Iran Would Need 18 Months For Atom Bomb: Diplomats
For years the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, their French and German counterparts, and other spy agencies have been struggling to penetrate Iran's secretive nuclear program, often disagreeing internally and with each other on when Iran could have a nuclear weapon.
Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful and says Western spies are lying when they suggest Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Some officials at the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna have warned against exaggerating the case against Iran, as happened with prewar Iraq.
But several Western diplomats told Reuters that the top spy agencies generally agreed that Tehran would need at least 18 months to build an atomic weapon if it decided to make one -- a much shorter timeline than some of the agencies' publicly released assessments of Iran's nuclear plans.
"It's not a formal assessment or formal agreement but a rough agreement that we can all work with more or less," one Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He said it was a "worst-case scenario," not the most likely one.
Another Western diplomat confirmed the agreement, adding that the assessment was based on the assumption that Tehran would need at least six months to purify its uranium stocks to weapons-grade level and another 12 months for "weaponization" -- building the actual nuclear weapon.
The minimum possible timeline is crucial because it gives an indication of how much time the six countries spearheading efforts to persuade Iran to halt its enrichment program -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China -- have before Tehran could theoretically have an atomic weapon.
Iran has so far rejected offers of economic and political incentives from the six in exchange for suspending enrichment, despite getting hit with three rounds of UN sanctions.
A plan under discussion in Vienna that would move most of Iran's low enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France for enrichment and fabrication into fuel rods would add another 12 months onto the timeline if Tehran accepts it, the diplomats said. Tehran needs a specialized fuel assembly for a medical reactor but is reluctant to send its uranium abroad.
The diplomats also pointed out that the 18-month estimate did not account for technical obstacles and bottlenecks that could be expected to slow down the process of building an actual weapon. Nor does it assume Tehran has already made a strategic decision to build such a weapon.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in February that Iran would not realistically be able to a get a nuclear weapon until 2013. Mossad Chief Meir Dagan was more cautious, saying recently that it would take the Iranians until 2014.
But an Israeli official linked to the country's security cabinet described the 18-month timeline as "reasonable."
A recently retired Israeli government intelligence analyst who still has access to briefings also said the reasoning was solid: "You can argue about the timeline -- a few months here or there -- but that's not relevant to the big picture."
David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and head of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, said it was in line with information he has.
"It's consistent with what I was told by a senior European intelligence official," he said.
But one Western intelligence official expressed doubt that Iran would be able to produce a bomb so quickly, describing the 18-month minimum timeline as unrealistic. "Do they have the knowledge and wherewithal to produce highly enriched uranium now?" the official said. "I'm skeptical."
The diplomats who described the timeline said there was much about Iran's nuclear program that intelligence agencies and the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were ignorant about because of Tehran's secretiveness.
"We are all very mindful of what happened in Iraq," one diplomat said. "There is so much we don't know."
One of the justifications for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 had been U.S. and British assertions -- now known to have been erroneous -- that Iraq's late leader Saddam Hussein had revived his clandestine nuclear arms program.
The diplomats said it was very possible Iran had another undeclared enrichment plant hidden somewhere, similar to the recently exposed site near Qom which IAEA inspectors visited for the first time on October 25. The Qom site's existence was revealed last month by the United States, Britain, and France.
One intelligence official told Reuters that even if Iran had another such plant it would probably not be able to produce significant quantities of enriched uranium and would therefore not have much of an impact on the presumed timeline.
The diplomats said Western intelligence agencies continued to have their disagreements on Iran, above all regarding the U.S. 2007 National Intelligence Assessment (NIE) that concluded Iran had ended its nuclear weaponization program in 2003.
Israeli and European intelligence experts disagree with that assessment and believe Iran's research on fabricating a nuclear weapon has continued. The diplomats said U.S. intelligence agencies were considering revising the 2007 NIE.
Russian Invading Forces Continue Attacks In Eastern Ukraine Amid Warnings Of Fresh Offensive
Russian invading forces continue to launch attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv’s military reported on February 7, as Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Moscow was preparing for a fresh offensive in the region.
Over the past 24 hours, Russia’s military launched six missile and 24 air strikes, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military, which also reported 75 artillery strikes, including on civilian targets in the eastern and southeastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson.
It said there had been an unspecified number of civilian casualties.
Later, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, reported that one person had been killed and five wounded as a result of overnight shelling in the Donetsk region.
