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Mottaki: Iran Could Respond To Changed U.S.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki
TOKYO (Reuters) -- Iran could respond to U.S. efforts to engage with Tehran if Washington turns the new tenor of its words into reality, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by a Japanese newspaper.

U.S. President Barack Obama has rolled back his predecessor George W. Bush's policy of isolating Iran.

The United States also joined Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain in asking EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's disputed nuclear work.

Tehran said on April 15 that it had prepared proposals to end the stalemate, but gave no details.

"We are studying the comments of the U.S. government precisely and with respect," Mottaki was quoted as saying in an interview with the "Yomiuri" newspaper published in Japanese on April 17.

"If the Obama administration turns its expressions of change into reality, there can also be change on our side," he added.

Mottaki is in Tokyo to attend a gathering of Pakistan's allies and donors, who are expected to pledge some $4 billion to fund efforts on poverty alleviation, education and health in the cash-strapped nuclear-armed South Asian country.

Asked about Iran's new proposal for breaking the stalemate over its nuclear work, Mottaki said it would be a revision of a proposal made in May, and was in response to the new global situation, the "Yomiuri" said.

Speculation has simmered that Mottaki might take the opportunity to talk to special U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who is also attending the gathering but Holbrooke told Reuters they had no plans to meet. Mottaki similarly told reporters that he was in Tokyo primarily for the Pakistan meeting. "That is our main agenda," he said.

Mottaki praised Obama's vision of a world without nuclear arms, but added it was the right of every country to have nuclear power, the "Yomiuri" said.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is to generate electricity, has boasted of now running 7,000 uranium centrifuges, which can have civilian and military uses, and has vowed not to stop uranium enrichment.

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Former North Macedonian Deputy PM Barred From Entering U.S. Over Corruption

Kocho Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. (file photo)
Kocho Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. (file photo)

Former North Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Kocho Angjushev has been barred from entering the United States for what the U.S. State Department said was his "involvement in significant corruption."

"While serving as Deputy Prime Minister, Angjushev abused his official position to benefit his private business interests, undermining the confidence of North Macedonia’s public in their government institutions and public processes," the State Department said in a statement on December 5.

"Today’s action demonstrates the United States stands with those in North Macedonia who seek accountability of corrupt public officials," it added, noting Angjushev’s wife, Elizabeta, and children, Angel and Ognen, are "generally ineligible" for entry into the United States as well.

The State Department statement did not give specific instances of corruption by Angjushev.

The 54-year-old Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Corruption has long been an issue for the country, which is trying to enact reforms as it strives for membership in the European Union after applying for accession in 2004.

Earlier this year, the U.S. AID agency said corruption in North Macedonia "continues to erode trust in institutions, weakens accountability and transparency, obstructs economic growth, and contributes to political fragility
and instability."

The European Commission said in a report last month that corruption remains "prevalent in many areas and is an issue of concern" and that "no progress was made" on the issue in recent months.

In Transparency International's 2022 Corruption Perception Index, North Macedonia scored 40 out of 100, ranking it 85th among 180 countries in the survey, just above Belarus and Moldova.

Kyrgyz President Postpones New Taxation System For Vendors Amid Nationwide Protests

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside the Dordoi market on December 5.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside the Dordoi market on December 5.

Amid protests against the introduction of a new taxation system for vendors at marketplaces as of January 1, 2024, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on December 5 that the move will be delayed by six months due to the "unpreparedness" of the country's Taxation Service for the innovation. Thousands of vendors at marketplaces across Kyrgyzstan have rallied since November 30, demanding the current system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. According to the new system, vendors will be obliged to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Six Nepalese Nationals Killed In Ukraine While Serving In Russian Armed Forces

The government of Nepal said late on December 4 that six Nepalese nationals had been killed in Ukraine while serving with the occupying Russian forces. The government statement also called on Moscow to stop recruiting Nepalese citizens to its armed forces and immediately return any Nepalese nationals remaining in the Russian armed services to the small Himalayan country. According to the statement, Kathmandu is currently working on the release of a Nepalese citizen recruited by the Russian military and captured by Ukrainian forces during battle.

Russia's LUKoil Mulls Sale Of Operations In Bulgaria

LUKoil's operations include Bulgaria's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas.
LUKoil's operations include Bulgaria's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas.

