Tuesday, December 31, 2013

India: Russian Tourist Victim of Snatch by Tandem Riders on Motorcycle, Stolen: Smart-Phone, Rs. 57,000

According to http://www.firstpost.com, a Russian woman tourist was robbed on Tuesday (December 31) robbed of Rs.57,000 and a smart-phone by two tandem riders on a motorcycle near Colva beach in Goa.

Erepilowa Elena complained to the Colva police that two unknown people riding a motorcycle snatched her purse containing her mobile phone and Rs.57,000 in cash near Colva beach, 35 km south of the capital. 

COMMENT: The often-used criminal tactic comes on the heels of a series of similar crimes against foreign women tourists in Goa. Nearly half a dozen snatchings have been reported across Goa's coastal belt over the last few days during the peak tourist season in December. 

The incident once again highlights the issue of safety of women tourists in Goa. An advisory issued by the British government has cautioned women tourists to be on their guard against theft and purse snatchers in specific areas in the north of Goa.  

Goa's beaches attract three million tourists annually including half a million foreigners. 

First of all, what is any solo traveler doing carrying the equivalent of $922.58 on a public beach?

Actually, 10% of the folks you see at resorts actually are actually criminals waiting for you to make a mistake!

Tip#1: Don't carry more than $50 unless you're going shopping!

Tip#2: Find out what the criminal tactics are at your destination!

Tip#3: Don't use ATMs on public streets. Actually, that's where a good number of thugs hang out so they can rob you!

Some months ago, I conducted a workshop in Miami for roughly 75 tourists destined for Latin America, where a high percentage of developing nation violent crime actually occurs.

When I asked how many of the 75 participants had accessed their foreign affairs agency's on-line website, only nine said they had, suggesting that many of these travelers may be victimized while abroad simply because they failed to access FREE information.




Tip of the Day: Wear an Inexpensive Watch!

Today's Tip of the Day is a topic I have echoed numerous times over the years, yet I continue to observe foreign travelers of all nationalities in massive numbers boarding flights all over the world sporting some of the most expensive watches made, including Rolex, Breitling, Chanel, Harry Winston, TagHeuer, etc. 

Now, an important thing to remember: Even if you wear a counterfeit watch, AKA "knock-offs," most criminals may not look close enough to see whether the watch you wear is genuine or not.

Yet, that doesn't mean that criminals worldwide won't shoot and kill you for a "knock-off." They will, leaving two people disappointed: You, as you may have been killed, and two, the assailant who may have shot you once he discovers that he killed you for a $30 watch.

Personally, my preference is an athletic watch with a rubber band that has a two time-zone capability.

Now, here's the interesting part: I've worn the same Casio for well over 20 years, changing batteries every now and then, and yet, no criminal, even in Islamabad, Manila, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, London, Nairobi, Jakarta and scores of other high-risk destinations, have ever held me up for this globe-trotting $30 Casio watch.

So please, don't wear a pricey watch, or a "knock-off" in any country.






Cambodia: British Tourist Stuart James Green Being Sought in Murder of Unidentified Woman

According to The Daily Mail, Phnom Penh police continue to search for a British fugitive, Stuart James Green, 47, who is suspected of murdering a woman in his hotel room at the Bolyna Palace Hotel in Phnom Penh on or about December 28.

Reportedly, Green is being sought everywhere in Cambodia in connection with slicing the throat of his young overnight guest with a knife. 

The nationality of the young woman has yet to be released and know motive for the homicide is known.

COMMENT: The decedent woman was found naked under a guest room bed at the Bolyna Palace, an apparently run-down hotel.

THE DAILY MAIL said an employee at the Bolyna Palace reported that Green and the young woman checked into the hotel on December 25. 

On December 28, 2013, at about 2300 hours, Green asked for his passport from the hotel receptionist and said that he was taking it to obtain money from the bank in order to pay for his hotel room.

Subsequently, Green fled without paying for his hotel bill and may have attempted to flee Cambodia, although there is no record of his ever leaving the country.

