Accessibility links

Breaking News



After Facebook, Pakistan Shuts Down YouTube Over Blasphemy

A computer user at an Internet cafe in Karachi, Pakistan on May 19.
A computer user at an Internet cafe in Karachi, Pakistan on May 19.
Pakistan's government has blocked access to popular video and social-networking websites -- Facebook and YouTube -- in a bid to prevent people in the country from viewing material deemed as "objectionable" and blasphemous toward the Prophet Muhammad.

Taken together, the two blocked sites account for about 25 percent of all Internet traffic in Pakistan.

Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, says the ban on all of Facebook in the country would last until May 31. He says the block on YouTube is "indefinite."

The moves come amid protests in Pakistan about Western users of Facebook who created a page declaring May 20 "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day."

Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous. Muslims all over the world staged protests -- some of which turned violent -- about the publication of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers in 2006.

Arguing The Case

The Facebook page is part of a wider grassroots campaign by Internet users around the world. They say they are uniting against Islamic extremists who issue death threats against editorial cartoonists who depict the Prophet Muhammad in their political commentaries. Supporters say the more death threats that are made, the more depictions of the prophet they will create.

Started on April 25, the Facebook page calls for people to submit their depictions of Muhammad to show extremists that they will not be intimidated.

One of the creators of "Draw Muhammad Day" -- a man with an English accent who identifies himself by the online moniker of "Thunderfoot" -- said in a YouTube video commentary that extremist Muslims ultimately are responsible for the creation of thousands of depictions of Muhammad.

"Five years ago, they won the victory against free speech when they went ballistic over a dozen cartoons. They were happy to issue death threats against cartoonists -- including issuing cash bonuses for anyone who slaughtered the cartoonists 'like a lamb,'" "Thunderfoot" said. "But that victory of intimidation came at the cost of sowing the seeds of anger -- anger against those who would use such reprehensible tactics to silence people for merely expressing an opinion. Now they reap the full harvest of what they have sown, and then some. For now there are thousands of cartoons of Muhammad."

Thunderfoot also blames Western media for failing to take a stronger stand against death threats from Islamic extremists in 2006.

Logical Response?

Moderate Muslims in Pakistan say both sides are pouring fuel on a fire and fostering religious hatred. Durdana Siddiqui, who participated in a rally in Karachi on May 19, warned that the Facebook campaign is inflaming religious tensions between the West and the Muslim world.

Jamaat-e Islami supporters protest the "Draw Muhammad Day" campaign in Peshawar on May 20.
"For the sake of religious tolerance, it is imperative that we respect one another's religions and religious practices," Siddiqui said. "Otherwise the world should get ready to face the reaction from the Muslim ummah [the worldwide Muslim community]."

Academic scholars in Pakistan, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the Internet campaign has radicalized political debate in a way that strengthens support for extremist clerics.

"Facebook is a social network where we get to have an insight into what scholars have to say on different issues. We read it and we talk to each other on it," said one. "We Muslims are very emotional and are buying this blackmail that is going on in the name of religion by various political and religious groups. Blocking Facebook and carrying out protests is not a logical response to the situation."

Although there are clear signs that the administrators of the Facebook group are activists in the European Union, conservative Islamist politicians in Pakistan are telling their supporters that the United States and Israel are behind the grassroots campaign.

"All religious and political parties, lawyers, students, members of the business community, and people from all walks of life are protesting against this blasphemy by the Americans," said Ameer Hamza, a leading member of Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawah Islamic organization. "The blocking of Facebook until May 31 by the Lahore High Court is a commendable step. We demand that a permanent ban be imposed on this blasphemous website which is sponsored by the Zionist lobby."


Meanwhile, the moves by Pakistan to block Facebook and YouTube have focused more attention on the campaign in other countries.

Before the May 19 ruling, during the three weeks of its existence, the Facebook page had gathered 40,000 supporters and some 2,000 depictions of Muhammad -- many of them clearly designed to be offensive to Muslims.

Within one hour of the Lahore court's ruling, 10,000 more people joined the Facebook group around the world -- submitting more than 1,000 more depictions of Muhammad.

Within six hours, the number of members had grown from 40,000 to nearly 80,000 and the total number of depictions of Muhammad doubled to more than 4,000.

