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Thursday 1 August 2019

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Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny sits on a hospital bed in Moscow on July 29.

Jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has filed an official complaint with Russia's main investigative authority in connection with an unexplained physical reaction that required his hospitalization, alleging that he was poisoned after being taken into custody following a recent Moscow protest.

He has requested an investigation that includes a toxicology report and a request to see surveillance video from the Moscow detention center where he is being housed.

It quoted a tweet by Navalny's lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, who said the 43-year-old lawyer had made "a statement about the crime committed in connection with his poisoning" to a regional department of Russia's national Investigative Committee.

There was no immediate public confirmation by investigators of having received any statement or complaint.

Navalny has been one of President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics for the better part of a decade, through multiple incarcerations, a barred attempt to run for president and a hamstrung bid for the Moscow mayor's post, and regular reports from Navalny and his allies alleging senior-level corruption on a massive scale.

The prominent Kremlin critic is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for calling an unauthorized weekend protest over election officials' refusal to register dozens of independent and opposition candidates ahead of upcoming elections to the Moscow city council.

Police violently dispersed the July 27 protest, and detained nearly 1,400 people, according to the independent OVD-Info organization.

Western governments have condemned as "disproportionate" and "indiscriminate" the Russian authorities' use of violence against the protesters.

Navalny was taken from detention to a hospital late on July 28 with severe swelling of the face and a rash, sparking fears he had been poisoned. He was transferred back to jail a day later.

The chief physician at the Moscow Sklifosovsky Medical Center said on July 31 that tests performed on unspecified biomaterial taken from Navalny excluded poisoning as a reason for the recent hospitalization.

Navalny's personal doctor advised against a quick return to the detention facility and said the forensic findings were not conclusive.

"Are they really such absolute idiots to poison you in a place where suspicions point only at them?" Navalny asked in a post on his website after his return to jail, going on to conclude, "It seems to you that in their [the people in power's] actions you need to look for secret meaning or a rational purpose. But in reality, they are just stupid, malicious and obsessed with money."

Navalny's anticorruption group, the Anticorruption Foundation, has continued its efforts to call out Russian officials for suspected abuses.

On August 1, it issued a video alleging that the family of a Moscow Deputy Mayor Natalia Sergunina owns property worth 6.5 billion rubles ($102.3 million) and had purchased assets at around their starting prices at auctions organized by the mayor's office.

A coordinator for Navalny's team in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov, was immediately detained again by police on August 1 as he left a jail in the capital after serving an eight-day sentence.

Five other people have been detained as part of a criminal investigation into the July 27 protest, which authorities have termed "mass unrest," a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The detainees iunclude Aleksey Minyaylo, a well-known activist and aide to Lyubov Sobol, an independent politician who has fought to get on the ballot for the Moscow election.

In a Facebook post, Minyalo said his apartment was searched in the middle of the night.

With reporting by Reuters
A screen shot of the Turkish series Endless Love, which has been taken off the airwaves in Uzbekistan. (file photo)

The Uzbek government has ordered a private television channel to stop showing the popular Turkish soap opera Endless Love amid criticism that the show contradicts Uzbek family values.

Zo'r TV channel adhered to the state's demand and canceled Endless Love on July 31, just three days after the much-loved prime time series made a triumphant return to the airwaves after also being banned in 2018.

A producer at Zo'r TV blamed the decision on a "small number" of religiously conservative viewers who consistently demanded that Uzbek authorities suspend Endless Love, whose plot is based on a complicated love triangle.

"The so-called moral guardians...collected signatures through Telegram and other social media and sent a letter to the president's virtual office," the producer, who requested anonymity, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on July 31.

"In the end they managed to have the show canceled...because their attack against it has been systematic," he added.

Endless Love was initially removed from the air on February 16, 2018 after Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov backed calls for the soap opera to be banned.

'We Are Very Unhappy'

A government employee in Tashkent told RFE/RL that the order to suspend Endless Love for a second time also came from Aripov.

The state worker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that during a cabinet meeting on July 30 at which he was present, Aripov strongly criticized Zo'r TV's decision to bring back the soap opera despite last year's ban.

Zo'r TV was founded by Jahongir Ortiqkhojaev, the wealthy mayor of the capital, Tashkent.

The government employee provided what he said was a photo from the cabinet meeting along with an audio recording of Aripov's speech condemning Endless Love.

The Uzbek cabinet meeting at which Endless Love was reportedly banned.
The Uzbek cabinet meeting at which Endless Love was reportedly banned.

In the audio, Aripov can be heard saying: "We have some officials who ignore the prime minister's words and the government's decisions. They behave as they see fit."

Without naming names, Aripov went on to say: "You know who I'm talking about. They again started airing the Turkish series. I demand them to take it off the air today."

Aripov accused "them" of disregarding "the opinion of the people...who were very unhappy" with the Turkish melodrama being aired in Uzbekistan.

The hard-line government in Tashkent exercises strict control over the content of all media enterprises, including private entities.

There was no immediate official reaction from Ortiqkhojaev or the Zo'r TV administration. The TV station didn't explain to viewers why its broadcasts of Endless Love came to an abrupt end for a second time.

'Sins With Their Eyes'

Since it began airing in August 2017, the soap opera has come under attack from the Islamist website Azon.uz, which repeatedly criticized the show as contravening Uzbek people's religious and family values.

An article published on Azon.uz in February 2018 said those who watch Endless Love "commit sins with their eyes."

It described the Uzbeks dubbing the Turkish-language show as "traitors" and urged people to "fight against them."

The article, Recognize The Enemies Of The Nation, generated many discussions on social media and garnered some support in the predominantly Muslim nation of some 32 million.

Uzbek officials criticized the article, saying that it undermined the country's laws. At the same time, however, the state Agency for Press and Information instructed Zo'r TV to halt the show.

Endless Love is a story of a wealthy woman who falls in love with a man from a humble background. But she eventually marries a rich businessman who blackmails the woman's family.

The show touches on such issues as extramarital affairs, forced marriages, murder, and suicide.

Endless Love has won an International Emmy award and has been aired in more than 70 countries, from Latin America to the Middle East.

Uzbekistan previously banned Turkish soap operas in 2002 and again in 2012 saying they contain "inappropriate scenes that are not compatible with the Uzbek people's mentality."

Uzbekistan ranks 182nd out of 194 countries rated on the Freedom in the World 2019 Index.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

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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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