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Yulia Slutskaya

The founder of an independent Belarusian press group and several associates taken into custody last week have been charged with tax evasion and related crimes in a case that comes against the backdrop of a continuing state crackdown on dissent.

The daughter of Press Club founder Yulia Slutskaya said via Facebook that her mother had been charged with "large-scale tax evasion."

A lawyer for the group confirmed the charges against Slutskaya and said charges alleged that at least four staff members were being charged as co-conspirators.

Slutskaya will remain in pretrial custody until at least February 22, the lawyer, Anton Hashinski, said.

It was unclear whether the other four -- Syarhey Alsheuski, Pyatro Slutski, Ala Sharko, and Denys Sokolouski -- had their custody similarly extended.

AFP reported that another Press Club employee, Russian national Sergei Yakupov, had been deported on December 31.

Slutskaya was detained after she arrived in Minsk from abroad on December 22, while the others were detained hours later after their homes and offices were searched.

Belarus's Committee for State Control said it had launched preliminary investigations into "facts of violation of the taxation laws of the Republic of Belarus by the staff members of the Press Club Journalistic Workshop cultural-educational organization linked among other things to financial support from abroad."

The detentions came days after the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed Belarus as a country where authorities have significantly increased their arrests of journalists in recent months.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) on December 23 demanded the release of veteran journalist Slutskaya and her colleagues.

"This repression must end immediately. We demand the release of Yulia and all her colleagues," said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard. "We call on the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE to respond decisively to this new wave of repression."

Founded in 2011, the Belarusian Press Club calls itself "a platform for professional development of independent media and journalists."

Mass protests continue across the country to demand the exit of longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka after election officials in Minsk said he won a sixth presidential term in a landslide on August 9.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets for months, declaring that opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya was the real winner.

Lukashenka has responded with mass arrests of protesters, jailings and expulsions of opposition leaders, and the withdrawal of accreditations and other strictures on local and international journalists.

Since August, at least 373 journalists have been arrested in Belarus.

In October, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus revoked the media accreditations from several foreign media organizations in a move widely criticized as an attempt to stifle reporting about ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

With reporting by AFP and Tut.by
Preparations for a hanging in Iran (file photo)

The United Nations has condemned Iran for executing a man convicted of murder when he was 16 years old, saying the punishment violated international law.

The UN human rights office in Geneva said Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee was executed on December 31.

He was the fourth juvenile offender put to death in Iran this year, the office said.

“The execution of child offenders is categorically prohibited under international law and Iran is under the obligation to abide by this prohibition," UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, "strongly condemns the killing," she added.

Shamdasani said the office was “dismayed that the execution had taken place despite” its efforts to engage with Tehran on the case.

"There are deeply troubling allegations that forced confessions extracted through torture were used in the conviction of Mr. Rezaiee," Shamdasani said, along with "numerous other serious concerns about violations of his fair-trial rights."

Iran regularly forces confessions from prisoners, often under duress or torture, rights groups say.

Amnesty International said Rezaiee was arrested in 2007 in connection with the fatal stabbing of a man in a brawl and had spent more than 12 years on death row.

Iran is among a handful of countries that execute juvenile offenders.

Amnesty International said it is aware of at least 90 cases of people in Iran currently on death row for crimes that took place when they were under 18. The rights organization said the real number is likely to be far higher.

Rights groups have called on Iranian authorities to urgently amend Article 91 of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code to abolish the death penalty for crimes committed by people under 18 in line with Iran’s international obligations.

Iran is one of the world's leading executioners. Amnesty International said in April that at least 251 people were executed by Iranian authorities in 2019.

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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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