For its part, Facebook says it is disappointed that the entire social network has been blocked for users in Pakistan because of the opinion on one out of hundreds of millions of pages.

A Facebook statement says the company is "analyzing the situation and the legal considerations and will take appropriate action" -- which "may include" making the content of the "Draw Muhammad Day" page inaccessible to users in Pakistan.

The firm says its approach is the same as most global Internet companies -- to prevent certain content from being shown to users in countries where such content is illegal.

It says it wants Facebook to be a place where "people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others."

But it also says that with more than 400 million users from around the world, there will sometimes be people "discussing and posting about topics that others may find controversial, inaccurate or offensive."

Facebook has recognized that criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle, or political ideology may be upsetting to some users. But it says that alone is not a reason to remove a discussion entirely.

The company says it strongly believes that "Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions" and that it would be unusual for the firm to take down content, groups, or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal contributed to this report from Prague and Pakistan

More News

Flooding In Belarusian Capital Disrupts Transport Links

(file photo)
(file photo)

Floods caused by heavy rain on July 18 disrupted 46 public transportation routes in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The Emergencies Ministry said two subway stations were briefly shut down as floods affected 38 segments of streets, one parking site, one building, and two underpasses in the city. Rescue teams are working to pump out the water from the affected sites. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Kazakh Journalist On Trial For 'Extremism' Hospitalized

Duman Muhametkarim was arrested in June 2023 over an online interview he did with a fugitive banker and outspoken government critic. (file photo)
Duman Muhametkarim was arrested in June 2023 over an online interview he did with a fugitive banker and outspoken government critic. (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is on trial for what he says are politically motivated charges of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, has been hospitalized in the southern town of Qonaev.

"Due to the ongoing stress and several longtime hunger strikes, Duman's health has dramatically deteriorated. He has problems with his kidneys and stomach, a disc protrusion," Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeisov, told RFE/RL on July 18.

Nurpeisov added that his client was unable to be in a sitting position for longer than two or three hours at a time due to back pain.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken government critic, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was declared extremist and banned in the country in March 2018. As Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12, he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch an investigation into the matter.

Mukhammedkarim's trial was then postponed until an unspecified date to allow for the investigation, which was shut down later due to a "lack of evidence."

The trial resumed after that.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international right organizations have urged the Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and immediately release him. Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a political prisoner.

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged off the criticism, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Nurpesiov thanked rights groups and activists who helped persuade officials to hospitalize Mukhammedkarim, raising awareness about his health.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan describe the reforms announced by Toqaev as cosmetic, and a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Von Der Leyen Wins New 5-Year Term As European Commission President

Ursula von der Leyen celebrates the vote.
Ursula von der Leyen celebrates the vote.

The European Parliament on July 18 reelected Ursula von der Leyen to a second five-year term as president of the European Union’s executive commission. “5 more years. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for the trust of all MEPs that voted for me,” she said in a post on X after winning the vote with a comfortable majority. Von der Leyen's win is seen as ensuring continuity in major policy areas for the 27-nation bloc, including the war in Ukraine, climate change, and migration. To read the European Parliament's announcement on the vote, click here.

Zelenskiy Arrives For U.K. European Summit, Urges Unity After Orban 'Peace Mission'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) meets British Prime Minister Keir Starmer as they attend the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace on July 18.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) meets British Prime Minister Keir Starmer as they attend the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace on July 18.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has rejected talk of making a deal with Russia without Kyiv's approval after Hungarian Prime Minister met with President Vladimir Putin as Ukraine's embattled troops continue to suffer from inadequate defenses in the face of a Russian onslaught in the east.

Zelenskiy arrived on July 18 in central England for the European Political Community (EPC) summit at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The Ukrainian leader wasted little time in calling on those in attendance "to maintain unity in Europe because always this unity leads to strong decisions."

Zelenskiy's comments come after Orban -- who is also at the summit -- embarked on what he called a "peace mission," during which he made stops in Moscow, Kyiv, Beijing, and at the Florida residence of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The global tour rankled most European leaders, who have repeatedly distanced themselves from Orban's trip, while the Hungarian leader himself has acknowledged that he has no authority to act on the behalf of other EU members, even though Hungary currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

"If someone in Europe tries to resolve issues behind others backs or even at the expense of someone else, if someone wants to make some trips to the capital of war to talk and perhaps promise something against our common interests or at the expense of Ukraine or other countries, then why should we consider such a person?" Zelenskiy said at the summit on July 18. "The EU and NATO can also address all their issues without this one individual."

