Accessibility links

Breaking News



COVID-19: Afghanistan Freeing Thousands Of Inmates; Romania Surpasses 1,000 Cases

A patient suspected of having the coronavirus is brought to an infectious-diseases hospital in Kommunarka, Moscow, on March 25.
A patient suspected of having the coronavirus is brought to an infectious-diseases hospital in Kommunarka, Moscow, on March 25.

The global death toll from the coronavirus has reached nearly 24,000 with more than 526,000 infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered the release of up to 10,000 prison inmates in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Ghani’s decree was directed at women, young offenders, critically ill patients, and prisoners aged more than 55, Attorney General Farid Hamidi told a Kabul news conference on March 26.

Calling the move a “responsible decision to safeguard the health of the people,” Hamidi said the decree “is not for those who have committed crimes against national and international security."

The announcement comes as Afghanistan's government is negotiating a prisoner exchange with Taliban as a confidence-building measure ahead of proposed peace talks under a U.S.-brokered process.

Afghanistan has recorded 90 confirmed coronavirus cases and two deaths, according to a tally on March 26 compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

However, the true figures are feared to be much higher as the war-torn country struggles to administer tests and screen an influx of Afghans returning from neighboring Iran -- one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Ghani's decree calls for a special committee to be set up to prepare a list of prisoners to be released.

Prisons chief Ahmad Rashed Totakhail said between 9,000 and 10,000 inmates would be released during the coming 10 days.

An official in Ghani's office said “several thousand prisoners will be released soon.” He also insisted that those freed would not include members of the Taliban or the Islamic State militant group.


Ukraine has reported 40 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours as the government has implemented an additional measure to maintain physical distancing in public transport.

The Health Ministry’s Center for Public Health says there are 196 confirmed laboratory cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness in the country as of 10 p.m. on March 26.

On the same day, the cabinet issued a nationwide directive limiting passengers in all public transportation. All above-ground transportation such as minibuses, buses, trolleybuses, and trams should only ride up to half capacity.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, in an online video address to the nation reiterated the country’s decision to shut cross-border travel after March 27, including for Ukrainian nationals.

Why A Thorough Handwashing Can Be A Lifesaver
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:35 0:00

He also added that 100,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests from South Korea for the coronavirus will be delivered on March 27.

On the same day, Zelenskiy said that "200,000 medical respirators, protective suits for doctors, 100,000 PCR tests, ventilators, [and] a large number of masks for pharmacies” will be delivered from China.


Romania surpassed 1,000 cases of the coronavirus on March 26, one month after the first confirmed infection there, prompting the resignation of the country's health minister.

Authorities on March 26 reported 123 more infections and four more deaths during the previous 24 hours, bringing the total in Romania to 1,029 confirmed cases with 18 deaths.

Health Minister Victor Costache resigned on March 26 amid criticism of the government's handling of the outbreak.

President Klaus Iohannis appointed a deputy minister, Nelu Tataru, to replace Costache.

Tataru has been one of the main public faces of the government's response to the crisis.

Costache on March 25 said all of Bucharest's population would be tested for COVID-19, a plan widely criticized as unfeasible and misguided.

Romania's hospitals have struggled to cope with an increasing number of patients.

Health workers say they do not have access to testing and adequate equipment with only about 16,000 people tested so far.

Out of 18 deaths, eight were patients at a hospital in the northeastern city of Suceava, a facility that has become the center of Romania's coronavirus outbreak.

Big Brother Vs. The Coronavirus
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:05:35 0:00

Eleven other Romanian coronavirus patients have died abroad -- eight in Italy, two in France, and one in Britain.

About 4 million Romanians work abroad, most of them in Italy and Spain, Europe's worst-affected countries.

Romania declared a state of emergency on March 16 and went into a "total quarantine" on March 25, with army troops deployed to help enforce the order.

Iohannis on March 26 reiterated his appeal to Romanians to obey the lockdown order and remain at home.


The Russian government has ordered the suspension of all regular and charter flights in and out of the country effective from March 27 as the country battles to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Russian officials on March 26 reported a total of 840 confirmed coronavirus infections in the country, up from 658 a day before, with 136 of the new cases in Moscow alone.

Russia's coronavirus task force also confirmed the country's first two deaths from COVID-19, describing the victims as elderly patients from the Moscow region who were suffering from pneumonia and complications.

On March 19, Moscow health authorities had reported the death of a 79-year-old woman as coronavirus-related, but hours later a new statement was released saying an autopsy had confirmed the woman had died of a blood clot and not from the virus.

"Regular and charter flights from Russian airports to and from foreign airports are to be suspended starting at midnight on March 27, 2020, with the exception of flights aimed at bringing Russian nationals back from overseas…and flights carried out in accordance with the government’s decisions,” the government said on its website.

Russia had already put restrictions in place regarding air transportation.

As of March 23, Russian airlines were only allowed to service foreign capitals or large cities like New York and only from Moscow airports.

The moves come as countries throughout the world are restricting entry and exit from their borders in attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 25, President Vladimir Putin postponed next month's referendum on sweeping constitutional changes that could allow him to remain in power until 2036 because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Putin said a new date for the April 22 vote would be determined based on the recommendations of health experts.

Putin’s announcement came after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered provincial governors to move at a quicker pace to provide hospital beds for coronavirus patients, while Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered the closure of all the capital's eateries, shopping malls, and parks from March 28 to April 5.

Later on March 26, Putin proposed at a Group of 20 (G20) video conference that a freeze be placed on economic sanctions to allow countries to better combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is accusing the Russian government of stepping up control of news reporting in connection with the coronavirus pandemic on the “pretext” of combating disinformation.

In a statement on March 26, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said Russian journalists covering the coronavirus crisis are being targeted by Roskomnadzor, the country’s media regulator, which it has included in its list of Digital Predators of Press Freedom.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, urged the Russian authorities not to “take advantage of this epidemic to restrict press freedom.”

Cavelier also called for “the repeal of the excessively vague ‘fake news’ law,” which she said “violates the freedom to inform.”

