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Concern Mounts Over Threat To Shutter Top Russian Rights Group

Dani Davis

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Concern mounted Friday over Russian prosecutors’ move to close top rights group Memorial, with the presidential council sounding the alarm and campaigners warning its closure would be a “devastating blow” to civil society.

On Thursday, Memorial said it was notified by Russia’s supreme court that prosecutors had filed a demand to dissolve the group over systematic violations of “foreign agent” legislation.

In a new salvo announced Friday, Moscow prosecutors were also moving to shut down Memorial’s Human Rights Centre over alleged “repeated” constitutional violations and purported justification of “terrorism and extremism”.

The pressure on Memorial comes amid an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition and independent media in Russia, with authorities imprisoning Russia’s top opposition politician Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

Founded in 1989 by rights activists including renowned scientist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, Memorial has been in the cross-hairs of the Russian authorities for years.

The organisation, which has been regularly cited as a potential Nobel Peace Prize winner but never won, campaigns for the preservation of historical memory in Russia and against rights violations.

The presidential rights council, which usually toes the Kremlin’s line, said the request to shut down Memorial was unjust and “not commensurate” with the violations.

The council said in a statement it “considers the right to association a very important value and believes the forced dissolution of the oldest public organisation to be an extreme measure”.

“The council is monitoring the situation with concern, conducting consultations and will take steps to settle the situation around Memorial,” the statement added.

The secretary general of rights body the Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, urged Russian prosecutors to reconsider, saying the closure of Memorial “would deal a further devastating blow to civil society, which is an essential pillar of any democracy”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas labelled the news “troubling” and hailed the group’s “courageous, tireless work” in the interests of the Russian people.

Graffiti daubed on the outside of the Memorial office in Moscow reads ‘A Foreign Agent’ Photo: AFP / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

The Memorial Human Rights Centre was put on the government’s register of “foreign agents” in 2015. The international branch of the human rights group was added a year later.

A term laden with Soviet-era connotations of treachery and espionage, the label forces individuals or organisations to disclose sources of funding and label all their publications, including social media posts, with a tag or face fines.

Memorial rejected claims it was violating the Russian legislation or justifying terrorism and extremism as “absurd.” A preliminary hearing into the Moscow prosecutors’s case is scheduled for November 23.

Separately, the Prosecutor General’s Office is seeking to shutter the international branch of Memorial over violations of the “foreign agent” legislation. A hearing is scheduled for November 25.

Memorial gained prominence for chronicling the victims of Communist repression — a painful subject that modern Russia has been reluctant to address — and investigating executions and kidnappings committed against civilians during Moscow’s two wars to subdue Chechen separatists.

This year Memorial and several other groups released a report on Moscow’s role in the Syria campaign and urged Russians to take responsibility for abuses in the war-torn country.

“The Russian authorities’ move to extinguish one of the oldest and most influential human rights groups in the country demonstrates their relentless determination to end all ongoing human rights work in Russia,” said Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

Last month Memorial listed at least 420 political prisoners, including Kremlin critic Navalny who survived a poisoning attempt with Novichok nerve agent last year. Russia has outlawed Navalny’s organisations as extremist.

Memorial also lists members of religious minorites among Russia’s political prisoners, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses outlawed as “extremist” in the country in 2017.

Sergei Davidis, head of a political prisoners’ support program at Memorial, said the organisation had never justified terrorism and extremism.

“We do not agree that some kind of peaceful activity is terrorist or extremist in nature,” Davidis told AFP.


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Kazakh President Fires Rare Criticism At Predecessor After Unrest

Dani Davis

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Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued rare criticism of his long-ruling predecessor Tuesday, and said he expected Russian-led forces to leave the troubled Central Asian country in the next 10 days.

The oil-rich country’s descent into chaos has laid bare infighting at the top of a government once dominated by Tokayev’s mentor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The older man retains the constitutional status of “Leader of the Nation” despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019.