LUKoil, Russia's largest private oil company, says it is reviewing its business strategy in Bulgaria and is not ruling out selling its entire operation in the Balkan EU and NATO member, including the country's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas. In recent months the Bulgarian government has taken steps to curb some of the privileges LUKoil enjoyed for years. Bulgaria's parliament banned the import of Russian oil from March 1 2024, a few months earlier than the derogation from EU sanctions that allowed Bulgaria to import Russian oil until the end of 2024. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Hungary's Orban Plans To Meet France's Macron On December 7

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after addressing a joint press conference in Budapest in December 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after addressing a joint press conference in Budapest in December 2021.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban plans to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on December 7 ahead of a crucial European Union summit next week, Orban's press chief told Reuters on December 5. The meeting comes after Orban demanded on December 4 that a summit of EU leaders next week avoid any decision on Ukraine's coveted goal of getting a green light for membership talks even as the country fights Russia's invasion.

Russian Parliament To Declare Sea Of Azov As Internal Waters

A Russian Navy ship passes the cargo seaport of Mariupol, an occupied Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov, in June 2022.
A Russian Navy ship passes the cargo seaport of Mariupol, an occupied Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov, in June 2022.

Russian lawmaker Mikhail Sheremet told the RIA Novosti news agency on December 5 that the parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, was set to approve a bill on the recognition of the Sea of Azov as an internal Russian body of water by the end of 2023. The Sea of Azov is bounded by Russia to the east, and by Ukraine's coast to the southwest and northwest. Russian troops occupied those areas in the first months of the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has relocated warships to occupied Ukrainian ports since then. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kyrgyz, Tajik Officials Say More Disputed Segments Of Border Agreed Upon

In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.
In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.

Officials from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan say the two countries agreed on another 24 kilometers of the border between the two former Soviet republics after special talks on the issue were held over the past week.

Tajikistan's State Committee for National Security said on December 5 that the talks were held in the northern town of Buston, near the Kyrgyz border.

According to the Kyrgyz government, the next round of talks regarding other parts of the border will be held on Kyrgyzstan's territory on a day that is still to be determined.

The delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has been an issue for decades, but turned into an extremely urgent problem in recent years after several deadly clashes took place along disputed segments of the frontier.

In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.

Tajik authorities officially said that 19 Tajik citizens were killed and 87 were injured during the clashes. However, local residents told RFE/RL's Tajik Service at the time that the number of people killed in the clashes was much higher.

In all, the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is 972 kilometers long, of which 688 kilometers have now been agreed upon, while the rest remains disputed.

Many border areas in Central Asian former Soviet republics have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet.

Tensions in those areas have led to clashes between local residents and border guards of the three countries.

'My Little Pony' Gets Adult Rating After Russia Declares 'LGBT Movement' Extremist

Kinopoisk did not explain the move, but some noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.
Kinopoisk did not explain the move, but some noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.

The Russian online movie database Kinopoisk has changed its rating for the popular animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to suitable for "18+" adult audiences, Mediazona reported, saying the move appears to be associated with "new legislative restrictions."

The adult rating for the children's show follows Russia's Supreme Court declaring last week the "international LGBT social movement" extremist. The decision banned all its activities -- -- even though the movement does not exist legally -- effective immediately.

Kinopoisk did not explain its move, but some social-media channels noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.

Separately, the Russian social network VKontakte has restricted access to the content of the Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. -- consisting of Lena Katina, now 39, and Julia Volkova, now 38.

VKontakte has blocked access to the t.A.T.u. community's posts, photos, and videos, Sota wrote.

Last year, after the adoption of a law banning LGBT propaganda, community administrators voluntarily deleted all footage of the two singers kissing.

A popular act across the world in the early 2000s, t.A.T.u, shot to fame with the hit Not Gonna Get Us and represented Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003.

Their single All the Things She Said peaked at the top spot on music charts in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The video for the song caused controversy worldwide because it showed Katina and Volkova, who were both 17 at the time, kissing behind a fence, although neither of them identified themselves as homosexual.

The Supreme Court decision sparked outrage among human rights defenders, with Amnesty International saying the ruling will have "catastrophic" consequences.

"This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities' campaign against the LGBTI community," said Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, in a statement.

Prosecutor Seeks Almost 20 Years In Prison For Former Russian Minister Abyzov

Mikhail Abyzov attends a court hearing in Moscow in March 2021.
Mikhail Abyzov attends a court hearing in Moscow in March 2021.

