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Thursday 6 June 2019

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A Russian court last month upheld a six-year jail sentence for Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah's Witness.

Russian news agencies said security agents have detained 15 members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan, in the latest roundup targeting members of the religious group.

Interfax and Tass reported on June 6 that the 15 were detained and charged with organizing "conspiratorial gatherings with the aim of studying extremist literature."

Interfax quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying that agents seized a large amount of "propaganda material" that was "used by suspects to spread extremist ideology and engage locals, including children, into unlawful activities."

It wasn't immediately clear when the detentions occurred.

A spokesman for the religious group said four members -- three men and one woman -- had been detained in Daghestan on June 1, in raids in four towns in Daghestan, but he could not confirm the larger number.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been under intense pressure in Russia since the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that it was an extremist organization. The group has reported a growing number of raids, detentions and torture of its adherents across Russia in recent months.

The organization said that as of June 3, there were 35 members in pretrial detention, and 207 total facing criminal charges across the country.

Headquartered in the United States, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia for decades, for its members' views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.

The group says it has about 170,000 adherents in Russia.

With reporting by Interfax and Tass
Ukrainians Mourn Slain Activist Targeted In Acid Attack
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POKROVSKE, Ukraine -- A court in Ukraine's eastern Dnipropetrovsk region has sentenced five men to prison terms in the high-profile case surrounding the death of anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk.

Handzyuk, a 33-year-old civic activist and adviser to the mayor of the Black Sea port city of Kherson, died in November -- three months after she was severely injured in an acid attack near her home in the southern city of Kherson.

Handzyuk's killing outraged Ukraine, with activists accusing the authorities of failing to complete the investigation or identify the mastermind. All five defendants pleaded guilty and made deals with investigators.

The Pokrovske District Court on June 6 sentenced Serhiy Torbin, the coordinator of the attack, to 6 1/2 years in prison, while Mykyta Hrabchuk, who carried out the attack, received a six-year prison term.

Volodymyr Vasyanovych and Vyacheslav Vyshnevskiy were sentenced to four years in prison each and Viktor Horbunov received a three-year prison term for their roles in the attack.

A Ukrainian Activist's Deathbed Plea
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The five men were initially charged with murder but that was eventually lessened to inflicting severe bodily harm.

In February, the head of Ukraine’s Kherson regional parliament, Vladyslav Manher, was arrested on suspicion of ordering the attack, an allegation he has denied.

Manher was later released on bail as an investigation of the crime continues.

Handzyuk suffered severe burns to nearly 40 percent of her body and lost sight in one of her eyes after the acid attack, according to doctors who treated her at a burn center in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Doctors performed 11 surgical operations to try to save her life. From her hospital bed, Handzyuk was stinging in her criticism of police corruption, vowed to track down her attackers.

Handzyuk's death came amid a wave of attacks on Ukrainian civic activists.

Human rights activists have accused law enforcement agencies of failing to thoroughly investigate the cases and even of possible complicity in some of the attacks.

The United States and the European Union have called the attacks unacceptable and urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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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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