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Russian police officers in Moscow detain a supporter of Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who was detained on "treason" charges earlier this week.

MOSCOW -- As Russians cast ballots in a tightly managed vote on constitutional changes that would pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to extend his rule until 2036, some of his critics warned the changes would usher in a clampdown on dissent and strengthen the hand of Russia's powerful security services.

Now, in Russia's capital, calls for protest by anti-government activists have capped off a week of raids, arrests, and prosecutions that appear to confirm those fears that the political landscape has changed in a way that makes opposition an even more costly enterprise.

"What's happening now is different, because it's part of a formal state doctrine," Yulia Galyamina, an opposition politician who was targeted in one of the recent raids, told RFE/RL. "The regime is now officially positioning itself as a dictatorship."

Events unfolded in rapid succession. On July 6, journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva was convicted in Pskov of justifying terrorism, after more than a dozen fellow reporters were detained for picketing in her support.

The following morning, members of Russia's security services bundled former military reporter Ivan Safronov into a car in central Moscow and arrested him on treason charges that carry a maximum 20-year sentence. Another 27 people, many of them Safronov's former colleagues, were detained for picketing in his defense.

On July 8, authorities stormed the apartment of opposition activist Pyotr Verzilov and moved forward with a criminal case against him for allegedly failing to declare Canadian citizenship.

And on July 9, the homes of at least five other opposition activists were raided in Moscow. One thing connected them: All had campaigned against Putin's constitutional amendments, as part of a small but dogged drive to scupper the plan to extend his rule.

'Attacks On Freedom Of Expression'

"Russian authorities should immediately drop the charges against the protesters and other journalists and end attacks on freedom of expression," Human Rights Watch said in a statement condemning the arrests.

For some, it was an echo of another sweeping clampdown in Russia's capital last summer, when a series of protests against the conduct of local elections prompted a tough reaction from authorities and raids on the homes of opposition activists.

"This is yet another intimidation campaign," tweeted prominent Putin critic Aleksei Navalny, whose allies were among those swept up in this week's crackdown. "An effort to demoralize Putin's opponents and publicly punish anyone who protested his amendments."

But others suggested things are different this time.

For years, journalist Andrei Soldatov wrote in The Moscow Times, "it had been almost impossible to accuse journalists of treason or revealing state secrets." Now, he said, the agency was "applying its paranoid definition of espionage to journalists -- and is going out of its way to make sure everyone knows."

Ivan Pavlov, the lawyer representing Safronov, wrote in a Facebook post that the journalist's case is the first treason charge against a Russian reporter since the 1997-2001 prosecution of Grigory Pasko, whom Pavlov also defended. He implored fellow journalists to take a stand.

"A lot will depend on the way you react to this blow, including whether accusations of treason against journalists will become a trend in today's Russia," he wrote.

'Life Has Only Gotten Worse'

The reaction on social-media channels popular among the opposition has been loud and defiant. But on the streets -- where law enforcement actively polices public spaces and is quick to hustle away solo picketers, let alone rowdy crowds -- it has been muted.

Earlier this month, opposition activists petitioned the Moscow government for permission to hold a protest on July 15 against Putin's constitutional overhaul. But they were rebuffed on the grounds that certain anti-coronavirus lockdown measures continue, and large gatherings are still banned.

Galyamina, who sits on a Moscow district council, said this was merely an excuse. She cited the fact that the constitutional-changes vote dragged on for a week and involved millions of Russians visiting polling stations to cast ballots.

Instead of forging ahead with a banned rally, which could expose participants to a violent police crackdown, she has called on supporters to gather on the central Pushkin Square on July 15 and sign a petition demanding that the constitutional changes be reversed -- in particular, the clause allowing Putin to run again for two more six-year presidential terms.

"Putin's term limits have been reset," she wrote in a Facebook post on July 10.

How Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II unfolded 25 years ago.

A Bosnian fighter sips a drink next to his Kalashnikov and a statuette of Marshal Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia, in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in 1992.
A Bosnian fighter sips a drink next to his Kalashnikov and a statuette of Marshal Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia, in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in 1992.

Beginning in the spring of 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a country at war -- part of the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia along largely ethnic lines. A former province of the Ottoman Empire, multiethnic Bosnia was made up of predominantly Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Christian Serbs (33 percent), and mainly Catholic Croats (17 percent).

Civilians in Sarajevo flee with their possessions after a mortar shell set their home ablaze in September 1992.
Civilians in Sarajevo flee with their possessions after a mortar shell set their home ablaze in September 1992.

The ferocity of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina uncorked ethnic tensions. In March 1992, Croat and Bosniak fighters killed dozens of civilians in the Bosnian Serb village of Sijekovac in the first massacre of the conflict.

After Bosnian Serb forces seized control of much of the country, Srebrenica (pictured), near the border with Serbia, became a refuge for Muslim civilians fleeing the surrounding Serb-held areas and a base for Bosnian Army fighters.

A Srebrenica street in April 1993
A Srebrenica street in April 1993

The Bosniak enclave was strategically important for the Bosnian Serb army that sought to create a continuous swathe of Serb territory in eastern Bosnia up to the border with Serbia.

