Iran Tells France To Stop Pressure Over Lecturer
Clotilde Reiss, who is out of jail on bail, has been accused of taking part in a Western plot to destabilize the Iranian government after the June 12 election in which hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was reelected.
France has dismissed her charges as baseless and Reiss, arrested on July 1, has been staying in the French Embassy in Tehran since her trial on August 16.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on November 10 demanded that Iran provide formal guarantees over not jailing Reiss again while she awaits a verdict, France Inter radio reported.
Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected the demand.
"The charges against Reiss are documented and therefore there can be no acquittal on grounds of political pressure," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mihmanparast said, according to a report carried by student news agency ISNA.
"Nobody is allowed to tell the judge of Reiss's case what to do."
Reiss, 24, was arrested when she prepared to return home after five months spent working at the University of Isfahan.
Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on November 9 that Reiss's trial would resume but did not give a date, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Kouchner said Reiss would not attend the court without getting "certain" guarantees, adding that "she must be able to leave the courthouse in Tehran and return to the embassy."
The turmoil after the vote was the worst in Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Authorities deny vote-rigging and portrayed the unrest as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state.
Human rights groups say thousands of people were detained after the vote. More than 100 people, including former senior officials, remain in jail.
France and other Western states have a tense relationship with Ahmadinejad over Iran's nuclear research, which Iran says is for civilian use but which the West believes is intended for military purposes.
Kazakh Lawmakers OK Controversial Amendments To Media Law On First Reading
Kazakh lawmakers have approved on first reading controversial amendments to the law on mass media that would allow citizens to file a libel lawsuit up to three years after publication. Currently, there is no time limit for such lawsuits. Organizations defending journalists' rights have insisted that the limit for filing libel suits against journalists and media outlets should be one year. The amendments approved on November 30 also would oblige journalists to get accredited by a single accreditation system. Journalists’ rights organizations have expressed concerns that the mandatory accreditation requirements may allow authorities to muzzle independent reporters. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Iranian Rapper Rearrested Less Than Two Weeks After Release From Prison
Iranian authorities on November 30 rearrested a dissident rapper and returned him to jail less than two weeks after his release on bail, according to his own social media account.
Toomaj Salehi was violently detained by armed plainclothes agents in the city of Babylon and then taken to an unknown location, according to social media accounts affiliated with him. The account attributable to Salehi said he was arrested with "beatings."
According to Mizanonline.ir, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, Salehi was arrested on a new charge of spreading lies and “the violation of public opinion.”
Salehi was released from prison on November 18 after spending more than a year in custody on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests in the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after being detained for allegedly breaking the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Salehi was accused of “spreading lies” on the Internet and publishing “anti-state propaganda.”
Salehi said in a video message earlier this week that he was tortured and put in solitary confinement for 252 days after his arrest in October 2022. Amini died the previous month.
He also said he was given an injection in his neck during his detention, which he said most likely was adrenaline so that he would not pass out during torture and thus endure the maximum amount of pain.
"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," Salehi said in the video, posted on November 27 on his YouTube channel.
“I tried to stop the blows with my hands when my fingers broke," he said, adding that the injuries required surgery.
Salehi had been sentenced to more than six years in prison. His release on bail on November 18 came after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence” and sent the case back to a lower court.
Thousands were arrested in Tehran's crackdown on the protests, which largely died down earlier this year. Eight of those arrested were executed for allegedly attacking security forces after being convicted in secretive courts where rights groups say they were denied the right to defend themselves.
Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.
He said that he had sued prison officials and media close to the government for torture, saying that security agencies "ordered the prison warden" to pressure him.
The singer's detention had been met with widespread domestic and international backlash, with numerous global calls for his release.
With reporting by AP
Russian Court Sentences Ukrainian Soldier To 12 Years In Prison On Terrorism Charges
A military court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on November 30 sentenced Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Zaporozhets to 12 years in prison on terrorism charges. Zaporozhets was arrested in Ukraine's then Russian-occupied city of Kherson in May 2022 while installing an explosive device. Russian investigators say Zaporozhets was targeting civilians, while he insists he was planning an attack against a Russian military patrol. Zaporozhets' lawyers requested that their client be considered a prisoner of war, which the Russian court rejected. Ukrainian armed forces regained control over the city of Kherson in November 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Hungary Will Not Agree To Starting EU Membership Talks With Ukraine, Minister Says
Hungary will not support any European Union proposal to begin talks on making Ukraine a member of the bloc, a government minister said on November 30. Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said at a news conference in Budapest that it was premature to begin formal talks with Kyiv on the war-ravaged country joining the EU and that Hungary would not consent to opening the discussions when EU leaders meet in mid-December. Earlier this month, the EU's executive arm recommended allowing Ukraine to open membership talks once it addresses governance issues.
