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Pakistan Finds Crashed Plane's Black Box

Over 150 people were killed in the crash
A Pakistan official says recovery workers have found the "black box" flight data recorder from the wreckage of the July 28 plane crash near Islamabad that killed all 152 people aboard.

Ramzan Sajid of the Capital Development Authority, a government agency, said the flight recorder was found but that it is still too early to know what condition it is in.

Investigators hope the black box, which records the plane's operation, will yield clues to why the Airblue flight from Karachi crashed in the mountains during heavy rains while waiting to land at Islamabad airport.

compiled from agency reports

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Parole-Like Sentence Of Pussy Riot Member Shtein Changed To Prison Term

Lyusya Shtein

A court in Moscow has replaced the one-year parole-like sentence handed to Lyusya Shtein, a member of the Pussy Riot protest group and a Moscow municipal lawmaker, to actual prison time, saying she violated the terms of her punishment when she fled the country.

The Presnensky district court on June 30 approved the request made by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to change the sentence Shtein was handed in August 2021. She was sentenced for publicly calling for the violation of coronavirus safety precautions because she urged people to participate in unsanctioned rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The court ruled that Shtein must spend 31 days in prison, which is the remaining part of her term.

In mid-May, the Interior Ministry said it had added Shtein to its registry of wanted persons because she left the country in April, violating her sentence.

Several of Navalny's supporters and associates have been convicted on similar charges and were handed restricted freedom sentences. Many subsequently fled Russia and had their parole-like sentences replaced with actual prison terms.

With reporting by Interfax

Canadian Man Admits To Hacking Spree With Russian Cybergang

The NetWalker group, with some 100 members, operated a ransomware-as-a-service criminal business, offering its malicious software and an extortion website to hacker affiliates. (illustrative photo)

A former Canadian government IT worker has admitted to taking part in a hacking spree with a Russian cybercrime group.

Media reports quoted U.S. court documents on June 29 as saying that Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins agreed to plead guilty in a Florida court last month, admitting that he was affiliated with the NetWalker ransomware crew that has attacked organizations, businesses, official entities, schools, and hospitals in Canada, the United States, and other countries.

The NetWalker group, with some 100 members, operated a ransomware-as-a-service criminal business, offering its malicious software and an extortion website to hacker affiliates.

Analysts say the leaders of the group, who are still at large, communicate in Russian online and ensure that their malware does not infect Russian computer systems, or those of former Soviet republics.

Vachon-Desjardins was arrested by Canadian police in January 2021. Police seized dozens of computers and storage devices, 719 Bitcoin worth approximately $27 million, and 790,000 Canadian dollars ($613,500) in cash during his arrest.

He was extradited to Florida in March after being sentenced to seven years in prison in Canada on charges of mischief in relation to computer data, extortion, unauthorized use of a computer, and participating in a criminal organization.

According to Florida court documents, Vachon-Desjardins pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit computer fraud and one count of transmitting a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer.

Vachon-Desjardins agreed to forfeit about $21.5 million from the proceeds of the crimes, along with 27.65 Bitcoins, and cooperate with other investigations as part of a plea agreement where he accepted that he "was one of the most prolific NetWalker ransomware affiliates."

He will be sentenced at a later date and could face 10 years in prison, the court documents said.

With reporting by the BBC and CBC

Noted Russian Lawyer Sent To Pretrial Detention Over Critical Comments About Ukraine Invasion

Dmitry Talantov (file photo)

The chairman of the attorneys chamber in Russia's Republic of Udmurtia, Dmitry Talantov, has been sent to pretrial detention over his criticism of the Kremlin for its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Cheryomushki district court in Moscow ruled on June 29 that Talantov must stay in pretrial detention until at least August 21.

Talantov was detained in the Udmurt capital, Izhevsk, on June 28 and transferred to Moscow after he criticized the government and military forces over a deadly strike on a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.

Talantov has been accused of distributing false information about the Russian armed forces. Earlier in April, Talantov also harshly criticized Russian military forces for killing civilians in the Ukrainian towns and cities of Irpin, Bucha, and Mariupol.

Talantov's lawyers asked the court to choose milder pretrial restrictions for their client, but the court rejected the request, saying Talantov, as an experienced lawyer, would be able to influence the investigation while outside of custody.

Talantov is the lawyer for Ivan Safronov, a prominent former Russian journalist who is on trial in Moscow on a high treason charge widely considered to be politically motivated.

At least 18 people died in the missile strike in Kremenchuk, which leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) nations called a "war crime."

Russia has denied it targeted the mall, saying it launched a "high-precision strike" on a nearby munitions depot and that subsequent explosions from the attack sparked the blaze at the shopping center.


