case Against 2 Friends of Tsarnaev.

The case against the two Kazakhstan men charged Wednesday with conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Boston Marathon bombings is a very strong one, famed Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax TV.

“If you get a phone call from somebody who told you previously he knew how to make a bomb and you know there was an explosion . . . and the picture of the two suspects [is] on television — and you get called from somebody saying, quick get rid of my computer and knapsack, you either know or should know at that point that you’re obstructing justice,’’ Dershowitz said on “The Steve Malzberg Show.’’

Story continues below video.

Federal officials have charged the two along with a third friend of accused Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of helping the 19-year-old cover his tracks.

“So I don’t think they’re going to have a hard time making an obstruction of justice case.’’
But while the case against Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev is solid, the charges against a third teenager — Robel Phillipos, who allegedly made false statements to federal agents — is less than airtight.

“The lying . . . that’s a very difficult case because most people don’t know that if you ever tell a lie to any federal agent, that’s a crime,’’ Dershowitz said.

“Even though you’re not under oath, even though you haven’t been warned about it, you don’t have a lawyer.

“And juries aren’t as sympathetic because every juror says to himself, ‘you know, have I ever lied to a cop who stopped me and asked me why am I speeding,’ and I said, ‘Well I really have a sick kid at home.’’’

Both Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, who are not American citizens, have been in custody on separate alleged immigration violations, which gives the government greater flexibility in dealing with them, according to Dershowitz, a Newsmax contributor.

“The government has options with the noncitizens. They can either deport them or prosecute them or do both . . . They can prosecute them first and then deport them afterward,’’ he said.

“So the government has much more power over these guys to squeeze tight.’’

Dershowitz said the government’s charge that evidence was destroyed by discarding the computer “is particularly serious because I can’t imagine a more important piece of evidence than a computer.

“A computer not only looks backwards, it looks forward. It can tell if there were other plots, if they were planning trips to New York or elsewhere,” he explained. “It could indicate who this person might have been in contact with in the past, what websites he might have accessed — so throwing away a computer is as serious a crime as imaginable.’’

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Bill Hoffmann

Boston Police: Three Taken into Custody in Marathon Bomb Case.

Image: Boston Police: Three Taken into Custody in Marathon Bomb Case

Undated photo from the VK page of Dias Kadyrbayev shows, from left, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, from Kazakhstan, with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in New York’s Times Square.

Three additional suspects have been taken into custody in the investigation of last month’s deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon, the Boston Police Department and a U.S. law enforcement source said on Wednesday.Officials last month accused two ethnic Chechen brothers of placing homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the marathon on April 15. One died after a gunfight with police three days after the bombing and the other was captured and criminally charged before being sent to a prison hospital to recover from gunshot wounds.

A U.S. law enforcement source said that two of the suspects taken into custody on Wednesday include classmates of the younger brother at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. They are being held by immigration officials for violating the terms of their visas. The source said they are likely to face charges related to obstruction of justice and with making false statements to investigators.

Police are investigating whether the classmates threw away a backpack at suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s request after the bombing, which killed three people and injured 264 others. Last week law enforcement officials were seen searching dumps in southeastern Massachusetts.

Urgent: Do You Support Background Checks on Gun Buyers? Vote in Urgent Poll

Two of the three people newly arrested are men originally from Kazakhstan who were friendly with the main suspect. They are allegedly pictured in a now infamous photo with surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Times Square. The two suspects in the bombing planned to attack Times Square as they were attempting to flee Boston, authorities said last week.

Azamat Tazhayakov (AHZ’-maht tuh-ZAYE’-uh-kov) and Dias Kadyrbayev (DYE’-us kad-uhr-BYE-ev) appeared via video for a visa violation hearing in immigration court in Boston on Wednesday.

The third person taken into custody on Wednesday was a U.S. citizen, and all three were being investigated for actions taken after the bombings, the U.S. law enforcement source said.

A Boston police spokeswoman, Katherine Shea, said she had no further details to provide on the suspects after their detention was reported on the department’s official Twitter feed. Police said the arrests posed no danger to the public.

The one man criminally charged with the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is being held in a prison medical center. The charges carry the possibility of the death penalty. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a gunfight with police.

The lawyer for one of the men detained on Wednesday, identified as Dias Kadyrbayeye, said his client was being held for violations of his student visa.

The lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client was “not a target” of the bombing investigation, but declined to comment on any other specifics. He said his client had “cooperated fully” with investigators and “wants to go home to Kazakhstan.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body has still not been claimed, a spokesman for the state’s chief medical examiner said.