Kazakh Ex-Minister Faces Up To 20 Years In Prison For Allegedly Killing Wife
ASTANA -- Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted after the charge of murder was revised up to murder with extreme violence, Deputy Prosecutor-General Zhandos Omiraliev said on November 30.
Omiraliev added that the previous charge envisioned a punishment between 8 and 15 years in prison, while the new charge may lead to Bishimbaev facing between 15 and 20 years if found guilty.
Omiraliev confirmed that a relative of Bishimbaev was also arrested on a charge of failing to report an ongoing crime.
In 2018, Bishimbaev and 22 others faced a high-profile corruption trial that ended with Bishimbaev's conviction on charges of bribery and embezzlement while leading a state-controlled holding company.
A court in Astana sentenced him to 10 years in prison, but Bishimbaev was subsequently granted an early release through a mass amnesty decreed by the government. He had served about 18 months of his term when the amnesty occurred.
Since the 43-year-old Bishimbaev was arrested this month and charged with beating his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, to death in a restaurant in the Central Asian country's largest city, Almaty, many in Kazakhstan have raised the issue of domestic violence, emphasizing that in many cases, including deadly ones, the perpetrators avoid justice.
Domestic violence has been a major issue in the former Soviet republic for decades.
Amid the public outcry over Nukenova's death, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev publicly called on the Interior Ministry to have the investigation of the case under its "special control."
The Interior Ministry said earlier that, in general, more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence are officially registered each year, though the number of unregistered cases, analysts say, is likely much larger.
International rights watchdogs have urged Kazakh officials to curb the spread of domestic violence for years.
According to United Nations experts, about 400 women die in Kazakhstan as a of result of domestic violence every year.
Appeals By Russian Director, Playwright Against Extension Of Pretrial Detention Rejected
The Moscow city court on November 30 rejected appeals filed by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk against an extension of their pretrial detention on charges of justifying terrorism with the production of the play Finist-The Brave Falcon, about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria.
The court upheld a lower court decision in early November to extend the two women's pretrial detention until at least January 10.
During the hearing, Berkovich expressed gratitude "to all who were involved" for allowing her to travel from a Moscow detention center to St. Petersburg to attend the burial of her grandmother, noted human rights defender Nina Katerli, who died at the age of 89 on November 20.
However, Berkovich said "the act of mercy had tuned into an act of torture" as while being transported to the funeral she spent 25 hours in "a cage of avtozak" -- a special vehicle designed for transporting suspects and convicts, which affected her health.
"I did not have warm clothes with me because I was not aware where I was going and my lawyers did not know. It was a cage -- a piece of an iron cage 1 meter by 2 meters, in which it is not possible to stand or properly sit. Because of that, it is painful for me to stand up or sit down. It was not possible to sleep there either as there was no heating.... For those 25 hours, I was allowed to get out to a toilet only twice," Berkovich said.
But Judge Oksana Nikishina rejected Berkovich's complaints, saying that she should be grateful that she was allowed to attend her grandmother's burial at all.
Katerli, who defended several high-profile persons at politically motivated trials, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other former leaders of the Yukos oil company in the early 2000s, was buried in St. Petersburg on November 25.
Berkovich and Petriichuk were arrested in May. They both maintain their innocence. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.
With reporting by Meduza
Azerbaijani, Armenian Deputy PMs Agree To Intensify Border Talks
Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev and his Armenian counterpart, Mher Grigorian, led a fifth meeting of the two South Caucasus countries' border-delimitation commissions on November 30 and agreed to intensify future talks. Both countries' Foreign Ministries said an agreement was reached to start work on negotiations for the draft regulation on the joint activities of the commissions. The issue of Azerbaijani-Armenian border delimitation has been under focus amid preliminary steps for a peace agreement after Baku regained control over the then mostly Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September.
OSCE Opens Summit In Skopje Amid Boycotts, Criticism Directed At Russia's Presence
SKOPJE -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on November 30 kicked off its annual summit in North Macedonia amid boycotts and criticism from some member states for the presence in Skopje of Russia's top diplomat as Moscow continues its war on Ukraine.
North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the pan-European security body, slammed Russia's ongoing invasion in his opening remarks as host of the summit.
"Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine flies in the face of all this organization holds dear," Osmani said.
Despite Osmani's remarks, North Macedonia has still faced criticism that it has given in to Moscow by allowing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend the meeting, though not without issues.