Ukraine Says It Has Retaken Infamous Snake Island; Russia Says It Withdrew For 'Goodwill'

A view of Snake Island in a still image obtained by Reuters on June 30.

Ukraine says its forces have forced Russian troops off Snake Island in the Black Sea, a claim Russia denied, with Moscow saying it withdrew its forces as a "gesture of goodwill" to show the country isn't impeding efforts to allow the export of agricultural products.

"KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job," Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, wrote on Twitter, along with a a photo showing plumes of smoke rising from several parts of the a small but strategic outpost that was captured by Russia in the early days of its invasion.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed its troops had left the island, which it had been using as an outpost to supply anti-ship and antiaircraft missiles as well as radar systems to its forces, saying the withdrawal came after soldiers stationed there had carried out all of the duties they were tasked with.

Control of Snake Island, located about 40 kilometers from Ukraine’s coast, had enabled Russia to threaten the sea lanes leading to and from Odesa, Ukraine’s main port for shipping grain to the world.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the retaking of the island as "evidence of the amazing ability of the Ukrainians to fight back to overcome adversity and to repel the Russians."

"In the end, it will prove impossible for Putin to hold down a country that will not accept his rule," Johnson told a news conference at the NATO summit in Madrid.

The island became a symbol of resistance for Ukraine when border guards stationed on it refused Russian demands to surrender or die.

In response, one border guard sent a message to the Russian flagship, the Moskva: "Russian warship, go f*** yourself."

The Russian ship then bombed the island. It is not clear how many died in the attack, but the soldier who sent the message survived.

The Moskva, the command-and-control ship for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, later sunk after what Kyiv says was a Ukrainian attack.

European Rights Court Tells Russia To Ensure Two Britons Captured In Ukraine Aren't Executed

Aiden Aslin (left), Saaudun Brahim (center), and Shaun Pinner sit behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk on June 9.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued interim measures instructing Russia to hold off on carrying out any capital punishment against two Britons who surrendered after they fought alongside Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, along with Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, were sentenced to death on June 9 for "mercenary activities" by what Russia-backed separatists called the Supreme Court of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

"The European Court decided to indicate to the Russian government...should...ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicants is not carried out," the judgment, issued on June 30, said.

It also called on Russian authorities to ensure the rights of the two prisoners were respected since they were part of Ukraine's armed forces, lived in Ukraine, and considered the country to be their home.

Aslin's family has said he and Pinner were living in Ukraine when the war broke out in February and "as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war."

Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany have condemned the death sentences.

The court had previously granted similar interim measures for Brahim. His father has said that his son is also a Ukrainian citizen and his rights as a prisoner of war should be respected.

Russia-Appointed Official Says Grain Shipment Left Ukraine's Berdyansk For 'Friendly Countries'

The port of Berdyansk as seen in March.

A merchant ship with 7,000 tons of grain has left the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Berdyansk, the first such shipment from the port since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the Moscow-appointed administration in the Zaporizhzhya region, said on Telegram on June 30 that the ship is headed for "friendly countries."

He did not specify which countries were considered "friendly," nor did he give any details on the origins of the grain.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing its grain during the invasion and blockading its ports to keep grain from leaving the country, which has helped contribute to a global food shortage.

Moscow has denied taking Ukrainian grain, but satellite images and GPS data have been used to back up the allegations that Russia has been transporting grain out of Ukraine through the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Satellite Images Show Russia Shipping Grain From Occupied Ukraine To Syria
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Grain is one of Ukraine's main industries. Exports totaled $12.2 billion last year and accounted for nearly one-fifth of the country's exports. Ukraine's Black Sea ports, including Berdyansk, handled about 6 million tons of grains and other crops each month before the war.

Russia and Ukraine together, meanwhile, account for nearly one-third of the world's wheat supply.

Many areas of southern Ukraine have been placed under the control of Russia-appointed officials since Moscow launched its war against Ukraine on February 24. Some of those areas are now being forcefully integrated into Russia's economy.

In the weeks following the invasion, many Western countries and the European Union slapped crippling sanctions on Russia, which in turn created a list of "unfriendly" foreign state and territories.


Lysychansk Under 'Enormous' Shelling As Russia Unleashes Fresh Wave Of Attacks In Ukraine's East

Control of Snake Island, located about 40 kilometers from Ukraine’s coast, had enabled Russia to threaten the sea lanes leading to and from Odesa, Ukraine’s main port for shipping grain to the world. (file photo)

Ukraine says its forces have forced Russian troops off Snake Island in the Black Sea, a claim Russia denied with Moscow calling it a withdrawal of its forces as a "gesture of goodwill" to show the country isn't impeding efforts to allow the export of agricultural products.

The report came on June 30 as a Moscow-appointed official in the Zaporizhzhya region said a shipment of grain had left the Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk, which is under Russian control.