The prosecutor at the high-profile trial of former Russian Minister for Open Government Affairs Mikhail Abyzov has asked a Moscow court to convict the defendant on corruption charges and sentence him to almost two decades in prison.

The prosecutor asked the Preobrazhensky district court on December 4 to sentence Abyzov to 19 1/2 years, and his four co-defendants, former top managers of the Novosibirsk region's energy supplying companies, to prison terms between seven and 18 1/2 years.

Abyzov was arrested in March 2019 and charged with organization of a criminal group, fraud, illegal entrepreneurship, and commercial tampering.

His co-defendants, Nikolai Stepanov, Maksim Rusakov, Galina Fainberg, and Aleksandr Pelipasov, were arrested at the same time as suspects in the case.

Abyzov was minister for open government affairs from 2012 to 2018 in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

He is one of several liberal-leaning former government officials in Russia who has been targeted by criminal investigations in recent years.

Abyzov's arrest was seen by some observers in Moscow as part of a crackdown by Russia's security and intelligence services against reformist politicians.

As a minister in Medvedev's cabinet, Abyzov's duties had included trying to make the Russian government more transparent and accountable.

But Russia's Investigative Committee charges that Abyzov was a member of a criminal organization that embezzled 4 billion rubles, or about $44 million, from the Siberian Energy Company and Regional Electric Grid in Novosibirsk.

Investigators allege that Abyzov and his accomplices stole the money and transferred the funds abroad. They also accused Abyzov of founding the criminal enterprise in April 2011, before he became a government minister.

Abyzov has held several executive positions at major Russian energy firms since the mid-1990s, including a role on the board of directors at the electric-power holding company Unified Energy System.

With reporting by Interfax

Russian Activist Who Disappeared In Georgia Located In Detention Center In Sverdlovsk Region

Rafail Shepelev, who had lived in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security services.
Rafail Shepelev, who had lived in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security services.

Russian activist Rafail Shepelev, who disappeared in Georgia in mid-October, has been located in a pretrial detention center in Nizhny Tagil in Russia's Sverdlovsk region in the Urals, the human rights project First Department reported.

Shepelev, an activist of the Artpodgotovka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, has been charged with terrorism, First Department reported on its Telegram channel.

Russia labeled Artpodgotovka, a Russian political organization of a left-wing-nationalist character, as an extremist group in 2017 and banned it.

Human rights activists say that Shepelev, who had resided in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security forces.

"They lured him from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali (in the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia), detained him there, transported him to Vladikavkaz (in Russia), placed him under administrative arrest, during which they charged him with a criminal offense and put him in the Nizhny Tagil pretrial detention center," First Department said.

Shepelev's documents, including his passport, remained in Georgia.

Shepelev reportedly went missing in Tbilisi on October 12. Irina Ruchko, a friend of Shepelev, told Mediazona that he “left home to take care of errands" without giving details.

The day after Shepelev went missing, an administrative case was opened against him in a court in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz.

He was first sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for alleged petty hooliganism and was later charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist organization, which can be punished by 10 to 20 years in prison, and of justifying terrorism -- a charge punishable by five to seven years of prison.

In October, another Russian activist, Lev Skoryakin, was discovered in a Moscow detention center after he went missing in Kyrgyzstan.

Putin To Make Rare Trip Abroad With Visit To Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman meet in Riyadh in October 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman meet in Riyadh in October 2019.

In a rare trip abroad as an international arrest warrant hangs over him, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on December 6 before heading home for a meeting with Iran's president the next day.

The Kremlin said on December 5 that bilateral relations and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be discussed during the meetings, while issues concerning the oil market, "are also always on the agenda."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in March issued arrest warrants for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia -- a war crime under international legislation.

While Putin did not make many foreign trips before the warrant was issued, he has curtailed his travel even more since.

He did not attend the G20 summit in India in September, and has limited his recent trips to countries such as China and states of the former Soviet Union.

With the warrant, Putin became the third serving head of state to be targeted in an arrest warrant from the ICC, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, along with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

The Kremlin did not give details of Putin's agenda, but the online news outlet Shot, which first reported the trip, quoted Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov as saying the Russian leader would travel first to the U.A.E. before heading on to Saudi Arabia, where talks would include a meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Putin and the prince have developed close ties over the years as they worked to form a group of leading oil producers, now known as OPEC+, in late 2016. The group has worked to support the price of oil, and last week announced voluntary supply cuts.

