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Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov (file photo)

The Union of Kazakhstan's Journalists has awarded Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov for his stance in a long-running battle between popular messaging service Telegram and the Russian authorities.

The union announced on June 21 that Durov was included in its annual list of award recipients "for his principled position against censorship and the state's interference into citizens' free online correspondence."

The other recipients included journalists, mainly from Kazakhstan.

Telegram CEO and founder Durov has vowed to reject any attempt by the Russian security services to gain forced access to messages.

The country's communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, started enforcing a court ban on the messaging service in April after the company refused to give Russian security services access to its securely encrypted communications.

The ban has provoked repeated protests in Russia by thousands who use and support the messaging service.

Russian officials have claimed the move was justified because the service has been used in the planning of terror attacks around the world.

Telegram lets people exchange messages, stickers, photos, and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people. It has attracted more than 200 million users since its launch by Durov and his brother Nikolai in 2013.

Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe (file photo)

The chief of Europe's top human rights body is urging Russia to release imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who is currently on hunger strike while serving a 20-year sentence.

Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, on June 20 told Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova that Sentsov "should be released on humanitarian grounds," the Interfax news agency reported after their meeting in Moscow.

"If there is a need for a request for pardoning him, I would gladly do it on the basis of the European Convention of Human Rights," Jagland added.

On June 18, a dozen leading names in the Russian arts, including Andrei Zvyagintsev and fellow filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov, called for President Vladimir Putin to pardon Sentsov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Sentsov would have to ask for the pardon himself before it could be considered.

Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

A native of Crimea, he and human rights groups say the charges were politically motivated. On May 14, he began a hunger strike, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.

The United States on June 18 called on Russia to release dozens of people it says have been identified by rights groups as political prisoners, including Sentsov.

Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted Moskalkova as saying that Sentsov was "receiving nutrition from a drip filled with all the vitamins twice a day" and that he had not lost weight.

Separately, Sentsov's lawyers said the European Court of Human Rights had called on Sentsov to end his hunger strike and for Russia to provide details by June 27 about his condition and how his rights are being ensured.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Interfax

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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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