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Moscow Women Protest For Release Of Detainees
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Hundreds of women have attended protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg on St. Valentine's Day in support of Russian women prosecuted for political reasons.

The Chain Of Solidary And Love protest is also dedicated to imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who flew to Germany on February 10. Although no explanation was given for her departure, Navalnaya had recently been detained for taking part in unsanctioned rallies in support of her husband.

Images shared on social media on February 14 show women holding red roses, balloons, and heart signs with the names of female political prisoners written on them. Demonstrators also sang "Love is stronger than fear," the motto of the protests.

The organizers said on their Facebook page that the rallies were dedicated to the women who were "beaten and tortured by police during peaceful protests," as well as "to everyone who spends their days in courts, police buses, and special detention centers."

They said the "chain" along Moscow's Old Arbat Street honors Navalnaya as well as lawyer Lyubov Sobol, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, municipal deputy Lucy Shtein, Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmysh, and Doctors' Alliance head Anastasia Vasilyeva, who all face criminal charges for calling on supporters to rally for Navalny's release last month.

Later on February 14, Navalny supporters used light from mobile phones, flashlights, and candles to express support for him, despite a warning that people taking part could face criminal charges.

Navalny's team called on people across Russia to switch on their cell-phone flashlights for 15 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. local time and shine the light into the sky from their homes or the courtyards of their apartment buildings.

Navalny, 44, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the attack.

Navalny's detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.

Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny's political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more -- sometimes violently -- as they gathered on the streets.

With reporting by tvrain.ru, Reuters, hrw.org, and themoscowtimes.com
Organizers have been staging similar peaceful rallies in central Bishkek every Sunday since October 2020.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Hundreds of people have attended a rally in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, to demand that authorities take measures against widespread corruption in the Central Asian country.

The protesters gathered at midday on February 14 near the main Bishkek railway station, before marching towards the central Ala-Too Square. They were holding slogans that read "We demand the rule of law" and "We are for a bright future" among others.

Rally participants also condemned a recent ruling by a Bishkek court that ordered a mitigated punishment and no jail time for former customs official Raimbek Matraimov, who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad.

Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's Customs Service, was fined just over $3,000 after pleading guilty to corruption charges. The court said on February 11 that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million to the state in damages lost through corruption schemes that he oversaw.

In June 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicate Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.

Also Read: Plunder And Patronage In The Heart Of Central Asia

The $700 million scheme involved a company controlled by Matraimov bribing officials to skirt customs fees and regulations, as well as engaging in money laundering, "allowing for maximum profits," the Treasury Department said.

The participants of the protest in Bishkek condemned the court ruling and chanted: "Arrest Raim" and "Raim must be held responsible."

The protest was initiated by the Bashtan Bashta movement, which has been organizing similar peaceful rallies in central Bishkek every Sunday since October 2020 when anti-government protests over official results of parliamentary elections toppled the government and led to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov's resignation.

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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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