Following the one-day trip, Putin will return home and meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the Kremlin said.

Putin visited Iran in July 2022, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran in October.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Iran has widely been accused of delivering cheap but effective kamikaze drones to Moscow.

While Iran denies the allegations, saying it only sold drones to Moscow before the war started, U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Tehran of supplying Shahed-136 Iranian drones that Russia has used to destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. There has been evidence of Iranian drones rebranded as Russian Geran-2s being used on the battlefield.

And as the two countries have increased military-technical cooperation, Iran's Defense Ministry has routinely showcased its ballistic, cruise, anti-tank, and air-defense missile systems to Russian officials.

This has raised fears Moscow and Tehran could try to expand their existing arms dealing to include more advanced weaponry, know-how, and technology that could boost both Russia's war effort in Ukraine and Iran's ballistic-missile and drone programs.

HRW Condemns Uzbekistan's Sentencing Of Popular Blogger To Eight Years In Prison

Olimjon Haidarov (file photo)
Olimjon Haidarov (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the sentencing by an Uzbek court of blogger Olimjon Haidarov to eight years in prison on charges of extortion, defamation, and libel. Haidarov, who was arrested in late July, was sentenced in the Ferghana region on December 1. He has rejected the charges as politically motivated. "The court decision to jail Haidarov for eight years, including on freedom of expression offenses, will have a chilling effect on free speech and media freedoms in Uzbekistan," HRW's Mihra Rittmann said in a statement on December 5.

Four Children, Adult Injured In Pakistan Blast

(file photo)
(file photo)

Four children, aged 7 to 10, and an adult were injured in an explosion in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar early on December 5, hospital and rescue officials said. Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesman for the emergency rescue services, said an improvised explosive device went off on a busy road in Peshawar at 9:10 a.m. He said five people, including four children, were injured. Two of the children were in critical condition, Mohammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Updated

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Set To Plead With U.S. Senators For More Military Aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a video address to senators and members of the House of Representatives gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in March 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a video address to senators and members of the House of Representatives gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington in March 2022.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is to address U.S. senators on December 5 to make Ukraine's case for continued U.S. military aid as Kyiv's forces brace for a difficult winter on the battlefield and Russian shelling and strikes continue to kill civilians.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration asked Congress in October to pass an aid package worth some $106 billion for Ukraine, Israel, and border security, but the Republican-controlled House rejected the request.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Zelenskiy's appearance via video link during a classified briefing was announced on December 4 by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a close ally of Biden's.

The briefing, which will include U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, comes a day after the White House warned that U.S. aid for Ukraine will dry up by the end of the year.

While Congress passed more than $110 billion in aid for Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion in February 2022, it has not approved any additional financial aid since Republicans took over the House in January.

In a blunt warning, Biden's budget director, Shalanda Young, told Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson in a letter that the lack of U.S. military aid would "kneecap" the Ukrainian military's efforts, increasing Russia's chances on the battlefield.

"Already, our packages of security assistance have become smaller and the deliveries of aid have become more limited," Young wrote. "If our assistance stops, it will cause significant issues for Ukraine. While our allies around the world have stepped up to do more, U.S. support is critical and cannot be replicated by others."

The briefing, which is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. in Washington, comes as Ukrainian forces are locked in close combat with Russian troops around the industrial city of Avdiyivka. Russian forces have been attempting for several weeks to encircle the city in the eastern region of Donetsk that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian troops repelled 18 Russian assaults in the Avdiyivka area, the General Staff said in its daily report on December 5.

The military also reported heavy fighting in the Kupyansk area of the Kharkiv region, the military said, adding that along the whole eastern front, Ukrainian forces fought 73 close-quarter battles against the Russian invader.

Separately, Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 out of 17 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia overnight, the air force said on its Telegram channel on December 5.

"17 Shahed-type strike UAVs and six S-300 antiaircraft guided missiles were launched at Ukraine's territory," the message said, adding that 10 drones were destroyed over various regions of Ukraine.

The message did not say whether there were casualties or damage as a result of the attack.

In southern Ukraine, Russian shelling killed two civilians in the city of Kherson on December 5.

Regional prosecutors said they had opened a war crimes investigation into one of the strikes, which occurred around 9 a.m. local time and killed a 48-year-old man and a woman who have yet to be identified.