Over the past 24 hours, 1,030 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military claimed on February 7, although such casualty figures are impossible to verify.
The fresh fighting comes after Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russia is deploying reinforcements in eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive.
"We are seeing more and more [Russian] reserves being deployed in our direction. We are seeing more equipment being brought in...," Hayday told Ukrainian television on February 6.
"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before; it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive," Hayday claimed.
Britain's Defense Intelligence said in its daily report on February 7 that Russia's military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they "lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive," it said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces are fighting attempts by Russian troops to surround the city of Bakhmut and break the city's defenses.
Speaking in his evening address on February 6, Zelenskiy thanked every soldier involved, singling out specific brigades.
Intense fighting has been raging for weeks around Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
For months, Russia's main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold.
Ukraine said late on February 6 that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar, and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
The European Union said Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began nearly a year ago.
Zelenskiy's office did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Almost 8 Million People Have Fled Ukraine, UN Aid Chief Says
The UN's emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion almost a year ago. Almost 8 million people fled from Ukraine to neighboring countries, while another 5.3 million are internally displaced, Griffiths told the UN Security Council in New York on February 6. The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.
Russian Pleads Guilty In U.S. On Money-Laundering Charge
Russian citizen Denis Dubnikov pleaded guilty on February 6 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. District Court of Oregon. Dubnikov is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11. The Russian national, who had been sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang, was extradited to the United States from the Netherlands in August. U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks. They allegedly laundered $400,000 in payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including in the United States.
U.S. Vice President To Map Out Next Steps To Aid Ukraine At Munich Security Conference
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to discuss Washington's future support for Ukraine when she travels to a major security conference in Germany next week. Harris will travel to the Munich Security Conference, scheduled to begin on February 16, as Ukraine readies itself for a new Russian offensive. A White House official said Harris will use her speech to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people, reaffirm international support for the country, condemn Russia's actions, reaffirm Washington's mutual defense commitments under NATO, and "outline the path forward" on Ukraine. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Invited To Take Part In EU Summit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of European Union leaders, the EU said on February 6. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, invited Zelenskiy "to participate in person in a future summit," Michel spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted. Leyts did not say when Zelenskiy might take up the invitation and specified that no further information would be provided "for security reasons." The next EU summit is scheduled to take place on February 9-10 in Brussels. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Salman Rushdie To Release New Novel, Six Months After Stabbing Attack
A new novel by Salman Rushdie will be published on February 7, nearly six months after a man repeatedly stabbed the writer onstage during a lecture in New York state in what was widely condemned as an attack on freedom of expression. Rushdie, 75, was blinded in his right eye and his left hand was badly injured in the stabbing, which happened more than three decades after Iran instructed Muslims to kill Rushdie because of what religious leaders alleged was blasphemy in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Poll Shows Steady Support Among Americans For Ukraine Reclaiming Its Territory
Nearly one year into the war in Ukraine, Americans’ support for Kyiv holds steady, according to a Gallup poll released on February 6. The poll shows 65 percent of U.S. adults polled want the United States to support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, even if that results in a prolonged conflict. Thirty-one percent said they would rather see the United States work to end the war quickly, even if this allows Russia to keep territory captured in its invasion. The data is from a Gallup web survey conducted January 3-22.
Judge Denies Saakashvili's Request For Release On Health Grounds
TBILISI -- A court in Tbilisi has rejected an appeal to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on health grounds, Saakashvili's legal team said.
Judge Giorgi Arevadze said the arguments presented during 15 hearings did not satisfy the request to suspend the sentence of the imprisoned ex-president and immediately announced his decision on February 6 after hearing closing arguments.
“The motion to postpone or release the sentence due to Mikheil Saakashvili's illness should not be granted," Arevadze said.
In a statement shared by Saakashvili's team, the ex-president slammed the ruling as a "death sentence" handed down by his political opponents.
"The Georgian court hearing turned out to be a total joke," Saakashvili said. "The government's experts did not even bother to see me.... Now I've basically got a death sentence.”
Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.
Family members and his lawyers have warned for months that Saakashvili’s health condition has been deteriorating, even as he receives treatment in a private clinic in Tbilisi.
His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration.
Saakashvili's legal team has also asserted that he was "poisoned" with heavy metals while in custody.
During a hearing last week, he asked for “the opportunity for adequate treatment” as he asked to have his sentence suspended so he can be transferred abroad for more intensive care.