“We still have not been contacted by the family,” said the spokesman, Terrel Harris.

The parents of the Tsarnaev brothers have said in interviews in the North Caucasus region of Russia that they do not believe their sons were responsible for placing the bombs.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


International Women’s day: 3 challenges women face around the world.

It’s not always used as a platform to spread awareness about gender equality – Kazakhstan is known to have beauty pageants on International Women’s Day, while Russian women get flowers that may be poor compensation for inequalities they habitually face. But International Women’s Day, March 8, is generally a moment to celebrate the kaleidoscope of roles that half the world’s population takes on every day. Much of the news is good: Women continue to push into the higher echelons of the working world and get stronger legal protections, such as the just-renewed US Violence Against Women Act. But issues such as violence, inequality at work, and traditional expectations and cultural practices, such as child marriage, confront women on every continent around the world. Here is a sampling of challenges women faced this year:

It’s not always used as a platform to spread awareness about gender equality – Kazakhstan is known to have beauty pageants onInternational Women’s Day, while Russian women get flowers that may be poor compensation for inequalities they habitually face. But International Women’s Day, March 8, is generally a moment to celebrate the kaleidoscope of roles that half the world’s population takes on every day. Much of the news is good: Women continue to push into the higher echelons of the working world and get stronger legal protections, such as the just-renewed US Violence Against Women Act. But issues such as violence, inequality at work, and traditional expectations and cultural practices, such as child marriage, confront women on every continent around the world. Here is a sampling of challenges women faced this year:


The UN declares an International Women’s Day theme each year. This year’s focus? “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” The story of Malala Yousufzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for advocating education for girls, reminded the world that the promise of girls’ education and safety in rural Pakistan – among other places – has not been met. The Monitor’s Ben Quinn wrote that when Malala was transferred to a hospital in Britainfor treatment, for some of the diaspora in the UK, the attack “struck a chord in parts of society where traditional attitudes, in particular those carried over from rural northern Pakistan, still manifest themselves through resistance – in a minority of families – toward education of girls.”

Not long after the world caught its breath from the Malala incident, gruesome news from Indiaenergized the international dialogue on violence against women: The case of a young woman brutally gang raped on a bus and left for dead in New Delhi, brought the issue to the forefront in a way that may yet be a game changer for India and other countries. In India, thousands of people protested and pressured the police and government to speed up the sluggish judicial system process in cases for rape, known to drag on for years. It also may have helped spur a movement in Indonesia – though still small – to take to the streets to protest offensive remarks from an Indonesian high court judge who “joked” that women might enjoy rape. Much has been made in the past couple of years of the important role women can play in revolution. But there has been a dark side of that participation: InEgypt, women who dare to go out to protest the government, as the Monitor’s Kristen Chick reports, have faced profound threats to their safety:

Tahrir square has become a terrifying place for women as sexual assault becomes more common and violent. But fed up, civilians are making it their job to prevent it and rescue women from attacks.

Several groups have formed, organizing to prevent such attacks, rescue women who are attacked, and raise awareness about an issue that is not often openly addressed.

And encouragingly, hundreds of volunteers created an organized effort to respond to the escalation of assaults against women in Tahrir.

As women battle such violence across the world, what motivates change?

In Latin America, a region where emerging economies are increasingly paying attention to GDP output, Sara Miller Llana looks at whether a first-of-its-kind study that quantifies the intergenerational price tag of domestic violence could motivate policy-makers, where other efforts have failed.

Women in business

Women are breaking taboos and boundaries globally by forming businesses in the face of significant cultural resistance.

Female entrepreneurs like Myassar Issa in RamallahWest Bank, are gaining a new sense of independence as the family breadwinner. Her husband has two other wives and can’t provide for her and her three sons, reports the Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant.

Since Mrs. Issa’s shop opened with a microfinance loan of $1,400 two years ago, she has repaid that loan and gotten another, doubled her merchandise, and is saving money for her sons to get married.

Statistics of female participation in business are hard to come by, but estimates that women entrepreneurs are increasing in number and today represent 5 to 10 percent of business owners in the formal sector and 30 percent in the informal sector.

Still, they have a long way yet to go. The issue of equal pay for equal work, especially among educated women in the workforce, is a common battle:

Colombia-based Monitor correspondent Sibylla Brodzinsky reports:

Even with an educational advantage, women are still mostly employed in lower-paid occupations inLatin America such as teaching, healthcare, or the service sector, like restaurants. Comparing men and women of the same age and educational level, [an Inter-American Development Bank] study found that men earn 17 percent more than women do in Latin America. That number is actually down from 25 percent in 1992, but the pace at which the gap is narrowing remains slow.