Fugitive alerts have been issued for Green at all neighboring border crossings in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Vietnam requires a visa in advance. A visa can be obtained for Laos at the border for a fee and Thailand--the easiest country to enter--gives a free 30-day visa.

The Bolyna Palace, where rooms are available for a mere US$19.78, has a less than stellar reputation.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.










Colombia: Update--Acquitted Mastermind of Assassination of Prominent Journalist Released from Prison

According to The Latin American Tribune, Ferney Tapasco, the former legislator who was acquitted last week of the 2002 murder of prominent journalist Orlando Sierra, was released from Picota Prison on Friday (December 27). 

Sierra was deputy editor of La Patria, when he was gunned down on January 30, 2002, by two gunmen confronted Sierra on January 30, 2002, as he was leaving his office with his young daughter. The assassins shot Sierra multiple times in the presence of his daughter.

COMMENT: A judge ruled last week to acquit Tapasco of the assassination.  

The case against Tapasco “was politically motivated and aimed at discrediting the accused, knowing that he was the first person who would be suspected, and that is what happened,” Judge Carlos Eduardo Gonzalez said in his ruling.

Unfortunately, although the Attorney General's office said on December 26 that they would appeal the judge's ruling, presumably they could stop Tapasco from being released from prison.

The judge in Pereira, capital of the central department of Risaralda, said prosecutors did not present definitive evidence linking Tapasco to the slaying of Sierra.

The acquittal will be appealed to the Pereira Superior Court, the AG’s office said, insisting that there is more than sufficient evidence and testimony demonstrating Tapasco’s role in the murder.

Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco and Francisco Antonio Quintero have each been sentenced to 28 years in prison for their part in the crime.


In all likelihood, Tapasco may potentially disappear before he can be rearrested. 

LA PATRIA is a privately owned daily in the central Colombian city of Manizales, which has a population of 350,000. It is well known for its coffee production.



Monday, December 30, 2013

Global Impact: Yes, Forcible Rape, Sexual Assault is Avoidable...with Moderation

According to The Sunday Mirror, three British women have been raped in the past seven days in the  party town of Malia, which is on Crete.

Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea.  

With its countless bars which encourage the consumption of cheap booze and all-night debauchery, it’s easy to see why Malia is a magnet for young Brits wanting to have fun in the sun absent of the parental oversight that most young adults are accustomed to.

COMMENT: Sadly, the abundance of endless alcohol seemingly also attracts one of the dark sides of sexual misconduct: rapists! 

If there happen to be any British parents reading this posting, and I hope there are, I would suggest that they go to the below link:

http://stayingsafeabroad.blogspot.com/2013/06/global-impact-1-in-10-british-women

Additionally, I would suggest that parents read my postings of June 26, July 23, July 25, July 28 and July 31, all of which describe unleashed debauchery and rowdy behavior on the part of Britain's "finest" that few British parents could be proud of.

Another important link that I suggest that British parents review is the following:

http://stayingsafeabroad.blogspot.com/2013/07/greece-briton-19-stabbed-to-death-on 

The above link tragically documents the murder of a British youth dead before his time. Thus, I quote from my posting of July 25, 2013:

"According to The Northhampton Chronicle and Echo, Myles Litchmore-Dunbar, 19, has been formally charged on Crete with the murder of Tyrell Matthews-Burton, from Leyton, East London, as well as possession of a weapon in Malia in the early hours of Tuesday morning (July 23).

More than a dozen British tourists have also appeared in court after an alleged mass brawl in which Matthews-Burton was pinned down and stabbed to death "execution-style."

According to his profile on a modeling website, Litchmore-Dunbar has just finished his first year studying for an economics degree in Northampton. Additionally, he was also a part-time model.

Our condolences and sympathies go out to Tyrell's family, particularly considering his life was so short and it had to end so unnecessarily, fueled by unchecked drinking that may have contributed to his death.

The coroner in Crete, Dr. Manolis Michalodimitrakis, has said the murder victim suffered two stab wounds, to the back and to the chest. Dr. Michalodimitrakis emphasized that there were no defensive wounds.