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Interactive Coronavirus Map

Updated constantly with the latest figures


Iran has announced 157 new deaths from the coronavirus, raising the official toll to 2,234, as a ban on intercity travel came into effect amid fears of a second wave of infections in one of the world's worst-hit countries

Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told a news conference that a record-breaking 2,389 new cases have been confirmed over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of declared infections to 29,406.

Jahanpur said that the spread of the new coronavirus and its rate of infection was "growing steadily" in Iran.

The travel ban was imposed after officials had complained that many Iranians ignored the authorities' advice to stay at home and cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.

"Those who have traveled for the Iranian New Year holidays should immediately return to their cities without making any stop in the cities on their way back home," Hossein Zolfaghari, a member of Iran's national headquarters for fighting the coronavirus, said on March 26.

Ukrainian DJ Goes Online During COVID-19 Lockdown
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:35 0:00

"The closure of universities and schools as well as the suspension of gatherings has been extended," Zolfaghari said, adding that violators of the measures will face legal consequences.

On March 25, the government warned about the danger of ignoring the authorities' travel guidelines.

"This could cause a second wave of the coronavirus," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to state TV.

President Hassan Rohani said Iran will contain the coronavirus spread in two weeks, adding that further measures have been taken to ease the economic impact of the outbreak on lower-income citizens.

"We will send a letter to Iran's supreme leader today to seek permission for the withdrawal of $1 billion from Iran's sovereign wealth fund," Rohani said in a meeting, broadcast live on state TV.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters.

Iran has rejected an offer from the Geneva-based medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to set up a 50-bed inflatable hospital in the central city of Isfahan to deal with the outbreak.

It has also refused the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.

Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile programs.


Kazakhstan's two largest cities will implement lockdown measures.

The fresh restrictions were announced on March 26 as Kazakhstan's government confirmed the country's first death from coronavirus.

Residents of Nur-Sultan and Almaty will be barred from leaving their homes except for work or to buy food or medicines, starting from March 28, the government said.

Authorities will also close all intercity transport terminals and public spaces in Shymkent, Kazakhstan's third-largest city, in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the government said.

Kazakhstan on March 26 had confirmed 109 cases.


Uzbekistan has announced the first confirmed death from the coronavirus even as it stepped up measures to stem the spread of the pandemic in the Central Asian nation.

The Health Ministry on March 27 said a 72-year-old man in the city of Namangan had suffered from other medical ailments before contracting the coronavirus.

Namangan, in the Ferghana Valley, is the second-largest Uzbek city after the capital, Tashkent, to impose a lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of early March 27, Uzbekistan has confirmed 75 cases of infection to the COVID-19 virus. Experts warn, however, that it is impossible to know the true number of infections in any country because of a lack of testing.

Uzbekistan, a country of 32 million people, has locked down several cities and districts, including the capital, Tashkent, where municipal authorities imposed restrictions on movements on March 24.

On March 27, authorities in the province of Navoi said they were locking down the cities of Navoi and Zarafshan.

On the same day, officials in Bukhara, a major tourism area, said they would close the city’s borders.

Municipal authorities announced restrictions in Samarkand and in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijon on March 26.

Authorities also said they were offering large bonus payment for workers in the medical field after at least 11 infections were reported among such workers.

Doctors every two weeks are to receive $2,500 -- several times their normal monthly pay -- while nurses and laboratory workers will get $1,500, junior medical workers $1,000, and others $500, according to a Reuters report.


Armenia has reported its first death related to the coronavirus outbreak after a 72-year-old female patient died in hospital.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Alina Nikoghosian on March 26 said the patient was being treated at the intensive care department of Yerevan’s Nork Infectious Disease Clinical Hospital when she passed away.

A total of 290 people have been officially diagnosed with the coronavirus in Armenia -- the highest number among South Caucasus countries.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that two elderly patients were in critical condition, one of whom is a U.S. citizen.

Health authorities say 18 people have recovered from the respiratory illness.

Armenia introduced a one-month state of emergency on March 16 in a bid to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Since March 25, police have been enforcing a nationwide lockdown after new restrictions were imposed to limit freedom of movement.

With reporting by Reuters, TASS, AFP, AP, Akipress, and Interfax

More News

Russian 'Disinformation' Hyped Paris Bedbug Scare, French Deputy Minister Says

A biocide technician removes pillowcases to prevent the alleged spread of bedbugs in an apartment in L'Hay-les-Roses, near Paris in September 2023.
A biocide technician removes pillowcases to prevent the alleged spread of bedbugs in an apartment in L'Hay-les-Roses, near Paris in September 2023.

A bedbug scare in Paris last year that made headlines across the globe was artificially amplified by social media accounts linked to Russian "disinformation" activities, a French minister said on March 1. "The bedbug polemic was in a very large part amplified by accounts linked to the Kremlin," French European Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told TF1 television. After social media users published videos of the insects crawling around on public transportation, officials called on the government to help stamp out the bugs. A deep inspection was carried out, but authorities said there was no trace of any unusual outbreak.

Wanted Former Wirecard Executive Spied For Russia For Years, Investigative Journalists Say

Jan Marsalek (wiith and without beard) is wanted in Germany and Austria for fraud and embezzlement.
Jan Marsalek (wiith and without beard) is wanted in Germany and Austria for fraud and embezzlement.

The former chief operating officer of the defunct German fintech giant Wirecard, who fled to Russia in 2020 to evade possible prosecution on embezzlement and fraud charges, spied for Moscow for years, according to an investigation by German, Austrian, and Russian media outlets published on March 1.

Among the findings of the investigative article by journalists with ZDF, the German magazine Spiegel, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, and The Insider is that Jan Marsalek, the shady central figure in the implosion of the German digital-payment-services provider, changed his identity while in Russia.

The journalists obtained a copy of Marsalek's current Russian passport in which he is identified as Konstantin Bayazov. The reporters found out that a man with that name is an Orthodox priest residing in the Russian city of Lipetsk southeast of Moscow. The priest resembles Marsalek, and their birthdates are only one year apart.