Control of Snake Island, located about 40 kilometers from Ukraine’s coast, had enabled Russia to threaten the sea lanes leading to and from Odesa, Ukraine’s main port for shipping grain to the world.

The island became symbol of resistance for Ukraine when border guards stationed on it refused Russian demands that they surrender or die and its return is seen as a major victory.

"KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job," Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, wrote on Twitter along with a a photo showing plumes of smoke rising from several parts of the small outpost that was captured by Russia in the early days of its invasion.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed its troops had left the island, which it had been using as an outpost to supply anti-ship and antiaircraft missiles as well as radar systems to its forces, saying the withdrawal came after soldiers stationed there had carried out all of the duties they were tasked with.

It also called the move a "gesture of goodwill" to show Russian isn't impeding efforts to allow the export of agricultural products on a day when Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Moscow-appointed administration in the Zaporizhzhya region, said on Telegram that a merchant ship with 7,000 tons of grain had left Berdyansk for "friendly countries." He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Lysychansk continued to be targeted by heavy Russian artillery fire, with regional officials saying the last major Ukrainian holdout in the east was subjected to "enormous" bombardment, while Russian forces also shelled civilian settlements in the Dnipropetrovsk region.

The head of the military administration of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hayday, said Lysychansk "is constantly being shelled" by Russian forces attempting to encircle the strategic hilltop city -- a key battleground in Moscow's attempt to conquer Ukraine's industrial heartland known as the Donbas.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

After weeks of fighting that killed hundreds of civilians and turned the city into rubble, Moscow took control of neighboring Syevyerodonetsk and is now setting its sights on Lysychansk.

"The fighting is continuing at the outskirts of the city. The Russian Army is trying to attack constantly," Hayday told Ukrainian television, later posting the video on his Telegram channel.

"Now there is a peak of fighting. The frequency of shelling is enormous," Hayday said, adding that there are still about 15,000 civilians remaining in the city, which had a prewar population of nearly 100,000.

The Russians "brought in large numbers of vehicles, an enormous number of people. Shelling and attacks do not stop," Hayday said.

Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 30 that the fighting in Lysychansk is likely focused around the city's oil refinery, some 10 kilometers southwest of the center, adding that Ukrainian forces continue to hold their positions in the city following their withdrawal from Syevyerodonetsk.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian forces shelled the villages of Zelenodolsk and Velyka Kostromka, the head of the regional military administration, Valentyn Reznichenko, said.

"The enemy continues to terrorize the towns and villages of the Kryvyi Rih district.... In Zelenodolsk, the enemy destroyed a warehouse containing 40 tons of grain. The explosion caused a fire," Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

British intelligence said the ability of Ukrainian forces to continue fighting battles that slow down the enemy and avoid encirclement will continue to be a key factor in the outcome of the war.

But the U.S. director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, said on June 29 that the outlook remains "pretty grim" and said Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to take most of Ukraine.

With Ukraine a main topic, leaders of the NATO military alliance ended a three-day summit in Madrid saying one result of Russia's war is that it has seen a strengthening of the group and European security as a whole.

During the historic meeting, NATO officially extended invitations to Sweden and Finland to become members, branded Russia as the alliance's most "direct threat," and vowed to modernize Ukraine's military to allow it to fight Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, CNN, and BBC

Ukraine Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Syria After It Recognizes Eastern Regions As Independent

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 13.

Ukraine cut diplomatic ties with Syria on June 29 after Damascus recognized the independence of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the decision on June 29 in a video posted on Telegram.

"There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria," Zelenskiy said, adding that the sanctions pressure against Syria "will be even greater."

Donetsk and Luhansk, commonly known as the Donbas, currently are at the center of the fighting in the war Moscow launched in February shortly after recognizing their separatist-controlled districts as independent.

Parts of Luhansk and Donetsk came under Russia-backed separatists' control after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Leonid Pasechnik, the Luhansk separatist leader, thanked Syria and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for what he called the “courageous and responsible political gesture” of recognizing Luhansk as an independent and sovereign country, according to TASS.

Syria, a close ally of Russia and a beneficiary of Russian military assistance in its civil war, is the first state other than Russia to recognize the two separatist regions.

Syria has previously sided with Russia in territorial disputes. It agreed in 2018 to recognize Abkhazia and a second breakaway Georgian region, South Ossetia, as independent countries. That move prompted Tbilisi to cut diplomatic ties with Damascus.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and TASS

Former Giuliani Associate Sentenced To 20 Months For Fraud, Campaign Finance Violations

Lev Parnas (file photo)

A Ukrainian-born associate of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been sentenced to one year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes.

Lev Parnas, 50, was also ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution.

