Monday, July 25, 2016


Video Prominent Belarusian-Born Journalist Pavel Sheremet Killed In Kyiv Car Blast

Journalist's Car In Flames Following Deadly Blasti
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July 20, 2016
Firefighters rushed to extinguish flames that engulfed the car that Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was driving shortly after the vehicle exploded in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Sheremet was driving at about 7:45 a.m. on July 20 to the office of the Ukrayinska Pravda news website when the red sedan blew up. Officials in the Ukrainian capital called Sheremet's death a "murder," saying the blast was caused by an "explosive device." (Reuters)
WATCH: Journalist's Car In Flames Following Deadly Blast

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 20.07.2016 12:15

Christopher Miller

KYIV -- Pavel Sheremet, an award-winning journalist whose reporting challenged the authorities in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine over the past two decades, was killed on July 20 when the car he was driving was destroyed by a bomb in downtown Kyiv.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko called Sheremet's death a "murder," saying the blast was caused by an "explosive device" and that all evidence points to an assassination. Colleagues said they believed it was linked to his work.

Belarusian-born Sheremet, 44, a journalist at news website Ukrayinska Pravda, was driving to the offices of Radio Vesti to do a regular morning show when the bomb went off at about 7:45 a.m., officials said. The Interior Ministry said the explosives were planted underneath the car and the blast was set off by “possibly a remote-controlled or delayed-action” detonator.

The explosion destroyed the red sedan Sheremet was driving, which was owned by his partner, Ukrayinska Pravda owner and founding editor Olena Prytula. The force of the blast was equivalent to some 600 grams of TNT.

The ministry said Sheremet’s killers had acted “skillfully."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in televised comments that he believes the killing was carried out "with one aim in mind: to destabilize the situation in the country, possibly ahead of further events."
 
He said he has requested assistance from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the murder investigation in order to ensure "maximum transparency."

Alyona Horbatko, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, confirmed to RFE/RL that the FBI would assist its Ukrainian counterparts in the case.

In a statement on July 20 that called for a full and impartial investigation, the U.S. State Department lauded Sheremet for what it called "his courageous and tenacious reporting."

"He played a crucial role in Ukraine’s democracy, reporting on issues important to the public, including corruption and governance," the statement said. "Sheremet’s killing must not be tolerated in a free and democratic society."

 

 

At the scene, kiosk operator Lyubov Pereyenko said she had just opened her shop when a deafening blast shook the ground.

“The explosion was so powerful that it sent parts [of the car] flying into my kiosk,” she told RFE/RL.

A barista at a mobile coffee truck said the blast thrust him backward and nearly knocked him to the ground and that it appeared Sheremet was alive when onlookers pulled his mangled body from the scorched vehicle.

“He took a breath. Maybe just one,” said the barista, who did not want to give his name. Sheremet's body was smoking, he added, so bystanders poured water over his body.

Pereyenko said it took first responders five or 10 minutes to arrive at the scene.

Sheremet’s death prompted an immediate outpouring of grief from journalists in Ukraine, where the grisly slaying of Ukrayinska Pravda’s founder 16 years ago has left a cloud over the media and political climate.

Pavel SheremetPavel Sheremet
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Pavel Sheremet
Pavel Sheremet

“It's terrible. We're all very sad today,” Mustafa Nayyem, a member of parliament and former journalist at Ukrayinska Pravda, told RFE/RL by phone from the site of the morning rush-hour explosion.

Sheremet was also mourned by officials, colleagues, and friends from Belarus, Russia, and further afield.

“Shocked by the murder of Pavel Sheremet,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter. He called Sheremet “one of the best” journalists and said: “Pavel was such a decent man. So sad."

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said in a statement that it was "shocked and saddened" by Sheremet’s death and that it welcomed "statements by the police and prosecutor general that the circumstances surrounding his murder will be fully investigated and any perpetrators brought to justice." 

Global rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Sheremet's killing a "reprehensible act that has sent a shockwave for freedom of expression in Ukraine."
 
“We call for better protection of journalists in Ukraine that has a sad record of violence committed against media workers,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

Poroshenko wrote on Facebook that he has ordered security officials to "immediately investigate this crime," adding that "the culprits must be punished."

He held a meeting with senior security officials and ordered security to be provided to Prytula, the president's spokesman said on Twitter.