Marsalek appears to have assumed Bayazov's identity to be able to travel, the investigative journalists reported. The priest said he had no comment on their findings.

"I have told you that you journalists must understand that we cannot speak with you," Bayazov told ZDF.

The investigation also uncovered details about Marsalek's Russian friend Natalia Zlobina, who in 2014 introduced him to Stanislav Petlinsky, who ultimately helped Marsalek establish contacts with representatives of Russia's military intelligence agency (GRU).

Zlobina, a former erotic model who is identified in the investigation as his lover, had been "attached" to Marsalek and assigned to recruit him to collaborate with Russian secret services.

Petlinsky, who calls himself "a security consultant," told the journalists while meeting with them in Dubai that he had introduced Marsalek to "some influential persons in Russia" up to the level of lawmakers, but not to secret service employees and he denied that Marsalek worked for the Russian secret services.

Petlinsky met with Marsalek in his office in Munich opposite the Russian consulate, where Marsalek regularly met with influential people active in politics, business, and national security officials, the investigation reports.

Meanwhile, some security officials in the West say they have information about Petlinsky's cooperation with Russian secret services.

Petlinsky confirmed to the investigative journalists that in 2017 he and Marsalek visited Wagner mercenary group troops in Syria and took part in recruiting Russian mercenaries for military operations in Libya.

The investigation said it was very likely that Marsalek, while representing Wirecard, used a network of firms to buy out assets of Russia's RSB Group, a provider of services to military mercenaries across the world.

Austrian investigators say Marsalek was part of a secret services' cell providing them business opportunities and authority.

"The intensive investigations...substantiate the suspicion and point to an intelligence network that is well established in Austria...around the Austrian citizen Jan Marsalek, who is still a fugitive," a report by the Austrian special investigator said.

In addition, British authorities say Marsalek led a Russian spy network in London that followed individuals the Kremlin did not like, including Christo Grozev of the Bellingcat investigative group, which investigated Marsalek's activities.

Marsalek's lawyer refused to comment on the situation to the investigative journalists.

Wirecard, a company that was once listed in Germany's DAX index of top-tier companies, plunged into crisis in 2020 when auditors pointed to a massive 1.9 billion-euro ($2.06 billion) hole in its accounts, sending the once high-flying company into insolvency.

Marsalek is wanted by German and Austrian authorities on suspicion of embezzlement and fraud.

Since the collapse of Wirecard, interest in Marsalek has expanded beyond his role in Wirecard to include his other business and political interests.

The Financial Times reported in July that Marsalek was a person of interest to at least three Western intelligence agencies over his association with individuals or networks linked to Russia’s GRU.

With reporting by ZDF, Der Spiegel, Standards, and The Insider

Kasparov Says Russia May Shed Some Territories If It Loses War In Ukraine

The former world chess champion also said he believes the United States and the European Union are "afraid" of possible dissolution of Russia if it loses the war in Ukraine.
The former world chess champion also said he believes the United States and the European Union are "afraid" of possible dissolution of Russia if it loses the war in Ukraine.

Self-exiled Russian opposition politician and co-founder of the Free Russia Forum Garry Kasparov told RFE/RL in an interview on March 1 that Russia's current borders may "not necessarily remain" if Moscow loses the war in Ukraine but stressed that a total dissolution of Russia is unlikely.

Among possible regions Kasparov said might separate from the Russian Federation are the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Daghestan, and Chechnya, but he added he doesn't believe everything is clear about what will come after the war.

"At the end of the day economic factors will play a major role in that matter. But it is very important today not to support the position of a united and indivisible Russia," Kasparov said, adding that he believes "the change of Russia's imperial character is necessary for its reformatting."

The 60-year-old former world chess champion said the losses to Russia would be "minimal" but said, "If you reject an empire, then you have to agree that some of its parts can go away in the end.”

The bonds that would make it hard for Russia to dissolve would be mostly economic ties, he said. But if some parts of Russia seceded, it would then become possible to reach new agreements between Russia's territories under what would be a "free confederation."

"It is right, among other things, from a psychological point of view because it will be impossible to build a nonimperial Russia while preserving imperial misconceptions," Kasparov said, speaking with RFE/RL in Vilnius at a gathering of Russian opposition figures.

Kasparov also said he believes the United States and the European Union are "afraid" of possible dissolution of Russia if it loses the war in Ukraine.

This creates problems in West's better understanding of the world and the war in Ukraine and affects the West's support of Kyiv's efforts to stand against Russia's full-scale aggression.

A Ukrainian victory would be a "mighty blow" to Russia, he said, and would “most likely lead to the change of [its] entire political structure.”

Kasparov has said the Russian public does not yet understand that the war is heading toward defeat and that "Putin's dictatorship will not survive."

Kasparov, who currently resides in the United States, is known as a staunch critic of the Kremlin's policies, including the war in Ukraine. He and another prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, were added to Russia’s registry of foreign agents in May 2022.

The Vilnius meeting was the 12th session of the Free Russia Forum.

With reporting by Andrei Grigoryev of RFE/RL's Idel.Realities

Siberian Activist Arrested On Sexual Abuse Charge Now Accused Of Violation Of Foreign Agent Law

Activist Sergei Piskunov used to coordinate activities of the Golos (Voice) movement that monitored elections in Kemerovo, Russia. (file photo)
Activist Sergei Piskunov used to coordinate activities of the Golos (Voice) movement that monitored elections in Kemerovo, Russia. (file photo)

The Telegram channel Kuzbass bez ekstremizma, which is linked to police in Russia's Kemerovo region, said on March 1 that local activist Sergei Piskunov, who was arrested last month on a charge of sexual abuse, is now also accused of violating the law on so-called foreign agents. Piskunov was labeled a foreign agent in 2021. Investigators say Piskunov failed to mark his public materials as created by a foreign agent. Piskunov used to coordinate activities of the Golos (Voice) movement that monitored elections in Kemerovo. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Iranian Grammy Winner Sentenced To Prison, Writing Anti-U.S. Music

Grammy winner Shervin Hajipour has been handed eight months in prison for "propaganda against the establishment" and three years for "encouraging and provoking the public to riot to disrupt national security."
Grammy winner Shervin Hajipour has been handed eight months in prison for "propaganda against the establishment" and three years for "encouraging and provoking the public to riot to disrupt national security."