WATCH: The OSCE opened its annual summit in North Macedonia on November 30. But the attendance of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has sparked a rift among member states as Moscow continues its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Sofia lifted an EU-wide ban imposed on Lavrov's plane flying over the bloc's airspace -- implemented as a measure against Russia for its full-scale invasion -- to allow him to attend the summit.
Russia, however, said the plane with the Foreign Ministry delegation was refused entry at the last minute because spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is under European Union sanctions, was on board the plane as well and didn't have permission. The flight was rerouted over Greek airspace after Athens approved an exception.
Sofia has not commented on the Russian claims.
Lavrov's intention to attend the summit already threatened to overshadow the meeting after it sparked a boycott by Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Established initially as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, in 1975 as a tool of cooperation between the West and the Soviet-led Eastern bloc, the OSCE brings together 57 states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America.
The Vienna, Austria-based OSCE deals with issues such as arms control, the promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.
Osmani told RFE/RL in an interview ahead of the summit that he regarded the meeting as a "victory of the rules-based international order."
"What we are doing is continuing the rules of conduct of this organization so that all participating states are at the table, since this is a consensus-based organization," Osmani told RFE/RL.
"All the more, taking into account that the organization goes through an exceptional moment when its very existence is being questioned, we considered it crucial to reach a consensus, especially on those pillars that ensure the functionality of the organization for the future."
Still, several other members, including Poland, took issue with Lavrov's presence in Skopje.
"We just cannot ignore the fact that the Russian minister of foreign affairs will be present at the table of the organization that is supposed to build peace and security in Europe," Polish Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek told reporters ahead of the meeting.
Osmani also rejected criticism that by allowing militarily neutral Malta to take over the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in January, the organization acquiesced to Moscow, which had vetoed Estonia's taking the helm of the group because of its being a member of NATO.
"I think [Malta's chairmanship is] a diplomatic victory. It is a victory for the OSCE and a victory for the rules-based international order," Osmani said, adding that Russia was "not happy" during the chairmanship of NATO member North Macedonia.
"We were unequivocal in our condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Russia openly violated the basic, founding principles and obligations of the organization, and from the beginning we recognized our role as guardians of those principles and obligations.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Skopje on November 29, attended a pre-summit dinner with representatives of other OSCE states, but did not attend the opening of the summit on November 30.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Officials Around the World Praise Kissinger, Father Of Soviet Détente
Diplomats and leaders across Europe hailed Henry Kissinger, the U.S. diplomat who pursued through the 1970s a policy of détente with the Soviet Union that sparked arms-control accords to help keep Cold War tensions from boiling over into nuclear war, after the announcement of his death at the age of 100.
Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who died on November 29 at his home in Connecticut, was praised by many for his work while serving two U.S. presidents -- Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Born in Germany, Kissinger joined Richard Nixon's administration as national security adviser in 1969, a job he kept after the president resigned amid the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford. He also served as secretary of state under both Nixon and Ford, playing a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy from 1969 to 1977.
"A kind human and a brilliant mind who, over one hundred years, shaped the destinies of some of the most important events of the century. A strategist with attention to the smallest detail," European Council President Charles Michel said.
Known for his thick glasses and gravelly voice, Kissinger, an Orthodox Jew, left Germany in 1938 and moved with his family to New York.
He worked as a translator for the U.S. Army during World War II before eventually going on to Harvard University, where he earned a PhD in philosophy.
"The name of Henry Kissinger is inextricably linked with a pragmatic foreign policy line, which at one time made it possible to achieve détente in international tensions and reach the most important Soviet-American agreements that contributed to the strengthening of global security," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
Despite criticism from many that he turned a blind eye to U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, which he helped extricate the United States from, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 along with Le Duc Tho "for jointly having negotiated a cease-fire in Vietnam."
He was also heavily criticized for failing what some analysts said were policies that gave the green light to repressive regimes in Latin America.
But in the decades after he left government, Kissinger, arguably the most identifiable secretary of state in modern times, continued to be sought out informally by officials around the world for advice, and remained in the spotlight with his opinions on everything from China to the Middle East to Russia.
"He was a problem solver, whether in respect of the Cold War, the Middle East or China and its rise," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Commenting in January this year on Putin's February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kissinger told the World Economic Forum in Davos that NATO membership for Kyiv would be an "appropriate outcome" once the conflict ends.
"The idea of a neutral Ukraine under these conditions is no longer meaningful," he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kissinger's impact on foreign policy thinking and the global stage would live on long past the diplomat's death.
"The century of Henry Kissinger was no easy one, but its great challenges fit his great and curious mind. He changed its pace and the face of diplomacy," Kuleba said on X, formerly Twitter.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Russian Rights Group Memorial Recognizes RFE/RL's Kurmasheva As Political Prisoner
The human rights group Memorial has recognized Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service who has been in Russian custody since October 18, as a political prisoner.
