Ukraine's fighting words

When U.S. President John F. Kennedy turned 45, Marilyn Monroe performed her infamous rendition of "happy birthday" in Madison Square Garden. When Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 58, he received an erotic calendar from young journalists in Moscow. But when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned 62 yesterday, he received...well, a fake Belarusian visa and a book on the "Basics of Ukrainophobia:" gifts from angry activists to ridicule his Belarusian roots and party's most recent legislation.

No doubt, his celebration's been a little less sultry and lot more politically heated.  Widespread discontent over the recent "language bill," passed last Monday, July 3, has fueled protests throughout Ukraine and exaggerated tensions between Ukraine's Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West. Approved by 248 of the 364 legislators present for the vote, the bill officially recognizes "regional" languages where they're spoken by at least ten percent of the population and permits their official use of in legal discourse, business, and education.

Yanukovych, who grew up in the Russian speaking Donetsk Oblast and represents the pro-Russian Part of the Regions, pledged to make Russian a second official language during his campaign, but the vote was still a shock for many Ukrainians. In response to what's been deemed "a lightning vote," the speaker of Ukraine's parliament and leader of the opposition People's Party -- Volodymyr Lytvyn - resigned.  Rather than accept the resignation of its leader, parliament voted Friday to adjourn for the summer and delay discussion of the bill.

Citing article Article 10 of the Ukrainian constitution which requires that the state "ensure comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine," critics charge that the bill is a blatant attempt to undermine Ukraine's language and sovereignty in favor of Russia - an all too familiar criticism for Yanukovych who's been ridiculed as the Kremlin's pawn in the past.

While the jury's still out on the future of the bill, it seems like Yanukovych may need to work on his birthday plans. Last year, he simply asked for  "hard workers."  



Bahrain activist jailed for Tweet against prime minister

Bahrain's government may have avoided the fate of Egypt, Libya, or even Syria, but it can't be feeling all that secure if it's jailing people for tweeting and detaining small children.

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to jail for three months on Monday for posting a tweet that criticized Bahrain's Prime Minister Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah. Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in June on charges of "insulting in public" after tweeting:

"Khalifa, leave the residents of Al Mahraq, its Sheikhs and its elderly. Everyone knows that you are not popular here, and if there wasn't a need for money, they wouldn't have gone out to receive you. When will you step down?"

The country's chief prosecutor stated in the official media that residents from Al Mahraq, a city on northeastern Bahrain's Muharraq Island, had complained that Rajab's tweet "tarnished their reputation" and "cast doubts" on their patriotism. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab's organization, suggested that these complaints were filed by individuals close to the regime's security forces. 

This wasn't the first time that Rajab has felt the wrath of Bahraini authorities after speaking out against the regime's human rights abuses and subordination tactics throughout the Bahraini uprising. Rajab led several of the anti-government protests that began in 2011, and was detained the same year after publicly criticizing the Bahraini security forces for attacking demonstrators.

Rajab's most recent prison sentence is not even the most extreme example of the growing paranoia of Bahrain's Sunni-controlled regime. In May, authorities arrested an 11-year-old boy, Ali Hasan, for alleged participation in a protest -- the youngest person ever detained for activism.

Hasan told al Jazeera that he had been playing with other children on a street that authorities had blocked off the day before, and had been chased by police officers and detained. The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority stated that to assume Hasan was only playing was "incorrect," and that he was accused of burning tires and participating in an illegal gathering.

Hasan was held in custody for one month before the court allowed him return home. Hasan's charges were not dropped, though, and the court ordered a social worker to monitor the boy for another year.