An Iranian court has sentenced Grammy winner Shervin Hajipour, who was first detained after his song Baraye turned into an anthem of anti-establishment protests in 2022, to nearly four years in prison while also forcing him to write music critical of the United States.

Hajipour shared the news along with a picture of the court verdict on his Instagram account on March 1. He thanked his lawyers for "trying their best" and used a Persian expression that suggested he had no regrets.

Hajipour has been handed eight months in prison for "propaganda against the establishment" and three years for "encouraging and provoking the public to riot to disrupt national security." Hajipour will serve only the longer of the two prison sentences.

The singer and songwriter has also been ordered to "create music about America's crimes against humanity" and "document America's human rights violations in the last century" and publish his findings on social media.

He has also been banned from leaving Iran for two years and ordered, among other things, to publish on social media handwritten notes from religious books about women.

Baraye, whose lyrics were heavily inspired by social media posts from Iranians explaining why they were protesting, won the inaugural Special Merit Award for Best Song For Social Change at the 2023 Grammys.

The protests in 2022 erupted after Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for allegedly wearing "inappropriate" attire, died in police custody. The monthslong unrest gave birth to the "Women, Life, Freedom" movement and presented one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic republic since its inception.

Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested as the authorities cracked down on the protests.

Hajipour was arrested in September 2022 and held for about three weeks before being released on bail.

Iranian Media Says IRGC Commander Killed In Suspected Israeli Strike On Syria

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights said the strikes came at dawn and targeted a villa, killing an Iranian commander and two companions who were not Syrian.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights said the strikes came at dawn and targeted a villa, killing an Iranian commander and two companions who were not Syrian.

An Iranian commander was among three people killed in a suspected Israeli air strike on Syria, Iranian state media reported on March 1.

Reza Zare'i, a "military adviser" with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGC), was killed following strikes on the Syrian coastal city of Banyas, the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency reported. It said he was a member of the IRGC Navy.

Earlier, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights said the strikes came at dawn and targeted a villa, killing an Iranian commander and two companions who were not Syrian.

The IRGC has not commented on the reported death of one of its commanders. Iran refers to its troops in Syria as "military advisers."

At least 11 members of the IRGC, including an Afghan fighter with the Fatemiyun Brigade, have been killed in suspected Israeli strikes in Syria and Lebanon since the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip in October.

Israel launched a deadly offensive against the Palestinian enclave in response to a multipronged attack by Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas attack inside Israel, while more than 250 were taken hostage and brought back to Gaza.

Iran has supported the assault by Hamas but denied it was involved in planning it. U.S. intelligence has indicated that Iranian leaders were surprised by the attack.

Iran's regional allies have been targeting Israeli and U.S. interests in the Middle East following Israel's attack on Gaza. However, armed groups backed by have scaled back their attacks on American bases following a series of U.S. strikes last month, according to the New York Times.

Iran stepped in to defend President Bashar al-Assad in 2013 when his rule was challenged during the Syrian civil war. Hundreds of IRGC commanders and officers and believed to be present in Syria, where Tehran has also built up a large network of militias, consisting mostly of Afghans and Pakistanis.

Austria Refuses Asylum To Karakalpak Activist, Deports Him To Poland

Koshkarbai Toremuratov (file photo)
Koshkarbai Toremuratov (file photo)

Karakalpak activist Koshkarbai Toremuratov has said he was deported by Austria to Poland after Vienna refused to grant him political asylum.

Nazgul Seitbek of the Vienna-based Freedom for Eurasia group said on March 1 that Toremuratov, an Uzbek citizen, was currently in immigration detention at the Warsaw airport, where he applied for asylum.

However, another Karakalpak activist, Nauryzbai Menlibaev, told RFE/RL that Polish authorities ordered Toremuratov to leave the country within 30 days.

Seitbek said human rights lawyers were currently working to provide Toremuratov with legal assistance.

The 48-year-old Toremuratov, a leader of the Karakalpak diaspora in Kazakhstan, went to Poland last fall to take part in a conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where he emphasized what he called the "discrimination" against Karakalpaks in his native Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, which is part of Uzbekistan.

Toremuratov then travelled to Austria, where he applied for political asylum. In mid-February, he was officially informed that his request for asylum in Austria had been rejected.

Before travelling to Europe, Toremuratov spent one year in a detention center in Kazakhstan after he was detained at Uzbekistan's request. Uzbek officials accuse Toremuratov of "posing a threat to Uzbekistan's constitutional order," which Toremuratov and his supporters reject as politically motivated.

Although he was released last fall, Toremuratov says he might be detained in Kazakhstan again and extradited to Uzbekistan, where he says he will face arbitrary arrest and persecution for his activities defending the rights of Karakalpaks.

Toremuratov is one of several Karakalpak activists who spent as much as a year in detention in Kazakhstan after they were arrested at Uzbekistan's request but then later released.

Last month, another Karakalpak activist, Aqylbek Muratov (aka Muratbai), who has resided in Kazakhstan for 10 years, was arrested in Kazakhstan at Uzbekistan's request.

The arrests of Karakalpak activists in Kazakhstan were linked to mass rallies in the region's capital, Nukus, in July 2022. Thousands protested against Tashkent's plans to change the constitution that would have undermined the republic's right to self-determination.

The protests were violently dispersed. Uzbek authorities said at the time that 21 people died during the protests, but the Freedom for Eurasia group said at least 70 people were killed during the unrest.

Last year, an Uzbek court sentenced dozens of Karakalpak activists to lengthy prison terms on charges including undermining the constitutional order for taking part in the protests.

The violence forced Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.

Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.

Thousands Gather At Moscow Church For Navalny's Funeral

Russian Prosecutor Seeks 8 Years For Journalist Over Ukraine War Coverage

Another RusNews journalist, Maria Ponomarenko, was sentenced to six years in prison on the same charge last year.
Another RusNews journalist, Maria Ponomarenko, was sentenced to six years in prison on the same charge last year.