When it comes to the higher-paying fields such as law, architecture, and engineering – where women hold just a third of the jobs – the gender gap widens to 58 percent.

Part of the problem is that the majority of the better-paying jobs available for high-school graduates in the region are culturally associated with men, says Isabel Londoño, an education and gender issues specialist in Bogota, Colombia.

In Europe, Italian women are more likely to get a temporary contract than a male with the same education level, reports the Monitor’s Giulia Lasagni, And since women are overrepresented in temporary jobs, which were the first to be slashed during Europe’s recession, they typically have suffered more.

Entrenched perceptions

Despite significant progress, selling social reform to large segments of the population can be a major problem in many countries. In Afghanistan, even after 10 years of various education and political efforts as well as investing millions of dollars into the country to sell social reform, the status of women remains low. Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a call for change with a report in 2012 that highlighted the ongoing issue of women who are arrested and imprisoned for fleeing abusive family situations.

The authors advocated that the Afghan government stop imprisoning such women. Putting women in jail for this is not supported by the Afghan penal code or Islamic law, HRW officials argued at a press conference for mostly Afghan journalists. The threat of imprisonment also discourages women from reporting abuse or trying to leave dangerous situations.

That human rights officials were met by a few concerning responses from journalists, considered to be among the most educated in the country, highlighted just how high the hurdles may be, Tom Peter reports:

One local reporter asked, “If this is not considered a crime and it becomes rampant in the society and everyone does it, don’t you think that in a society like Afghanistan it will lead to a kind of anarchism here and everything will get out of control? What will be the consequences?”

And still, women and advocates for women’s rights press on, lead by example, and win small victories, even in very traditional societies. In Nepal, for example, the custom of chaupadi forces menstruating women to sleep outside of their homes:

For generations here, menstruating women have slept outside of their homes, in small sheds or in the family stable. They are considered impure and untouchable, so they cannot enter the house or touch communal water or food. The activist, Dhurbar Sunar, is not having it: “I think this is a social crime in terms of women’s rights,” he says.

Mr. Sunar is the Project Coordinator at Samabikas, a local organization pushing to abolish chaupadi here in Achham district and elevate women’s status. They work village by village, declaring them “chaupadi free” as they go.

Another small victory, reports Christa Case Bryant from Saudi Arabia, is the effect of sports on girls in the very traditional country. Though girls are not permitted to play in the presence of men, and it’s still very much kept quiet:

“Sport is … a small window [into change],” says businesswoman Lamya Al Abdulkarim, who recently helped launch a new girls’ soccer program in Saudi Arabia.

The official and societal resistance stem from concerns that female participation in sports will erode Saudi norms, including modest dress and segregation of the sexes. …The skills the girls are learning on the field have translated into bigger wins: One player has been recruited by a female investment fund manager, who says that the strategy, tactics, and quickness honed on the soccer field would be key assets in reading the stock market.

And it’s a broad shift in attitude that is being cited as one of the keys to a quietly promising drop in the rate of violence against women in the US. The rate of partner-to-partner violence dropped 64 percent between 1994 and 2010, according to a US Justice Department report, The Monitor’s Whitney Eulich reports:

“Many in the field cite a broad shift in attitudes that began in the 1980s and ’90s, crediting public awareness campaigns, national legislation protecting victims, and subsequent training of police and prosecutors to recognize intimate partner violence as a crime, rather than as a private matter.


Christian Science Monitor

EU proposes Iran nuclear talks, hopes for Iranian confirmation.

MUNICH (Reuters) – World powers have proposed holding a new round of talks with Iran over Tehran‘s nuclear work in the week of February 25 in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for EU foreign policychief Catherine Ashton said on Sunday.

However, Ashton’s team, which coordinates diplomatic contacts with Iran on its nuclear program on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain, is still hoping for confirmation of the date and venue from Iran’s negotiating team, the spokesman said.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft)



Persecuted Christian Dashes From Prison to Border.

Makset Djabbarbergenov
Makset Djabbarbergenov in a 2010 photo (Courtesy of World Watch Monitor)

For 90 days last fall, Makset Djabbarbergenov lived in a Kazakh prison cell, under threat of deportation to his native Uzbekistan to face almost-certain years of harsh jail time.

His alleged crime: Leading small Christian communities in house churches without official registration. By 2007, this had made “Pastor Makset” a wanted criminal, and he fled across the border into Kazakhstan to escape arrest. By 2009, he and his family had won refugee status there from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. So far, Kazakhstan has refused to recognize the family’s refugee status.