Prosecutors in New York City had sought a six-year sentence. Parnas asked for leniency based on his cooperation with a probe into President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukrainian officials to investigate President Joe Biden’s son.

Addressing the court before the sentence was announced, Parnas sobbed and apologized to people who had lost money investing in his business ventures.

“A lot that you heard is true, your honor,” Parnas told the judge. “I have not been a good person my whole life. I’ve made mistakes. And I admit it.”

The criminal case against Parnas was not directly related to his work for Giuliani as he lobbied Ukrainian officials in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in 2016 to investigate Biden's son, who served on the board of a Kyiv-based natural gas company.

Instead, it focused on donations Parnas illegally made to a number of U.S. politicians using money from Russian businessman Andrei Muravyov while lying about the source of the money. U.S. law bars foreign individuals from contributing to political campaigns.

Parnas in March pleaded guilty to a separate charge involving an insurance startup that he conned people into investing in and then used much of the money for campaign contributions.

Igor Fruman, a business associate of Parnas who also worked for Giuliani, was sentenced earlier this year to one year in prison for campaign finance law violations. The Soviet-born Fruman also expressed remorse for his crimes.

Giuliani, who served as a personal lawyer to Trump, has said he knew nothing about the crimes and has not been charged.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Ukraine Announces Prisoner Swap Of 144 Soldiers, Some Captured At Azovstal Steelworks

A view of the prisoner exchange on a road near Zaporizhzhya on June 29 in a photo provided by Ukraine's Military Intelligence.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry has announced a prisoner exchange involving 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including scores of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol.

"This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 freed, 95 are Azovstal defenders. Among them, 43 servicemen of the Azov Regiment," the main intelligence directorate of the Defense Ministry said on June 29 on Telegram.

It did not specify when and where the swap took place or how many Russian prisoners were part of the exchange.

The head of a Russia-backed separatist group in Ukraine’s Donetsk region also reported a prisoner exchange with Kyiv, saying the number of fighters exchanged was 144 on each side.

Denis Pushilin said 144 Russia-backed separatists and Russian soldiers would return home as part of the exchange.

"We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from Ukrainian armed units. Most of whom were wounded,” Pushilin said on Telegram.

There had been concerns over the fate of Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner by Russian forces after they abandoned the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol.

Some prominent Russian lawmakers last month said there should be no exchange of members of the Azov Regiment, which Russia considers a neo-Nazi organization.

Russia said some 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers had been taken into custody when it took over the steel plant. Pushilin said at the time he thought the prisoners would face a “tribunal.”

Ukrainian officials and relatives of the soldiers had urged Moscow to treat the men as prisoners of war, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshuk said that Kyiv would fight for their return.

Moscow and Kyiv have exchanged prisoners several times since Russia invaded on February 24.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Zelenskiy Says He May Attend G20 Summit In Bali (Depending On Who Else Is Invited)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands during Widodo's visit to Kyiv on June 29.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he has accepted an invitation to attend the autumn G20 summit in Bali, but his participation will depend on which leaders are also attending, a thinly veiled reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Kyiv on June 29, Zelenskiy said Ukraine's participation "will depend on the security situation in the country and on the composition of the summit's participants."

Indonesia, which holds the G20's rotating presidency this year, has come under pressure from several Western nations not to invite Putin over the war he launched in February against Ukraine.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi says Widodo told him Putin's presence at the summit on the tropical island in November has been ruled out, but Putin's adviser, Yury Ushakov, said Draghi does not decide issues related to the G20 summit.

Widodo will travel to Moscow on June 30, where he'll meet Putin.

As have many other developing nations, Indonesia has been neutral in the issue of Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which was launched on February 24.

G20 nations make up about 80 percent of world's total economic output.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Russian Prosecutor Seeks 11 Years For Opera Singer Over 2020 Coronavirus-Related Rally In North Ossetia

Vadim Cheldiyev (file photo)

The prosecution has asked a court in Russia’s southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don to convict and sentence opera singer Vadim Cheldiyev to 11 years in prison for his role in organizing a massive rally against coronavirus restrictions in the entertainer’s native North Ossetia region in 2020.

The prosecutor also asked the Rostov regional court on June 29 to convict and sentence Cheldiyev's co-defendants, Ramis Chirkinov and Arsen Besolov, to nine years in prison each.

Cheldiyev is charged with distribution of false information about the pandemic, extremism, hooliganism, organization of mass disorder, and attacking a law enforcement officer. His co-defendants are charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally and mass disorder.

The trio went on trial in October. All three pleaded not guilty.

On April 20, 2020, police in Russia's North Caucasus region of North Ossetia detained dozens of protesters when about 2,000 people gathered in the central square of the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, demanding the resignation of then-regional leader Vyacheslav Bitarov, accusing him of “unnecessary anti-COVID restrictions.”