But Georgian officials have raised doubts about how critical his health situation is.
Saakashvili is currently on trial on separate charges of violently dispersing an anti-government rally in November 2007 and illegal border crossing.
With reporting by Reuters
Russia's January Budget Deficit Widens As Energy Revenues Slump
Slumping energy revenues and soaring expenditures pushed Russia's federal budget to a deficit of 1.76 trillion rubles ($24.78 billion) in January amid Western sanctions and the cost of the war in Ukraine. The Finance Ministry said on February 6 that oil and gas revenues were 46.4 percent lower in January than in the same month last year. Overall revenue for the month was down 35.1 percent, while spending was 58.7 percent higher. The ministry cited lower prices for Russian oil and lower volumes of natural gas exports as the primary reasons. Sanctions have forced Moscow to sell oil and gas at a discount. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Head Of Russia's Tyva Republic Sends Representatives To Russia-Occupied Donetsk After Complaints
The leader of Russia's Republic of Tyva in Siberia, Vladislav Khovalyg, has sent his representatives to parts of Ukraine's Russia-occupied Donetsk region after a group of Tyvan men mobilized to fight with the Russian armed forces invading Ukraine complained of ill treatment.
In a video posted on Telegram on February 6, the men said they had been mobilized in September and gone through poor military training in the Novosibirsk region, where they were told that they will serving in a patrolling unit.
According to the men, they were transferred to the Donetsk region in late December, where they had not been officially registered with any Russian military unit, while some of them were ordered to fight against Ukrainian forces on the line of contact, which is not what a patrolling unit does.
The men also said Russian-backed separatists from the Donetsk region, as well as military police, came to them and beat them severely while saying that they now belong to them.
"In that case, we are not soldiers of the Russian Federation," the men said in the video.
Footage also showed two men in military uniform forcing a third man to kneel as they put the barrel of an assault rifle to his head. It is not clear who is in the footage and when the video was shot.
Khovalyg called the situation "a flagrant case that discredits the situation of mobilized men," adding that he already talked to the leader of Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk, Vitaliy Khotsenko, regarding the situation before sending his representatives to the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk.
Tyva's former leader, Sholban Kara-Ool, also issued a statement on January 6, saying he had canceled a business trip across Siberia and would urgently travel to Donetsk to personally look into the situation.
In recent years, soldiers in the Russian armed forces conscripted from Tyva complained about race-based bullying because of their ethnicity, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's father was a Tyvan.
Tyvans (Tuvinians) are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group of some 308,000 people, mainly residing in the remote republic on the Russian-Mongolian border.
Tatar Sociologist Gets Three Days In Jail On Hatred Charge Over Analysis Published By RFE/RL
A noted sociologist in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Iskander Yasaveyev, has been sentenced to three days in jail on a charge of inciting hatred in an analysis of Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that was published in June on RFE/RL's Idel.Realities website. Yasaveyev's lawyer, Rim Sabirov, said the Vakhitov district court in Kazan sentenced his client on February 6, adding that the court's ruling will be appealed. RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly called for Yasaveyev's immediate release. "Only authoritarians view independent journalism as inciting hatred, when journalists are doing nothing more than reporting the truth,” Fly said in a statement.
Ukraine, Russia Offer Help After Powerful Earthquake Strikes Turkey, Syria
Ukraine and Russia are among the countries that immediately pledged to send rescuers and other aid after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria in the early hours of February 6. More than 4,000 people were killed in the two countries. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv stands ready to send a large group of rescue workers to Turkey even as it battles to repel invading Russian troops. "We are working closely with the Turkish side to coordinate their deployment," Kuleba said on Twitter. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also promising to send rescuers.
Serbian PM Apologizes For Official Reference To 'Republic Of Kosovo'
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic publicly apologized on February 6 for the appearance on the official government website of the phrase “Republic of Kosovo,” saying it was the result of an “unforgivable” translation error.
Serbia does not acknowledge the independence of its former province, and Brnabic’s government, along with populist President Aleksandar Vucic, has waged a campaign aimed at persuading more than 100 countries to withdraw their official recognition.
"I couldn't sleep last night,” Brnabic told Serbia’s public broadcaster. “I don't know what I'm doing. I can't kill myself over it. But I'm sorry that it's being used by the political opposition to score some political points.”
Brnabic said there would be consequences for the Internet team that works on the government website. In the broadcast, she called it a "gross, unforgivable mistake by the translator."