Sheremet's killing will add to concerns about the future of Ukraine, which is struggling with economic hardship and a two-year-old-old conflict with Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 9,400 people in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

WATCH: Video taken in the aftermath of the blast

Belarusian Journalist Killed In Kyiv Car Blasti
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July 20, 2016
Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed early on July 20 when the car he was driving exploded in the Ukrainian capital. Ukraine's Prosecutor-General called Sheremet's death a "murder," saying the blast was caused by an "explosive device" and that all evidence points to an assassination. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

Sevhil Musayeva-Borovyk, the chief editor at Ukrayinska Pravda, told RFE/RL that she believes Sheremet's killing was related to his work. Other colleagues at the website told RFE/RL that he recently had complained that he was being followed.

Colleagues said they were not aware of a particular piece of reporting that might have been a motive to kill Sheremet.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Sheremet was respected as "a professional who was not afraid to tell different authorities at different times all that he thinks of them."

In a statement, the ministry said it was "shocked by the cynical killing" and sought to portray him as a victim of Ukraine, whose pro-Western government is despised by the Kremlin.
 
"In Russia, despite divergences in views, he was never threatened with physical violence for his professional activity," the ministry said in the statement. "Unfortunately, his move to Ukraine proved to be fatal for him."
 
Numerous high-profile journalists who irked authorities with their reporting have died in contract-style killings and suspicious circumstances in Russia, both under President Vladimir Putin and his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
 
Born in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, Sheremet had lived and worked in Kyiv during the last five years as a journalist for Ukrayinska Pravda and a presenter at Radio Vesti. He had previously worked for media in Belarus and Russia, where he faced pressure from authorities for his work.
 
He had served as editor in chief of the popular independent weekly Belarus Business News as well as anchor and producer of Prospekt, a news analysis program on Belarusian state television that was banned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1995 -- a year after the authoritarian leader’s election and a week before a referendum that expanded his powers.

WATCH: Eyewitness Account Of The Blast That Killed Pavel Sheremet

He 'Was Not Alive' -- Belarusian Journalist In Car Blast Could Not Be Savedi
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July 20, 2016
An eyewitness said Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was already dead when people tried to rescue him from his car that was destroyed by an explosion in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Sheremet was driving to work on the morning of July 20 when his vehicle blew up. Officials suspect a bomb was planted in the car. A man named Oleksiy, who saw the blast, said people rushed to pull Sheremet from the vehicle but he was not alive. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. WARNING: Graphic description)

The following year, he became the Minsk bureau chief of the Russia’s ORT television.

A crusader for human rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, Sheremet was arrested while shooting a report about smuggling across the Belarus-Lithuanian border in 1997 and sentenced to two years in prison -- a move widely viewed as politically motivated.

Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and he was released after three months, when Yeltsin intervened. 

A critic of Lukashenka's persistent crackdown on dissent, Sheremet was passionate about the fate of people in who disappeared in Belarus in the late 1990s and were never found -- including three opponents of Lukashenka as well as Sheremet’s cameraman, Dmitry Zavadsky.
 
Sheremet was spokesman for the organization behind Charter 97, a 1997 declaration that called for democracy and human rights in Belarus.

Deliberately reflecting the Charter 77 human rights declaration in Czechoslovakia 20 years earlier, the Charter 97 declaration called for “devotion to the principles of independence, freedom and democracy, respect for human rights,” and “solidarity with everybody who stands for the elimination of the dictatorial regime and restoration of democracy in Belarus.”

Under increasing pressure from Lukashenka’s government, Sheremet moved to Moscow in 1998 and became a leading investigative TV journalist. He produced several documentaries including Chechen Diary, Wild Hunt, and The Empire’s Last Year.

Sheremet was badly beaten in 2004 while covering an election.Sheremet was badly beaten in 2004 while covering an election.
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Sheremet was badly beaten in 2004 while covering an election.
Sheremet was badly beaten in 2004 while covering an election.

Sheremet continued to face threats and harassment in Belarus, where he was badly beaten while covering an election in 2004. He was a founder of Belaruspartizan.org, a popular independent news website that features relentless criticism of Lukashenka’s government.

In July 2014, after he had been living and working in Ukraine for several years, Sheremet resigned from the Russian channel formerly called ORT and now Channel One, saying that any journalist in Russia who dared to contradict the Kremlin’s propaganda was “hounded.”
 
Sheremet's reporting earned him the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 1998. 

When authorities in Belarus denied permission for Sheremet to travel to New York for the awards ceremony, the Committee to Protect Journalists held a special award ceremony for him in Minsk.

In 2002, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) awarded Sheremet its Prize for Journalism and Democracy in recognition of his human rights reporting in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

That award hailed Sheremet’s efforts to promote “OSCE principles on human rights, democracy, and the unimpeded flow of information.”