Trump has suggested that if he wins the U.S. presidential election in November he will resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict in one day. He has not elaborated on how he would accomplish such a feat, but many European leaders have said they fear the former president would agree with Putin on a peace plan without consulting with Kyiv.

Zelenskiy said in a post on social media that Ukraine will sign an intergovernmental agreement on support for the Ukrainian defense and industrial complex, discuss future defense cooperation, and expand Kyiv's defense capabilities while at the summit. He gave no details.

Besides Ukraine, the EPC summit is also set to discuss illegal migration and energy security.

Keir Starmer, the first Labour Party prime minister in 14 years, has signaled that his government will continue London's policy of robust military and diplomatic support for Ukraine in its ongoing war to defeat Russian invaders.

The summit comes amid reports of difficulties faced by Ukrainian defenders on the eastern and southeastern front, mainly in the area of the Dnieper River northeast of Kherson city, where Kyiv had managed to establish a fragile bridgehead on the eastern bank of the river late last year.

Flags, Tears, And Kneeling As Ukrainian Soldiers Return From Russian Captivity
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:23 0:00

Ukrainian troops liberated Kherson, which lies on the western banks of the Dnieper, in November 2022, pushing Russian forces across the Dnieper, but the city continues to be targeted by enemy fire.

Ukrainian media in recent days reported that Krynky, a small town on the eastern bank of the Dnieper where Ukrainian marines and paratroopers landed in November last year, had been abandoned after Kyiv suffered serious casualties.

But Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesman for Ukraine's Tavria group of troops, brushed aside a report by the publication, which on July 17 wrote that 788 Ukrainian soldiers have been missing in action since November, while the bodies of only 262 fallen troops could be recovered and transported across the river on the side controlled by Ukraine.

"The situation is not as critical as some media and bloggers interpret it. In this regard, our key message is, the defense forces of Ukraine continue to carry out combat missions on the left bank of the Dnieper. In particular, in the area of the settlement of Krynky," Lykhoviy said on state television.

"However, it is true that most of the main positions of Ukrainian troops in this village have been completely destroyed as a result of intense, combined, long-term enemy fire," he added.

Moscow had claimed in February that its troops had already pushed back Ukrainian forces from Krynky.

Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian claims could be independently confirmed.

Separately, Russia's Defense Ministry said on July 18 that its air and naval defenses on July 18 repelled a combined attack of Ukrainian air and naval drones that targeted occupied Crimea.

In a message on Telegram, the ministry said that air-defense systems shot down 33 drones over Crimea and two over the Bryansk region.

The Russian Navy, meanwhile, said it destroyed 10 Ukrainian naval drones that were heading in the direction of the Crimean Peninsula. Separately, Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed head of Sevastopol, Crimea's largest port city, said a naval drone heading for the port was destroyed. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claims.

In Kyiv, the Ukrainian Air Force said its air defenses shot down all 16 drones and two out of three cruise missiles that Russia had launched at targets in Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Zaporizhzhya, Kyiv, and Kharkiv regions.

Supporter Of Imprisoned Bashkir Activist Gets 5 Years In Prison

Ilshat Ulyabayev
Ilshat Ulyabayev

A Russian court on July 18 sentenced Ilshat Ulyabayev -- a supporter of imprisoned Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov -- to five years in prison on charges of participating in mass unrest and attacking a police officer. Ulyabayev pleaded guilty. The 50-year-old is the first person sentenced in the high-profile case. Alsynov was sentenced to four years in prison in January on a charge of inciting hatred that he and his supporters call politically motivated. Thousands of Alsynov's supporters rallied before and after his sentence was handed down in Bashkortostan and clashed with police protesting the sentence. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

University Student In Siberia Gets 9 Years For Sending Medicines To Syria

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on July 18 that a court in the Siberian region of Altai Krai sentenced a 20-year-old university student to nine years in prison for sending a parcel with medicines to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria. According to the FSB, the man, whose identity was not disclosed, established a connection with the IS and sent a parcel with sedatives, painkillers, and styptic agents, which slow bleeding, to the group in Syria via Turkey. The parcel was intercepted by the FSB. The man was found guilty of "supporting a terrorist organization." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Russia Adds Journalist Prokopyeva To Wanted List

Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva (file photo)
Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva (file photo)

The Russian Interior Ministry on July 18 added journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva to its wanted list on unspecified charges. Prokopyeva left Russia for Latvia in March 2022 after police brutally forced her to a police station and questioned her in a case of allegedly spreading lies about the regional governor of Pskov. In September, a Russian court convicted Prokopyeva in absentia of discrediting Russia's military over an interview with historian Vasily Zharkov and fined her 35,000 rubles ($395). On July 17, the Interior Ministry added two other journalists in exile -- Andrei Zakharov and Dmitry Fomintsev -- to its wanted list. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Former Moscow Official Aleksandr Kibovsky Arrested On Corruption Charges

Aleksandr Kibovsky
Aleksandr Kibovsky

A Moscow court late on July 17 sent Aleksandr Kibovsky, a former member of the Moscow municipal government, to pretrial detention for at least two months on charges of fraud and bribe-taking. Investigators allege Kibovsky accepted more than 100 million rubles ($1.1 million) in bribes while serving as the chief of Moscow's Culture Department between 2015 and 2023. Kibovsky pleaded not guilty and asked to be spared pretrial detention, saying he did not plan to flee and that he is willing to join Russian military forces invading Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Man Gets 3 Years In Prison In U.S. For Smuggling Military Technology

The U.S. Justice Department said on July 17 that a 52-year-old Russian man was sentenced to three years in prison for smuggling large quantities of American-made, military-grade microelectronics to Russia. Maksim Marchenko, who was arrested in September, pleaded guilty in a New York court in February to one count of money laundering and one count of smuggling goods from the United States. He and two other Russians were accused of using shell companies to conceal the fraudulent procurement of microelectronics. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Disgraced Ex-Journalist To Run in Moldova's Presidential Election

Natalia Morari announced she will run in Moldova's presidential election in October.
Natalia Morari announced she will run in Moldova's presidential election in October.

Former Moldovan journalist Natalia Morari on July 18 said she would run as an independent candidate in Moldova's presidential election in October. Morari, who studied in Moscow, came to public attention when she was banned from entering Russia after publishing a series of reports in 2007 that purported to detail the use of secret funds by the Kremlin to bribe political parties. Morari, 40, was fired from her last job at Moldovan television TV8 in 2021 after it was revealed that she had been in a relationship with fugitive tycoon Veaceslav Platon when she interviewed him in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Kazakh Activist On Trial For 2021 Online Talk With Opposition Figure

Nurlybai Tataev
Nurlybai Tataev

Kazakh opposition activist Nurlybai Tataev went on trial in Kazakhstan's southern city of Turkistan on July 17 over an online conversation with the self-exiled leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement, Mukhtar Ablyazov, in 2021. Tataev is charged with taking part in a banned group's activities. His lawyers insist that the charge is illegitimate, citing the statute of limitations. The DVK was banned in Kazakhstan in 2018. Many activists across the Central Asian nation have been handed prison terms or parole-like restricted freedom sentences in recent years for their involvement in DVK activities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

EU Chief Slams Hungary's Orban For Rogue 'Appeasement Mission' To Moscow

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on July 18 savaged a rogue diplomatic trip made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Moscow to discuss ways for ending the war in Ukraine, calling it an "appeasement mission." "This so-called peace mission was nothing but an appeasement mission -- this was a plain appeasement mission," she told the European Parliament in a sharp rebuke for Orban, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. "Russia is banking on Europe and the West going soft, and some in Europe are playing along," said von der Leyen.

Serbian Police Officer Shot Dead Near Bosnian Border

Loznica, Serbia (file photo)
Loznica, Serbia (file photo)

A Serbian police officer was killed and another one was seriously wounded in an overnight shooting in Loznica, a city in western Serbia on the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia's Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said on July 18. Dacic said that the suspected shooter's passport, found at the site of the incident, was issued by Kosovo. Dacic said in a statement that the two police officers, Nikola Krsmanovic and Vjekoslav Ilic, were shot while checking the documents of two men in a passing car. Krsmanovic later died in the hospital, the statement said. Police are searching for the suspected shooter. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.