Official Serbian documents describe Kosovo as part of Serbia.
Former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who is in the opposition, shared a screenshot on January 5 of the original wording in English next to the Serbian-language version referring to “KiM.”
The English-language statement was subsequently amended to read “Kosovo and Metohija,” a term used by Belgrade that evokes the Serbian Orthodox Church’s historical presence the region.
The item in question relates to a February 2 special session of the Serbian National Assembly at which Vucic accused Kosovo’s leadership and its Western allies of seeking to “avoid the obligation to form the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO)” since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year.
Pristina has failed to provide the legal groundwork for the formation of the ZSO as a conduit for dialogue with minority Serbs despite its inclusion in the so-called Brussels Agreement signed by Kosovo in 2013.
Belgrade and Pristina have been locked in mostly stagnant talks organized by EU officials for a decade to pursue a normalization of relations, a development that could allow Kosovo access to blocked multilateral institutions.
The past year has seen tensions rise at their shared border, including as a result of Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s imposition of a “reciprocal” license-plate requirement on vehicles in northern Kosovo owned by ethnic Serbs who oppose such registration as a de facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia has long refused to respect Kosovar vehicle registration and other documents.
Ethnic Serbs make up a majority in four northern Kosovar regions but are otherwise far outweighed by ethnic Albanians.
Frenchman Held In Iran Reportedly Starts New Hunger Strike
Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said on February 6. Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West. A hunger strike is the "only weapon he has," his sister, Blandine Briere, said in a statement. He stopped eating on January 28, she said.
Iranian Activist Says Reforms Can't Save Islamic Government, Change Needed
A leading jailed Iranian political activist says the time has come for the Islamic government to leave, even if it takes some reforms such as repealing the deeply divisive mandatory hijab law.
In a letter written from the women's ward of Evin prison imploring fellow rights activist Farhad Meysami to end his hunger strike, Bahareh Hedayat wrote that "our problem is with the logic of this regime, which is a form of Islamic fascism."
"The overthrow [of the Islamic republic] is now the will of the majority of the nation and the necessity of the existing situation," she added.
Last week, Meysami vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities release six political prisoners, including Hedayat, and stop their harassment of women through the compulsory hijab rule. Photos on social media showed him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his health.
Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law, which forces them to cover their hair in public.
He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.
In the letter, Hedayat wrote that even if the Islamic republic repeals the compulsory hijab law, "what should we do with its costly conflict with the world?"
"Even if they reached an agreement with the West, what should we do with its organized corruption? What to do with the guardian jurist (supreme leader)? What should we do with its madness, tyranny, inefficiency, and looting?" she added.
In the face of withering criticism from the West over its treatment of protesters and its human rights record in general, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on February 5 issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during recent anti-government rallies.
Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration; his demands have been mostly related to social conditions in Iran and the pligth of other activists and prisoners.
Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times.
Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during nationwide protests in Iran that broke out following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Media Watchdog Urges Release Of Journalist Detained In Kabul
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) along with 14 French media outlets and production companies called on Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on February 6 to release a journalist imprisoned for a month in Kabul. In a joint statement, RSF and French media said journalist Mortaza Behbudi, who holds dual French and Afghan citizenship, was arrested on January 7 in the Afghan capital, two days after he arrived in the country as part of a reporting assignment. They said they decided to make the case public after trying in vain for a month to obtain his release. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iranian Activists Greet Prisoner Amnesty With Skepticism, Calling It An Attempt To Change The Narrative
Several Iranian lawyers, human rights activists, imprisoned protesters, and former political prisoners have dismissed an amnesty decree issued by Iran's supreme leader for tens of thousands of protesters as propaganda and lies.
Iranian state media reported on February 5 that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during the anti-government rallies, as the country finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.
Saeed Dehghan, the lawyer of several political activists, called the statements of the judiciary authorities an attempt by the regime to "impose a false narrative" and "impudently change the positions of the plaintiff and the accused."
Meanwhile, a group of Iranian users on Twitter reacted to the news of Khamenei's amnesty in a campaign with the hashtag #NeverForget (#یادمون_نمیره) that recalled the killing of protesters and regime opponents.
Khamenei's order to pardon some prisoners is a common procedure that usually occurs before the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. However, this year the order has been issued as the government faces one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since the revolution in 1979.
