Vladlena Funk

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Vladlena Funk (Russian: Владлена Функ; born 1977) [1] is a Russian- American free-lance reporter, who was held captive by the Belarusian KGB for over a year in a high-profile US-Belarus hostage crisis, together with a well-known American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser,[2][3][4] who heads American Russian Law Institute,[5] a non-for-profit non-governmental public policy research and advisory organization.

Early life and career[edit]

Ms. Funk was born in the historic Russian city of Veliky Novgorod in 1977. After earning her cum laude Bachelors' and Masters Degree in Linguistics from the prestigious Yaroslav Moudry University, she joined web-based Moscow Telegraph. Since the beginning of 2004 she also worked as a reporter for the NLBC Radio (620 AM) as its Moscow correspondent. Ms. Funk earned an MBA in Economics from Moscow State University. Ms. Funk is married to Igor Funk, a reporter and cameraman for RTN (Russian Television Network)

Abduction[edit]

As was widely reported, on March 11, 2008, Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk had been abducted in London U.K. by the Belarusian KGB operatives. Both were drugged and secretly renditioned across international borders to Belarus[6] aboard a private jet belonging to Boris Berezovsky, a notorious Russian “oligarch” and close friend of the Belarusian illegally elected president Alyaksander Lukashenka. Berezovsky is wanted by the Interpol for fraud, money laundering, participation in organized crime and transnational financial crimes. Berezovsky has been widely reported to be the man behind many high profile murders, including brutal killings of US reporter for Forbes Magazine Paul Khlebnikov; prominent Russian journalists Vladislav Listyev and Anna Politkovskaya; Deputy Head of Russian Central Bank Andrey Kozlov; and a former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned with a nuclear substance Polonium-210 in London.)[7]

Detention in Belarus[edit]

Upon landing in Minsk Belarus, Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk had been detained by the personal guard of Lukashenka, Belarusian illegally elected president, according to the U.S. Department of State.[8] Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk were transported to “Amerikanka”, the Belarusian dreaded KGB detention facility of the Stalin era. There both had been repeatedly tortured, denied critical medications and told that they would remain in captivity indefinitely unless the United States lifts sanctions against Mr. Lukashenka and Belneftekhim. Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk had been held hostage by the Belarusian KGB for 473 days and 373 days respectively.[9]

Unlawful seizure[edit]

Neither Ms. Funk nor Mr. Zeltser had been lawfully “arrested,” “charged” “indicted,” “tried” or “convicted” within the meaning of Belarusian or international law. Both had been unlawfully seized and held hostage - - in blatant violation of the laws of nations and of Belarus’ own law. During their unlawful confinement, Ms. Funk and Mr. Zeltser had been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or undignified treatment in blatant violation of the Article 25 of the Belarus Constitution;[10] the U.S. law and numerous international treaties, including the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (The Hostage Convention);[11] the United Nations Convention Against Torture, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[12] the law of nations and universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights See: Human rights in Belarus

International reaction[edit]

Mr. Zeltser’s and Ms. Funk’s seizure, torture and unlawful detention sparked international outrage and significant press coverage, apparently unexpected by the Belarusian authorities.[13] The U.S. Department of State and members of the U.S. Congress repeatedly demanded the release of the hostages. World leaders, the European Parliament and international human rights organizations joined in the U.S. call for immediate release of Ms. Funk and Mr. Zeltser. Amnesty International has repeatedly issued emergency alerts respecting “torture and other ill-treatment” of Mr. Zeltser.[14] Ihar Rynkevich, a prominent Belarusian legal expert and Press Secretary of the Belarus Helsinki Commission said in an interview: "This is yet another shameful case for the Belarusian judiciary for which more than one generation of Belarusian legal experts will blush,"[15]

Political motivation[edit]