Kurmasheva, a Prague, Czech Republic-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.
She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in the capital of the Tatarstan region, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.
On October 11, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her U.S. passport with the Russian authorities, according to local media reports based on court documents they'd seen.
Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia," which, if received by foreign sources, "can be used against the security of the country."
It gave no further details.
The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of foreign agents, she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.
Kurmasheva and RFE/RL have both rejected the charge.
Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be detained by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.
Sergei Davidis, the leader of Memorial's Support of Political Prisoners project, told RFE/RL that Kurmasheva was recognized as a political prisoner because the group considers illegal the Russian Criminal Code's article on foreign agents and its connection with so-called "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia."
Davidis added that Memorial considered the prosecution and possible conviction of people for failing to carry out "a so-called obligation to voluntarily declare themselves as foreign agents...also illegal."
"That request is illegal because, de facto, it is not about punishment for failure to declare, but for implementation of legal activities. The information in question is not classified and it is not illegal to collect such information," Davidis said, stressing that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had given a vague explanation about what can be considered information banned for collecting.
"Additional to that, we see concrete political goals in [Kurmasheva's] case that were obvious by how the persecution was carried out. First, she was detained and convicted of failure to declare the second citizenship, and after that only, after obvious thinking over and looking for reasons -- they filed the second case," Davidis said.
"This is the first criminal case and arrest of that kind. It explicitly indicates the artificial grounds of the whole construction. This illegal charge was thought over for a long time before it was used. They had searched for something to deprive Alsu Kurmasheva of her freedom," he added.
Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for alleged spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March.
WATCH: The husband of the RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained in Russia on October 18, has said she is a "political prisoner."
Since 2012, Russia has used its so-called foreign agent laws to label and punish critics of government policies. It has also been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Office, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee have called for the immediate release of Kurmasheva.
The "foreign agent" law allows authorities to label nonprofit organizations as "foreign agents" if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activities.
RFE/RL says the law amounts to political censorship meant to prevent journalists from performing their professional duties and is challenging the authorities' moves in Russian courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.
More than 30 RFE/RL employees have been listed as "foreign agents" by the Russian Justice Ministry in their personal capacity.
In March, a Moscow court declared the bankruptcy of RFE/RL's operations in Russia following the company's refusal to pay multiple fines totaling more than 1 billion rubles ($14 million) for noncompliance with the law.
Memorial, founded in 1987 to remember victims of Soviet repression, was closed down by Russia's Supreme Court in November 2021 -- citing the "foreign agents" law -- although it still functions outside the country and has managed to continue some activities inside Russia.
Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.
Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”
Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.
'Shameful And Absurd': Russian Supreme Court Declares LGBT 'Movement' Extremist
Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that the LGBT "movement" is "extremist," sparking a global outcry over fears the designation will allow the country to ratchet up its crackdown on gay and transgender people.
After a closed-door hearing, the court on November 30 said it had approved a Justice Ministry request to label the "international LGBT social movement" as extremist, which bans its activities in the country.
Russian human rights organizations had asked the Supreme Court to reject the ministry's request, saying that "it is impossible to call a group of people a 'social movement' simply because they belong to some social group, or because they are united by some personal characteristics."
The ruling is the latest in a series of blows to LGBT rights in Russia. President Vladimir Putin last year expanded the scope of a 2013 law banning the distribution of "gay propaganda" among children to include people of all ages.
"I call on the Russian authorities to repeal, immediately, laws that place improper restrictions on the work of human rights defenders or that discriminate against LGBT people," UN human rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement.
Amnesty International criticized the ruling, saying it will have "catastrophic" consequences and leaves "little if any doubt that it will lead to the persecution of LGBTI activists, undoing decades of their brave and dedicated work, while threatening to inspire and legitimize whole new levels of violence against LGBTI persons across Russia."
"This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities' campaign against the LGBTI community," Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
"The ruling risks resulting in a blanket ban on LGBTI organizations with far-reaching violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to be free from discrimination. It will affect countless people, and its repercussions are poised to be nothing short of catastrophic," she added while calling on Russian authorities to reconsider the ruling.
In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations and arrest gay and transgender people, activists say they fear the ruling will mean internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be considered "extremist."
WATCH: Activists and rights defenders warn that the new ruling could lead to the blanket prosecution of not just activists but also those who seek shelter from homophobic violence under a threat of up to 10 years of imprisonment.
Russian law forbids citizens and organizations from supporting or promoting an extremist organization, including displaying its symbol online or offline. Punishments range from fines and closures to jail time.
