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Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov (file photo)

Russia's Justice Ministry has labeled a well-known human rights group a "foreign agent" for the second time.

The ministry said that the For Human Rights group led by veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov had been added to the registry of foreign agents as a result of an inspection of the group's activities.

Ponomaryov wrote on his blog in December that the Justice Ministry had launched an unannounced inspection of the group 's activities.

The inspection was launched a day after Ponomaryov was found guilty of organizing an unauthorized protest via the Internet and sentenced to 25 days in jail.

Investigators said Ponomaryov used his Facebook account to organize an October 28 demonstration in support of New Greatness and Network, two youth activist groups that Russian authorities accuse of extremism.

The jail term was later cut to 16 days.

Supporters and Kremlin critics condemned the 77-year-old activist's detainment, and called for his release.

Ponomaryov's group was initially labeled a foreign agent in December 2014. After the group refused to register as a foreign agent it was fined 300,000 rubles ($4,500).

A year later, the Justice Ministry annulled the group's foreign-agent status.

With reporting by Dozhd and TASS
Serikzhan Bilash

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The leader of a group in Almaty that has raised concerns over problems faced by ethnic Kazakhs in China's Xinjiang region is on trial.

Serikzhan Bilash, who is charged with illegally leading an unregistered organization, pleaded not guilty as his trial started in Almaty on February 12.

Bilash said that his group, Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland), is not a formal organization but a group of people concerned over the fate of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

Nonetheless, he said that he sought to register it twice last year but that the Justice Ministry refused.

Answering the judge's question about the group’s office, Bilash said that the room it usually uses in Almaty is the office of a member who rents it for his business.

Chinese 'Deradicalization' Camps: Education Or Persecution?
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In recent months, Bilash organized several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who settled in Kazakhstan and complained that their relatives were held in so-called reeducation camps in Xinjiang, a large region in northwestern China that borders Kazakhstan.

The United Nations said in August last year that an estimated 1 million Muslims from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."

The UN also said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps.

Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Kazakhs are the second-largest indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs, and the region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.

After Kazakhstan gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere benefited from Kazakhstan's state program on resettlement of ethnic Kazakhs into the country.

Many of them obtained permanent residence in Kazakhstan or Kazakh citizenship, but continue to visit their relatives in Xinjiang on a regular basis.

Bilash, who was born in Xinjiang, is a naturalized Kazakh citizen.

China is a major trading partner for neighboring Kazakhstan, where state-controlled media has generally avoided reporting about the internment camps.

In recent months, several demonstrations protesting against reeducation camps for Muslims were held in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.

China denies that the facilities are internment camps.

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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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