ASIA/TURKEY – Different signals from the Turkish authorities towards schools and foundations of non-Muslim minorities

Ankara – Apparently contradictory and difficult to decipher signals are coming from the different levels of Turkish power regarding the state of difficulty in which foundations and schools linked to minority religious communities have found themselves for some time.
In recent days, the planning and budget commission of the Turkish Ministry of Education has by majority rejected a motion presented by the Armenian parliamentarian Garo Paylan, in which he asked to allocate part of the ministerial budget of 2022 to support educational institutions linked in various ways to the local Christian and Jewish communities. Mr Palyan, current Co-president of the HDP had proposed to allocate 40 million Turkish lira to Armenian, Greek, Jewish and schools linked to other minority communities, educational institutions that had also been severely affected by the pandemic crisis. The Armenian parliamentarian’s proposal, reported in the minutes of the commission meeting of November 2 and reported by the Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos, referred to the sum of 10 to 12,000 Turkish liras that the Turkish Ministry of Education allocates annually to each public school student. About 4,000 pupils currently attend minority schools. If one calculates 10,000 Turkish liras for each pupil attending minority schools “, argues Paylan,” an allocation of 40 million Turkish liras in favor of these educational institutions would represent a simple measure of justice, in accordance with the declared intention. Turkish authorities not to encourage discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds. “Palyan’s motion was rejected by representatives of the AKP – the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – present in the commission, but the abstention from the deputies of the CHP, the Republican People’s Party, heir to the “secular” Kemalist tradition, also contributed to its defeat.
On the controversial issue of foundations linked to religious minorities, paralyzed for years by a legislative deadlock which effectively blocks the renewal of their governing bodies, President Erdogan himself confirmed, after a council of ministers held Monday, October 25, that the competent authorities had put on the agenda the question of the elections of directors and boards of directors of these institutions, which are fundamental instruments for the management of property and resources intended for non-Muslim places of worship and for initiatives promoted by minority religious communities.
The regulation which allows minority foundations to choose their own board of directors was repealed by the General Direction of Foundations in 2013, without its reform having been announced since. Recently, Greek Orthodox Laki Vingas, member of the Council of Foundations, documented in a long article published in Agos the negative effects of this impasse on the life of the minority church and religious communities. The blocking of the processes of renewal of the governing bodies of the foundations – underlined Mr. Vingas – contributes to the processes of removal of young people from institutions linked to their own communities, and many voluntary activities “are unfortunately interrupted”. In the past, Laki Vingas was for two terms the representative of non-Muslim foundations in the liaison bodies of the entire network of Turkish foundations. These bodies include members of seven non-Muslim faith communities in Turkey: besides the Jews, they are Greek Christians, Armenians, Syrians, Chaldeans, Bulgarians and Georgians. The representative of non-Muslim foundations speaks on behalf of the network of 167 non-Muslim community foundations in Turkey.

ASIA/HOLY LAND – Jerusalem, Israeli authorities block the cultural festival organized in the House of Abraham. The Heads of the Catholic Churches express deep concern

Jerusalem – On Tuesday, October 26th, Israeli plainclothes police and security personnel forcibly interrupted the cultural festival activities that were being held in the Catholic “House of Abraham” in the eastern district of Jerusalem, and stated that this activity approved by the Palestinian National Authority was “illegal”. The Assembly of Heads of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land immediately reacted strongly and issued a statement where they express “concern” regarding the “repeated hostile and repressive acts” carried out in the Holy City by the Israeli authorities “towards everything that is considered Palestinian”. Located in the eastern part of the holy city of Jerusalem, the “House of Abraham” in the Old City is a pilgrim’s home opened by Caritas France and under French diplomatic protection. It offers hospitality to pilgrims and supports initiatives in favor of Palestinian families residing in the area. Like the Saint-Anne Church in the old city, this building enjoys the “protection” of the French authorities. On October 26th, a three-day cultural festival co-sponsored by the Palestinian National Theater, the National Conservatory of Music and the Mobile Theater opened here. Sponsored by the United Nations and organizations from France, Austria and other countries, the French consulate in Jerusalem also presided over related activities in the early morning of the same day. International media reported that Israeli plainclothes police and other personnel forcibly interrupted the activity and showed the person in charge of the House an order to cancel the activities in progress, signed by Omer Barlev, Israeli Minister for Public Security.
The ministerial order stated that this event was “supported and sponsored by the Palestinian Authority without written permission”. In accordance with the current Israeli policy, various activities related to the Palestinian Authority are prohibited in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The eastern part of Jerusalem has always been the capital of the State of Palestine recognized by the Palestinian political circles. The Conference of Leaders of the Holy Land Catholic Church pointed out that the Israeli authorities’ decision was “unjustified”. It is emphasized that this activity is “purely cultural”, which is in line with the usual activities organized by the “House of Abraham”. The leaders of the local church continued to point out, “we have witnessed repeated hostile and repressive actions by the Israeli authorities on all matters considered to be Palestine, as if the Palestinians did not have the right to speak in the Holy City, as if they were not part of this place, as if Jerusalem does not belong to them. Jerusalem should be open to all equally”, just as the Holy City “accepts everyone and does not reject anyone”.