Experts say Putin is targeting LGBT and other minorities to appease his conservative base ahead of a presidential election in March.
Activists who spoke with RFE/RL in Moscow predicted that fear and insecurity will increase and people will leave Russia in greater numbers as a result.
"Those who stay for various reasons will not be able to feel safe -- even more so than before," one activist told Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
Another said that it will no longer be possible to continue work on a shelter for transgender people.
"Any opportunity I have to provide some kind of security for transgender [people] in Russia will lead to me putting myself in jeopardy and by extension the people who will live [in the shelter] with me," the activist said, adding that assistance to leave Russia will continue.
Thirteen Dead In Kazakh Hostel Fire
A fire in a hostel in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, has killed 13 people, the authorities said early on November 30.
Almaty Mayor Erbolat Dosaev said that among the dead were several foreigners, and Almaty police later clarified that nine of the victims were Kazakh citizens, while the other four were foreigners -- two Russian citizens, including one from the Far Eastern Sakha region, and two citizens of Uzbekistan.
Emergency services said there were 72 people, many of them foreigners, in the hostel, which occupies the ground floor and the basement of a three-story building, and 59 of them managed to get out.
The cause of the deaths was carbon-monoxide poisoning, officials said, adding that a commission has been set up to investigate the causes of the fire, which were not immediately clear.
Dosaev said that according to the regulations of the Health Ministry, placing guests in basements is prohibited. Basements can only be converted to accommodate storage or kitchens, the regulations say.
The Almaty Emergencies Department said that the hostel, which reportedly opened six weeks ago, had not received permission to operate. The hostel was equipped with a fire alarm that went off, but the building did not have mandatory fire extinguishers.
One of the people who was staying at the hostel, a Kazakh man from the southern region of Zhambyl, described the incident to Kazakhstan's news portal Tengrinews.
"When the fire started, the alarm went off, there was smoke all around. Everyone ran into the rooms to wake up the others. Everyone ran out into the street, but I couldn't see the actual fire. On the first floor there were seven rooms, each with seven people. Mostly Kazakhs lived there," the man said.
Almaty, a city of 1.8 million people, was Kazakhstan's capital until 1997 and it remains the Central Asian country's main trading and cultural center.
Zelenskiy Discusses Need To Fortify Ukraine's Defenses Along Front
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy traveled to the southern region of Zaporizhzhya on November 30 for meetings with military leaders, saying afterward that the fortification of frontline areas should be accelerated.
Speaking in his evening address, Zelenskiy referred to areas of the Donetsk region, saying they will receive "maximum attention." He also noted the need to strengthen defensive lines at Lyman and Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, where he met earlier with Ukrainian troops and visited a school and an underground shelter.
He said one of his meetings in the Zaporizhzhya region was on the construction of fortifications "primarily [in] Avdiyivka and Maryinka and other areas in the Donetsk region." He also mentioned other regions, including Sumy, Chernihiv, and Kyiv, which have been regularly targeted by Russian forces.
Zelenskiy also said he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov and thanked them for their support.
"We have reasons to be grateful to our partners. All of our agreements are being put into action," he said. "We also coordinated new joint steps to protect our people, our Europe, and the international order."
Ukraine's commander in chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, reported on November 30 that he spoke by phone with U.S. Air Force General Charles Q. Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the situation at the front.
Zaluzhniy said on Facebook that he told Brown that Ukrainian troops are causing the enemy to suffer significant losses in troops and equipment across the front line, and Brown "agreed to continue joint work on finding technological solutions to gain superiority over the enemy in air, fire attack and demining."
During a stop earlier on November 30, Zelenskiy presented awards to soldiers in Kupyansk for their efforts to "protect the peaceful life of Ukrainians and the people of Kharkiv region," a statement from the president's office said.
Zelenskiy, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and senior adviser Andriy Yermak, met with General Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of that sector of the front.
He was briefed on the situation along the Kupyansk-Lyman defense line, where Russian forces have been pushing in an attempt to regain territory they lost to a Ukrainian blitz offensive last year.
The operational situation in the east and south of Ukraine remains difficult, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its evening summary on November 30. There were 73 combat clashes along the front during the day, it said.
The General Staff also reported that Russian troops conducted "unsuccessful" assaults in a number of directions, including in Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, and Zaporizhzhya.
In Washington, White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said the United States has been working with Ukraine to prepare for an anticipated winter attack by Russia. Kirby said the United States expects Russia will again try to destroy Ukraine's critical energy infrastructure and has therefore been providing equipment and supplies to keep people from losing heat and electricity.