Last year, Uzbekistan bumped up the convert pastor’s “criminal accusations” to charges of terrorism, and demanded the Kazakh government send him back home to face trial and a potential 15-year prison sentence.

His pregnant wife, Aygul, and their four young sons were left watching wide-eyed as the Kazakh police arrested him in their Almaty home at noon on Sept. 5. It would be three months before they saw each other again.

In late December, a few weeks after they had flown to safety and a new life in Europe, they told the story of their family’s faith ordeal in a series of interviews with World Watch Monitor. Their location is being withheld to preserve their security.

Back in Touch
He spent three days in police detention, and three more in health quarantine. Once he arrived at the immigration prison, he managed to borrow a smuggled cell phone and call Aygul.

She asked if he had received the clothes and food parcels she had registered and sent to him through jail officials. He hadn’t.

“I went home and cried, I was so upset,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Makset’s own cell phone was slipped in to him, enabling him to make brief but frequent calls to Aygul and the children. It was a vital link, since the prison refused to allow her any visiting rights.

But as the weeks went by, turning into months, Makset admitted it was hard to keep focused on God’s promise when everyone around him was sure he would be sent to Uzbekistan.

“My fears kept building up. I knew it was Satan, trying to make this fear in my heart. So I told him, ‘I have this letter from my God here in my hand, the Bible. Your words never came true in the Bible. You are the father of lies!’ ”

During the first week in the common prison, Makset read from an old version of the Kazakh Bible that had been secreted in one of the cell’s several hiding places. Later, a pocket edition of the modern Kazakh Bible was smuggled in to him, which he kept hidden in his own corner.

At first, he said, he asked God, “Please show miracles to the men around me here.” But as he began to pore over his Bible, spending sometimes four or five hours or more every afternoon behind the blankets draped around his bed, he said God showed him there was another reason he was in prison.

“Instead, God showed me that it was me He wanted to show His face to. He was telling me that He could trust me, like Job, to go through this persecution. It was not just for the people around me, the authorities, the 10 or 11 other prisoners in my cell. God wanted me to see His power.”

During his three months behind bars, he read 22 books of the Old Testament and 10 of the New Testament, keeping a detailed journal of all the things God was teaching him as he read and prayed. A dozen books were sent in to him openly through prison officials, who apparently did not realize they were religious in nature.

One book told how a Chinese house church flourished and grew for 21 years, while all that time their pastor was sitting in jail.

“Persecution causes the spread of the church. It’s the key to growth,” he concluded. “So I told Jesus then, ‘If this is the way to grow Your church, I am willing to sit here in this prison.’”

Anywhere But Uzbekistan
The UN told Aygul it had no funds to hire a lawyer. Close Christian friends raised funds to secure an ethnic Russian lawyer experienced in representing refugees in Kazakhstan. He was less than hopeful.

“‘I am not at all sure I will be successful. So it may be useless to hire me,’ ” Aygul recalled him saying at their first meeting.

She told him she didn’t believe him. “ ‘We believe in God, and He will help us,’ ” she responded.

Hopeful or not, the lawyer was the only person allowed to visit Makset in prison; even the local UNHCR representatives were stonewalled by jail authorities.

“He was my only visitor, and he came just a few times. And he was usually discouraging,” Makset said. “But at least,” he smiled, “I enjoyed the long walk I got to take from my cell to meet with him.”

Meanwhile, Makset and Aygul continued their furtive phone calls. By the end of September, they had agreed they would accept asylum abroad, if the UNHCR could help arrange it. Even then, they had no guarantee that the Kazakh government would ignore Uzbekistan’s demands and actually allow Makset to go to another country.

But the UNHCR was not sure the couple were serious. Makset had been arrested by Kazakh police and badly beaten in 2008; through the UNHCR, Sweden and the United States offered the family asylum.

“It would be good for your children,” they urged him at the time. “They are offering you citizenship there if you leave.”

“But I had just started a church,” Makset remembered thinking to himself. “I was tempted, and I had a one-month deadline to accept it. But after I prayed and fasted, I chose to stay, and fruit came: We baptized 50 new believers in the next few years. ”

So when the UNHCR asked him this second time, he again prayed, asking God, “Then who will lead the church here, if I leave?” He heard God’s answer clearly: It’s not your church, it’s Mine. This time, he said, he knew he was leaving behind an established congregation with a team of church leaders.

Their decision made, the paperwork began. The UNHCR managed in October to send Makset papers through the lawyer to sign, agreeing they would accept asylum, wherever it was offered, with one exception.

