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Russian opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov (file photo)

The jailed leader of Russia's opposition Levy Front (Left Front) movement, Sergei Udaltsov, has been hospitalized, observers and his social media channels say.

Udaltsov was taken to a Moscow hospital suffering from "dehydration" on August 19, five days into a hunger strike, a post on his Twitter account said on August 19.

Ivan Melnikov of the Public Monitoring Commission NGO in Moscow told the TASS news agency that Udaltsov was hospitalized on "doctors’ orders."

"In our presence he was evacuated by paramedics," Melnikov added.

Udaltsov was active in protests last month against the government's proposal to raise the retirement age.

A court in Moscow on August 14 found him guilty of repeatedly violating public gathering regulations, and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

Two days later, a post on his Twitter account said Udaltsov had started a "dry hunger strike," meaning he was refusing both food and water.

Tens of thousands of Russians rallied across the country on July 28 against legislation now under consideration by lawmakers to raise the retirement age to 63 for women by 2034 and to 65 for men by 2028.

Udaltsov was one of the organizers of rallies in Moscow, where thousands protested against the proposed reforms.

President Vladimir Putin's public approval ratings have slipped noticeably since the plan was announced in June, sparking outrage across Russia.

Udaltsov, a prominent Russian opposition activist, was released from prison in August 2017 after serving 41/2-year prison sentence he received over a May 2012 protest against Putin and the Russian government.

In that case, Udaltsov was convicted of organizing "mass disorder" after the 2012 protest descended into violence.

Demonstrators and police blame each other for the violence.

With reporting by AFP
Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Iran's authorities to immediately release prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, saying her arrest and the new charges against her reveal the "grave degree the Iranian judiciary is criminalizing human rights activism."

"Especially when it comes to cases of human rights defenders like Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian authorities blatantly disregard due process rights," HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson said in an August 17 statement. "Apparently what authorities fear greatly is advocating respect for human rights."

Authorities arrested Sotoudeh in June to serve a five-year sentence issued against her in absentia in September 2016 for allegedly carrying out "activities against national security in collaboration with domestic and foreign antirevolutionary elements," HRW said.

The verdict also cited her public support for Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing executions in Iran.

The Iranian authorities had neither previously informed Sotoudeh about nor publicly announced the 2016 conviction or sentence.

'Repressive Crackdown'

Sotoudeh's lawyer, Payam Derafshan, said last week that Tehran prosecutors informed her a complaint had been filed against her for defending a woman who faces charges for taking off her head scarf off in public in January to protest compulsory hijab laws.

Sotoudeh was also charged with membership of the Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty group.

Sotoudeh's lawyers said they saw a January letter in Sotoudeh’s dossier from the Intelligence Ministry asking prosecutors to carry out her sentence because she has resumed her "soft war against the country and has created propaganda material for foreign media with her continuous acts against national security, propaganda activities, portraying the government in a negative light, and publishing false information."

Sotoudeh -- the co-winner of the European Parliament's 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought -- has denied all charges against her.

HRW said Iranian authorities have taken actions targeting human rights defenders and activists in recent months, citing the case of Farhad Meysami, a human rights defender who was arrested by Intelligence Ministry officials on August 1 for protesting compulsory hijab laws.

The Ministry of Intelligence under President Hassan Rohani "has tried to present itself to Iranians as a more 'lenient' security agency, but like the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization it is an integral part of the state’s repressive crackdown against human rights defenders," Whitson said.

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