Ukraine's State Emergency Service said Russian troops carried out an air strike on the city of Toretsk in the Donetsk region on November 30, killing one person and injuring three others. Two people were rescued from the rubble of a house, which was destroyed in the attack, the service said on Telegram.
Russian shelling killed two people in Novogrodivka, a city about 90 kilometers southwest of Toretsk. A rescue operation was still ongoing late on November 30, the Interior Ministry said, adding that a family of three may be under the rubble.
Russian shelling earlier on November 30 killed one civilian and wounded five others in Darivka in the southern Kherson region, the press service of the regional military administration reported.
It said a dozen residential buildings, a kindergarten, and a hospital were damaged in the shelling.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, at least 10 civilians were wounded by Russian shelling overnight, regional Governor Ihor Moroz said on November 30.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said Russian troops fired six S-300 missiles at Pokrovsk and shelled Myrnograd, a city east of Pokrovsk. Four of the 10 wounded people are children, he said.
"As a result of the shelling, 10 people were wounded, including four children. They are looking for five missing people under the rubble," Klymenko said.
Russian forces also shelled Ukraine's northeastern region of Sumy, the Prosecutor General's Office said on November 30, without giving details about casualties or damages.
Separately, Ukraine's air defense said it shot down 14 out of the 20 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at Ukrainian territory early on November 30.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
Disabled Russian Sentenced To Jail For Writing 'No To War' In The Snow
A disabled Muscovite was sentenced to 10 days in jail for writing "No to war" in the snow, the Telegram channel Caution News reported. Dmitry Fedorov was detained by police while leaving Moscow's Gorky Park after he wrote the words with his finger on a snow-covered turnstile. Administrative protocols were filed against him for discrediting the Russian military and disobeying police, although Fedorov claimed that he went with the police to the precinct voluntarily. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Blinken Attends Dinner On Eve Of OSCE Meeting In Skopje, Leaves Before Lavrov Arrives
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at a dinner on November 29, the eve of a two-day meeting of the group in Skopje. Blinken met with Bujar Osmani, foreign minister of North Macedonia, telling him that the United States strongly supported all that Skopje is doing to strengthen democratic institutions and bring energy diversification to the region. Blinken departed for Israel after the dinner and before the arrival of his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
Russian LGBT Activists Form Organization In Last-Ditch Attempt To Stymie Government's 'Extremist' Case
Russian activists have made a last-ditch attempt to stymie a controversial government case that many fear could force LGBT organizations in the country to shut down.
The Russian Supreme Court on November 30 is scheduled to hear closed-door arguments in a Justice Ministry case to declare the "International LGBT Social Movement" an "extremist" organization.
If the court rules in favor of the ministry, it would allow law enforcement to use the ambiguous 2002 law on extremism to close any LGBT organization it desires, activists say.
As no organization called the International LGBT Social Movement existed when the Justice Ministry filed its suit earlier this month, there would be no one to defend it and, more importantly, the entire LGBT community during the hearing before the Supreme Court, activists said.
In their last-ditch effort, a group of LGBT activists moved quickly on November 29 to legally create a Russian organization called the International LGBT Social Movement and now hopes to be allowed to represent it in court.
In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations, activists say that at stake is whether internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be declared "extremist."
Russian law forbids citizens and organizations from supporting or promoting an extremist organization, including displaying its symbol online or offline. Punishments range from fines and closures to jail time.
If the Justice Ministry claims in court that the rainbow -- a universal symbol for LGBT rights and inclusion -- represents the International LGBT Social Movement, then it would no longer be safe to display it in Russia, activists say.
If the Supreme Court declares the organization "extremist," it also would be the latest in a series of blows to LGBT rights in Russia. President Vladimir Putin last year expanded the scope of a 2013 law banning the distribution of "gay propaganda" among children to include people of all ages.
Experts say Putin is targeting LGBT and other minorities to appease his conservative base ahead of a presidential election in March.
Opposition Politicians Arrested In Kosovo During Protest Against Special War Crimes Court
Several members of an opposition party in Kosovo were arrested on November 29 during a protest in Pristina against a special war crimes court in The Hague that is prosecuting former Kosovar leaders over crimes committed during the 1998-99 war against Serbia.
Six members of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is not represented in parliament, were arrested and ordered detained for 48 hours by the prosecutor's office, PSD said, adding that its chairman, Dardan Molliqaj, was among those arrested.
The protest took place during a visit by Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) President Ekaterina Trendafilova and escalated when protesters threw smoke bombs inside and outside the hotel where she was holding a meeting with members of civil society. Police responded by using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.
The presence of Trendafilova "is an attempt to...improve the image of the unjust special court," PSD said on Facebook.
