U.S. Envoy To Belarus Says Referendum 'Unmistakably' Linked To Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "unmistakably" linked with a referendum in Belarus over the weekend that tightened authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's grip on power and ended the country's nuclear-free status, Julie Fisher, the U.S. special envoy for Belarus, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service in an interview.
Fisher said in the interview that there was no indication Belarusian citizens supported the initiatives, which were approved by around two-thirds of those who cast ballots, according to election officials, in a referendum that several governments and civil society groups said failed to meet international standards.
The changes to the constitution allow Lukashenka, 67, the possibility to rule until 2035, offer him a new lever of power, and abolish a section of the constitution defining Belarus as a “nuclear-free zone,” possibly paving the way for the return of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus.
The vote came against the backdrop of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow using Belarusian territory as a staging ground for parts of the attack.
"With the unprovoked attacks on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, we were able to see -- even before the official day of voting on the proposed constitutional amendments -- what those changes mean in Belarus," Fisher said.
"They mean the people of Belarus can be dragged into wars they do not want to fight against a neighboring country with which many Belarusians have close ties. It is clear this is not what the people of Belarus want," she added.
Lukashenka proposed the constitutional changes following domestic and international backlash over his violent crackdown on dissent after an August 2020 presidential election that he claims gave him a sixth consecutive term. The opposition says the vote was rigged.
With the results of the February 27 referendum never in doubt, many Belarusians heeded the call of opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to use the vote to protest the war against Ukraine.
Fisher lauded the efforts of the demonstrators, hundreds of whom were detained by police, calling the show of dissent "a significant development."
"While they were not as large as the protests after the fraudulent 2020 election, they came after months and months of the authorities arresting, beating, and torturing protesters and anybody else they thought was expressing disagreement with how they were operating," Fisher said.
"It takes great bravery to protest in public in such an environment. And, as they have since 2020, the people of Belarus demonstrated their courage by standing up for what they believe in. And, as they have done since 2020, hundreds of them paid a price for that, arrested by a regime that cannot tolerate even the slightest display of dissent or disagreement," she added.
The U.S. envoy, who was approved by the Senate in 2020 as the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008, has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa in response to the harsh economic sanctions Washington has imposed on Lukashenka and other members of his regime because of the election and subsequent crackdown on dissent.
Fisher's comments came after the United States announced on February 28 that it had suspended operations at the embassy in Minsk "due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”
She said Washington "had no choice but to close the embassy in Minsk because of the hostile and restrictive actions of the Belarusian authorities."
Fisher added that because the decision to suspend operations happened "quickly," there is still a range of pending issues that need to be worked out at the State Department on the path forward.
"Our diplomats in Minsk [on February 28] lowered the American flag and took it with them when they left Belarus. The flag flew there for more than 30 years, a visible sign of the American presence, the hand of friendship, and the assistance that the United States offered to the people of Belarus," she said.
"We look forward to the day when the U.S. flag once again flies over the United States Embassy in Minsk," Fisher added.
Three Europeans Return Home After Release By Iran In Prisoner Swap
Three Europeans returned home on June 3, a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men -- two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane -- were released on June 2 by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
EU's Top Diplomat Discusses Ukraine's Ammunition Needs With South Korea
The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said he met South Korea's defense minister on June 3 to discuss Ukraine's needs for ammunition. The meeting on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia's top security summit, came amid pressure from the United States and NATO countries for South Korea to provide weapons and ammunition for Ukraine. "Good meeting with Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup at #SLD23. Shared alarm at continued DPRK provocations and discussed Ukraine's needs for ammunition," Borrell wrote on Twitter. A U.S. ally and major producer of artillery ammunition, South Korea had so far ruled out sending lethal aid to Ukraine, citing business ties with Russia and Moscow's influence over North Korea, despite mounting pressure from Washington and Europe to supply weapons. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Turkey To Send Reinforcements For NATO Force In Kosovo
Turkey will send a battalion as reinforcements for the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR in Kosovo, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on June 3. A "reserve force" is scheduled to arrive on June 4 and 5, the ministry said. The unit has previously served under KFOR, it added. The deployment comes amid recently escalating tensions in the tiny Balkan country's north. Ankara urges restraint on both sides in "brotherly Kosovo" to help resolve the conflict that has "damaged regional stability," the Turkish statement read. Turkey has traditionally had good relations with predominantly Muslim Kosovo. There were serious clashes over the past week in northern Kosovo involving local Serbs and NATO soldiers.
