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Russian Education and Science Minister Valery Falkov made the announcement on February 10.

MOSCOW -- A controversial order by Russia's Ministry of Education and Science that restricted interaction between Russian scholars and their foreign counterparts last year has been rescinded.

Education and Science Minister Valery Falkov told reporters in Moscow on February 10 that the ministry "is interested in cooperation [with foreign scientists] that will develop on the principles of open science," adding that the order in question is no longer valid.

He gave no further explanation as to why the order was annulled.

Media reports in August last year published excerpts of a document signed months earlier by then Science and Higher Education Minister Mikhail Kotyukov that ordered Russian scientists and scholars to give five days' advance notice to ministry officials anytime they planbed on meeting a foreign colleague.

After such encounters, scientists were ordered to submit a report and a list of participants in the meetings.

Other rules implemented included a stipulation that if a meeting took place at a Russian scientific organization, at least two Russian scientists should be present, while foreigners, when visiting Russian scientific organizations, could only copy or record information under rules of international treaties.

The order sparked protests from Russian scholars, who said the move would further isolate the country in a key area of study and development.

The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) called it "ridiculous," saying it ran contrary to the objectives of the national projects of science and education.

With reporting by Vedomosti and RIA Novosti
Members of an alleged terrorist group known as "Set" attend a court hearing in Penza on February 10.

PENZA, Russia -- A court in the Russian city of Penza has sentenced seven activists from a group known as "Set" (Network) to prison terms of between six and 18 years on terrorism charges that opposition figures have denounced as fabricated and "horrific."

On February 10, the Privolzhsky district court found the men, aged between 23 and 30 years, guilty of being members of a terrorist group.

Some of the defendants were also found guilty of possessing illegal weapons and explosives, and attempted illegal drug sales.

The group members were arrested in October 2017 with the Federal Security Service (FSB) accusing them of creating a terrorist group with cells in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza, and Omsk, as well as In neighboring Belarus.

Investigators said the group planned to organize a series of explosions in Russia during the presidential election and the World Cup soccer tournament in 2018 "to destabilize the situation" in the country and to organize an armed mutiny.

Rights activists have said the case was fabricated. Some of the activists claimed that they were tortured while in custody, but the Investigative Committee rejected the claims.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny described the sentences as "horrific" in a post on Twitter, saying testimony about an "imaginary terrorist organization" was "beaten out using torture."

"Any minister in the Russian government is 10 times more of a criminal and a threat to society than these guys," he added.

The court called Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shaursky the group's leaders and sentenced them to penalties of 18 years and 16 years in prison, respectively.

Andrei Chernov was sentenced to 14 years, Maksim Ivankin to 13 years, Mikhail Kulov to 10 years, and Vasily Kuksov to 9 years in prison.

Arman Sagynbaev received six years in prison.

Before the sentences, Amnesty International called the terror charges "a figment of the Russian security services' imagination that was fabricated in an attempt to silence these activists."

The London-based human rights watchdog called the case "the latest politically motivated abuse of the justice system to target young people."

Two other activists initially arrested in the case, Igor Shishkin and Yegor Zorin, made deals with the investigators and testified against the others.

Shishkin received 3 1/2 years in prison in January 2019, while the case against Zorin was closed in September 2018.

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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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