The rally was violently dispersed by police.

The protest was initiated online by Cheldiyev, who permanently resided in St. Petersburg at the time.

Cheldiyev was detained in St. Petersburg after the rally in Vladikavkaz and brought to North Ossetia, where he was arrested and charged.

Dozens of participants in the 2020 protest were sentenced to lengthy prison terms at separate trials since last year.

Relatives Of Jailed Labor Activists In Iran Say Security Agents Are Threatening Them

Trade union rallies in Iran demanding the release of imprisoned teachers and workers.

Many relatives of civic and labor activists detained in Iran say security agents are issuing threats if they don't remain silent about their loved ones' cases.

The families of Jafar Ebrahimi, Anisha Asadollahi, Rasul Badaghi, Mohammad Habibi, Hassan Saeedi, Reza Shahabi, Eskandar Lotfi, Shaban Mohammadi, Keyvan Mohtadi, and Massud Nikkhah -- activists who have been detained due to their participation in labor protests -- wrote about the threats in an open letter.

"In the past two months, not only has the pressure on our loved ones not ended, but prison officials have banned us from visiting them," they wrote.

Citing what they called the "negligence" of judicial officials in these cases, the signatories of the letter said the authorities told them that "if they do not remain silent, the situation will become more complicated."

The signatories called for an "immediate cessation of false allegations" and an "end to repeated, derogatory, and threatening interrogations."

"There is no justification for the continued detention of these activists," they said, adding that "threats and insults from prison officials and interrogators in dealing with detainees and their families are a clear example of persecution."

In May, security forces raided the homes of cultural and labor activists, arresting many of them and sending them to the notorious Evin prison.

UN human rights experts have previously expressed serious concern about the “violent repression” of civil society in Iran, including union members and teachers arrested for protesting low or unpaid wages and poor working conditions.

Labor protests in Iran have been on the rise in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support. The labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

At the same time, pensioners and other groups have been protesting in recent months about the poor economic situation in the country, blaming the government for spiraling inflation, high unemployment, and failing to deliver on pledges to increase wages and improve living conditions.

The government's response to the protests has been arrests, violence, and repression of participants.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi

Iranian Court Confirms Long Prison Sentence For Espionage For French National Briere

Benjamin Briere (file photo)

A court in Iran has denied an appeal by French citizen Benjamin Briere and confirmed his prison sentence of eight years and eight months for espionage, a charge he and his family have rejected.

Briere’s Iranian lawyer, Saeid Dehghan, announced on Twitter on June 28 that the court had declared France a "hostile state."

The 37-year-old French tourist had traveled to Iran in a van in May 2020 and was arrested after flying a drone on the plains near the Iran-Turkmenistan border.

The trial lasted until February last year, when the Islamic republic's judiciary finally sentenced him to eight years and eight months in prison on charges of "espionage" and "propaganda against the regime."

At the time, Dehghan stated that he had been "accused of collaborating with governments hostile to Iran," while his client "was unaware of his new charge."

AFP quoted Briere's sister, Blandine, as saying the trial was "a masquerade" and part of a geopolitical game Tehran is playing.

Briere is one of more than a dozen foreign nationals or people with dual Iranian citizenship being held in Iran. Two other French nationals -- 37-year-old Cecile Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris -- have also been detained in Iran, accused of seeking to foment labor unrest in the country.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage.

The verdict also comes as Iran and world powers are seeking to reach agreement on reviving the 2015 deal over Tehran's nuclear program.

Negotiators from the United States and Iran are expected to hold indirect talks in Qatar on June 29 as they look to overcome hurdles to reaching a final agreement.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi

Iran Nuclear Talks In Qatar Proceeding, Iran Says, Denying Report They'd Ended

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani (right), and Enrique Mora, the European coordinator of the talks

The Iranian Foreign Ministry says indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Qatar are continuing, denying an Iranian media report that they had ended.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said the two-day talks were not over and that another meeting would be held later on June 29 between Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, and Enrique Mora, the European coordinator of the talks.

"Talks continue in a serious and businesslike atmosphere," Kanani said.

The talks are aimed at overcoming differences over how to salvage a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers.

Iran's semiofficial Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported earlier that the negotiations in Doha had ended without result.

The talks started on June 28 with Mora as the coordinator shuttling between Kani and U.S. special envoy Robert Malley.

"What prevented these negotiations from coming to fruition is the U.S. insistence on its proposed draft text in Vienna that excludes any guarantee for Iran's economic benefits," Tasnim said, citing informed sources at the talks.

“Washington is seeking to revive the [deal] in order to limit Iran without economic achievement for our country,” the report claimed.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on June 27 that the talks would focus on the lifting of U.S. sanctions.