Iran Says To Form Naval Alliance With Persian Gulf States To Ensure Regional Stability
Iran's navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Persian Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on June 3. "The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area," Iranian naval commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon. Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Persian Gulf Arab states. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Ready To Launch Its Long-Awaited Counteroffensive
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says his country is ready to launch its much-anticipated counteroffensive to liberate territory occupied by Russian forces while warning that it could take some time and be costly.
"We strongly believe that we will succeed,” Zelenskiy said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on June 3.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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"I don’t know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready,” he added.
Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian Army had not received "all the weapons it hoped for, but we can't wait any longer."
Zelenskiy said last month his country needed more weaponry, including armored vehicles, before it could launch its long-awaited counteroffensive.
The Ukrainian president has been pushing for more military aid and weapons from Western countries.
Russia has captured Ukrainian territory in the east, south, and southeast.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine urgently needed more U.S.- made Patriot missile-defense systems to protect its citizens from Russian air strikes and to shield troops fighting on the front lines.
He said a lack of protection from Russian aerial attacks means "a large number of soldiers will die”" in the counteroffensive.
Separately, Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov told Reuters on June 3 that the goal of an "unprecedented" wave of Russian missile and drone attacks across the country in recent weeks was to stop the counteroffensive.
Speaking on the sidelines of a top security conference in Singapore, Havrylov called Russia's heavy use of ballistic missiles in May a "last strategic resort" and said that his country's air-defense systems had been "more than 90 percent effective" against the attacks.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-connected Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who controls the notorious Wagner mercenary group, said on June 3 that Kremlin factions were weakening the state by trying to undermine him.
In a message posted by his press service, Prigozhin accused unnamed officials in the Russian elite of "playing dangerous games," adding that they had "opened Pandora's box."
Prigozhin repeated his past criticisms of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, saying that the Defense Ministry was "not in a state to do anything at all."
With reporting by Reuters
Zelenskiy Orders Audit Of Ukraine's Shelters After Three Killed By Debris
President Volodomyr Zelenskiy has ordered an audit of all of Ukraine's air raid shelters after a 9-year-old girl, her mother, and another woman were killed by falling fragments of a missile after being unable to enter a Kyiv shelter that was reportedly locked during a Russian attack.
The deaths caused a public outcry.
Zelenskiy said on June 1 he had ordered the industries minister and his interior minister to conduct a "full audit of bomb shelters.”
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Police opened a criminal investigation into the three deaths near a medical clinic in the Desnyan district of Kyiv amid intensified Russian attacks on the Ukrainian capital since the start of May.
The Prosecutor-General's Office said four people were detained in connection with the closed shelter of a medical facility. They face criminal charges.
In a video message released late on June 1, Zelenskiy said shelters "must be kept accessible. Never again should we see a repeat of the situation that occurred last night in Kyiv."
He suggested local authorities could be prosecuted for failing to make shelters available to residents.
"If this duty is not fulfilled at the local level, it is the direct duty of law enforcement bodies to prosecute,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said his government will make sure those who put people are risk due to "their negligence" will be punished.
"The punishment will be severe so that such egregious cases do not happen again," Shmyhal said on June 1.
Officials said they were also auditing shelters in Lviv, Vinnytsya, and Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa
Scholz Defends Ukraine Aid When Protesters Disrupt His Speech At Party Gathering
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz fiercely defended sending aid to Ukraine after protesters shouted at him during a speech at a gathering of his party in Falkensee near Berlin. The protesters shouted phrases such as "warmongers" and "Create peace without weapons" during Scholz’s speech on June 2. Scholz shouted back, telling the disruptors that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the true warmonger and if they "had any sense" they would be shouting at him. Scholz also made clear that he sees no alternative to supporting Ukraine, not just in principle but also with weapons, given Russia's full-scale invasion.
Report: Secretive Real Estate Holdings On Moscow's Outskirts Linked To Putin Family
Family members of Russian President Vladimir Putin quietly acquired several plots of real estate in Moscow’s tony western suburbs near his residence, where a series of luxury homes have been built, a new investigation found.
The findings, by the Russian news site Proyekt, were the latest documenting what some experts believe is a vast, secretive, and lucrative network of assets linked to Putin, his allies, and his family.
Putin officially earns an annual salary of around $140,000, while his publicly declared assets include a 75-meter foot apartment, a trailer, and three cars. But some analysts estimate his wealth -- hidden behind complex financial schemes organized by close associates -- at some $200 billion or more.
