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Director Nikita Mikhalkov

Russian state television canceled the reruns of a program by one of its most famous directors after he criticized the head of the nation’s largest bank.

During his show that aired May 1 on Rossia-24, Nikita Mikhalkov, who has close ties to the Kremlin, slammed Sberbank Chief Executive Officer German Gref for not having bank branches in Crimea. The same program also accused American billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates of seeking to insert microchips into people.

The state channel canceled the traditional replays of his show on May 2 and May 3, causing Mikhalkov to accuse state TV of censorship in a video statement. Rossia-24 did not give a reason for the cancelations.

RIA Novosti, a state-run news agency, called the nearly 50-minute show a “conspiracy extravaganza” in which the topics of Gates’ supposed plans to microchip people, Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and the absence of Sberbank branches in Crimea were included.

Russian state television had previously aired programs containing baseless accusations that Gates was seeking to install microchips containing a coronavirus vaccine in people:

Russian State TV Repeats Bizarre, Baseless Claims About Bill Gates And COVID-19
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The author of the Telegram channel Katarsis said the reason the state withdrew the show is because of the bad light it sheds on Gref, who has led Sberbank for 13 years. Gref has been credited with revamping the once stodgy lender, turning it into a Russian leader in online and mobile banking.

No major Russian banks operate in Crimea, which the Kremlin forcibly annexed in 2014, due to the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The Katarsis author said Mikhalkov is a figure whom many Russians respect and pointed out that two officials he previously attacked -- Emergency Minister Vladimir Puchkov and Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky -- lost their posts.

“Let’s see how the fate of German Oskarovich [Gref] develops,” the author said.

Sardar Arif Wazir

Pashtun rights activist and political leader Sardar Arif Wazir has died of injuries sustained in a shooting attack in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal district.

The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a rights group that Wazir helped lead, confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that Wazir died in Islamabad on May 2.

Wazir was injured when the vehicle he was traveling in came under fire in the city of Wanna.

The attackers, who fired from another vehicle, have not been identified.

Police officials have confirmed that a search operation is under way to find the perpetrators of the attack, for which no group has claimed responsibility.

The rights watchdog Amnesty International on May 2 called on "the Pakistani authorities to carry out an independent and effective investigation."

The attack came after Pakistani police arrested Wazir on April 17 for delivering an "anti-Pakistan" speech during a recent visit to Afghanistan. He was released on bail this week.

Mohsin Dawar, a member of Pakistan’s lower house of parliament and prominent figure in the PTM, earlier accused “state-sponsored militants” of carrying out the attack.

“The masters of the attackers should know that bullets, injuries, and prisons can't weaken our resolve,” he wrote on Twitter.

There was no immediate response from the government.

The PTM has campaigned for civil rights for Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic minority, since 2018.

The group has attracted tens of thousands of people to public rallies to denounce the powerful Pakistani Army's heavy-handed operations against militants in tribal regions that have killed thousands of Pashtun civilians and forced millions more to abandon their homes since 2003.

The PTM has been calling for the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas and an end to "enforced disappearances," in which suspects are detained by security forces without due process.

Pakistan's government rejects allegations that its security forces and intelligence agents are responsible for forced disappearances.

Since the movement was formed in January 2018, international rights groups say authorities have banned peaceful rallies organized by the PTM and some of its leading members have been arbitrarily detained and prevented from traveling within the country. Some members have also faced charges of sedition and cybercrimes.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said the authorities have made allegations of anti-state activities “an expedient label for human rights defenders, particularly those associated with the PTM."

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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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