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Svetlana Prokopyeva

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged the Russian authorities to dismiss the case against journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, who it said is being persecuted over a radio commentary broadcast last year.

After being investigated for months, Prokopyeva was charged with “justifying terrorism” last week and is now facing up to 7 years in prison, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on September 25.

It said the journalist, who is based in the northwestern city of Pskov and has contributed to RFE/RL's Russian Service, had been “placed under judicial control, deprived of her passport and bank accounts, and placed on an official list of ‘terrorists’ in violation of the presumption of innocence.”

Prokopyeva “just did her job as a journalist and it is appalling to see investigators persecuting her in this fashion,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“It is hard to view this absurd charge as anything other than an intimidatory message to all Russian media outlets,” Bihr added.

Russian and international rights activists have expressed concern that the criminal investigation into Prokopyeva amounts to an infringement of freedom of the press.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a tweet that "Prokopyeva is being persecuted for doing nothing more than voicing her opinions."

"Charges against her are an attempt to send a message to independent journalists," he added.

In the November 2018 commentary she made for the Pskov affiliate of Ekho Moskvy, the Moscow radio station known for its independent reporting, Prokopyeva discussed a bombing that occurred in the previous week in the far northern city of Arkhangelsk.

In that case, a 17-year-old boy was accused of detonating a homemade explosive outside the local headquarters of Russia's main domestic security and intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB). Three of its officers were wounded in the blast.

Russian media reported that the suspected bomber, who died in the incident, had posted statements on social media in which he accused the FSB of falsifying criminal cases.

In her commentary, Prokopyeva linked the teenager’s statements to the political climate in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that political activism in the country was severely restricted, leading people to despair.

Amnesty International has urged Pakistani authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release a university lecturer who has been charged with blasphemy over Facebook uploads.

Junaid Hafeez’s case is “a travesty,” Rabia Mehmood, researcher at the London-based group, said in a statement on September 25.

Calling Hafeez "a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression," Mehmood called for all charges against him to be dropped.

Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan, has been in solitary confinement since June 2014, according to Amnesty International.

His case is now with the eighth judge since his trial began, and his counsel was gunned down in May 2014 after receiving threats for defending Hafeez.

Authorities “must guarantee his safety and that of his family and legal representatives. Their failure to do so in the past has already borne the worst consequences,” said Mehmood.

His lengthy trial “has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family, and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” she added.

Amnesty International urged Pakistan to repeal these laws, describing them as “overly broad, vague and coercive.”

“They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence,” the statement said, citing the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, was acquitted in 2018, and was only able to depart Pakistan for Canada in May this year after being kept in protective custody out of security concerns.

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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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