In its report released on June 1, Proyekt found that, in 2006, several plots of land near the official government residence of Novo-Ogaryovo, where Putin lives much of the time, were acquired by offshore companies based in Panama and elsewhere.
Putin’s two daughters from his now ex-wife Lyudmila later received the real estate as a form of dowry, Proyekt said.
Putin’s eldest daughter, Maria, settled in one of the locations. Maria, who has used the surname Vorontsova, was married to a Dutch man for several years, though they reportedly have since split and she remarried a Russian oil and gas executive.
Kirill Shamalov, the now ex-husband of Putin’s other daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, reportedly received title to another plot, Proyekt said, not long after he and Tikhonova married in 2013. The couple then conducted extensive renovations on the property worth millions of euros.
Among the refurbished house’s decorations were a handmade gilded chandelier with an estimated value of 72,000 euros ($77,576) and a 19th century painting by revered Russian artist Ivan Shishkin, Proyekt said.
Another plot that was titled to Shamalov was expected to have a house built on it for Lyudmila Putin. She and Putin announced in 2013 that they were ending their marriage, and she later remarried.
According to Proyekt’s findings, in 2013, Shamalov sent a power of attorney regarding the plot to the man whom Lyudmila ultimately remarried.
Shamalov and Tikhonova later separated, and Shamalov has since been hit with financial sanctions starting in 2018 by the United States, Britain, and other countries, for his close ties to Putin.
Shamalov then transferred ownership of the plots he owned to a firm allegedly associated with Arkady Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Putin and billionaire businessman.
Shamalov reportedly sold the properties for significantly less than their estimated land values, Prokyekt said.
Putin’s wealth and assets have been the subject of numerous investigations by Western governments, reporters, and other researchers.
Researchers at Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation have documented a massive mansion on the Black Sea that Putin uses regularly.
And the 2016 “Panama Papers” report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found luxuries linked to Putin and his friends and families, including yachts and real estate inside and outside of Russia.
Navalny's Bizarre Requests, Including Pet Kangaroo, Denied By Russian Prison Authorities In Stilted Language
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on June 2 released excerpts of his correspondence with prison administrators, detailing sarcastic demands for outlandish things such as a bottle of moonshine and a pet kangaroo.
Prison officials denied all of his requests, according to the correspondence often in stilted bureaucratic Russian.
Navalny, 46, is serving sentences that add up to 11 1/2 years for violating the terms of a parole, contempt of court, and embezzlement through fraud that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated and designed to silence him.
He is currently in a punitive solitary confinement at a penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.
“When you are sitting in a punishment isolation cell and have little entertainment, you can have fun with correspondence with the administration,” Navalny said on Twitter in a series of tweets posted on June 2 apparently by his team.
Among the items he requested was a megaphone to be given to the prisoner in a nearby cell “so he can yell even louder.” Another was a request for an inmate who “killed a man with his bare hands” to be awarded with the highest rank in karate.
"The question of awarding eastern martial arts qualifications is not handled by the administration," the prison wrote back on April 28.
Prison officials also turned down requests for moonshine, tobacco for rolling cigarettes, a balalaika, and the kangaroo.
In response to his wish for a pet kangaroo, the prison wrote: "The animal identified in your request relates to the double crested-marsupial.... Your request is left without satisfaction."
In mock outrage over the refusal, Navalny said he would continue to fight for his “inalienable right to own a kangaroo." The politician said inmates can have a pet if the prison administration allows it.
Navalny will mark his 47th birthday on June 4, and there have been calls by his team for protests to support him.
Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 following his arrest one month earlier after he returned from Germany where he was treated for a near-fatal poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement.
He and his team have said the charges against him are were trumped-up because of his efforts to expose corruption in the Russian government.
A Moscow court has set a June 6 date for a hearing for a new trial for Navalny on a charge of extremism, which could keep him in prison for 30 years. He also said an investigator told him that he would also face a separate military court trial on terrorism charges that potentially carry a life sentence.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests
Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.
The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.
The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.
"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.
As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.
The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.
The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.
It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."
Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.
There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.
The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.
Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.
Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.