The knife wielded by  punctured his lung and heart. He lost half of his blood.

As for Myles Litchmore-Dunbar, the man that ended Tyrell's young life, his lack of clear judgment and too much alcohol has resulted in his promising life and career being essentially over, as he no doubt will be spending many years to come in prison."

In a previous posting, I was quoted as saying: "Locals claim police are turning a blind eye to the attacks, leading to vigilante justice, and many victims do not even bother to report attacks or were too drunk to remember the details. 

Londoner Nikki Howarth, 27, who manages Malia’s Candy Club bar told THE SUNDAY MIRROR: Howarth said, “You always get fights in Malia, but what is worrying me at the moment is the rapes. I’m telling girls to be careful because we have had three rapes in the last week...One British girl was set upon by three Israeli guys. She went home the next day. Most girls don’t even report it....One of the girls this week was found being raped by a stranger in one of the nightclubs by two bouncers."

Official statistics on rape in Crete are difficult to come by, but according to the most recent records there were 25 reports of rapes on British women in 2011. Yet, for those who live and work in Malia fear the true number is much higher.

The number of Britons sexually attacked or raped abroad rose 10% last year to 310 from 281 cases in 2011. Greece, Spain, and Turkey had the worst records.

A quotation from THE SUNDAY MIRROR: "Everywhere British teens [can be seen] wearing as little as possible, of both sexes, and are desperate to drink more and sleep with more people than their friends...The human cost is obvious at the Central Malia Medical Center where, on average, 50 Britons a night turn up. A weary medic at the center admitted the place was like a war zone at times....Interestingly, as many as 100 girls a week arrive asking for the morning-after pill. One pharmacist said: “It’s like we’re giving out candy. They should have a ­prescription, but the truth is we don’t bother because it takes too long. It’s easier not to ask questions.” 

As expected, the British Foreign Office said it has not received any reports of Brits being raped in Malia. Do diplomats live on Mars?

In light of the above, I strongly suggest the follow:

1. Parents should take an active role in knowing where their young adult children are, particularly those who are under-age, and the details of who they are planning to be with, where they are staying and how they can be reached by phone;

2. Parents should ensure that their young adult off-spring have subscribed to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage in the event they become seriously ill or injured;

3. If at all possible, parents should take an active role in ensuring that their young adult children go abroad, particularly for the first time, with close friends;

4. Parents should honestly discuss "safe-sex" with their adult children, including the phone numbers 0f the British consulate, local police, nearest hospital, etc.;

5. Parents should instruct their sexually-active young adult children that if they are raped or sexual assaulted they should report an occurrence to the British consulate;

6. Young adults who have not drank alcoholic beverages before should drink in moderation, knowing that if they do so, the end-result might well be becoming a crime victim;

7. Young adults should be advised of the number of British women who have been raped or sexually assaulted in Southern Europe in recent years;

8. Parents should provide their young adult children on how to call them in an emergency;

9. All parents should provide advice to their children if raped or sexually assaulted, with the assistance of police or medical professionals if necessary; and

10. Many European youths engage in a high-risk game Spanish police call "balconing," whereby intoxicated youths jump from one balcony to another in a twisted game of bravado often resulting in permanent injury or death.

If at all possible, parents should ensure that their offspring rent only ground-level accommodations to reduce the risk of "balcony jumping."

    










 

Taiwan: Canadian Tourist Dies from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning While Staying at an Illegal Hostel

According to http://www.chathamdailynews.ca, police in Taipei say a Canadian tourist, age unknown, died of carbon monoxide poisoning on Monday (December 30) while staying in an " illegal" hostel, Focus Taiwan reports.

The preliminary police investigation suggests the tourist, along with five Taiwanese women, may have been exposed to carbon monoxide leaked from a water boiler fueled by natural gas.

After feeling dizzy and notifying police, the five local women were treated in hospital and discharged later in the day. 

COMMENT: The Canadian woman, identified only as "Lydia," reportedly checked into the three-bedroom apartment in the city's downtown core after arriving in the country on Friday. She was due to return home Monday (December 30).