"The Russians struck Kherson again, killing civilians," Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, said on Telegram.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said it had destroyed 22 Ukrainian drones and "intercepted" another 13 early on December 5 over occupied Crimea and the Sea of Azov.

"Twenty-two Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles were destroyed by air-defense systems and 13 more were intercepted over the Sea of Azov and the territory of the Republic of Crimea," Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Separate reports said that traffic on the Crimea Bridge was temporarily suspended.

Unverified reports on social media indicated that the target of the Ukrainian drone attack could have been the Kerch shipyard.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Ukraine Says Exports Via Black Sea Corridor Total 7 Million Tons

A cargo ship carrying Ukraine grain transits the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.
A cargo ship carrying Ukraine grain transits the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.

Ukraine says it has exported around 7 million tons of cargo through Black Sea ports despite Russia's blockade. Ukraine's Reconstruction Ministry said on December 4 on Telegram that the 7 million tons of cargo included almost 5 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products. The ministry said on October 27 that Ukraine had exported 1.3 million tons of cargo through its Black Sea corridor since August, suggesting there had been a sharp increase in November. Ukraine created the corridor to the Bosphorus after Russia refused to renew a deal that had allowed Kyiv to safely export its grain to world markets.

Concerns For Health Of Iranian Political Prisoner Rise Amid Hunger Strike

Tehran's notorious Evin prison (file photo)
Tehran's notorious Evin prison (file photo)

Iranian political prisoners Sepideh Gholian and Mahboubeh Rezaei, incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, have warned about the deteriorating health of fellow inmate Zahra Sarv, who has been on a hunger strike since early December to protest against the harsh treatment and injustices she has faced since her arrest in October 2021.

The plight of Sarv, detailed in a letter obtained by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, outlines a pattern of disregard for prisoner rights within the Iranian judicial system.

Despite having served one-third of her sentence, Sarv's conditional release has been repeatedly denied, reportedly due to the objections of her case interrogator.

The situation has reached a critical point, with Sarv being compelled to endure a 6 1/2-year sentence handed to her by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on charges of "conspiracy and collusion to act against national security" and "propaganda against the system."

Throughout the legal proceedings, she and her lawyer were denied access to her case file.

Gholian and Rezaei, who have themselves been subject to harsh treatment in prison, have voiced their despair at witnessing Sarv's state of health and well-being decline rapidly in recent days.

Sarv, who says she has been denied proper medical attention even though she suffers from gastrointestinal problems, has gone on hunger strikes several times in the past to protest against her lack of rights and mistreatment.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing out harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Orban Wants EU Membership For Ukraine Stripped From Summit Agenda

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) greets Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, on his arrival for a meeting in Budapest on November 27.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) greets Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, on his arrival for a meeting in Budapest on November 27.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has written European Council President Charles Michel to demand that Ukraine's membership in the European Union be taken off the agenda at a summit next week.

In a letter to Michel, who will chair the summit in Brussels, Orban also warned against putting a review of billions of dollars in funding for Ukraine on the agenda, saying both topics are doomed to fail.

Orban urged Michel not to push for a decision at the European Council on these matters in December, "as the clear lack of consensus will inevitably lead to failure."

He insisted that a "strategic discussion" was needed first about Ukraine's EU membership and warned that forcing a decision could destroy EU unity.

The council "must avoid this counterproductive scenario for the sake of unity, which is our most important asset," he said in his second letter to Michel in as many weeks about Ukraine's prospective EU membership. But the letter did not say outright that Hungary would veto any moves to open membership talks with Ukraine.

Decisions on the enlargement of the bloc and a review of its long-term budget, which includes 50 billion euros ($54.1 billion) in aid for Kyiv, must be agreed unanimously by all 27 member countries. Ukraine is counting on the EU funds to help its economy survive in the coming year.

Michel's office declined to comment on Orban's letter, according to the AP.

Michel traveled to Budapest last week after Oban's first letter in which he urged a change in strategy of the European Union's policy toward Ukraine.

After meeting with Orban on November 27, Michel posted a message on X, formerly Twitter, stressing the importance of EU unity, saying it "requires constant effort and it's our main strength."

The European Commission, which supervises the enlargement process, last month recommended that Ukraine be allowed open membership talks once it addresses corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent its minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.