PSD said the detention of its members was unfair and an attempt to silence the opposition.
Kosovar police have not commented on the arrests or the protest.
The demonstrators believe that the KSC has unfairly accused former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which waged the war for independence from Serbia and are now on trial at The Hague.
The KSC is a Kosovar court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges. It was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former UCK guerrillas.
Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliament speaker Kadri Veseli, former lawmaker Rexhep Selimi, and others have been charged. They were all top leaders of the UCK.
Thaci resigned as president of Kosovo in November 2020 after learning that the KSC had confirmed an indictment against him. The charges against him and the others include murder, torture, and persecution.
Speaking before the protest escalated, Molliqaj said that the demonstrators gathered in front of the hotel to oppose Trendafilova's visit.
He claimed that the court’s mandate is to pursue only the UCK and said that whenever Kosovo gets closer to Serbia, "there has been persecution of the UCK."
With reporting by AP
Another Russian General Reportedly Dies In Ukraine
Another Russian Army general has died in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and Russian media reports on November 29. Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky died on November 28, according to the reports, which say his death was confirmed by an organization of graduates of his military school. The Russian research group Conflict Intelligence Team also confirmed Zavadsky's death, citing Russian military sources. The Russian Defense Ministry has not confirmed his death. The Russian media website Important Stories says Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Iranian Judge At Wushu Championships Takes Stand By Shunning Head Scarf
In a bold act of defiance, an Iranian judge at the 2023 World Wushu Championships in the United States appeared without the mandatory hijab, igniting a controversy back home where the head scarf has become a flashpoint in a battle for women's rights.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Arghavan Jalali Farahani explained that her decision was "a gesture of solidarity with the ongoing struggles in Iran" and a tribute to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand, two Iranian women who died after a confrontation with morality police over the hijab and have become symbols of resistance against the mandatory Islamic dress code.
The incident gained international attention after a photo of Farahani, with nothing covering her head, surfaced online from the competition being held in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite her name being announced as Iran's representative, the Islamic republic's Wushu Federation swiftly denied she was there officially.
Farahani called the federation's denial a fabrication, adding she was appointed as Iran's representative by the same federation. She further revealed that initially, she was informed by Iranian officials of her removal from the competition list.
After making inquiries, however, she discovered that they had lied to her and that her name was still valid as a judge representing Iran, most likely because officials needed to keep her name on the list to ensure they could collect money for her being there.
"They didn't want me to judge. On the one hand, they did not remove my name from the list so that I would remain on their unrealistic invoices, which is a significant amount. They didn't think I would follow up and realize their lie," Farahani added.
Farahani said that in the end, she funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge, because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs, as that would have been a disservice to those who have lost their lives in Iran's struggle for freedom and justice.
"I wanted to stand with the people who are fighting inside Iran with this small act. Perhaps I have been able to pay respect to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand with my actions," she said.
The hijab, or Islamic head scarf, became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.
The death of 22-year-old Amini in September 2022 in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.
The case of the 17-year-old Garavand, who succumbed in October 2023 to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.
Wushu, often referred to as kung fu, is a competitive martial arts sport that integrates concepts and forms from various traditional and modern Chinese martial arts.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
New U.S. Sanctions Target Illicit Financial Networks Set Up To Benefit Iranian Military
The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions on more than 20 people and firms that the U.S. Treasury Department says have been involved in a "financial facilitation network" for the benefit of the Iranian military.
The sanctions target people and companies inside Iran as well as in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a news release on November 29.
The sanctions single out the Iranian firm Sepehr Energy and its employees, brokers, and purchasers, saying the business acts as a front company for the Iranian government's oil sales, which "fund its destabilizing regional activities and support of multiple regional proxy groups."
These groups include Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, and Hizballah.
OFAC said the people and entities designated for sanctions are involved in the networks, which ultimately benefit Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF).
MODAFL and the AFGS sell commodities through networks that include "shadow banking" and front companies both inside Iran and abroad, OFAC said.
"The IRGC-QF and MODAFL continue to engage in illicit finance schemes to generate funds to fan conflict and spread terror throughout the region," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said.
Sepehr Energy oversees this activity for the AFGS, OFAC said, adding that its deputy chairman, principal board member, and managing director, Majid A'Zami, who is also an Iranian Oil Ministry official, was also blacklisted.
Another company designated for sanctions is the Iran-based Pishro Tejarat Sana Company, which OFAC said works with Sepehr Energy to facilitate the sale and shipment of commodities to overseas buyers, generating revenue for MODAFL and the Iranian military.