Trial Of U.S. Journalist Gershkovich Resumes In Yekaterinburg

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich in a courtroom in Yekaterinberg on June 26
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich in a courtroom in Yekaterinberg on June 26

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been in Russian detention for more than a year on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated, has resumed in Russia's Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

The Sverdlovsk Regional Court in Yekaterinburg announced on July 18 the beginning of the second hearing in Gershkovich's trial.

Earlier this week, the court said the resumption of Gershkovich's trial had been moved forward from August 13 to July 18 at the request of Gershkovich's defense team, whose arguments for moving up the date of the hearing were not disclosed.

The trial started on June 26 and is being held behind closed doors.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, while he was on a reporting trip and was subsequently charged with trying to obtain military secrets to pass on to the CIA. He is the first U.S. journalist arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War.

Gershkovich, the 32-year-old American-born son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, an outcome that is all but certain.

The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have firmly rejected the espionage charges, saying Gershkovich was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

After the opening hearing of the trial, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement on June 26 that Russian authorities failed to provide any evidence to back up the charges and called for Gershkovich's immediate release. It also demanded that Moscow stop using U.S. nationals as leverage for political ends.

Gershkovich's appeals for release from Moscow's infamous Lefortovo Prison, where he has been held since his arrest, have been rejected.

His arrest came about a year after the Russia adopted new laws criminalizing criticism of the Russian war on Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation,” and statements deemed as discrediting the military.

Gershkovich and another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, have been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of their situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing the prisoners' release.

Gershkovich is one of two American reporters currently being held by Russian authorities. The other is Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship.

Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan in October and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

Unlike Gershkovich and Whelan, Kurmasheva has not been designated as " wrongfully detained," despite repeated calls by her employer and family for this to happen.

Another U.S.-Russian citizen, Ksenia Karelina, went on trial in Yekaterinburg in June on a treason charge.

Karelina, 33, was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of raising funds for a Ukrainian foundation that allegedly supplied weapons to Ukraine.

The Razom For Ukraine foundation helps Ukrainian civilians affected by the war.

Police Summon Women Who Appeared In Video Without Hijabs During Ashura Procession In Iranian City

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:02 0:00

The chief of police in Iran's Alborz Province said on July 17 that women who took part in an Ashura procession in the city of Karaj without hijabs have been "identified and summoned."

A video posted on Instagram shows a number of young women, most wearing dark clothing but no head scarves, walking in the street in observance of Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, which is marked mainly by Shi'ite Muslims.

To mourn his death, Shi’a wear black during Ashura processions in which many participants beat their backs with chains in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his death.

The video of the procession in Karaj on July 16 has been met with widespread reactions on social media.

Hamid Hadavand, the chief of police in Alborz Province, claimed that the publication of the video and others like it had led to "hurting the feelings of Hossein's mourners" throughout the country.

Hadavand accused the individuals seen in the videos of "desecration," adding that all of them "have been summoned to the Alborz Province police after being identified."

He did not say how many people were summoned or how they were identified.

In addition, the head of the Organization of Religious Boards and Organizations revoked the permission granted to the organization that held the Ashura procession in which the young women took part without hijabs.

Majid Babakhani also announced that the head of the organization had been "summoned" with the help of the police and said that he would be dealt with legally.

Ashura is marked on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. Last year Muharram was also marked by reports of the identification and detention of women without compulsory hijabs across Iran.

Authorities have stepped up confrontations with people who oppose the mandatory hijab law since protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police in September 2022 for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab, and there have been frequent reports of violence against detainees.

In recent months, the police again started a security crackdown on women flaunting the compulsory hijab law by reimplementing the Plan Noor initiative under which the morality police strictly enforce dress codes. This has led to several incidents of violence against women challenging the mandatory head scarf.

Before the reimplementation of the Plan Noor initiative the city of Tehran and the Interior Ministry prior employed hijab guards in some subway stations. The interior minister and the mayor of Tehran denied playing any role in this.

Despite these measures, the presence of women and girls without compulsory hijabs in public in Iran has not stopped over the past two years.