Addressing lawmakers in a video conference broadcast live, Tokayev fired an eyebrow-raising broadside at Nazarbayev as the post-Soviet country reels from unprecedented violence that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike.

Tokayev, 68, said Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards”.

Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested Photo: AFP / Alexandr BOGDANOV

“The time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis,” Tokayev added, noting that “very profitable companies” would be asked to pay money into a state fund.

“The current system is oriented towards major structures and is based on the principle: ‘everything for friends and laws for everyone else’,” he said.

Both Kazakhstan and Russia have framed last week’s unrest that left dozens dead and almost 10,000 people arrested as a coup attempt assisted by foreign “terrorists”, but have provided little supporting evidence.

Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Photo: SPUTNIK via AFP / Yevgeny BIYATOV

Following a request from career diplomat Tokayev, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed troops to bring about order and shore up the authorities.

On Tuesday, Tokayev announced “a phased withdrawal” would begin in two days and take “no more than 10 days”.

“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” he said.

The CSTO mission of more than 2,000 troops was deployed at the peak of the crisis, after armed clashes between government opponents and security forces and a looting spree trashed parts of the largest city Almaty.

The decision was a first for the CSTO, often touted by Moscow as a NATO equivalent but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia, a region with long historical ties to Russia.

Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of 'Leader of the Nation' Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of ‘Leader of the Nation’ Photo: AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM

Concern has mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to entrench its influence in Kazakhstan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.

Tokayev appeared to further bolster his position by backing acting prime minister Alikhan Smailov to take on the job permanently on Tuesday — a nomination that won the unanimous support of lawmakers.

Former national security committee chief Karim Masimov — a key Nazarbayev ally viewed as perpetuating the retired president’s influence over the government — was arrested on treason charges Saturday in connection with the unrest.

Even if Nazarbayev — the son of shepherds who rose through the communist party’s ranks — is now being sidelined politically, dislodging his family’s extensive interests in Central Asia’s largest economy may take time.

In a significant move Tuesday, Tokayev announced plans to bring an end to a widely criticised private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41.

“This should be done by a state organisation, like in other countries,” he said of the scheme.

But middle daughter Dinara and her husband Timur Kulibayev control Halyk, the largest commercial bank, and are among the richest people in the country. Kulibayev is moreover a key player in the flagship oil sector.

Oldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva’s political career, mainly in the rubber-stamp legislature, has been marked by a series of controversial statements and perceptions of an abrasive style.

The 58-year-old’s reported business interests are also rumoured to be extensive.

Leaks of offshore financial data and a High Court challenge in London have meanwhile revealed the extent of her family’s foreign property holdings — part of a trend of capital leaving that country that Nazarbayev officially discouraged while president.

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilising force that had helped Tokayev gain control over the situation after spending several days inside as gunfire echoed around the city.

Roza Matayeva, a 45-year-old English teacher, got used to tuning in to her radio during the five-day internet blackout in Kazakhstan’s financial hub that ended briefly Monday morning before the city of 1.8 million went offline again at lunchtime.

News that the Moscow-led bloc had agreed to Tokayev’s request to send a detachment “brought relief and hope that the situation will be decided for the best in the near future,” she told AFP.

“I welcome cooperation with Russia. I think there is no threat to our sovereignty.”


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Here’s How Apple CEO Earned 500% More In 2021

Dani Davis

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KEY POINTS

  • Tim Cook received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021
  • The sum included $82.35 million in stock awards, a $12 million bonus tied to performance targets and a $3 million base salary
  • He reportedly earned $14.8 million in salary in 2020

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s compensation ballooned to nearly $100 million in 2021, a sixfold increase from the prior year.

The 61-year-old executive, who reportedly earned $14.8 million in 2020, received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021, according to an SEC filing published Thursday. The company’s fiscal year began in September 2020 and ran through September 2021.