State media quoted Sadegh Rahimi, the deputy of the judiciary, as saying that in order to be pardoned, the accused must "express regret for their activities and give a written commitment not to repeat those activities."
Reports also indicate that Khamenei's amnesty order does not include dual-national prisoners and those accused of "corruption on Earth," a charge that many of those arrested in the recent nationwide protests are facing and which could carry the death penalty.
Human rights groups estimate that around 20,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests so far.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Group estimates that around 100 prisoners may face the death penalty.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Police Launch Probe Into Alleged Attack Against Noted Kazakh Journalist's Son
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Police in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, have launched a probe into an alleged attack against the son of noted journalist Dinara Egeubaeva by an unknown person armed with a pistol.
The Almaty city police department said on February 6 that it had registered Egeubaeva's complaint and started an investigation into it.
Egeubaeva said a day earlier that her son was approached by a man with a pistol in his hand late in the evening and managed to escape an attack by fleeing and then hiding in a residential building.
Egeubaeva insists that the attack was linked to her professional activities.
Last month, unknown attackers broke a window of Egeubaeva's car before setting the vehicle on fire. Egeubaeva linked that attack with her professional activities as well.
Police said later that they apprehended a group of teenagers suspected of the arson attack, but it remains unclear who ordered the assault.
The Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) group, which monitors journalists' rights, said last month that at least five journalists have been attacked in Kazakhstan since January 1.
Egeubaeva has been writing and reporting about the first anniversary of the violent dispersal of anti-government protests that turned into mass disorder and left at least 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, dead.
She has also announced her decision to take part in early parliamentary elections scheduled for March 19.
Last month, the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the embassies of several Western countries urged the Kazakh authorities to investigate the attacks on journalists.
Belarusian Handed Five Years For Comment On Deadly Police Shooting
MINSK -- A Belarusian businessman has been sentenced to five years in prison for "insulting" disputed ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka while commenting on a deadly police shoot-out at a Minsk apartment that left a KGB officer and an IT worker dead in September 2021.
The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center said on February 6 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Hleb Hladkouski five days earlier after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, inciting social hatred, calling for sanctions against Belarus, and obstructing journalistic activities.
Hladkouski was arrested on September 30, 2021, after he posted a comment regarding the police shooting in Minsk several days earlier.
Little is known about the shooting that resulted in the deaths of Andrey Zeltsar, who worked for U.S.-based IT company EPAM, and KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasyuk.
Authorities claimed at the time that “an especially dangerous criminal” had opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities.”
Lukashenka has issued thinly veiled threats to people who posted comments on social media praising Zeltsar and criticizing Fedasyuk, saying, "We have all their accounts, and we can see who is who."
Multiple individuals have received prison terms in recent months on charges related to comments about the incident.
Belarus witnessed unprecedented anti-government protests after a presidential election in August 2020 in which Lukashenka claimed victory while rights activists and opposition politicians said the poll was rigged.
Thousands were detained in the subsequent protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka, 68, has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting many of its leaders or forcing them abroad.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka's self-declared victory in the 2020 vote.
Karakalpak Activist Dies In Custody Four Days After Being Sentenced Over Protests
Activist Polat Shamshetov, who on January 31 was handed a prison term along with 21 other people for taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests in Uzbekistan's Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan last year, has died in custody.
Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General’s Office said on February 6 that Shamshetov, 45, had died two days earlier of a "thromboembolism of the pulmonary artery and acute heart failure."
Self-exiled Karakalpak activists said over the weekend that Shamshetov might have been tortured to death in custody and demanded a thorough investigation of Shamshetov's death.
Shamshetov was the chief of Karakalpakstan’s Interior Ministry’s detective unit before his arrest in early July last year. He was a son of the late first and only president of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Dauletbai Shamshetov, who led the autonomous republic in 1991-1992 before Tashkent canceled the post.
Polat Shamshetov was among Karakalpak activists who were handed prison terms in Uzbekistan's southwestern city of Bukhara on January 31 for their roles in the protests in Karakalpakstan in July. He was found guilty of inciting mass unrest and taking part in them and handed a six-year prison term.
Lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov received the longest prison term in the case -- 16 years, on a charge of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.
Four defendants, including another journalist, Lolagul Qallykhanova, were handed parole-like sentences and immediately released from custody.
Other defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between three and 8 1/2 years. It remains unclear how the defendants pleaded.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July last year of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
The trial started in late November in Bukhara, around 600 kilometers from both Nukus and the capital, Tashkent.
Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people, out of a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
Popular Russian Food Blogger Sentenced In Absentia To Nine Years In Prison Over Posts
MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has sentenced in absentia a popular food blogger and magazine founder over her online posts about Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The Basmanny district court sentenced the Ukrainian-born Nika Belotserkovskaya on February 6 after finding her guilty of distributing "false information" about Russia's armed forces.
Belotserkovskaya, who founded the St. Petersburg magazine and website Sobaka, currently lives in France.
Russia's Investigative Committee in March 2022 opened a criminal case against Belotserkovskaya, who blogs under the name Belonika, for allegedly spreading false news about the Russian Army on her Instagram account, which now has 1.3 million subscribers.
She was accused of publishing several Instagram posts containing "deliberately false information about the armed forces of the Russian Federation's destruction of cities and civilians in Ukraine, including children, during a special military operation." Some of the posts cited the coverage of the war by Western news agencies and media outlets.
In May last year, Russian authorities added her to the nation's wanted list and issued an arrest warrant for her. Belotserkovskaya then wrote on the Internet that it meant she is "a decent person."
That was followed up in in June, with the impounding of all of her property in Russia.
Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has strictly restricted access to information about the war in Ukraine launched by Russia in late February last year and directed media to describe events in Ukraine as a “special military operation” and not a war or an invasion.
Following the opening of the criminal case against her in March, Belotserkovskaya transferred ownership of Sobaka to employees.
Astana Rejects Russian Court's Summons Of Kazakh Journalists Over Ukraine War Article
Kazakh Foreign Ministry officials have rejected a Russian court's summoning of editors of the Arbat.media news website over an article it published about Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Ministry officials told Arbat.media on February 6 that the decision last month by the Lenin district court in Russia's Vladimir region "has no legal force in Kazakhstan."
Arbat.media said last week that it had received a letter from the Russian court ordering its editors to show up at a trial in the city of Vladimir on February 17. At issue was the website’s article "Russia Occupiers Do Not Admit Defeat In Kharkiv," which was published in September.
The letter said that a lawsuit against the Kazakh website was filed by Russian armed forces military unit 56680 and Russian Military Prosecutor's Office No 19.
The Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) group, which monitors journalists' rights, had urged the Kazakh government to react to the Russian court's decision.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said in an official letter to Arbat.media that there are no bilateral agreements between Kazakhstan and Russia on mutual interference in media activities, adding that the media outlet did not violate any Kazakh laws, while Russian legal motions against Kazakh citizens have no power on the territory of Kazakhstan.
"The norms of international law state that everyone has the right to freely express opinions; this right includes the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of any kind, regardless of national borders, orally, in writing or by means of print or artistic forms of expression, or by other means of their choice," the ministry's letter said.
This is the first time a Russian court had summoned Kazakh journalists over an article about Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, launched last February.
With reporting by Arbat.media
Norway Proposes $7.3 Billion, Five-Year Aid Package To Ukraine
Norway's prime minister proposed on February 6 that his country should provide aid to Ukraine of some 75 billion Norwegian krone ($7.3 billion) over a five-year period. "We aim to secure a unified agreement on this in parliament," Labor Party Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference after meeting Norwegian opposition leaders. The Nordic country, a major petroleum exporter, has seen its government income swell to record levels following Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the price of gas sold to Europe soared last year. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Bomb Kills Soldier, Wounds 11 People In Southwest Pakistan
A bombing near a vehicle carrying Pakistani paramilitary troops in southwestern Balochistan Province killed a soldier and wounded 11 people, mostly civilians, police and security officials said on February 6. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place near the Musa Khan checkpoint in the provincial capital, Quetta, on February 5. Pakistan has been battling an insurgency in Balochistan for more than a decade, with separatists in the province demanding complete autonomy or a larger share of the province’s gas and mineral resources. (AP)
To read the original story from AP, click here.
Kremlin Says UN Atomic Watchdog Chief Will Not Meet Putin During Moscow Visit
The Kremlin said on February 6 that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi will not meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow this week. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Grossi would meet officials from the state nuclear energy firm, Rosatom, and the Foreign Ministry. He also said that Moscow expected "a substantive dialogue." The IAEA has repeatedly expressed concerns about the safety of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which Russian forces seized last March soon after invading Ukraine. The plant has come under repeated shelling, with the two sides blaming each other.
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