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Riot police line up at a rally against a lockdown order in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, in Russia's North Caucasus.

Many governments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are viewing the coronavirus pandemic as "a free pass to trample" on human rights, Amnesty International says, insisting that any strict measures to stop the spread of the virus must be "temporary, proportionate, and in line with human rights standards."

"As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in the region, many governments seem more interested in cracking down on dissent than protecting public health," Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Central Asia researcher, said on April 29.

Authorities in Azerbaijan, Russia, and other countries in the region "routinely" resort to repressive measures to silence critical views, and "unsurprisingly" responded to the epidemic with disregard for basic human rights, Amnesty said.

The London-based watchdog cited cases in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in which the authorities enforced quarantines on blocks of flats by welding shut the doors and thereby forcing residents to stay inside.

In Ukraine, the group said the military had closed off the only access to a village, leaving the 150 residents with "no access to the outside world, and no means of getting food, medical services, or any other assistance."

And in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, video evidence suggests that police have physically assaulted people for not wearing face masks.

In Belarus, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, political leaders have "belittled" the seriousness of the outbreak and promoted cures "with no proven efficacy," which Amnesty International said constitute threats to people's right to health.

Regarding freedom of expression and access to information, the group said authorities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had "all too often" used newly introduced emergency powers to harass journalists and others who have tried to share information.

The governments of Azerbaijan and Russia "have prosecuted social media users, journalists, and medical professionals for exposing flaws in their COVID-19 responses. Other countries, like Uzbekistan, have imposed ruinous fines for dissemination of 'fake news,'” McGill said.

"The people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia deserve better during these tough and challenging times," McGill said. "Their governments must allocate all available resources to fulfill the right to health and put human rights at the center of their response to the virus."

Aslan Sanashokov (file photo)

STAVROPOL, Russia -- A man from Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia has been charged with masterminding the financial support of a terrorist organization just as he was to be released from prison after serving a 16-year term for the attempted killing of a law enforcement officer.

Aslan Sanashokov's lawyer, Ramazan Uzuyev, told RFE/RL on April 28 that his client was charged with organizing a cash transfer in 2014 while in custody to a man allegedly linked to a terrorist group in Syria.

According to Uzuyev, Sanashokov was charged on April 22, the day he was supposed to be released from a correctional institution in the Stavropol Krai region after finishing his 16-year term. Instead of being released, Sanashokov was sent to a pretrial detention center until June 22.

Sanashokov rejects the charge, saying it wasn't possible to organize cash transfers to anyone while behind bars. He says officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) fabricated the case against him after they interrogated his wife last year and planted a flashcard in his belongings, the contents of which were later used against him.

In many former Soviet republics, the practice of filing new charges against inmates to keep them incarcerated right before their expected release has been common for years.

The FSB's directorate in the Stavropol Krai refused to comment on the situation when contacted by RFE/RL by phone, saying that the directorate does not have a press service.

The directorate confirmed, however, that it had received RFE/RL's written questions and promised to answer them "in the nearest future."

Karachai-Cherkessia is one of several autonomous republics making up Russia's restive, mostly Muslim-populated North Caucasus, which has long been plagued by criminal violence and Islamic radicals who have mounted frequent attacks against police, public officials, and moderate Muslims in the region.

However, rights activists have criticized security officials and police in the region -- which also includes the volatile republics of Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria -- for abuse of power, human rights violations, fabricating criminal cases, torture, and even extrajudicial killings.

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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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