A prosecutor asked a court in the city of Korolyov near Moscow on March 1 to convict and sentence journalist Roman Ivanov to eight years in prison on a charge of distributing false information about Russia's military. The charge stems from Romanov's online coverage of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Romanov pleaded not guilty, saying he was carrying out his journalistic work. In February 2023, a court in Siberia sentenced another RusNews journalist, Maria Ponomarenko, to six years in prison on the same charge, which she also rejected, saying journalism was not a crime. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Australia Slaps Sanctions On 3 More Russian Officials Linked To Navalny's Death

People rally in support of Aleksei Navalny in Melbourne, Australia, in January 2023.
People rally in support of Aleksei Navalny in Melbourne, Australia, in January 2023.

The Australian government has announced targeted sanctions against three unnamed Russian prison officials linked to the Arctic prison where opposition leader Aleksei Navalny died on February 16. The sanctions, announced in a statement on March 1, the day of Navalny's funeral, follow punitive measures against seven other officials involved in his mistreatment in another prison before he was transferred to the "Polar Wolf" prison camp in the remote northern Yamalo-Nenets region. "Australia holds President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government responsible for Mr. Navalny’s treatment and death in prison," the statement said.

Russia-China 5G, Satellite Cooperation Poses Risk For Ukraine, Report Warns

A Ukrainian soldier checks a connection with a Vampire attack drone before flying near the front line. The report says cooperation with China on network technology could provide Russia with the military breakthrough it desires.
A Ukrainian soldier checks a connection with a Vampire attack drone before flying near the front line. The report says cooperation with China on network technology could provide Russia with the military breakthrough it desires.

Russia is increasing its cooperation with China in 5G and satellite technology and this could facilitate Moscow's military aggression against Ukraine, a report by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) security think tank warns.

The report, published on March 1, says that although battlefield integration of 5G networks may face domestic hurdles in Russia, infrastructure for Chinese aid to Russian satellite systems already exists and can "facilitate Russian military action in Ukraine."

China, which maintains close ties with Moscow, has refused to condemn Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and offered economic support to Russia that has helped the Kremlin survive waves of sweeping Western sanctions.

Beijing has said that it does not sell lethal weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine, but Western governments have repeatedly accused China of aiding in the flow of technology to Russia's war effort despite Western sanctions.

The RUSI report details how the cooperation between Russia and China in 5G and satellite technology can also help Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine.

"Extensive deployment of drones and advanced telecommunications equipment have been crucial on all fronts in Ukraine, from intelligence collection to air-strike campaigns," the report says.

"These technologies, though critical, require steady connectivity and geospatial support, making cooperation with China a potential solution to Moscow's desire for a military breakthrough."

According to the report, 5G network development has gained particular significance in Russo-Chinese strategic relations in recent years, resulting in a sequence of agreements between Chinese technology giant Huawei and Russian companies MTS and Beeline, both under sanctions by Canada for being linked to Russia's military-industrial complex.

5G is a technology standard for cellular networks, which allows a higher speed of data transfer than its predecessor, 4G. According to the RUSI’s report, 5G "has the potential to reshape the battlefield" through enhanced tracking of military objects, faster transferring and real-time processing of large sensor datasets and enhanced communications.

These are "precisely the features that could render Russo-Chinese 5G cooperation extremely useful in a wartime context -- and therefore create a heightened risk for Ukraine," the report adds.

Although the report says that there are currently "operational and institutional constraints" to Russia's battlefield integration of 5G technology, it has advantages which make it an "appealing priority" for Moscow, Jack Crawford, a research analyst at RUSI and one of the authors of the report, said.

"As Russia continues to seek battlefield advantages over Ukraine, recent improvements in 5G against jamming technologies make 5G communications -- both on the ground and with aerial weapons and vehicles -- an even more appealing priority," Crawford told RFE/RL in an e-mailed response.

Satellite technology, however, is already the focus of the collaboration between China and Russia, the report says, pointing to recent major developments in the collaboration between the Russian satellite navigation system GLONASS and its Chinese equivalent, Beidou.

In 2018, Russia and China agreed on the joint application of GLONASS/Beidou and in 2022 decided to build three Russian monitoring stations in China and three Chinese stations in Russia -- in the city of Obninsk, about 100 kilometers southwest of Moscow, the Siberian city of Irkutsk, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Russia's Far East.

Satellite technology can collect imagery, weather and terrain data, improve logistics management, track troop movements, and enhance precision in the identification and elimination of ground targets.

According to the report, GLONASS has already enabled Russian missile and drone strikes in Ukraine through satellite correction and supported communications between Russian troops.

The anticipated construction of Beidou's Obninsk monitoring station, the closest of the three Chinese stations to Ukraine, would allow Russia to increasingly leverage satellite cooperation with China against Ukraine, the report warns.

In 2022, the Russian company Racurs, which provides software solutions for photogrammetry, GIS, and remote sensing, signed satellite data-sharing agreements with two Chinese companies. The deals were aimed at replacing contracts with Western satellite companies that suspended data supply in Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The two companies -- HEAD Aerospace and Spacety -- are both under sanctions by the United States for supplying satellite imagery of locations in Ukraine to entities affiliated with the Wagner mercenary group.

"For the time being, we cannot trace how exactly these shared data have informed specific decisions on the front line," Roman Kolodii, a security expert at Charles University in Prague and one of the authors of the report, told RFE/RL.

"However, since Racurs is a partner of the Russian Ministry of Defense, it is highly likely that such data might end up strengthening Russia's geospatial capabilities in the military domain, too."

"Ultimately, such dynamic interactions with Chinese companies may improve Russian military logistics, reconnaissance capabilities, geospatial intelligence, and drone deployment in Ukraine," the report says.

The report comes as Western governments are stepping up efforts to counter Russia's attempt to evade sanctions imposed as a response to its military aggression against Ukraine.

On February 23, on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion, the United States imposed sanctions on nearly 100 entities that are helping Russia evade trade sanctions and "providing backdoor support for Russia's war machine."