A man holding what he said is his last ear of corn during the siege of Srebrenica.
A man holding what he said is his last ear of corn during the siege of Srebrenica.

As surrounding Serb forces rained artillery down on the town and cut off supplies, Bosniak fighters attacked neighboring Serb villages and launched counteroffensives.

UNPROFOR Commander Morillon appeals for calm as he attempts to leave Srebrenica.
UNPROFOR Commander Morillon appeals for calm as he attempts to leave Srebrenica.

In March 1993, UN Protection Force Commander (UNPROFOR) Philippe Morillon talked his way through a Serb blockade and entered Srebrenica. He was then prevented from leaving by crowds of refugees in the town who thronged his vehicle. One woman shouted through Morillon’s car window: “Why is the world not ashamed? Why should you go home? I haven’t been home for a year.”

Srebrenica seen from a UN armored vehicle in April 1993.
Srebrenica seen from a UN armored vehicle in April 1993.

Morillon gave up on leaving and, in a bleakly comical move, the Frenchman appeared with a loudspeaker next to a fluttering UN flag to announce he had “now decided to stay here in Srebrenica.” Using a phrase that would come to haunt the world, Morillon then declared to the cheering crowd, “You are now under the protection of the United Nations.”

A Dutch UN post on the perimeter of Srebrenica
A Dutch UN post on the perimeter of Srebrenica

The UN then declared Srebrenica a “safe area” and Bosnian Serb forces vowed not to overrun the enclave on the condition that Bosniak fighters in Srebrenica surrender their weapons.

Serbs advancing on positions near Srebrenica in July 1995.
Serbs advancing on positions near Srebrenica in July 1995.

But in early July, Serbs launched an artillery barrage on the enclave. Bosniak fighters desperately called for a return of their weapons but UN peacekeepers refused as Serb forces advanced on the town.

Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic (left) shakes hands with one of his soldiers inside Srebrenica after seizing the enclave on July 11.
Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic (left) shakes hands with one of his soldiers inside Srebrenica after seizing the enclave on July 11.

On July 10, a Dutch UN commander in Srebrenica requested air strikes to halt the Serb attack but was told he had used the wrong document. By the time the right form was filled out by the desperate Dutch commander, the circling jets had run low on fuel and returned to their base in Italy. On July 11, UN troops were brushed aside by Serb forces advancing into Srebrenica. Mladic declared: “Finally, the moment has come for us to take revenge on the Turks in this area.”

A Serb searching for Muslim fighters inside Srebrenica on July 13.
A Serb searching for Muslim fighters inside Srebrenica on July 13.

One Dutch UN soldier was killed during the Serb advance, apparently with a grenade thrown by a furious Bosniak as retreating UN troops gave up the town.

A crowd of refugees cluster around a UN armored vehicle in Potocari, just north of Srebrenica, on July 13.
A crowd of refugees cluster around a UN armored vehicle in Potocari, just north of Srebrenica, on July 13.

On July 13, some 20,000 civilians of Srebrenica fled 6 kilometers north to Potocari, where Dutch UN troops were headquartered.

Dutch UN troops in Potocari stand alongside refugees from Srebrenica.
Dutch UN troops in Potocari stand alongside refugees from Srebrenica.

But Serb fighters soon arrived and began mingling with the desperate crowd, pulling men away from their families and taking them away in trucks, while others were led away to immediate execution.

This image contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.
A young woman from Srebrenica who had hanged herself with a blanket on July 14.
A young woman from Srebrenica who had hanged herself with a blanket on July 14.
This image contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing - Click to reveal
A young woman from Srebrenica who had hanged herself with a blanket on July 14.

An UNPROFOR commander recalled that the refugees in Potocari “were panicked, they were scared, and they were pressing each other against the soldiers, my soldiers, the UN soldiers that tried to calm them.”

Muslim men who were reportedly captured in Srebrenica by a Serb paramilitary group known as the Scorpions.
Muslim men who were reportedly captured in Srebrenica by a Serb paramilitary group known as the Scorpions.

Meanwhile, some 15,000 Srebrenica men, including fighters who knew they would not survive if they were captured, were marching through the forest in an attempt to reach Bosniak-held territory to the north. Many were killed as they were hunted down by Serb forces equipped with armored vehicles and heavy machine guns. Those who surrendered were executed and many were buried in mass graves. Others killed themselves to avoid capture.

A man being executed after he was captured by the Scorpions.
A man being executed after he was captured by the Scorpions.

Some of the only video footage that exists of the desperate Srebrenica men shows the moment a man surrenders and is asked by the cameraman if he is scared. “How could I not be?” the man responds as he is led away.

Srebrenica refugees weep over the loss of their men in Tuzla in July 1995 after they were evacuated from Potocari.
Srebrenica refugees weep over the loss of their men in Tuzla in July 1995 after they were evacuated from Potocari.

A mass grave of some of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide being uncovered in 1996.
A mass grave of some of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide being uncovered in 1996.

According to the Institute for Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina, more than 8,000 people were killed in the Srebrenica massacre. The remains of some 6,955 people have been identified and reburied.

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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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