Police continue to investigate the wrongful death and have questioned two tenants who used their apartment as an illegal hostel.

As I have said on numerous occasions in recent years, it is essential that foreign travelers stay only in licensed accommodations for which they pay an established room rate.

Hostels in and of themselves can often be poorly regulated and have deficient internal security which can place tenants at risk of assault, armed robbery, rape and sexual assault.  

One can only hope that Taiwanese authorities insist on an autopsy being performed to determine culpability in the Canadian's death.

A final note. Having been young once, I know the mindset of many young adults all too well, which is to cut corners on accommodations and security issues in order to have discretionary funds for "fun." Unfortunately, "corner-cutting" can often have very tragic, irreversible results.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.


Tip of the Day: Have Small Dominations of Currency Before Arrival in a Foreign Country and...

Our Tip of the Day is to suggest that ideally all foreign travelers have a sufficient quantity of small denominations of foreign currency before they arrive at their destination.

Suggested websites from which you can purchase and order foreign currency include:

http://www.travelex.com

http://www.bankofamerica.com/foreign currency

http://www.wellsfargo.com/foreign-currency

http://www.money.co.uk/travel-money/best-euro-exchange-rate

http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/money-and-insurance/atms-abroad

Alternatively, having a pocket-full of small denomination bills in a hard currency may work temporarily upon arrival for tipping, taxis, meals, etc., but remember that some countries have very restrictive rules on using foreign currency which could land you in legal trouble.

Two reasons I don't recommend purchasing currency upon arrival in a foreign country is as follows:

1. You may be given the "official rate" which may be lower than purchasing the foreign currency you need before departure from home; and

2. Criminals lurking about areas where purchasing local currency occurs may result in your being robbed shortly after departure from the airport, which is why I urge all travelers to use airport-sanctioned taxis only. That being said, even some airport-sanctioned taxis can be unscrupulous.

Additionally, I urge you do THREE things before departing home:

a. Call your card issuer (ATM, debit, credit, etc.) and tell them that you are traveling abroad and that you'd like for them to temporarily lift the security restriction on your credit or debit cards until you return;

b. Ask your card issuer for their website so that you can determine the location of compatible ATMs at your destination(s); and

c. If you're going to Europe, where pin numbers are longer than four digits, you may need your bank's help before departure in dealing with that peculiarity.



Greece: Assailants Spray German Ambassador's Residence with AK-47 Gunfire, No Injuries Reported

According to Reuters, unidentified assailants opened fire on the German ambassador's residence in Athens with an AK-47 assault rifle on Monday (December 30). No injuries were reported.

Police said about 60 shots were fired at the high-security residence on a busy street of a northern suburb. At least four bullets were lodged in the walls of the house and four hit the metal gate of its perimeter.

Anti-German sentiment has grown during Greece's prolonged economic crisis and many of those struggling with record unemployment and falling living standards blame Germany's insistence on fiscal rigor for their economic woes.

Germany is the biggest single contributing nation to Greece's 240-billion-euro bailouts which have kept the country afloat since 2010 and saved it from bankruptcy. Germany has at least 15 billion euros ($20.67 billion) of bilateral loans extended to Greece as part of the bailout.

COMMENT: No one has claimed responsibility for the 0340 hours attack which police believe was carried out by members of leftist guerrilla groups. The Hellenic National Police, unfortunately, did not explain why they blamed leftist guerrillas considering it was the police that insisted that November 17 had been neutralized just before the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The residence was the target of an attack in 1999 when members of the now dismantled extremist group, November 17, fired a rocket-propelled grenade that hit its roof.

Pictures lampooning German Chancellor Angel Merkel are commonplace in Athens while groups opposing Greece's bailout frequently protest outside the German Embassy. Public sector workers pelted a German diplomat with water bottles and coffee in a protest over austerity measures last year.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras telephoned Merkel after the incident and Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said it was a "cowardly terrorist act" which targeted Greece's image.

With a reputation for being Europe's problem child, Greece takes over the European Union presidency for six months from January 1.
 