Orban said allowing accession talks to start even though all preconditions have not been met would mark the end of the European Union's enlargement policy "as an objective and merit-based instrument."

Orban discussed his position on opening European Union accession negotiations with Ukraine last week in an interview with Hungarian state radio in which he said it was not currently in Hungary's interest.

"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.

"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.

Orban is considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies in Europe, and his nationalist government has argued against EU sanctions on Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by AP

Anti-War Committee, Academic Network Added To Russian Registry Of 'Undesirable Organizations'

The Anti-War Committee was founded in 2022 by opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky (right), chess champion Garry Kasparov (left), and other prominent Russians.
The Anti-War Committee was founded in 2022 by opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky (right), chess champion Garry Kasparov (left), and other prominent Russians.

The Russian Justice Ministry on December 4 added the Anti-War Committee and the Academic Network Eastern Europe to its registry of undesirable organizations. The activities of the two organizations will be prohibited in Russia, and anyone who cooperates with them may face criminal penalties, including up to six years in prison. The Anti-War Committee was founded in 2022 by opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chess champion Garry Kasparov, and other prominent Russians. The Academic Network Eastern Europe was launched in 2020 to help scientists and students under threat of political persecution find new places to conduct research. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Armenia Says Soldier Killed Along Border With Azerbaijan; Baku Calls Report 'Complete Lie'

A local mayor said the shots were fired in the direction of the Armenian position at the border and were heard in the village. (illustrative photo)
A local mayor said the shots were fired in the direction of the Armenian position at the border and were heard in the village. (illustrative photo)

The Armenian Defense Ministry says a soldier has been shot dead along the country's tense border with Azerbaijan in what Yerevan says was a cease-fire violation. The ministry said the incident happened near the village of Bardzruni at around 2:35 p.m. local time on December 4. Bardzruni Mayor Arsen Aleksanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the shots were fired in the direction of the Armenian position at the border and were heard in the village. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied the report, calling it "provocative information of the Armenian side" and a "complete lie." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

U.S. Citizen Reportedly Found Dead In Russian Immigration Center

The man was detained while trying to enter Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia from Russia.
The man was detained while trying to enter Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia from Russia.

A U.S. citizen has been found dead at an immigration center in Russia's Krasnodar region, Kommersant reported on December 4. Ernest Harry Mitchell, 56, had been ordered held after a Russian court ruled that he violated regulations by having invalid health insurance and "undeclared cash" while trying to enter Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia from Russia, Kommersant said. The court fined Mitchell 3,000 rubles ($32) and ordered him to be deported. Mitchell did not plan to challenge the ruling. Kommersant said his body was found on the premises of the center and a preliminary report suggested suicide was the cause.

Seven Former Bosnian Serb Soldiers Indicted On Genocide Charges

A Bosnian Muslim woman mourns next to the graves of her children and husband at the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Potocari.
A Bosnian Muslim woman mourns next to the graves of her children and husband at the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Potocari.

Seven former members of the Bosnian Serb forces have been charged with assisting in genocide in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War in 1995, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on December 4. The seven men are accused of being members of the Republika Srpska Military Police, which participated in capturing Bosniak men and boys as they tried to cross into territory controlled by the Bosnian military after the fall of the UN-protected zone of Srebrenica. The defendants are accused of detaining the Bosniaks and transporting them to three locations where they were shot and killed. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Russian Opposition Politician Confined To Prison Solitary

Ilya Yashin (file photo)
Ilya Yashin (file photo)

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, has been sent to solitary confinement for five days, his Telegram channel said on December 4. Officially, Yashin was "punished" for refusing to work on the construction of a new prison barrack. But Yashin said the issue of his work on the construction site was raised after he challenged the Kremlin in video testimony in a hearing last week. After the hearing a Moscow court fined him for failing to follow "foreign agent" requirements.

Russian Officials Visit Niger To Bolster Military Ties

Supporters of Niger's coup wave Nigerien and Russian flags as they demonstrate in Niamey in August.
Supporters of Niger's coup wave Nigerien and Russian flags as they demonstrate in Niamey in August.

Russia and Niger agreed to strengthen military cooperation during a visit by a Russian delegation led by the deputy defense minister, Nigerien authorities said on December 4. The trip was the first official visit by a member of the Russian government since the army ousted the civilian government in a coup in July. The Russian delegation led by Colonel General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was hosted by the head of Niger's military government, General Abdourahamane Tiani. The parties "signed documents to strengthen military cooperation between the Republic of Niger and the Russian Federation," according to Nigerien authorities.