The list includes Chinese companies, accused of supporting "Russia's military-industrial base."

With reporting by Merhat Sharpizhanov

Kazakh Activist Reportedly Beaten After Giving Out Details Of Journalist's Trial

Kazakh activist Abzal Dostiyarov (file photo)
Kazakh activist Abzal Dostiyarov (file photo)

Kazakh activist Abzal Dostiyarov's wife, Dana Sarsenbai, said on March 1 that police in Almaty's Auezov district detained her husband for unknown reasons and beat him at a police station. Dostiyarov managed to use his mobile phone to live broadcast his interrogation by several police officers as he asked for the reasons for his detainment and beating. The Auezov district police department refused to comment on the situation. Dostiyarov recently distributed information about the ongoing trial of independent journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim in the city of Qonaev. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Pakistani Parliament Elects Speaker As Khan's Supporters Protest

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq (file photo)
Sardar Ayaz Sadiq (file photo)

Pakistan's new parliament elected a speaker on March 1 despite protests from lawmakers loyal to jailed ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan three weeks after an election they claim was brazenly rigged. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party was elected by parliamentarians from his party and a handful of others in a coalition pact shutting Khan's followers out of power. The 336-seat National Assembly convened on February 29 for the first time since Pakistan's February 8 elections, and the alliance is slated to vote in PML-N's Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister on March 3.


Navalny Buried In Moscow As Tens Of Thousands Risk Arrest To Say Farewell

Navalny's Mother Bids Farewell To Her Son At Cemetery
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:34 0:00

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison under mysterious circumstances, was laid to rest in a cemetery near his childhood home in Moscow as tens of thousands of supporters defiantly risked reprisal from the authorities as police kept them from joining in the services.

Relatives and close associates were allowed to be present at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God for a brief funeral ceremony for President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic on March 1 before the burial at the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery.

Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said the music from the final scene of the film Terminator 2 -- Navalny's favorite movie -- was played at the funeral, as was Frank Sinatra's song My Way.

Photos of Navalny's open casket appeared on social media. They showed his mother and father sitting near the casket, a carpet of red and white roses covering Navalny's body from the shoulders down. Dozens of others, including clergy members, stood behind.

The coffin was then carried out of the church and loaded into a hearse. Many people threw flowers at the vehicle as it drove to the cemetery. Some mourners broke down metal fences to get closer to the vehicle but there were no signs of clashes with police amid the chants "Russia will be free," "No to war," and "Putin is a murderer."

Thousands made the 2.4-kilometer trip to the cemetery, where some were allowed to see the burial site after Navalny's coffin had been lowered into the ground.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow and several other Western diplomats attended the funeral.

"Aleksei Navalny's work was dedicated to sharing a vision of a better future for Russia and all Russians. And ultimately, he gave his life for his patriotic service. For many Russians, he remains a symbol of what Russia could and should be," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a post on Telegram.

Ivan Zhdanov, a self-exiled associate of Navalny wrote his tribute on X, formerly Twitter.

"Goodbye my friend. 4.6.1976 – 16.2.2024 Killed by Putin," Zhdanov said.

Ahead of the service, people chanted Navalny's name as lines snaking through the streets around the church grew from dozens, to hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands. When his body arrived at the church, the chants stopped for several minutes as the crowd began to applaud.

After Navalny's casket was driven away, some vented their anger toward Putin, whom Navalny's widow and many Western countries -- including the United States -- have blamed for the Kremlin critic's death.

"You were not afraid, and we are not afraid," Navalny's team said in a post on Telegram that was echoed by some in the crowd.

Navalny's widow, Yulia, who lives outside of Russia for security reasons, did not attend the service. But she posted an emotional letter and video on Instagram paying tribute to her husband, saying he made her laugh, even when he was imprisoned.

"I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try my best to make you up there happy for me and proud of me. I don't know if I'll manage it or not, but I will try," she said, alluding to her pledge to continue her husband's work to bring democracy and freedom to Russia.

"The burial today is not marking an end. It marks the fact that nothing ended, it is a continuation of something that the Kremlin understands is not just an ordinary farewell," self-exiled Russian politician Leonid Gozman told Current Time.

Crowd Chants Outside Navalny Funeral: 'You Were Not Afraid And We Are Not Afraid!'
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:00:59 0:00

Gozman said Navalny's death could be compared to that of U.S. civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in that their legacies and impact would live on and fuel the fight for civil rights.

Ahead of the ceremony, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued a warning through reporters during a conference call that any unsanctioned gatherings in support of Navalny would be considered as violations of the law.

He also said the Kremlin had no assessment of Navalny as a politician and nothing to say to Navalny's family.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement or responsibility for Navalny's death.

More than 67 people were detained at rallies in memory of Navalny in 16 cities, according to the human rights portal OVD-Info.

In Novosibirsk, police detained at least 18 people, according to Coalition Novosibirsk 2020 and Sibirmedia. Among those detained were an independent City Council deputy and an assistant to another independent deputy.

Russians Overcome Fear At Emotional, Defiant Funeral For Navalny
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:07 0:00

In Tomsk, police cordoned off the monument to the repressed -- the Stone of Sorrow. Journalists and people who brought flowers to the monument were taken away by the police, who then removed the flowers.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron were among the world leaders who commented on the courage of the Russians who attended Navalny's funeral.

"Aleksei Navalny paid for his fight for democracy and freedom with his life," Scholz wrote on X.

"After his death, courageous Russians are carrying on his legacy: Many of them were at the funeral today and took a big risk -- for freedom."

Macron said: "It took a lot of courage to go pay tribute to Aleksei Navalny. Thousands of Russians found it within themselves.
This is his legacy."

With reporting by SOTA, Mediazona, Baza, and Mozhem Obyasnit

Ukraine Shoots Down 4 Russian Drones; 4 Russian Villages Without Power After Attack

Ukrainian air defenses shot down four Russian drones on March 1. (file photo)
Ukrainian air defenses shot down four Russian drones on March 1. (file photo)

Ukrainian air-defense forces shot down four Russian drones over the regions of Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk early on March 1, the military said, without specifying how many drones Moscow had launched at Ukraine's territory. Meanwhile, Roman Starovoit, the governor of Russia's border region of Kursk, said a Ukrainian drone attack left four villages in his region without electricity on March 1. Russia's Defense Ministry previously said that its air defenses downed four Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod and Nizhny Novogorod regions. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here and here.


