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Self-exiled Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko (file photo)

Ukraine says it has imprisoned the man it accused of being recruited by Russia’s secret services to organize a murder plot against self-exiled Russian reporter and Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko.

Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said on September 1 that Borys Herman had been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison by a court in Kyiv on August 30.

According to Hrytsak, Herman had pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Borys Herman (file photo)
Borys Herman (file photo)

Hrytsak shocked reporters and the world when he announced on May 30 that Babchenko was still alive, a day after Ukrainian authorities reported he had been killed by a gunman outside his Kyiv apartment.

The SBU said it thwarted the planned killing by working together with Babchenko to fake his death.

Herman is alleged to have promised $40,000 to a would-be assassin for the killing of Babchenko.

The alleged would-be killer, a former Ukrainian monk turned army veteran named Oleksiy Tsymbalyuk, said he went to the SBU after Herman approached him.

Tsymbalyuk said he worked with the agency to foil the plot.

Despite its apparent success, the SBU operation of faking Babchenko’s death received heavy criticism from media watchdogs, journalists, and others who said it undermined the credibility of journalists and of Ukrainian officials.

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders head Christophe Deloire said that staging Babchenko’s death "would not help the cause of press freedom."

"It is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive...for the stunt," he added.

Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been badly damaged by Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014 and backing for separatist militants in a devastating war in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP
Pamela Spratlen, the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan

The Uzbek Justice Ministry has officially registered a local branch of the Washington-based American Councils for International Education (ACIE), the first nongovernmental organization to be accredited in Uzbekistan for more than 10 years.

Uzbek Deputy Justice Minister Akbar Tashkulov presented the certificate of registration of the Uzbek branch of the ACIE to U.S. Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the news website reported on August 30.

American Councils implements U.S. educational programs and exchanges across the world.

At a press briefing in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the move “demonstrates the growing strategic partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan, and the government of Uzbekistan’s commitment to meaningful reform and international engagement.”

Nauert added that it also represents the two countries’ “strengthening of people-to-people ties,” saying American Councils will “open up many opportunities for academic and cultural exchanges between the United States and Uzbekistan.”

The Uzbek ambassador to Washington, Javlon Vakhabov, also hailed the development in a tweet, saying, “The first U.S.-connected NGO ever registered in Uzbekistan since 2006. My congrats.”

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has taken steps to implement reforms at home and improve ties with the outside world following more than a quarter-century of iron-fisted rule under his predecessor, Islam Karimov.

Mirziyoev became interim president after Karimov's death was announced in September 2016 and was elected president in a tightly controlled vote in December 2016.

In September 2017, a Human Rights Watch delegation also visited Uzbekistan, seven years after its representatives were banned from working inside the Central Asian country.

In May, an Amnesty International delegation traveled to Uzbekistan in what the London-based human rights watchdog described as the first such visit to the country in 14 years.

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