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A resident rides his bicycle near what activists say is an exploded cluster-bomb shell in the Syrian town of Douma in November.

Russian open-source bloggers say they have documented more evidence that Russia is using cluster bombs in its air campaign supporting Syria’s embattled regime.

The findings by Ruslan Leviev and the Conflict Intelligence Team, which has uncovered other secretive Russian military activity both in Syria and Ukraine in the past, adds to reports by international human rights group that accuse Moscow of putting civilians at risk with indiscriminate use of cluster bombs.

Russia is not party to the 2008 treaty that bans the use of cluster munitions, which after exploding scatter tiny bomblets across a wide area. The weaponry has been condemned for its indiscriminate nature and the danger of civilians accidentally detonating the bomblets.

Russia has denied using such munitions, most recently last month after Human Rights Watch published a detailed report documenting at least 20 instances of their alleged use since Moscow launched its air campaign on September 30 to support its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his war against both extremist and more moderate rebel groups.

In their report published January 7, Leviev and his team of bloggers scoured Russian news photographs and video footage to document several types of cluster munitions being stored or attached to aircraft at the Hemeimeem air base, in western Syria.

Though no markings can be seen, the bloggers say the underwing bombs are identical in form to a commonly used Russian cluster bomb known as the RBK-500. They also identify the jets as Su-24 and Su-25 bombers, which are based at the Shagol air base in Russia. They also point to imagery from early last year showing RBK-500 munitions on identically marked jets at the base.

“After the [Russian Air Force] operation in Syria started, more and more evidence began to emerge of cluster munitions being used on civilian targets in rebel-controlled areas,” the group said. “Some of those munitions...previously hadn’t been used in the conflict.”

Other photographs gathered from Syrian social media show unexploded bomblets on the ground in Syria.

In its report, Human Right Watch said it had documented instances of other Russian-manufactured, rocket-launched cluster munitions being used in Syria.

Syria has long been a major recipient of Soviet and Russian weaponry.

Last year, prior to the start of Russia’s air campaign, Leviev’s team documented the deployment of Russian marine infantry to Syria, contrary to Moscow’s denials of such troop movements.

They also located the graves of Russian soldiers who appeared to have been killed fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia has long denied any of its military personnel have fought there in an official capacity.

Uzbek Video Shows Transvestite Beaten
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A chilling video that appears to show police officers beating up a transvestite is making the rounds on social networks in Uzbekistan, shining a spotlight on the homophobic attitudes pervading Uzbek society.

In the clip, which was reportedly shot last summer, several men can be seen raiding an apartment and bullying a man who is dressed in women’s underwear, as well as two other men.

The purported officers, one of whom wears a police uniform and a carries a gun on his belt, repeatedly insult their victims and threaten to take them to the police station.

They slap, kick, and bring the two other men to their knees before kicking the transvestite in the head.

The transvestite, who can be heard saying he has a family, pleads for mercy throughout the clip.

While homosexuality is still a crime in Uzbekistan, this does not mean that people who assault homosexuals are exempt from prosecution.

RFE/RL was unable to determine the identity of the victims or establish their fate.

A source close to police in the tightly controlled Central Asian state told RFE/RL that the incident took place in the capital, Tashkent, and that the assailants were all police officers.

According to the source, none of them had been charged over the assault.

Few homosexuals end up being prosecuted in Uzbekistan. Police officers, however, are known to capture gay men on video with the aim of extorting money from them.

Surat Ikramov, a prominent Uzbek human rights campaigner, believes homophobia will remain deeply rooted in his country as long as homosexuality is considered a criminal offense.

Ikramov says that even many of his fellow human rights campaigners in Uzbekistan were openly hostile toward sexual minorities. "Very few people understand that gays and lesbians should not be judged…that they bring no harm to people, to the government, to policies," he says. "But it will take years for people to understand this."

The video has been distributed widely on Facebook, the regional social-networking site Odnoklassniki, and the WhatsApp and Telegram messenger services.

It has generated more than 800 comments on Odnoklassniki alone. But the overwhelming majority of viewers condemn the transvestite, not the police.

"The police did the right thing," one viewer commented on Facebook. "People like this should be beaten to death."

"This is a disease, it must be stopped," reads another comment. "Beating them won't help put them on the right path. They need to be shot dead."

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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