“Anywhere but Uzbekistan,” they said.

The process dragged.

“It seemed like my time in prison would never end,” Makset said. “I doubted God’s promise almost every day, all those weeks.” But he always heard God speaking to him, he said, “answering my doubts with promise after promise.”

After a Long Silence
Finally, when Aygul was informed on Nov. 7 that Sweden had offered them asylum, she broke down and cried for joy in the UNHCR office. It was the answer to the first of their prayers: Which country will accept us?

But it still left answered their second prayer: Will Kazakhstan actually let us leave?

“I was instructed not to tell anyone, for Makset’s safety, because if people found out, it could make it difficult to get him out of prison,” Aygul said. She couldn’t even tell Makset, except indirectly. “Our lawyer found out later, when he took in the papers Makset had to sign, to agree for our amnesty visas. But we didn’t tell him any details, how we were doing it.”

It was all carefully choreographed. The High Commissioner for Refugees didn’t approach Sweden until Makset and Aygul had agreed to accept asylum. He didn’t approach the Kazakh government until Sweden had made its offer. And now, the commissioner was demanding that Aygul tell no one.

“I was so grateful to God,” she said. “But I didn’t dare tell our kids, so I had to keep it a secret from them and our friends until just two days before we were scheduled to leave. And even then, they knew we were leaving, but not where we were going.”

“But even after I knew that Sweden had accepted me,” Makset admitted, “I was not really sure that I would ever leave the prison safely. Would the Kazakh government really release me?”

The Final Stretch
There was still no answer to that question three weeks later. By the last week of November, Aygul cried out to God in frustration. “Lord, I have no more strength!” she prayed, again in tears. “I am ready to give up.”

Then a call came from the UNHCR on Friday, Nov. 30. She walked into the head office at noon, unsure just what she might hear. Good news? Or more delays? “The Kazakh government has just agreed to release Makset from prison, and to allow us to escort him and your family safely out of the country,” the official announced, looking pleased.

Makset isn’t entirely sure why Kazakhstan decided to set him free. But a likely factor, he suspects, was the widespread international outrage after June 2011 when the Kazakh government deported 28 Uzbeks back to Tashkent, where they were likely to be jailed and tortured. Rebuked for their clear violation of international law and agreements they had signed, the Kazakh authorities promised to not repeat it.

Warning that Uzbek officials might try to kidnap Makset as he left prison and whisk him across the border, the UNHCR advised Aygul to wait a few more days, until the night of Dec. 4, a Tuesday, when they would walk him out of prison and through the Almaty airport with his family in a few quick hours.

The U.N. officials admitted they “couldn’t really be sure it is going to work” until Makset was actually out of prison, through the airport immigration checkpoint and on the airplane flying out of Kazakhstan airspace.

But time was short at noon that Friday, if Aygul was going to get an exit visa issued in time to leave on Tuesday. With the weekend and then a Monday holiday just ahead, she needed to get the required permits for herself and the children before government offices closed Friday afternoon. “It was no small miracle to get our exit visa that fast, to be able to leave on Tuesday,” she said.

Aygul kept her secret until Monday, Dec., 3. Then, guarding her words carefully, she told Makset over his mobile phone that he would be released the next day from prison, and that UNHCR security officials would be waiting to meet him.


Plane crash kills 22 in Kazakhstan: emergencies official.

KYZYL TU, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A passenger plane crashed in thick fog near Kazakhstan’s commercial capital of Almaty on Tuesday, killing all 22 people on board, an emergency services official said.

The Canadian-built Bombardier Challenger CRJ-200 was en route from the city of Kokshetau innorthern Kazakhstan to Almaty in the southeast when it crashed near the village of Kyzyl Tu, Deputy Almaty Mayor Maulen Mukashev said.

He told reporters near the scene that the plane belonged to private Kazakh airline SCAT, which operates extensive domestic services and some international flights.

“There was no fire, no explosion. The plane just plunged to the earth,” Yuri Ilyin, deputy head of the city’s emergencies department, told Reuters near the scene.

Ilyin put the death toll at 22.

Almaty and the surrounding area were veiled in thick fog on Tuesday.

“The preliminary cause of the accident is bad weather,” Mukashev said. “Not a single part of the plane was left intact after it came down.”

It was the second plane crash in the Central Asian country and former Soviet republic in just a over a month.

On December 25, a military transport airplane crashed in bad weather near the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent, killing all 27 people on board.

Prosecutors have said that a fatal combination of technical problems, bad weather and human errors caused that accident.

(Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Timothy Heritage)


By Mariya Gordeyeva | Reuters

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