Russia: Update--Death Toll from Railway Bombing in Volgograd Rises to 30

According to The Latin American Tribune, and as a follow-up to my posting of yesterday (December 29) the death toll from terrorist attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd has risen to more than 30 in less than 24 hours.

The IED detonated when earlier reports of a female suicide bomber was forced to go through metal detectors at the Volgograd-1 station.

Indications are that the attacks in the city, formerly known as Stalingrad, were staged by members of the Islamic guerrilla groups operating in the North Caucasus region, but officials have not yet said who was behind the bombings.

COMMENT: Islamic guerrilla leaders in the North Caucasus region have called for attacks to prevent Russia from holding the Winter Olympic Games, which will start in the resort city of Sochi on February 7.

The security checkpoint, which was set up after the January 2011 attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, prevented the terrorist from reaching the train station’s main hall, keeping the death toll from being greater, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies.

The Volgograd station, located across from a plaza that marks the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in World War II, was full of travelers at the time of the attack due to delays in train service and the New Year’s holiday.

Russian officials fear an increase in terrorist and guerrilla attacks as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi approach.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tip of the Day: Important Safety and Security Tips for Cruise-Ship Enthusiasts

A cruise-ship experience can last a lifetime, particularly if you are in the company of close family and friends.

All "cruisers," new and experienced and young and old should also realize that infection, accidents, health emergencies and even violent crime (larceny, assault, rape, disappearances, etc.) do occur on cruise-ships with many cruise-ship lines wanting to "sweep trouble under the rug" and not report crimes to the authorities.

As a result, I suggest the following:

1. Take plenty of hand sanitizer, an extra roll or two of toilet paper, a first-aid kit, prescribed and emergency medications sufficient for DOUBLE the duration of your cruise;

2. Wash your hands often with hot and sudsy water frequently;

3. Use the "head" in your stateroom in lieu of using public toilets where the bacteria risk is much, much greater which could contribute to your becoming ill;

4. Keep in mind that many cruise-ship passengers don't always wash their hands regularly;

5. Take no valuables aboard the ship as theft can and does occur;

6. Subscribe t0 international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before you leave home in the event you are injured or become ill during ports of call. For assistance go to:

http://www.insuremytrip.com;

7. Check the online website of your appropriate foreign affairs agency to determine what security advice they offer for citizens traveling to your destinations:

http://www.embassyworld.com;

8. Drink alcoholic beverages moderately, as opportunists and predators abound on cruise-ships just as they do on land;

9. Utilize only ground excursions managed by the cruise-line you are traveling on, as they have been fully vetted and screened. Those you hire yourself at local ports of call may not be vetted; 

10.  Seniors who are unsteady on land should consider taking a cane or other steadying device aboard ship. They should also ask for help in traversing stairs and ladder-ways when necessary if elevators are not available;

11. If you're traveling with valuable electronics (e.g., laptops, electronic tablets, digital cameras, MP3-4 players, DVD players, etc.) consider insuring high-end items:

http://www.safeware.com;

12. If you're traveling with a group aboard ship, consider taking compact intercom units so that everyone can stay in contact with each other;

13.  Consider accessing the below CDC website for health guidance while aboard ship:

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-6-conveyance-and-transportation-issues/cruise-ship-travel; 

14. Read the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 (HR 3360) which directly applies to the US Government's concern for the welfare and safety The U. S. Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 in order to improve cruise passenger safety and ensure that, should a sexual assault occur onboard a cruise ship, the victim has access to trained first responders and to a confidential means of communication with law enforcement, legal and victim advocacy professionals. This law applies to cruise ships with overnight sleeping facilities that carry 250 or more passengers that depart from or call at all US ports.

Keep in mind that if you travel on non-US-registered cruise-ships the safety and security standards and services provided by HR 3360 may or may not apply. Thus, you may want to ask cruise-ship lines that are not registered in the US whether they have safety and security provisions similar to HR 3360.