Russian authorities declare independent election monitor Golos a “foreign agent”

Golos’ work thwarted in advance of Russia's September parliamentary election

Originally published on Global Voices

Promotional materials for Golos election monitoring movement - a bottle with the label "The spirit of free elections. Use in times of despair". Image by, used with permission.

Promotional materials for Golos election monitoring movement – a bottle with the label “The spirit of free elections. Use in times of despair”. Image by, used with permission.

The Russian Justice Ministry designated the independent election monitoring group Golos as a “foreign agent” on August 18, 2021. The new restrictions on the movement's election integrity work come a month before the parliamentary elections in Russia.

The designation has been applied to a number of non-profit organisations and media outlets in Russia in recent months, and requires organisations or individuals “involved in political activity” and deemed to be “receiving assistance from abroad” to register with the state or face fines and, potentially, prison sentences. They are also required to regularly report on their activities and indicate their foreign agent status on any materials or content they distribute, including social media posts.

According to Interfax news agency, Golos is the first informal movement to be added to the new “foreign agent” registry created in early 2021 for individuals and organisations that do not have legal entities in Russia. The new registry is run by the Justice Ministry, which also maintains two other “foreign agent” registries — one for registered NGOs and another for media outlets.

The “foreign agent” legislation, updated in December 2020, takes a broad view of what constitutes “political activity” in the interests of “foreign entities” or intermediary organisations “acting in the interests of foreign sources”. As noted by independent media outlet Meduza,

The law’s definition of “political activity” is extremely broad. In particular, it includes election monitoring, social media posts about Russian politics, and taking part in rallies.

Golos joins a long list of entities and citizens dubbed as “foreign agents” in Russia: among them are news websites VTimes, Meduza and US-funded RFE/RL, investigative media projects such as The Insider, as well as individual journalists, human rights defenders and activists. Non-profit organisations such as women’s rights organization and rights group For Human Rights are also on the list.

While media outlets and NGOs with the designation have either shut down their operations, seen their websites blocked or had advertising revenues plummet, Golos’ addition to the list of foreign agents is especially worrying ahead of the September 2021 elections to the Russian State Duma (parliament).

The Golos voters’ rights movement emerged in 2013 after its precursor, the registered non-profit organisation Golos, was blacklisted as a foreign agent by the Justice Ministry after it was awarded the Sakharov Freedom Award by the Helsinki Committee. The legal entity was officially dissolved by courts in 2016, but the unofficial movement has continued to play a central role in observing the elections in Russia and ensuring integrity and transparency of the electoral process.

In a statement on its website, Golos said:

We have no doubt that the current attack on the largest community of independent election observers just a month before election day is an attempt to prevent Russian citizens from exercising that very right of observation, which the Russian Constitutional Court considered to be a guarantee of public recognition of the election results.

The monitor's concerns are far from baseless. In preparation for the September elections, fearing low voter turnout and worried about the dropping ratings of the ruling United Russia party, Russian election officials have restricted video monitoring at polling stations, with only commission officials, candidates and parties granted access to live video feeds. Multiple independent candidates (banking on Alexey Navalny's Smart Voting initiative that promotes running a single opposition candidate in election districts to deprive the United Russia party of votes) have been denied election registration under various pretexts, while others have been prosecuted and jailed.

For the first time since 2008, the OSCE said it would not be able to send an international observation mission to the Duma elections after Russia severely restricted the number of observers, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Golos has vowed to continue its work to train citizens as observers and commissioners at polling stations, and said it believes independent citizen observation is key to ensuring a transparent election:

What is happening now means one thing: the authorities understand that they will not be able to get the desired result in the elections honestly and are afraid of mass independent observation. Therefore, active citizens, in spite of everything, need to take the most active part in the elections of the State Duma deputies.

AMERICA/VENEZUELA – The Bishops to the authorities: “immediately begin a vaccination campaign”

Caracas – The Bishops of Venezuela, gathered virtually, have asked for the launch of an immunization campaign against COVID-19 in the country, “with vaccines recognized by the international health authorities, WHO, PAHO, and not just an experimental vaccine”, as declared by Mgr. José Luis Azuaje, Archbishop of Maracaibo and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela , at the inauguration of the 116th Ordinary Plenary Assembly of the Episcopate.
The Archbishop of Maracaibo referred, without mentioning it, to Abdala, the vaccine developed by Cuba that as of July 7 still did not have the emergency authorization from WHO or any other medical body. However, Nicolás Maduro’s administration has started administering it in the country since last week. The prelate sent a message of solidarity to those who have suffered and are suffering from the disease caused by the coronavirus, as well as to those who have lost their loved ones. In addition, he thanked health workers “who gave their hearts” to provide assistance to those infected.
The CXVI Ordinary Plenary Assembly of the Venezuelan Bishops, which began on July 7, ended yesterday, July 9, after analyzing the effects of the pandemic in the country and in the pastoral and spiritual assistance to migrants. A few months ago, the Church urgently requested the government to accept international aid to fight the pandemic. Venezuela presents an increase in deaths from Covid.
According to data from the international press, there are 282,940 infected with 3,264 deaths. According to the Cuban authorities, the Abdala vaccine, the first created in Latin America, is 92.28% effective in blocking COVID. The important thing about Cuban vaccines, which are based on a recombinant protein, is that “they can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees and this gives an advantage in the environmental conditions of Latin America.