Relations between the media and government in Ukraine were poisoned by the killing of Ukrayinska Pravda founder Heorhiy Gongadze, who went missing in September 2000, and successive Ukrainian governments have been accused of restricting media freedoms. 

Gongadze's headless body was found in the woods outside Kyiv that November, but was not buried until March of this year.  Leonid Kuchma, president when Gongadze was killed, came under suspicion and was charged with involvement in 2011, but the charges were later dropped. A former police general was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 after being convicted of strangling Gongadze to death.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, AP, Reuters, and TASS

Turkey Continues 'Cleansing' After Coup Attempt

A relative mourns over the coffin holding the body of police officer Nedip Cengiz Eker, killed during the coup attempt, during a funeral ceremony in Marmaris.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 18.07.2016 05:44

Turkish officials continue to detain people they say played a part in or supported the July 15 failed military coup attempt, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the "cleansing" will continue.

Speaking at a funeral in Istanbul on July 17, Erdogan vowed to "clean all state institutions of the virus" of supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for being behind the plot to overthrow the government.

Erdogan attended a late-night rally in the capital, Ankara, where thousands of flag-waving people came out to listen to him and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim speak.

Who Is Fethullah Gulen?

Turkey said on July 17 that it would request the extradition of Gulen, who has condemned the failed coup attempt and denied any involvement in it.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken to Turkish Foreign Minister three times in recent days and told him that Washington would consider a formal extradition request for Gulen but would only comply if Turkey showed compelling evidence of Gulen's involvement in the coup attempt.

Erdogan urged his supporters to continue to occupy public places and take to the streets in the days ahead to show support for his government.

A large late-night rally was also held in Istanbul's central Taksim Square and in the coastal cities of Izmir and Antalya. 

The more than 6,000 detentions and dismissals that have been made so far include high-ranking military officers and some 2,700 judges. More than 50 senior officers were detained on July 17.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag described the arrests as a “clean-up operation,” saying the number is expected to rise.

Officials also raised the death toll from the coup attempt to 294 people as dozens of funerals were held on July 17.

Erdogan attended the funeral of his campaign manager, Erol Olcak, and his 16-year old son, who were killed by renegade soldiers at the Bosphorus Bridge on July 15.

The president vowed to move the country forward in "unity and solidarity."

Erdogan also said that Turkey could reinstate the death penalty, which it abolished in 2004.

He promised a crowd on July 17 that there would be talks in parliament about bringing back capital punishment because "those who attempt a coup in this country must pay."

Meanwhile, U.S. defense officials announced that Turkey had reopened its airspace to military aircraft at the Incirlik Air Base, used by the U.S.-led coalition for air operations against Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Prime Minister Yildirim said on July 17 that life has returned back to normal following the turmoil in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. 

He said the central bank, capital markets board, banking system, and stock exchange were all operating on their normal schedules.

In Athens, eight Turkish soldiers who flew a helicopter to Greece during the coup attempt and asked for political asylum are due to appear in court on July 18.

Turkish officials have demanded that they be sent back to Turkey.

And in Saudi Arabia, officials arrested the Turkish military attache to Kuwait at the Riyadh airport on instructions from Ankara for his alleged involvement in the coup attempt.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters

Brother Defends Killing Pakistani Social-Media Star 'For Honor'

Qandeel Baloch

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 17.07.2016 17:37

The brother of a murdered Pakistani social-media star says he is not “embarrassed” to have killed her.

Pakistani police arrested the brother of social-media celebrity Qandeel Baloch on July 16 and accused him of murdering his sister.

Wassem Azeem has confessed to drugging and then strangling her “for honor.”

Speaking to journalist on July 17, Azeem said he had no regrets.

"It was around 10:45 p.m. when I gave her a tablet...and then killed her,” he said.

"I am not embarrassed at all over what I did," he added.

Baloch was killed on July 15 at her family's home near Sultan in southern Punjab. She was buried on July 17.

Baloch gained notoriety by appearing on the Pakistan Idol TV show and by conducting a social-media campaign in which she promoted women's rights in Pakistan's conservative society.

She had nearly 800,000 Facebook fans and 40,000 Twitter followers.

The killing of Baloch, who had recently stirred controversy by posting pictures of herself smoking with a prominent Muslim cleric, has caused outrage in Pakistan, where every year hundreds of women are killed by relatives who accuse them of violating religious norms.

The leading daily newspaper Dawn has expressed hope that Baloch's murder would spark a national round of soul-searching and finally lead to the end of Pakistan's "honor killing" phenomenon.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP and Reuters

Pakistani Model Slain In Apparent 'Honor' Killing

Qandeel Baloch

A Pakistani model who recently posted photographs of herself with a Muslim cleric on social media has been killed.