Iran is set to swear in moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian as president early next month. Pezeshkian has said that while the hijab law should be observed, "there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

German Court Convicts Russian-German Couple Of Supplying Electronics For Drones

Russian soldiers carry out a mission involving the use of an Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle. (file photo)
Russian soldiers carry out a mission involving the use of an Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle. (file photo)

A Russian-German couple has been convicted by a court in Stuttgart, Germany, of supplying about 120,000 spare parts for Orlan-10 drones to Russia in violation of EU sanctions. The court on July 17 sentenced the 59-year-old dual Russian-German citizen to six years and nine months in prison for supplying electronic components to a Russian company 54 times between 2020 and March 2023. According to the court, he sold amplifiers, transformers, transistors, and other spare parts to companies associated with the Russian defense industry, using front companies in China, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. His common-law wife, also a dual citizen, received a suspended sentence of one year and nine months for assisting with the crime. To read the original story byRFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Lavrov Says Russia Willing To Work With Any U.S. Leader

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on July 17.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on July 17.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a July 17 UN press conference that Moscow is willing to work with any elected U.S. leader who is willing to engage in “equitable, mutually respectful dialogue.” On Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate, Lavrov said that there “was still dialogue under way” despite sanctions under the 2016-2020 Trump administration. Lavrov also welcomed Trump’s selection of Senator J.D. Vance (Republican-Ohio), a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine, as his running mate. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on July 15 that if Trump becomes president, “we will work together” and underscored Republican support for Ukraine. Trump has said he would resolve the war in Ukraine quickly if he is reelected.

Pakistan Summons Diplomat Of Taliban-Led Government Over Bannu Attack 

Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.
Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.

Islamabad summoned a senior Afghan diplomat over a deadly militant attack on the Bannu garrison in northwest Pakistan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on July 17.

Pakistani officials said the attack on July 15 led to the deaths of eight soldiers after a militant rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the outer wall of the garrison.

The army said that its forces opened fire and killed all 10 suspected militants in the encounter.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it summoned the deputy minister of the Taliban-led government's Afghan Embassy to the ministry and strongly protested.

The ministry blamed the Afghanistan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group for the attack and said in its statement that it had asked Kabul to take “immediate, robust, and effective action against the perpetrators.”

The ministry also said the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, an ally of the Afghan Taliban, are responsible for killing “hundreds of civilians and multiple members of law enforcement agencies” throughout Pakistan.

On the day of the attack, a previously unknown group called Jaish-e Fursan-e Muhammad claimed responsibility in a WhatsApp message to media outlets. RFE/RL could not independently confirm the existence of any such armed group.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement on July 17 said it asked Kabul to fully investigate the bombing and take immediate action against the perpetrators.

There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban-led Afghan government.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Bannu is located. Residents of the province have protested the lack of security provided by Islamabad against the actions of extremists.

Pakistani security forces have said that they have conducted targeted operations against militants in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

With reporting by AP

Scholz To Visit Serbia To Discuss Deal Between Belgrade, EU On Raw Materials Mining

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Serbia later this week to discuss a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on sustainable raw materials, battery supply chains, and electric cars, a German government spokesman said on July 17.

Scholz is scheduled to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on July 19 and take part in a summit on “critical raw materials,” Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin.

"The background is a project for sustainable lithium mining in Serbia,” Hebestreit said. "Overall, it's about the further development of a European raw materials agenda and the diversification of raw material sources."

Serbian Prime Minister Milos Vucevic said on July 17 that he was prepared to discuss lithium mining and the development of raw materials if Scholz and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic came to Belgrade. Serbian media previously reported that Scholz, Sefcovic, and Vucevic would sign the memorandum of understanding.

Hebestreit said Scholz and Sefcovic will attend the summit where the memorandum of understanding will be signed but didn’t specify who would sign it. He said the agreement includes "a commitment to high environmental and sustainability standards."

Germany is seeking to secure lithium for its carmakers as the European Union struggles to reduce its dependence on imports from China.

Vucevic, speaking a day after Serbia’s government reinstated a plan for a multibillion-dollar lithium mine operated by the Anglo-Australian metals and mining giant Rio Tinto, said lithium mining is a “great development opportunity” for Serbia.

But he said that, in order to discuss lithium mining, Serbia insists on the construction of factories and other industries in the area where the mine would be.