The talks are separate from broader EU-mediated negotiations that have taken place in Vienna between Iran and major powers.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week traveled to Tehran in a push to resuscitate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. EU countries have been forced to find oil suppliers other than Russia as they seek to lower their reliance on Russian energy amid the war in Ukraine.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to limits on its controversial nuclear program in exchange for relief from punitive sanctions imposed by the West. But the arrangement began to fall apart in 2018 when then- U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal.

Washington subsequently reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, while the Iranian government backed away from some of the commitments laid out in the deal.

Iran has been engaged for more than a year in negotiations in Vienna with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China directly -- and the United States, indirectly -- to revive the deal.

Negotiators were reportedly close to a new agreement in March, but the talks abruptly stalled in April, with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for failing to take the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.

One of them is Tehran's insistence that Washington remove the IRGC from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Moscow City Court Rejects Opposition Politician Kara-Murza's Appeal Against Pretrial Arrest

Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)

The Moscow City Court has rejected an appeal filed by prominent Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza against a lower court decision to place him in pretrial detention after he was arrested for allegedly spreading false information about the Russian Army.

Kara-Murza tweeted on June 29 that the hearing was held behind closed doors under the pretext that the judge did not want to disclose information about the politician's family residing abroad. Journalists were present only for the handing down of the court's decision.

The 40-year Kremlin critic was detained in April and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disobedience to police. He was later charged with spreading false information about the Russian Army and placed in pretrial detention for two months.

On June 8, the Basmanny district court extended Kara-Murza's pretrial detention until at least August 12.

Russia's Investigative Committee is conducting a probe into allegations that Kara-Murza distributed false information about the army while speaking to lawmakers in the U.S. state of Arizona.

Kara-Murza has rejected the charge, calling it politically motivated.

His arrest came amid a mounting crackdown by Russian authorities on opposition figures and any dissent to the ongoing war in Ukraine that Moscow launched against its neighbor on February 24.

In early March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.

The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian Army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.

It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.

A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza is best known for falling deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.

Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of "intentional poisoning."

U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.

Russian Lawmakers OK 'Foreign Agent' Amendment Making It Easier To Target Domestic Critics

Police officers detain a journalist who holds a placard reading "You Are Afraid Of The Truth" during a single-picket protest against the "foreign agent" law in Moscow in August 2021.

The Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved a bill that would allow it to define any person who receives financial assistance from abroad as a "foreign agent," a change making it easier for the state to target its domestic critics.

The bill, approved on June 29, must still pass through parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, before it is signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has used the so-called "foreign agent" law for the past decade to label and target critics who it feels are engaged in political activity and receive foreign funding.

The new law tweaks that to say all individuals who receive financial support from abroad or who "are under foreign influence" can be defined as "foreign agents." It also broadens the definition of political activities to include a vague clause covering any activities that "contradict the national interests of the Russia Federation."

Individuals who are officially labeled as "foreign agents" will no longer be able to receive state grants for creative activities, work as teachers, organize public events, or work at structures that distribute information.

Russia already maintains multiple lists of individuals and entities it considers to be working as "foreign agents."

Among other things, the designation requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance, and which are considered by the government to be engaged in political activities, to register as "foreign agents," to identify themselves as such, and to submit to cumbersome audits.

They also must label any content they produce with an intrusive disclaimer or face criminal fines for not doing so. Kremlin critics say the "foreign agent" designation brings up Soviet-era connotations that are intended to stigmatize any independent civic activity in Russia.

The "foreign agent" law has been increasingly used by officials to shutter civil society and media groups in Russia.

The original 2012 legislation targeted NGOs and rights groups but has since been expanded to target media organizations, individual journalists, YouTube vloggers, and virtually anyone who receives money from outside of Russia and, in the eyes of the Kremlin, voices a political opinion.

RFE/RL has 18 Russian-national journalists on the government's "foreign agents" list.

The U.S. government-funded independent broadcaster suspended its operations in Russia in March after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against its Russian entity and police intensified pressure on its journalists.

The bankruptcy proceedings stemmed from the company's refusal to comply with the labeling mandate or pay the millions of dollars in fines that have piled up for not adhering to the law.

RFE/RL has rejected the “foreign agent” label, saying it connotes that it is an enemy of the state.

Kazakh Official Says Six People Arrested After January Unrest Were Tortured To Death

Kazakh Deputy Prosecutor-General Aset Shyndaliev (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's deputy prosecutor-general, Aset Shyndaliev, says six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in January anti-government protests that led to the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his relatives from the oil-rich Central Asian nation's political scene.

Shyndaliev said in a statement on June 29 that 232 individuals died during the protests, which were violently dispersed by law enforcement and armed forces. The previous death toll provided by the authorities was 230, including 19 law enforcement officers.