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr3360enr/pdf/BILLS-111hr3360enr.pdf;

15. Follow the advice of those managing your cruise-line's land excursion. Do not flaunt your wealth, carry large denomination bills, carry only local currency and don't use ATMs on the street or walk at night;

16. Always travel on ground excursions with trusted "ship-mates"; and

17. Discourage a cruise for anyone who is under the care of a physician who is treating them for a mental illness as such ailments can place them at further risk. 
  

Russia: Suicide Bomber Kills 16, Injures Dozens in Volgograd


According to The Christian Science Monitor, a suicide bomber detonated the equivalent of over 20 pounds of TNT near the entrance to a railway station in the central Russian city of Volgograd on Sunday (December 29), killing at least 16 people and injuring dozens.

Volgograd, formerly called Tsaritsyn and known as Stalingrad from 1925 to 1961, is an important industrial city with a population of 1.1 million. 

The blast, which blew out the front windows of the huge Stalin-era structure, was recorded by CCTV and rebroadcast by state-funded http://www.rt.com

In a press release, the Kremlin's Investigative Committee, Russia's top police organization, said that the bombing was "according to available evidence" the work of a female suicide bomber who triggered the IED (improvised explosive device) which was loaded with shrapnel as she approached the metal detectors near the station's entrance and became nervous when she spotted a police officer. 

According to the statement, the casualties might have been far greater if the bomber had succeeded in penetrating into the inner waiting area, which was crammed with New Year's travelers preparing to board trains home.

Volgograd, formerly called Tsaritsyn and known as Stalingrad from 1925 to 1961, is an important industrial city with a population of 1.1 million.

The blast, which blew out the front windows of the huge Stalin-era structure, was recorded by CCTV and rebroadcasted by state-funded http://www.rt.com.

In a press release, the Kremlin's Investigative Committee, Russia's top police organization, said that the bombing was "according to available evidence" the work of a female suicide bomber who triggered the IED (improvised explosive device) which was loaded with shrapnel as she approached the metal detectors near the station's entrance and became nervous when she spotted a police officer. 

According to the statement, the casualties might have been far greater if the bomber had succeeded in penetrating into the inner waiting area, which was crammed with New Year's travelers preparing to board trains. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, although the bomber was reportedly from Dagestan.

COMMENT: A similar bombing two months ago demolished a Volgograd city bus and killed six people and was also revealed to be the work of a female suicide bomber from Russia's insurgency-dominated southern province of Dagestan. 

Such women have been dubbed "black widows" because they often turn out to be family members of Islamist rebels killed by Russian security forces, recruited to stage revenge attacks on Russian targets.

IED attacks have killed thousands in several Russian cities over the past decade-and-a-half, but the approaching Sochi Winter Olympics have likely generated terror groups such as the Chechen Islamist warlord, Doku Umarov, to step up their attacks.

Although media reports suggest that Sochi, garrisoned with around 40,000 special police and protected by an array of high-tech security measures, as well as the capital city of Moscow, both perceived to be impregnable to terrorist infiltration, no target on Earth is immune if well-trained and experienced operatives are prepared and willing to give up their lives.

The bombing is bound to increase anxieties in the Kremlin, with the opening of the Sochi Games barely a month away and President Putin's prestige heavily invested in a successful outcome. Last week he ordered a major prison amnesty which effectively removed some of the deepest human rights controversies between Moscow and the West by freeing prisoners such as former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two Pussy Riot women and 30 international Greenpeace activists who were being held for protesting at an Arctic drilling rig.  

Andrei Soldatov, editor of http://www.agentura.ru, an online journal that studies Russian security services, warns that the two Volgograd attacks in recent months demonstrate that terrorists from the turbulent north have the capacity to strike repeatedly at major Russian targets and achieve success.  

A bombing on a city bus two months ago in Volgograd killed six people, was also revealed to be the work of a female suicide bomber from Russia's insurgency-wracked southern province of Dagestan. Such women have been dubbed "black widows" because they often turn out to be family members of Islamist rebels killed by Russian security forces, recruited to stage revenge attacks on Russian targets.