Rio Tinto says the area holds one of Europe's largest reserves of lithium and could produce 58,000 tons annually, enough for 1.1 million electric vehicles. Rio Tinto's plans call for a sprawling 250-hectare complex to exploit huge mineral deposits in a fertile western valley.

Serbia’s government on July 16 reinstated a spatial plan for the so-called Jadar project lithium mine and processing plant.

The move came days after the Balkan state's Constitutional Court said the government of then-Prime Minister Ana Brnabic had acted unconstitutionally when it withdrew permits for Rio Tinto.

The mining project has been opposed by environmental activists and local officials who have fought Vucic and his ruling allies for years over their support for the project.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP

EU Body Gives Green Light To Starting Visa Liberalization Talks With Armenia

European Union ambassadors from the bloc's 27 nations have approved a European Commission proposal to start visa liberalization talks with Armenia, sources told RFE/RL on July 17.

The long-discussed proposal now heads to the European Council for formal approval, and then on to the commission, which will announce details on when it will start the negotiations and the action plan it is putting forward.

The process is different for each country as they try to fulfill various security requirements, but the process is expected to take several years to complete.

The sources said the decision regarding Armenia states that the requirement for visas will be removed only if all necessary criteria are fully met.

Brussels usually puts forward four main demands ranging from border management to the fight against organized crime and corruption.

It's likely to take up to six months for the EU to come up with its demands, analysts said.

Armenia joined the EU's Eastern Partnership program in 2009, a move that was meant to bring it, along with several other countries including South Caucasus neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia, closer to the bloc without a clear offer of future membership.

The progress on visa liberalization comes after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on rapprochement with Armenia amid Yerevan's souring relations with traditional ally Moscow.

The resolution says the bloc should “take advantage of this potential geopolitical shift and help Armenia gain a stronger foothold in the community of democracies.”

Yerevan has edged closer to the West through military and other ties and since its defeat last year by Caucasus archfoe Azerbaijan, which retook control of Nagorno-Karabakh after a lightning offensive in September 2023 along with other areas internationally recognized as Azerbaijani but controlled for decades by ethnic Armenians.

Armenia has accused longtime power broker Moscow and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of offering little help to keep Azerbaijan at bay.

The CSTO is an alliance of six ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Russian Poet Imprisoned For Anti-War Verses Rejects Offer To Join Russian Military

Poets Artyom Kamardin (left) and Yegor Shtovba in court in December 2023.
Poets Artyom Kamardin (left) and Yegor Shtovba in court in December 2023.

Russian poet Artyom Kamardin, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in December for publicly reciting verses condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has rejected an offer to join Russian armed forces invading Ukraine, his supporters said on Telegram on July 17. Kamardin told his wife during a recent visit that he and his cellmates in a Moscow detention center rejected the offer made by representatives of the Defense Ministry. Kamardin was arrested along with two other poets in September 2022 after they presented their anti-war poems in public. One of the other poets, Yegor Shtovba, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. The other, Nikolai Daineko, agreed to cooperate with investigators and was handed a four-year prison term.​ To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Belarus Introduces Visa-Free Entry For Citizens Of 35 European Nations

Citizens of dozens of European countries will now be able to enter Belarus without a visa. (file photo)
Citizens of dozens of European countries will now be able to enter Belarus without a visa. (file photo)

The State Border Committee of Belarus said on July 17 that it has introduced visa-free entry for citizens of 35 European nations. As of July 19, citizens of the European Union's member-states, Britain, Norway, Switzerland, and Balkan countries can stay in Belarus for up to 30 days without visas. The move was approved by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the State Border Committee said. Russia, which has no permanent land-border checkpoints with Belarus, has yet to comment on the decision. Citizens of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have been allowed to enter Belarus without visas since 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here

Patrick Turner To Lead NATO's Newly Created Representation In Ukraine 

Patrick Turner, who has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (file photo)
Patrick Turner, who has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (file photo)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on July 17 that Patrick Turner has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (NRU).

Stoltenberg outlined the NRU and its position for a civilian senior representative at the NATO summit last week in Washington.

Stoltenberg said in a NATO news release that Turner is a “committed public servant” with a “strong track record of delivering results.”

A strong supporter of Ukraine, Turner served in the British Defense Ministry before becoming NATO assistant secretary- general for defense policy and planning from 2018 to 2022.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Turner said that support for Ukraine has been "pretty unified and much stronger" than Russian President Vladimir Putin would ever have expected.