It was widely believed that Mr. Zeltser’s and Ms. Funk’s abduction, detention and mistreatment in the KGB captivity was undertaken to coerce the United States to lift sanctions against Lukashenka and other members of the Belarusian government, and against Belarusian petrochemical concern Belneftekhim, owned by these individuals. As such, Belarus’s actions were and remain gross violations of the law of nations, and universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights, including laws prohibiting hostage taking and state-sponsored terrorism.[16] A strongly worded letter from the New York City Bar Association to Lukashenko condemned KGB abuse of Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk and demanded their immediate release. The Bar Association letter expressed “great concerned about the arrests and detention of Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk and the reports of physical mistreatment of Mr. Zeltser” and noted that this conduct is inconsistent with Belarus’ obligations under international agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Bar Association letter noted that the charge, which the KGB claimed to have brought against Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk "appears to have no basis to it", lacks "any explanation or detail" and "concerns have thus been reported that this is a fabricated charge, created to justify their unlawful detention." [17]

Release[edit]

Yielding to demands of international community, Belarusian dictator Lukashenka had finally released Ms. Funk on March 20, 2009, and Mr. Zeltser on June 30, 2009, when a delegation of the members of the U.S. Congress traveled to Belarus to meet with Lukashenka regarding the hostage crisis.[18] US chargé d'affaires in Belarus, Jonathan Moore commented after their release: “At no time have the Belarusian authorities ever provided any indication that the charges against Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk were legitimate. As a result, I can only conclude that the charges in this case are thoroughly without merit; and are the result of extra-legal motivation." [19] Patton Boggs, a prominent Washington D.C. human rights law firm coordinated international efforts for Ms. Funk’s and Mr. Zeltser’s release.

During her first U.S. interview, after being freed, Ms. Funk told reporters: “I was held hostage for over a year and rescued thanks to incredible efforts of the US Diplomats, and members of the US Congress. God bless America!"[20]

United States position[edit]

The U.S. Department of State denied making any concessions to Lukashenka, and repeatedly said that it does not use its citizens as “bargaining chips”. However, many in Belarus still believe that U.S. cut a deal with Lukashenko, inducing him to release hostages in exchange for IMF credits to Belarus. Appearing on Russian TV network, NTV, Anatoly Lebedko, Chairman of the Belarusian United Popular Party said: “Washington was forced to pay ransom for its citizen by providing Lukashenka the IMF credits, pure and simple; in essence, this is hostage-taking, the practice, which is wide-spread in Belarus elevated to the new level, where Lukashenko is not only sending a political message but demands monetary compensation for human freedom.”[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moscowtelegraph
  2. ^ Gus Garcia-Roberts (November 17, 2011). "Russian billionaires battle for Fisher Island". Miami New Times. 
  3. ^ "Vladlena Funk: "Berezovsky cannot be not linked with to Zeltser’s arrest in Minsk"". Charter 97. 8.04.2009. 
  4. ^ http://russianlaw.org/directors_ez.htm
  5. ^ American Russian Law Institute
  6. ^ MSNBC Report “Torturegate”
  7. ^ The Berezovsky Backgrounder
  8. ^ The 2009 U.S. Department of State Background Note: Belarus
  9. ^ U.S. is Welcoming Former Hostages Back Home
  10. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994 (as amended on November 24, 1996 and October 17, 2004)
  11. ^ Multilateral International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 17 December 1979. GA res. 34/146 (XXXIV), 34 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 245, UN Doc. A/34/46 (1979); 1316 UNTS 205; TIAS No. 11081; 18 ILM 1456 (1979) Conclusion Date: 1979-12-17; Entry Into Force Date: 1983-06-03.
  12. ^ The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976.
  13. ^ Belarusian Authorities Hold American Lawyer Hostage. MSNBC (September 9, 2008); Video
  14. ^ Amnesty International alerts
  15. ^ Rynkevich Interview. Belapan (August 1, 2008)
  16. ^ Dubbed “terrorists arms depot” by the International League for Human rights, Belarus has a history of close cooperation with and arms sales to rogue states, sponsors of terrorism. See also: Washington Post “Belarus's Terrorist Ties” June 12, 2004
  17. ^ Bar Association Letter
  18. ^ US Lawyer Imprisoned in Belarus on Widely Denounced Charges Freed After Pardon. ABC News July 1, 2010; Belarus Frees Imprisoned American Laywer. MSNBC;U.S. Welcomes Home Hostages Emanuel Zeltser and Vladlena Funk
  19. ^ Jonathan Moore Letter
  20. ^ U.S. Welcomes Home Former Hostages
  21. ^ “God-Daddy of Belarus”. NTV