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Defendants Vladimir Kryukov and Peter Karamzin appear in court in Moscow on May 27.

MOSCOW -- The high-profile trial of members of the New Greatness youth activist group has begun in Moscow.

The eight young men and women on trial have been charged with creating an extremist group.

The defendants were arrested in March 2018 and four of them have been held in pretrial detention.

One of the defendants, Anna Pavlikova, was 17 at the time of her arrest. She spent several months under house arrest, which sparked mass protests in Moscow and other cities.

Those charged say they had turned their online chat criticizing the government into a political movement after the move was proposed by one of their members.

Later, it was revealed that the man who proposed the idea, wrote the movement's charter, and rented premises for the movement's gatherings was a special agent of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

In October, peaceful demonstrations to support members of the group were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities across Russia. Police detained dozens of protesters.

In April, one of the members of the group, Pavel Rebrovsky, was sentenced to 29 months in prison.

Earlier, another member of the group, Rustam Rustamov, received a suspended 18-month prison sentence.

Both pleaded guilty and cut deals with investigators.

One of the Pashtun activist leaders, Ali Wazir (left), was among those detained, while the other, Mohsin Dawar (right), is on the run. (file photo)

ISLAMABAD -- Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Pakistani cities following the deaths of at least three ethnic Pashtun activists in the northwestern tribal region.

Demonstrations were held in Peshawar, Swat, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta, and other cities and towns in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces since the May 26 violence in North Waziristan district.

Details of the incident remain unclear due to the inaccessibility of the area to reporters and the blocking of telephone networks.

The military said a group led by two co-founders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) civil rights group attacked a security post, wounding five soldiers.

It said troops responded to "direct firing" and killed three attackers while wounding 10 others.

However, witnesses said the security forces "opened fire" on peaceful protesters seeking to join a demonstration to denounce alleged military abuses. They reported more than 20 people wounded in the shooting.

One of the PTM leaders, Ali Wazir, was among those detained, while the other, Mohsin Dawar, is on the run. The two men are members of parliament.

A curfew has been imposed in the town of Datta Khel where the violence took place.

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called for a parliamentary commission to investigate the matter and "establish the truth."

It also demanded the release of Wazir and "any other activists taken into custody."

Separately, the military said that five more bodies bearing "bullet wounds" were found approximately 1.5 kilometers from the site of the shooting incident.

The bodies were being identified, a statement said.

The PTM, whose support base is mostly among the Pashtun ethnic minority, has organized regular sit-ins and protests across Pakistan since its founding in early 2018 to denounce the army's heavy-handed operations in tribal regions.

The group has called for judicial probes into those killed by the military and campaigned for ending enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and discrimination against Pashtuns.

International rights groups say authorities have banned peaceful rallies organized by the PTM and some of its leading members have been arbitrarily detained and prevented from traveling within the country.

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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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