"And I count on that continuing to be the case," Turner told RFE/RL.

Pro-Moscow, Former Gagauzia Leader To Run For Moldovan President

Irina Vlah announces her presidential candidacy in Chisinau on July 17.
Irina Vlah announces her presidential candidacy in Chisinau on July 17.

Irina Vlah, a pro-Moscow ex-governor of Moldova's autonomous Gagauz region, on July 17 announced her candidacy in Moldova's upcoming presidential election against pro-European incumbent Maia Sandu.

Vlah, 50, made the announcement in a statement in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, during which she criticized what she said were closer ties between Moldova and NATO and increased defense spending, while calling for the country's neutral status to be maintained and beefed up.

Vlah also called on her supporters to vote "No" in a referendum on Moldova's European integration that will take place simultaneously with the presidential election on October 20, when Sandu is seeking a second mandate.

Vlah was governor of Gagauzia from 2015 until 2023, when she was replaced by Evghenia Gutul, a close associate of Ilan Shor, a Russian-backed fugitive oligarch implicated in a $1 billion bank fraud and other illicit schemes who has organized months of anti-Sandu protests in Chisinau.

Gagauzia's 140,000 residents, mainly ethnic Turks who adhere to Orthodox Christianity, have had uneasy relations with the central authorities since Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The U.S.-educated Sandu, who handed the pro-Russian Igor Dodon an upset defeat in November 2020, has steered Moldova firmly toward the West and has sought to shake off Moscow's long-standing influence in the former Soviet republic.

Sandu's government has formally condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has joined the sanctions regime imposed by the West on Moscow, while hosting thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war.

Moldova last month opened membership negotiations with the European Union after receiving an invitation in June 2022.

Dodon, the leader of Moldova's Socialist Party, on July 8 announced that he would not run again for president, but will back former Prosecutor-General Alexandr Stoianoglo.

So far, three other politicians have declared as candidates -- Renato Usatii, a controversial businessman and chief of the Our Party politician bloc who is under investigation for corruption; ex-Prime Minister Ion Chicu; and former Foreign Minister Tudor Ulianovschi.

Sandu appears well placed to win the first round of elections, being credited in a recent poll by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute with 37 percent support, while Usatii and Chicu are projected to win some 5 percent. Vlah would win 4 percent, according to the poll.

Kyrgyz President's Relative Arrested For Fraud

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov (file photo)
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek told RFE/RL on July 17 that a relative of President Sadyr Japarov has been placed under arrest on fraud charges.

According to the court's press service, Ulan Japarov, who is a son of President Sadyr Japarov's cousin, Rakymjan Japarov, was sent to pretrial detention until at least August 19.

Media reports say Ulan Japarov is suspected of obtaining a significant amount of cash from a person in exchange for securing an official post for him, which in the end never happened.

Japarov was initially arrested in July 2023 on corruption charges.

Presidential spokesman Erbol Sultanbaev said at the time that Ulan Japarov was suspected of involvement in corrupt activities linked to the Customs Service.

In October 2023, the Birinchi Mai district court transferred Japarov to house arrest. An investigation into that case is also under way.

Also, on July 17, media reports in the Central Asian country said a brother-in-law of the chief of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK), Kamchybek Tashiev, was arrested on a fraud charge.

The reports gave the man's initials as A.T.O.

Sources close to the UKMK leadership confirmed to RFE/RL that a man with those initials was arrested but did not give any further details.

Kyrgyz authorities have yet to officially confirm the arrest. Tashiev has not commented on the reports.

The Birinchi Mai district court told RFE/RL that its judge on June 11 sent A.T.O. to pretrial detention for at least two months. The court neither elaborated on the case nor confirmed if the suspect was related to Tashiev.

A week earlier, the Birinchi Mai district court said the boyfriend of President Japarov's niece had been arrested on a charge of producing illegal drugs.

Aftandil Sabyrbekov, the boyfriend of Lazzat Nurgojoeva, who is a daughter of President Japarov's younger brother, Davletbek, was arrested days after a video showing him proposing to Nurgojoeva in a lavish ceremony circulated on the Internet, sparking a public outcry.

Load more

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.