The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Belarusian Player Sabalenka Skips French Open Press Conference Citing Mental Health
Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka skipped the post-match press conference at the French Open on June 2, citing mental health reasons. After defeating Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, the world No. 2 instead released an interview with the tournament organizers in which she said she had not felt safe at a press conference two days earlier during which she was asked about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and her country's role as a staging ground for Moscow's troops and weapons. Sabalenka said that her choice not to take part in the press conference was supported by the French Open organizers. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Online Tatar Language School To Close As International Educator Leaves Russia
The popular online Tatar language school Ana Tele (The Mother Tongue) has announced its closure as of June 30. The Education Ministry in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan explained on June 2 that the closure is linked to the international Education First (EF) group's decision to leave Russia. The online school was launched in 2013 on the order of the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov. Hosted by the EF's website, the online school had more than 100,000 users from Russia's regions and various countries who registered to study Tatar, which is a Turkic language. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service. click here.
Ethnic Serbs Again Gather In North Kosovo As West Pushes Diplomatic Solution To Crisis
Protesters have again gathered in front of municipal buildings in several cities in northern Kosovo as Western diplomats ratchet up pressure on Pristina to hold fresh elections to defuse tensions over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers earlier this week.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with overwhelming ethnic Serbian majorities -- Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
Reports from the towns said hundreds had showed up to protest again, though the situation remained calm four days after violence flared -- injuring dozens, including peacekeepers -- when the new officials were brought to their offices with the help of special police units. NATO's KFOR peacekeeping troops have since erected a cordon to keep ethnic Serb protesters from accessing the buildings.
The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks on measures to lower tensions between the Balkan neighbors late on June 1, and sources told RFE/RL that the Special Representative of the European Union (EU) for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, and the American envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will visit Pristina and Belgrade next week to push for a diplomatic solution.
The president of Kosovo confirmed that the European Union, France, and Germany have all suggested holding new elections in four municipalities in as a means of defusing tensions over the forced installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors.
So far, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has appeared to be against fresh elections, but on June 2 he acknowledged that another vote could happen at some point.
"Removing violent mobs in front of municipality buildings & full implementation of the [Brussels] Agreement is the way toward de-escalation until new elections," he said, referring to a 2013 deal struck by the country in Brussels to normalize relations some five years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
But later, in a speech at parliament, Kurti seemed to fan the flames by blaming the escalation of the situation on Serbia.
"The escalation of the situation on May 29 was planned, well-organized and had an author," Kurti told lawmakers in parliament.
"The author is official Belgrade," he added.
That prompted an immediate response by the Serb minority political party Serbian List (Srpska Lista).
"How much of a farce is everything that Kurti said today in the assembly, and the fact that he labeled honorable people, women, disabled people, and even some who are in the hospital, and have not been in the north of Kosovo for weeks now, as criminals and protest organizers," the party said.
The by-elections at the center of the current unrest were sparked by mass resignations in November 2022 by influential Serbian mayors, police, and other officials essential to the "parallel system" that helps local Serbs avoid recognizing Kosovar institutions.
The mayoral buildings in all but North Mitrovica have been controlled for years by the so-called "parallel" institutions run by Serbs and backed by neighboring Serbia, which 15 years after Kosovo's declaration of independence still doesn't recognize its former province's sovereignty. Neither do Russia or China.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic used a major rally in Belgrade last week to condemn Kosovo's swearing-in of ethnic Albanian "alleged mayors" in the north without local Serbs' votes.
Officials in neighboring Serbia have demanded as part of EU- and U.S.-mediated talks over the past decade that Pristina fulfill the 2013 Brussels Agreement to establish an association of Serb municipalities to represent the majority-Serb communities.
Kurti came to power in 2020 and again in 2021 pledging to impose greater “reciprocal” measures on Serbia and accelerate efforts to achieve full international recognition for his country. He has resisted forming the association.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Kosovar and Serbian leaders to ease tensions, warning they were putting their aspirations of European integration at risk.
Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death
A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.
Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.
According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”
The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.
The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."
Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.
Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."
Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.
Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.
Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”
Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.
According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens
European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.
Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.
“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."
Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.
The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.
A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.
Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.
Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.
The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.
Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.
The NCRI called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."
Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Pashinian Says Armenia Is Not Russia's Ally In Moscow's War With Ukraine
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." In an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague, broadcast late on June 1, Pashinian said Armenia's membership in Russia-led groupings creates the opinion in the West that Yerevan is Moscow's ally, while Russian authorities understand that Armenia is not their ally in the war against Ukraine. "So, in this situation, we are nobody's ally," Pashinian said, adding that it is difficult for Yerevan to continue to maneuver between the West and Moscow as the situation gets "more complicated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Russian Activists Under Pressure Over Pro-Navalny Rally Scheduled For June 4
Police in Russia have warned activists of possible repercussions for their participation in nationwide rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, scheduled for June 4, his birthday. Anton Kartavin, a municipal lawyer in Novosibirsk, and local activist Irina Selishcheva were detained for questioning on June 2 and handed written warnings about the consequences for taking part in "extremist activities." Kartavin said he had nothing to do with the planned rallies. Meanwhile, blogger Sergei Veselov in the city of Shuya was charged with violating regulations for holding public events over his announcement of rallies on his Telegram channel. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
- By Current Time
Ukraine Freezes More Assets Under Name Of Pro-Russian Politician's Wife
KYIV -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.
The SBU said on June 2 that the assets, estimated to have a value of 740 million hryvnyas ($19.8 million), are related to stakes Marchenko owned via offshore schemes in several energy transportation companies located in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa -- Eximnaftoprodukt, Sintez Oil, Sintez Transit, Ukrloadsystem, Odesnaftoprodukt, Black Sea Fuel Terminal, and Albion Commodities.
"The freezing of these assets will prevent their re-registration under other fake names and will allow them to be transferred for our state's needs," the SBU statement said.
Marchenko's husband, Viktor Medvedchuk, is a longtime Ukrainian political fixture and reportedly a godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter. Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia.
Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million).
In April, Ukraine's Interior Ministry added Marchenko, who is not in Ukraine, to its wanted list, saying she is suspected of financing actions to forcibly disrupt Ukraine's constitutional order, seize power, and change the state borders of Ukraine.
Ukraine sanctioned Medvedchuk in February 2021, freezing his assets, and took off the air three television stations it said belonged to him for promoting Russian propaganda.
He was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and terrorism financing and later placed under house arrest on bail.
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Medvedchuk escaped house arrest, but he was rearrested in April while trying to flee to Russia.
In June, a court in Ukraine banned the Medvedchuk-led pro-Russia Opposition Platform -- For Life political party.
In September, Ukrainian authorities handed the 68-year-old politician over to Russia in a prisoner exchange.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has since stripped Medvedchuk and three other pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians of their Ukrainian citizenship.
Belarusian Union Activist Sentenced To 42 Months On Charge Of Insulting Lukashenka
A court in Minsk has sentenced union activist and genetics scientist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to 42 months in prison for allegedly insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent and civil society in Belarus.
The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Kandratsyuk after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, discrediting the country, and inciting social hatred.
Kandratsyuk was initially arrested in September and handed a 13-day jail term, but he was not released after serving the sentence and instead was sent back to pretrial detention. The reason for his initial arrested remains unclear.
Vyasna also said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court is currently trying 21-year-old activist Dzmitry Hudzeyeu on charges of organizing the actions of a terrorist group and the creation of an extremist group.
It remains unclear what exactly the charges stem from. Last month, Belarusian KGB added Hudzeyeu to its terrorist registry. If convicted, Hudzeyeu may face up to 12 years in prison.
Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.
Thousands of others have been detained and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.
U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same
The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia
Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
- By AP
U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court
American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia
Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."
Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine
The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.
Pakistani Human Rights Activist Returns Home After Abduction
Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir has returned home after being abducted by unidentified armed men in the southern city of Karachi.
"With the prayers and efforts of all friends and colleagues, especially journalists, lawyers and bar councils, civil society and politicians, I have returned home safely," Nasir said on Twitter on June 2.
He also pledged to continue his struggle for the rights of Pakistanis.
In a separate tweet, he thanked his wife, who he said had suffered the ordeal of his abduction and yet kept calm and focused on the struggle for his return.
He did not say who abducted him or the circumstances of his release. No one has claimed responsibility.
Nasir has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations in the country and represented victims as a lawyer in a number of prominent cases.
He has recently criticized the arrests of leaders of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party and the move to try them in military courts following violent protests earlier month.
Dozens of protesters earlier held a rally in Karachi to demand his release after his wife, Mansha Pasha, said on Twitter that he had been kidnapped by armed men on June 1 in Karachi.
The men took Nasir away but left her unharmed, said Pasha, a prominent actress, who asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted, and Amnesty International called on Pakistani authorities to investigate.
Nasir's abduction comes amid an ongoing crackdown against supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
Violence erupted after Khan's arrest on May 9 outside a court in Islamabad where he was appearing in a graft case.
The turmoil subsided only when the Supreme Court released Khan.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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