Turnout Becomes Focus Of 'Engineered' Iranian Elections Amid Widespread Dissatisfaction

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballots at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballots at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.

Iranians voted on March 1 in two elections that will usher in a new parliament and Assembly of Experts as opinion polls projected a low turnout amid calls for a boycott of what many see as "engineered" balloting.

Voting began at 8 a.m. local time in the first election since the deadly nationwide protests that erupted following the September 2022 death while in police custody of Mahsa Amini. She had been detained for allegedly not following Iran's hijab laws.

Iran's rulers need a high turnout to repair their legitimacy following the unrest, but many Iranians said they would not vote in "meaningless" elections in which more than 15,000 candidates were running for the 290-seat parliament. Partial results are not expected before March 2.

'Engineered Elections': Iran To Vote On Assembly That May Name Next Supreme Leader
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:50 0:00

Prominent figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, have said they would boycott the elections, labeling them as superficial and predetermined. Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, has voiced his refusal to vote, criticizing the supreme leader's indifference to the country's crises.

The state-linked polling agency ISPA, which ordinarily releases frequent polling data ahead of elections, put out its first and only survey results on February 28. It found that only 38.5 percent of respondents said they would "definitely" turn up to vote and projected turnout of 41 percent on election day.

Another poll by the state broadcaster IRIB, which was released on February 29, projected a 43.1 percent turnout.

Turnout was "good," state media reported, but witnesses who spoke with Reuters said voting at most polling centers in Tehran and several other cities was light. Officials twice extended voting hours to allow late-comers to cast ballots.

Voter apathy, fueled by general dissatisfaction over living standards and a clampdown on basic human rights in Iran, has been growing for years.

Even before Amini's death, which sparked massive protests and the Women, Life, Freedom movement, unrest had rattled Iran for months in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support.

In the last parliamentary elections in February 2020, ISPA predicted a 52 percent turnout, but actual participation was 42.57 percent --- a historic low for legislative elections since the Islamic republic came to power in 1979.

In a last-ditch effort to encourage a high turnout, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after casting his ballot in Tehran that voting would "make the friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed."

While domestically the attention is mostly on the parliamentary elections, it is perhaps the Assembly of Experts polls that are more significant. The 88-seat assembly, whose members are elected for eight-year terms, is tasked with appointing the next supreme leader. Given that Khamenei is 84, the next assembly may end up having to name his successor.

Analysts and activists said the elections were "engineered" because only candidates vetted and approved by the Guardians Council are allowed to run. The council is made up of six clerics and six jurists who are all appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei.

In dozens of audio and written messages sent to RFE/RL's Radio Farda from inside Iran, many said they were opting against voting because the elections were "meaningless" and likely to consolidate the hard-liners' grip on power.

State television has been providing wall-to-wall coverage of the elections from across the country. News outlets linked to the establishment tried to generate excitement on banned social media platforms -- including Telegram, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) – by posting videos with catchy captions.

As has become the norm, some outlets, including the IRIB-run Young Journalists' Club, have posted videos and images of women in polling stations dressed in attire that on a normal day would likely earn them a warning or even detention.

Activists and opposition groups post statements on social media arguing that a high turnout would legitimize the Islamic republic.

In the run-up to the elections, authorities arrested several people for allegedly calling for a boycott.

With reporting by Reuters

Balkan Leaders Pledged To Supply Ukraine With Ammunition, Zelenskiy Says

A Ukrainian tank of the 17th Tank Brigade fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region on February 29.
A Ukrainian tank of the 17th Tank Brigade fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region on February 29.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on February 29 that his meetings with Western Balkan leaders at a summit in Tirana will help Ukrainian troops get more of the artillery shells they badly need to fend off advancing Russian forces.

Zelenskiy said his forces will receive more artillery under new defense agreements he reached during the two-day summit hosted by Albania.

“We use every meeting and every day to provide more capabilities to our warriors,” he said in his nightly video address. “We had good talks in Albania – as always principled support and not only in terms of our bilateral relations but also in terms of how to make the dialogue with those states that are still reserved in their support more meaningful.”

Zelenskiy added that the participants of the summit will take part in a global peace summit that has been proposed to be held in Switzerland in the coming months to discuss his vision for peace.

“It’s planned to be held in Switzerland and we already see opportunities for broad representation of countries from around the world,” Zelenskiy said.

Russia has already rejected the idea.

Zelenskiy, who also mentioned his visit to Saudi Arabia prior to the Tirana summit, said 2024 should be a time of maximum pragmatism in relations with Ukraine’s neighbors.

“Everyone sees that Russia is not going to stop,” he said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Russian forces are pushing against more Ukrainian towns and villages in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, hitting some Ukrainian defensive positions hard by deploying overwhelming amounts of artillery and troops.

The Russian Army currently is trying to seize Tonenke, Orlivka, Semenivka, Berdychi, and Krasnohorivka in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s army chief, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on social media.

Ukrainian military officials said earlier that Ukraine would form a new line of defense in those areas after Ukrainian troops pulled out of Avdiyivka on February 17.

In the southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, Russian forces are focusing on retaking Verbove and Robotyne, towns that Ukraine won back last summer, Syrskiy said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said that its forces shot down three Russian Su-34 jets overnight. That makes a total of 11 warplanes that Ukraine claims to have downed since February 17.

“The enemy has increased its air presence in the east. Our top military leadership reacted accordingly,” air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on national television.

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces also said on February 29 that 19 Russian soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in a missile strike on a group of Russian troops in Olenivka in the Russian-occupied part of the Donetsk region.

According to the statement, a deputy commander of a Russian military unit was among those killed, while the unit's commander was among the wounded. The statement has not been confirmed by Russia's military.