Police said on July 16 that they are investigating allegations that Qandeel Baloch, 26, was killed by her brother as an “honor” killing over the photographs. 

It was not immediately clear when Baloch was killed.

Police officer Sultan Azam told AFP that Baloch was “strangled to death” in an apparent “honor” killing.

Many conservatives were shocked by the photos showing Balock and Mufti Qavi allegedly having soft drinks and cigarettes together during daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims abstain from food and drink during the day.

Qavi denied wrongdoing and said he only met with Baloch to discuss Islam.

Hundreds of Pakistani women are killed each year by relatives who accuse them of violating conservative social or religious norms.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

St. Petersburg Cancels Contract For 2018 World Cup Stadium 

The so-called Zenit-Arena stadium in St. Petersburg is said to be 85 percent complete. (file photo)

The Russian city of St. Petersburg has canceled a contract for the construction of a stadium that is scheduled to host matches during the 2018 World Cup soccer championships.

The city made the announcement on July 15, saying that some $39 million allocated for the stadium was unaccounted for. City authorities have asked prosecutors to investigate the Inzhtransstroi-SPB construction firm that has been overseeing the project.

The stadium, given the provisional name Zenit arena after the city's main soccer team, has been nearly a decade in the making and currently has a total estimated cost of $620 million. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently called the project "disgraceful."

In a statement on July 14, Inzhtransstroi-SPB said it wants to complete the 68,000-seat stadium by the end of the year, "but the city administration is doing everything to derail the completion of the project on time."

Vadim Tyulpanov, chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing preparations for the 2018 World Cup, said the city's decision could mean that St. Petersburg will not be able to host the 2017 Federations Cup as planned.

"If the stadium is not commissioned in December, we won’t be able to host the tournament in June," he said.

He added that the project is currently 85 percent complete.

Based on reporting by Vesti, Interfax, AP, and TASS

Russia Releases One Bolotnaya Prisoner 

Sergei Krivov in court during his trial in 2013.

Sergei Krivov, one of more than 20 Russians convicted of violating public order during a demonstration against election fraud in 2012, has been released from prison upon completion of his three-year, nine-month sentence.

Activists reported on social media on July 15 that Krivov had left Prison Colony No. 6 in Bryansk Oblast and was on his way to Moscow.

Several thousand Russians demonstrated on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012 against the reelection of President Vladimir Putin, and there were clashes with police during the event.

The investigation into the disorder and subsequent trials have come to be called the Bolotnaya Case. 

Krivov was sentenced to four years in prison, including time already served, in February 2014, but an appeals court later reduced that sentence by three months.

During his trial, he complained that he had been beaten and he held two hunger strikes. He filed numerous complaints about treatment and conditions during his time in prison, which his lawyers say prompted his transfer to a facility with even worse conditions.

An appeal for his early release was rejected in March.

Two Bolotnaya detainees – Aleksei Gaskarov and Dmitry Ishevsky – remain in prison. Two others – Dmitry Buchenkov and Maksim Panfilov – are being held in pretrial detention. Last month, a court extended their term of detention until September.

Based on reporting by grani.ru, Novaya Gazeta, and mediazone 
 

UN Report Finds 'Rampant Impunity' For Killings In Eastern Ukraine

The report cited executions of prisoners by both sides and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas using imprecise weapon systems.

A UN human rights report says there has been "limited accountability" in eastern Ukraine for arbitrary killings and torture by separatist fighters and Ukrainian soldiers.

"Impunity for killings remains rampant, encouraging their perpetuation and undermining prospects for justice," said the report, issued on July 14 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The report was based on research into the killings of more than 9,400 people in Ukraine's Donbas region since fighting started there in 2014 through May 2016.

"Accountability will be key to the establishment of sustainable peace in Ukraine," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. "This is the only way forward, as has been fully and tragically demonstrated by the many countries which have not dealt properly with serious international crimes and human rights abuses."

UN investigators found evidence of arbitrary killings by Russia-back separatists, Ukrainian troops, police forces, and volunteer battalions of fighters.

The report cited executions of prisoners by both sides and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas using imprecise weapon systems.

The OHCHR said some of the killings of civilians could be considered "war crimes."

Although some of the people involved in arbitrary killings have been prosecuted, the OHCHR said many investigations into deaths are delayed or left unfinished.

The report said probes into killings in separatist-held areas of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions appear to be selective and suspects are not guaranteed a fair trial.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

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