Shyndaliev added that eight officers of the Committee of National Security (KNB) and a police officer had been arrested on a charge of torturing suspects. Overall, he said, 15 officers are suspected of using torture and illegal methods of interrogation on people arrested during and after the unrest.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said earlier that 25 people were officially considered victims of torture by hot irons, which investigators used on them during interrogations related to the deadly unrest.

'Burned With An Iron': Relatives Say Detainees Tortured After Massive Kazakh Protests
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Shyndaliev's comments come amid demands by rights activists and some who survived the brutality for more transparency to get justice for the victims in ongoing probes over the use of torture.

Thousands of people were detained by officials during and after the protests, which President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said were caused by "20,000 terrorists" from abroad, a claim for which authorities have provided no evidence.

The unrest occurred after a peaceful demonstration over a fuel-price hike in the tightly controlled nation's western region of Manghystau on January 2 led to widespread anti-government protests.

What's Behind The State Of Emergency And Protests Erupting Across Kazakhstan?
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Human rights groups say the number of people killed was much higher than any of the figures provided by officials. The groups have provided evidence proving that peaceful demonstrators and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.

The government has not published the names of those killed during and after the unrest and has rejected calls by domestic and international human rights organizations to launch an international probe into the deaths.

Zelenskiy Asks NATO Allies For Modern Heavy Weapons, More Financial Support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy address NATO leaders via a video link on June 29.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told NATO leaders that his country needs more advanced heavy weapons and additional financial support to stave off Russia's unprovoked invasion, warning that Moscow's ambitions won't stop with Ukraine.

"We need to break the Russian artillery advantage...We need much more modern systems, modern artillery," Zelenskiy told a NATO summit in Madrid via a video link on June 29, adding that financial support was "no less important than aid with weapons."

"This is not a war being waged by Russia against only Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe -- for what the future world order will be like," Zelenskiy said.

WATCH: Polish and Lithuanian leaders have expressed support for Ukraine and stressed the need for additional military assistance to Kyiv in the face of the ongoing Russian invasion. Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda talked to RFE/RL on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid on June 29.

Polish, Lithuanian Leaders Call For More Military Help For Ukraine At NATO Summit
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He also pressed the allies for more financial aid, saying that Ukraine needs $5 billion monthly for its defense and protection against Russia's aggression.

He also rhetorically asked why NATO's ties with Kyiv have not been closer: “Hasn’t our contribution to defending Europe and the entire civilization been sufficient? What else is necessary?”

Zelenskiy called for more sanctions on Russia that will prevent from getting the money to pay for the war.

"Russia still receives billions every day and spends them on war. We have a multibillion-dollar deficit, we don't have oil and gas to cover it," Zelensky said.

Three Belarusian 'Railway Guerrillas' May Face Death Penalty

The Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center has identified the three men as Dzyanis Dzikun (left), Aleh Malchanau (center), and Dzmitry Ravich (file photo)

MINSK -- Three Belarusian activists who were arrested for allegedly damaging railways in the country to disrupt Russian arms and troops supply to war-torn Ukraine may face the death penalty if convicted.

The Investigative Committee said on June 29 that a probe launched into the case of the three activists in the southeastern region of Homel had been completed, with the suspects expected to face trial in the near future.

The three men were among some 60 activists arrested for their alleged involvement in damaging Belarus's railways to impede the progress of Russian troops and arms to Ukraine as part of Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The other cases are still being investigated.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The Investigative Committee did not identify the trio, giving only their ages -- 29, 33, and 51 -- and calling them 'traitors of the motherland."

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center has identified the men as Dzmitry Ravich, Dzyanis Dzikun, and Aleh Malchanau, all from the southeastern city of Svetlahorsk.

They have been charged with being members of an extremist group, carrying out a terrorist act, inflicting premeditated damage to communication lines, and high treason.

The campaign called "railways war" was initiated in Belarus by a group called BYPOL. Those involved in the campaign have been nicknamed "railway guerrillas."

Belarus is not a direct participant in the war in Ukraine, but it has provided logistical support to Russia for the invasion by allowing Russian forces to enter Ukraine via Belarusian territory.

Western nations have slapped Belarus, like Russia, with an ever-increasing list of financial sanctions in response to the Kremlin's war on Ukraine, and for Belarus's efforts to aid the Russian invasion.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty.

In May, the country's authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a controversial law amending the Criminal Code that allowed the use of capital punishment for "attempted terrorist acts."

Britain Announces New Russia Sanctions List That Includes Potanin And Putin's Cousin

Billionaire Vladimir Potanin (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

The United Kingdom has announced new sanctions aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, including his close ally Vladimir Potanin, the country's second-wealthiest man with an estimated net worth of more than $30 billion.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement on June 29 that Potanin "continues to amass wealth as he supports Putin’s regime, acquiring Rosbank, and shares in Tinkoff Bank in the period since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."