Regional Iranian Officials Order Strict Dress Code For Female Public Workers

Mannequins dressed in chadors are displayed in a shop in front of a shrine at the city of Qom.
Mannequins dressed in chadors are displayed in a shop in front of a shrine at the city of Qom.

Iranian media say the governorate of the central city of Qom has issued a directive mandating female employees in government offices adhere to strict Islamic dress codes, specifically wearing a black chador, a large piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and upper body leaving only the face exposed, and refraining from using makeup.

The directive, initially disclosed by the Iran Watch rights group's website, marks a further tightening of the Islamic republic's stance on how women can dress in the workplace.

The deputy governor of Qom, Abolghasem Moghimi Araghi, emphasized in the directive the need for female employees to comply with the "laws of modesty and hijab." The requirement underscores the regime's renewed emphasis on conservative dress standards, particularly in Qom, a city known for its religious significance and as a hub for Shi'ite religious education.

The directive's publication coincides with a period of heightened sensitivity and opposition to Iran's mandatory hijab laws.

Nationwide protests under the banner of "Women, life, freedom" have called for the abolition of compulsory dress codes, with Iranian women risking much in their quest for freedom and equality by standing at the forefront of the demonstrations.

This latest regulation in Qom, compelling the wearing of a chador in public offices, is unprecedented in its scope and signals an intensification of the government's approach toward enforcing strict Islamic dress codes.

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 also have launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country for safety reasons.

Tensions have run high in Iran over the hijab law since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022.

Amini's death, which came just days after her detention in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, led to nationwide protests and hundreds of demonstrators' deaths across the country.

Despite lasting public anger, parliament around the anniversary of Amini's death approved an updated version of the law that included harsher penalties for violations, including prison sentences of up to 10 years.

In late October, outrage boiled over again after another young woman died following an alleged encounter with "morality" enforcers earlier that month in a Tehran subway car.

Armita Garavand, 17, died after falling into a coma after the alleged confrontation on October 1. Some reports have suggested she was assaulted by the morality police, while others have said hijab guards were responsible.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Former RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Arrested On Unknown Charges

Hudaiberdy Allashov worked for RFE/RL for a few months in 2016, before he stopped, fearing for his safety.
Hudaiberdy Allashov worked for RFE/RL for a few months in 2016, before he stopped, fearing for his safety.

Police in the northern Turkmen city of Koneurgench have arrested Hudaiberdy Allashov, a former correspondent for RFE/RL in the Central Asian country, on unknown charges.

Relatives told RFE/RL that Allashov was arrested on December 1, several days after he was summoned by the police, where he was "beaten and electroshocked."

According to the relatives, Allashov's whereabouts and the reason for his arrest are unknown.

Allashov worked as an RFE/RL correspondent for about three months in 2016 before he and his mother were arrested in December that year on a charge of using chewing tobacco, which is illegal in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. Allashov and his mother, Kurbantach Arazmedova, rejected the charge at the time.

In mid-February 2017, amid an international outcry, Allashov and his mother were released after a court convicted them of possessing chewing tobacco and handed each a three-year suspended prison sentence.

After his release, Allashov stopped working for RFE/RL, as he feared for his safety.

In October 2019, police rearrested Allashov and beat him during questioning over several hours. The stress of her son's situation weighed on Arazmedova, who fell ill and died in hospital two days later.

In May 2022, an official severely beat Allashov and his wife in Koneurgench, after which Allashov's wife, Ejesh Arazgylyjeva, was hospitalized and he himself needed medical assistance.

Last month, another former RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, 74-year-old Soltan Achilova, was not allowed to leave the country for Switzerland, where she was expected to receive a prestigious human rights award for her reporting.

Achilova told RFE/RL at the time that she was strip-searched and humiliated at Ashgabat International Airport, where officials didn't allow her or her daughter to board a plane on November 17 despite having valid passports, visas, and tickets.

The only journalist in Turkmenistan who openly criticizes the authoritarian government, Achilova was scheduled to attend the Martin Ennals Award human rights ceremony in Switzerland on November 21.

The government maintains tight control of newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet in Turkmenistan, which placed 177th out of 180 countries in the 2023 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

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