Pishro Tejarat works on behalf of Sepehr Energy, in return for a portion of the profits, it said, adding that its chairman of the board of directors, Seyyed Abdoljavad Alavi, was designated for sanctions in the action announced on November 29.
Neslon said the United States "remains committed to exposing elements of the Iranian military and its complicit partners abroad to disrupt this critical source of funds."
The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.
With reporting by AP
Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner Karimi Executed Along With Six Others
Ayoub Karimi, an Iranian-Kurdish prisoner of conscience who has been held in Qezelhesar prison in Karaj for the past 14 years, was executed on November 29, according to human rights watchdogs.
The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Karimi's execution came along with the carrying out of the death sentences of six other prisoners, a sign of Tehran's continued increase in the meting out of capital punishment against political and religious dissenters.
"The execution of Ayoub Karimi, based on coerced confessions and without a fair trial, like the execution of other political prisoners, is a crime," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.
"The authorities of the Islamic republic must be held accountable for this crime."
The identities of the six other prisoners executed along with Karimi were not disclosed, but the Hengaw rights group noted that Ghasem Abasteh, a co-defendant in Karimi's case, faced a similar fate last month. The remaining five defendants are still incarcerated and face the imminent threat of execution.
Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Anwar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat, and Kamran Sheikheh were arrested in January 2010. They were subsequently sentenced by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges including "acting against national security" and "corruption on Earth."
Their death sentences were confirmed in 2020 amid allegations of coerced confessions and torture -- a claim supported by at least four prisoners in open letters.
Amnesty International said in a statement at the time that the trial was "grossly unfair," pointing to forced confessions under torture.
The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.
Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on November 2 that Iran was carrying out executions "at an alarming rate," while Iran Human Rights said more than 600 people had been executed in the country during the first seven months of the year.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Ukrainian Eurovision Winner
The Moscow prosecutor's office said on November 29 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Ukrainian Eurovison Song Contest winner Jamala, who is of Crimean Tatar origin, on a charge of distributing "fake" information about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Russian Interior Ministry added the singer, whose real name is Susana Dzhamaladinova, to its wanted list. In 2016, Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest for performing a ballad that described the brutal 1944 Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea to Central Asia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Former Crimean Mayor Sentenced To 16 Years On Espionage Charge
A Russian-installed court in Ukraine's occupied Crimea on November 29 sentenced Yuriy Lomenko, former mayor of the city of Simeyiz, to 16 years in prison for espionage. The court found Lomenko guilty of collecting classified data and handing the information to Ukrainian intelligence. Lomenko led Simeyiz from 2013 to 2014 and in 2019 became a municipal lawmaker in the Russian-controlled council of the Crimean city of Yalta. He was arrested in November 2021. It remains unclear what kind of information he is accused of collecting for Kyiv, as the trial was held behind closed doors. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Russian Lawmaker Jailed For 11 Years In Absentia In Ukraine
A court in Ukraine has sentenced in absentia Olga Kovitidi, a member of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, to 11 years in prison on charges of collaboration with occupying Russian forces and justification of Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Kyiv-controlled Prosecutor's Office of Crimea said on November 29. Kovitidi, 61, served as a Ukrainian lawmaker in Crimea, deputy mayor of Sevastopol, and an aide to the Ukrainian justice minister until Russia seized Crimea in 2014. She supported the annexation and then became a member of Russia's Federation Council. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Kyrgyz Lawmakers Approve Bill On Amending National Flag In First Reading
Kyrgyz lawmakers on November 29 approved the first reading of a bill amending Kyrgyzstan's national flag amid controversy. The bill, proposed in October, says that the slightly wavy rays of a yellow sun on a red field on the current flag give and impression of a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is "kunkarama," but it also has a second meaning: "dependent." The bill would allow the "straightening" of the sunrays to make it look more like a sun, the lawmakers said, adding that the current image on the flag conjures up thoughts of the Central Asian country's dependence on foreign loans and investment. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Young Russian Conscript's Father Suspects Son May Have Been Beaten To Death For Refusing To Fight In Ukraine2
West 'Too Cautious About Giving Ukraine Weapons That Could Strike Into Russia,' Says Former NATO Commander3
Revealed: The Kremlin-Connected Russians Employed By Europe's Top Security Body4
Ukrainian Sappers Focus On Frontline Roads5
Is The OSCE Meeting In Skopje A Triumph For Russia?6
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine7
Another Russian General Reportedly Dies In Ukraine8
Will The Afghan Taliban Choose Pakistan Or The Pakistani Taliban?9
Officials Say Wife Of Ukrainian Intelligence Chief Budanov Poisoned10
The Evolution Of Henry Kissinger's Views On Russia And Ukraine