Of this amount, $82.35 million came from stock awards. The sum also included a base salary of $3 million and a $12 million bonus for hitting Apple’s performance targets.

Cook also received $1.39 million in other compensation, including $712,488 in personal air travel, $630,630 in security, a $17,400 contribution to his 401(k) plan, $2,964 in life insurance premiums and $23,077 in vacation cash-out.

Despite the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, Apple reported 33% revenue growth and more than $365 billion in sales. The increase in annual sales reportedly stemmed from the strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurge on upgrades. 

Cook became CEO of Apple in August 2011 after the company’s late founder Steve Jobs stepped down. Jobs died of pancreatic cancer that October.

In 2021, Apple marked the 10th anniversary of Cook’s leadership as CEO.

In September last year, Cook reportedly received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

A report by Reuters noted that Cook’s 2021 pay was 1,447 times that of the average Apple employee. 

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254. In 2020, the median pay was $57,783, 256 times Cook’s salary, according to the publication. 

Cook, who has already donated tens of millions of dollars to various charities, previously stated he plans to give away most of his fortune before he dies.

Cook’s net worth was $1.5 billion as of Tuesday, according to a Forbes estimate.

Prior to being named CEO, Cook was Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. At the time, he was earning $500,000 per year. When he became CEO of Apple in 2011, Cook’s salary increased to $900,000 per year. 

Between 2011 and 2020, Cook reportedly received $963.5 million in total compensation.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends Apple’s “Ted Lasso” season two premiere event red carpet at the Pacific Design Center, in West Hollywood, California, July 15, 2021 Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON
 


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UN Wants $5 Bn Aid For Afghanistan In 2022

Dani Davis

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The United Nations said Tuesday it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering.

In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, the UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries needed vital relief this year.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

“Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death.”

Since the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets, while aid supplies have been heavily disrupted.

Afghanistan also suffered its worst drought in decades in 2021.

Without the aid package, “there won’t be a future”, Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

The Taliban authorities said the aid appeal for suffering Afghans was “very needed”.

“But at the same time I would like to say the need is for all this assistance approved in the past to be delivered during this harsh winter,” senior Taliban leader and the group’s designated UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, told AFP.

He said the inflow of funds would also help in the functioning of the now dilapidated banking system, adding that any cash coming into the country will help rein in the inflation.

The UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan to avert humanitarian disaster Photo: AFP / Mohd RASFAN

“The banks are not working properly so there is also a need to control the inflation and that can be controlled when dollars … hard currency come to Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

Griffiths said the appeal, if funded, would help aid agencies ramp up the delivery of food and agriculture support, health services, malnutrition treatment, emergency shelters, access to water and sanitation, protection and education.

An estimated 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, including 1.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

Griffiths said that without humanitarian aid, distress, deaths, hunger and further mass displacement would follow, “robbing the people of Afghanistan of the hope that their country will be their home and support, now and in the near term”.

However, if international donors come forward, “we will see the opportunity for an Afghanistan which may finally see the fruits of some kind of security.”

Griffiths said the security situation for humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan was probably better now than for many years, adding that the staff in the ministries in Kabul largely remained the same as before the Taliban takeover.

He said the UN Security Council’s move in December to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans, without violating international sanctions aimed at isolating the Taliban, had made the operating environment for donors and humanitarians on the ground much more comfortable.

The money will go to 160 NGOs plus UN agencies delivering aid. Some will be used to pay frontline workers such as healthcare staff — but not via the Taliban administration.

Around eight million children could miss out on their education because teachers largely have not been paid since August, Griffiths said.

UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi said the aid package’s goal was to stabilise the situation within Afghanistan, including for internally displaced people, thereby preventing a further flood of migrants fleeing across the country’s borders.

“That movement of people will be difficult to manage, in the region and beyond, because it will not stop at the region,” he said.

“If those efforts are not successful, we will have to ask for $10 billion next year, not $5 billion.”


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