IED attacks have killed thousands in several Russian cities over the past decade-and-a-half, but the approaching Sochi Winter Olympics have likely generated terror groups such as the Chechen Islamist warlord, Doku Umarov, to step up attacks. 

The bombing is bound to increase anxieties in the Kremlin, with the opening of the Sochi Games barely a month away and President Putin's prestige heavily invested in a successful outcome. Last week President Putin ordered a major prison amnesty which effectively removed some of the deepest human rights controversies between Moscow and the West by freeing prisoners such as former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two Pussy Riot women and 30 international Greenpeace activists who were being held for protesting at an Arctic drilling rig. 

Andrei Soldatov, editor of http://www.agentura.ru, an online journal that studies Russian security services, warns that the two Volgograd attacks in recent months demonstrate that terrorists from the turbulent north have the capacity to strike repeatedly at major Russian targets and achieve success.

This report will be updated as new information is received.




Colombia: Former Congressman Ferney Tapasco May Go Free Before AG Can Present New Evidence


According to The Latin American Tribune, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office said Thursday (December 26) that it will appeal a judge’s decision to acquit former congressman Ferney Tapasco of the 2002 murder of a prominent journalist.

A court in Pereira, capital of the central province of Risaralda, said prosecutors did not present evidence definitively linking Tapasco to the slaying of Orlando Sierra Hernandez, deputy editor of the Manizales daily, La Patria.

The acquittal will be appealed to the Pereira Superior Court, according to the Attorney General's office, insisting that it has sufficient documentary evidence and testimony illustrating Tapasco’s role in the murder.

COMMENT: Two gunmen confronted Sierra on January 30, 2002, as he was leaving the offices of La Patria with his young daughter at which point they shot and killed Hernandez several times in front of his daughter.

Tapasco, behind bars since 2010, was expected to be released from Bogota’s La Picota Prison sometime on Thursday (January 2, 2014).

Obviously, if Tapasco is released on January 2 as expected, he might well disappear before the Attorney General’s office can present its evidence against Tapasco.

Luis Arley Ortiz Orozco and Francisco Antonio Quintero have each been sentenced to 28 years in prison for their part in the assassination.

According to Freedom House, death threats, assassinations, kidnappings and physical attacks against journalists remain a serious concern in Colombia. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported 92 threats against journalists as of early December 2012, the same number as in 2011.

There were two kidnappings of journalists in 2012. In April, Romeo Langlois of France 24 television was kidnapped by the rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a battle between the guerrillas and government troops. The FARC held Langlois for more than a month, claiming he was a prisoner of war, before releasing him on May 30. 

In July, a reporter for the radio station Sarare Estéreo was kidnapped and held for three weeks by the National Liberation Army (ELN), another rebel group, and the station was hit by a grenade attack in early August.

Freelance journalist Guillermo Quiroz Delgado died in November from injuries he suffered at the hands of the police. He was covering a protest in the department [state] of Sucre when he was detained and allegedly beaten and thrown off the back of a police truck. Quiroz had previously angered local officials with his reports on police brutality and corruption in local government. Three police officers were suspended pending an investigation. 

In March, Argemiro Cárdenas Agudelo, a radio journalist and former politician, was shot dead in the western department of Risaralda, although the motive remains unclear. 

In May, Fernando Londoño, a radio talk-show host, newspaper columnist, and former interior minister, was injured in a bombing in Bogotá that was believed to have been carried out by the FARC.

Media ownership is highly concentrated among a few groups of private investors, and television is the dominant news medium. Independent and privately owned print and broadcast media are generally free to express a variety of opinions and cover sensitive issues without official restrictions. All print media in Colombia are privately owned. The government operates three public television stations, but the two private free-to-air networks dominate the ratings.

The pattern in radio is similar, with the two public national radio stations attracting a small audience share. There are hundreds of community radio stations, which sometimes face pressure from the government and armed groups. Local media depend heavily on advertising by regional and municipal government agencies to stay in business, encouraging collusion among media owners, journalists, and officials. 

A 2012 bill mandating a 30% reduction in official advertising, intended to combat corruption, could affect the economic viability of some local media outlets.