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One of the two workers from Sri Lanka who has been allowed to continue working.

A bakery in a small Romanian village says it will continue to allow a pair of Sri Lankan employees to make bread at its shop in the face of protests from local residents fearing an influx of immigrants.

Katalin Kollo, one of the bakery owners, said on February 3 that she would allow the workers to continue in their positions after initially apologizing to the local residents of Ditrau and pledging to move the two Sri Lankans to other sections of the company which did not involve direct contact with the dough or the final product.

Despite possessing the proper paperwork, the bakery owners' hiring of the two Sri Lankans sparked outrage among the mainly ethnic Hungarian community of some 5,500, with a couple of thousand residents signing a petition calling for measures to stop what they called the “immigrant inflow."

At a town hall meeting over the weekend, the villagers complained about the bakery owners' treatment of local workers, who they said were forced to work long hours for low wages. Villagers accused the owner of choosing to bring in cheaper laborers from abroad rather than providing better conditions and higher pay for local workers.

They also voiced fears that the two qualified Sri Lankan bakers were the start of a much larger influx of Asian migrants who would alter the local culture and religion. One of the two Sri Lankans is a Catholic, as are most of the villagers.

Labor Minister Violeta Alexandru on February 2 told reporters she was deploying labor inspectors to clarify the situation of the two foreign laborers. Alexandru told Romanian media that she was surprised by the intolerant stance of the locals, "who forget that our fellow Romanians also work in large numbers abroad and deserve respect."

Millions of Romanians work in European Union countries to help their families at home make ends meet. An estimated 1,000 residents of Ditrau have also left to find work abroad, mostly in Hungary.

"We need to be balanced in assessing this situation," Alexandru said.

Before Kollo reversed her decision and allowed the two Sri Lankans to continue to make bread, several Romanian companies offered to relocate the employees to their bakeries in other parts of the country.

Mykola Semena has now had his criminal record expunged.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir welcomes a decision by the authorities in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Crimea region to expunge the criminal record of RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena, insisting that the Crimean journalist shouldn’t have been “persecuted” in the first place for expressing his views.

Semena, who had been convicted of separatism on the peninsula, last week received documents from a court in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, confirming that his suspended sentence had been lifted and his criminal record expunged.

“I am glad that Mykola Semena is finally free,” Desir said in a statement on February 3, expressing hope that the move means “he will now be able to resume his journalistic work unhindered, and travel freely.”

Semena, who has contributed to the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was arrested by Crimea’s Russia-imposed authorities in 2016 and charged with acting against the "territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."

In 2017, a court convicted Semena, handed him a 2 1/2-year suspended sentence, and banned him from “public activity” for 3 years.

Another court in Crimea upheld his conviction three months later, but a court in Simferopol on January 14 this year ruled to prematurely terminate the probation period and expunge his criminal record.

Semena says the accusation against him was politically motivated and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of one of his stories from Ukrainian into Russian.

The United States, the European Union, and international media watchdogs all condemned the trial and verdict.

“Semena’s case reminds us of the harsh conditions in which journalists work when covering the conflict in and around Ukraine,” Desir said.

“It is paramount to ensure safe working conditions for the journalists,” the OSCE representative added.

Russia seized Crimea in 2014 after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned office amid a popular pro-democracy uprising.

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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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