The sanctions include an asset freeze, travel ban, and transport measures that make it a criminal offence for any Russian aircraft to fly or land in the United Kingdom, and give the government powers to remove aircraft belonging to designated Russian individuals and entities from the U.K. aircraft register, even if the sanctioned individual is not on board.

The statement added that Anna Tsivileva, Putin’s cousin and president of the prominent Russian coal mining company, JSC Kolmar Group, has also been sanctioned. Tsivileva’s husband, Sergey Tsivilev, is the governor of the coal-rich Kemerovo region.

The couple have "significantly benefitted" from their relationship with Putin. JSC Kolmar Group is also being sanctioned, the statement said.

"As long as Putin continues his abhorrent assault on Ukraine, we will use sanctions to weaken the Russian war machine. Today’s sanctions show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin’s inner circle," the statement quoted a government spokesperson as saying.

The statement said that the British government is also sanctioning a group of Russian individuals and companies for their involvement in "repressing civilians and supporting" the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria -- "exposing Russia’s malign activity across the globe."

Since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Britain has sanctioned more than 1,000 people and over 120 businesses.

Kyrgyz TV Station Director Detained Over Report On Ukraine War Faces Additional Charge

Taalaibek Duishembiev's pretrial detention has been extended until at least August 3. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The director of the NEXT television channel in Kyrgyzstan, who is currently under arrest over the airing of a controversial report in which an interviewee alleged the existence of an agreement between Bishkek and Moscow to send troops to assist Russian armed forces in the war against Ukraine, now faces an additional charge.

Taalaibek Duishembiev's lawyer, Timur Sultanov, said on June 29 that his client faces another charge of inciting ethnic hatred over an unspecified report posted on Instagram in early March.

A day earlier, a court in Bishkek extended Duishembiev's pretrial detention until at least August 3.

Duishembiev was arrested and charged with inciting interethnic hatred in early March.

The initial charge stemmed from a report by the channel that quoted the exiled former chief of the Committee for National Security of neighboring Kazakhstan, Alnur Musaev, as saying that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had agreed to support Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by sending troops to help Russia.

NEXT officials have insisted the report was balanced as it quoted Musaev directly while giving other people's views on the issue as well.

There has been no evidence of Tajik or Kyrgyz troops fighting in Ukraine since the invasion was launched on February 24.

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has rejected the report and called on local media outlets to base their reporting on the ongoing war in Ukraine solely on official government statements.

Domestic and international human rights organizations have demanded Duishembiev's release, saying that his arrest violates freedom of expression.

Biden Says U.S. To Strengthen European Posture In Face Of Russian Aggression

U.S. President Joe Biden (left) with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance's summit in Madrid on June 29.

President Joe Biden says the United States will change its military posture in Europe because of threats resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking as he was greeted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a summit of the alliance on June 29, Biden said the United States would raise the number of destroyers it has in Spain from four to six. He also said Washington will send two additional F-35 squadrons to Britain and establish a 5th Army headquarters in Poland.

The alliance is needed more today "than it ever has been," Biden said, adding that NATO will be "strengthened in all directions across every domain -- land, air and sea."

Moscow-Imposed Administration Plans Referendum In Ukraine's Kherson On Joining Russia

Kherson has been fully under Russian control since early March. (file photo)

The Moscow-installed military administration ruling the area around the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson said it is preparing to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

"Yes, we are preparing for a referendum -- and we will hold it," Kirill Stremoussov, the deputy head of Kherson's military and civil administration, said in a video published on Telegram.

Stremoussov said Kherson should become "a full-fledged member" of Russia.

Russian-installed officials said earlier that their security forces had detained Kherson Mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on June 28 after he refused to follow Moscow's orders. A local official said the mayor was kidnapped.

Kherson, an important port on the Black Sea, has been fully under Russian control since early March, just weeks after Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Missile Strike Kills At Least Three In Mykolayiv Residential Building

The aftermath of a deadly missile strike in Mykolayiv on June 29.

A missile strike killed at least three people in a residential building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv on June 29 in an attack that Russia said was meant to destroy a training base for foreign fighters.

Mykolayiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said eight Russian missiles had struck the city, including an apartment block. Photographs showed smoke billowing from a four-story building with its upper floor partly destroyed.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement quoted by TASS that its forces carried out strikes on a military training base for "foreign mercenaries" near Mykolayiv.

Mykolayiv, a river port and shipbuilding center just off the Black Sea, has been a Ukrainian stronghold against Russia's westward push in the direction of Odesa.

The Mykolayiv strike took place just two days after Russia hit a commercial center in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, killing at least 18 people. Dozens of people were still missing on June 29.

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