With reporting by AP

Former Bosnian Serb Soldier Sentenced To 6 Years For Wartime Rape Of Bosniak Woman

The long-overdue judgment in Sarajevo against Rade Grujic, 57, came in one of the few cases in which a member of the Bosnian military has been prosecuted for rape, despite tens of thousands of suspected cases.
The long-overdue judgment in Sarajevo against Rade Grujic, 57, came in one of the few cases in which a member of the Bosnian military has been prosecuted for rape, despite tens of thousands of suspected cases.

SARAJEVO -- A court in Bosnia-Herzegovina on February 29 sentenced a former member of the Bosnian Serb military to six years in prison for the rape of a Bosniak woman in the spring of 1992 shortly after war broke out in the country.

The long-overdue judgment in Sarajevo against Rade Grujic, 57, came in one of the few cases in which a member of the Bosnian military has been prosecuted for rape, despite tens of thousands of suspected cases.

Judge Tanja Curovic said that the court established beyond a reasonable doubt that in May 1992 Grujic entered a house in the village of Liplje in eastern Bosnia where Bosniak civilians were staying, took the victim into a room, ordered her to undress, and raped her.

In addition to the six-year sentence, Curovic ordered Grujic to pay the victim $5,400 and ordered him to be held in custody until the verdict becomes final. Grujic has the right to appeal the first-instance verdict.

Prosecutor Eldina Biuk said that the victim, whose name was withheld by the court, "clearly, unambiguously, and in detail" described what happened in Liplje.

The prosecutor said the victim knew Grujic because he was her neighbor, and she identified him in photographs presented during the trial and also pointed to him in the courtroom, identifying him as the man who raped her.

The prosecution called a total of 22 witnesses, including an expert witness, and submitted 60 material pieces of evidence.

Grujic's trial began in April 2023 after he was arrested in Liplje. The case is one of hundreds of war crimes cases in Bosnia, but one of the few prosecutions for rape during wartime, which falls under the category crime against humanity in Bosnia.

The court took into account the cruelty of the crime and the psychological consequences for the victim in determining the sentence, but it also considered the fact that the defendant was 25 at the time he committed the crime, has had no previous convictions, and is the father of two.

During the Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 women, girls, and men were raped. Many of them never received proper medical and psychological care and financial support.

Bosnia does not have a state law to support victims of war, including those who have suffered sexual violence.

A war crimes court in Belgrade in 2010 convicted several Serbs of committing crimes in Zvornik, a city near Liplje, and the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia previously convicted Bosnian Serb political and army leaders of war crimes in the Zvornik municipality.

With reporting by Balkan Insight

Russian Who Smuggled Military Technology Pleads Guilty In U.S. Court

A Russian man pled guilty on February 29 to U.S. charges that he smuggled large quantities of American-made, military-grade microelectronics to Russia, U.S. justice officials said in a statement. Maksim Marchenko, 51, was arrested in September. He and two other Russians were accused of using shell companies to conceal the fraudulent procurement of microelectronics. Marchenko pled guilty in a New York court to one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, and one count of smuggling goods from the United States, which carries a maximum 10 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 6.

Imam Acquitted Of Insulting Bosnian Serb Entity

Muharem Stulanovic (left) and his lawyer Duško Tomic speak to reporters outside the court in Banja Luka on February 29.
Muharem Stulanovic (left) and his lawyer Duško Tomic speak to reporters outside the court in Banja Luka on February 29.

A court in the Bosnian Serb entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina on February 29 acquitted imam Muharem Stulanovic of the charge of "harming the reputation and honor of the Republika Srpska and its peoples."

Stulanovic was charged with the crime after he called Republika Srpska a "genocidal creation" in January 2023 during a religious ceremony at the Faculty of Islamic Pedagogy in Bihac, where he is a professor.

The decision of the court in Banja Luka follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which last month declared the charge unconstitutional.

"A persecution that should not have happened has ended," Stulanovic told RFE/RL after the trial.

Stulanovic's lawyer, Dusko Tomic, said the verdict was a victory for both the Constitutional Court and Bosnia.

"It has been confirmed once again that the judiciary respects the decisions of the Constitutional Court," Tomic said.

But Tomic also asserted that Republika Srpska's Prosecutor-General's Office did not comply with the decision of the Constitutional Court by failing to drop the charge against Stulanovic before the trial even started on January 10.

The case against him is the first confirmed indictment by the Prosecutor-General's Office of a person for calling Republika Srpska a "genocidal creation."

Stulanovic was charged based on Entity Criminal Code changes by Republika Srpska's assembly in July 2021 after amendments to the State Criminal Code imposed by then-High Representative Valentin Inzko prohibiting the denial of genocide and other war crimes, as well as the glorification of war criminals.

There was heightened interest in the trial after the decision of the Constitutional Court ruling last month and after Republika Srpska last year adopted a law saying the decisions of the Constitutional Court would not be enforced in the territory of the entity.

Ethnic Serbs in Republika Srpska have for years resisted Bosnia's central authorities, and the entity's assembly voted in June to suspend recognition of any decisions by Bosnia's multiethnic Constitutional Court.

Christian Schmidt, the international community's current high representative in Bosnia, annulled that law in July, a move that has been rejected by Republika Srpska, as were other decisions by Schmidt.


Iran Cracks Down On Calls For Election Boycott

A woman walks past campaign posters for the parliamentary elections in Tehran.
A woman walks past campaign posters for the parliamentary elections in Tehran.

Several people have been detained in Iran for allegedly calling for a boycott of parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections scheduled for March 1.

A young woman was arrested on February 28 for "opposing electoral participation" in Tehran's Valiasr Square during an event called "Free Tribune," witnesses told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

They said the woman estimated to be in her 20s protested in front of a state television camera, symbolically removing her head scarf while declaring, "Vote or no vote, we will not vote."

A street vendor, who claimed to have witnessed the event, said the woman was quickly surrounded and subsequently detained by several security personnel after she waved her scarf over her head in protest.

Other eyewitness accounts detailed the intervention of two female officers, who covered the young woman with a chador cloak, while five male officers forcibly escorted her to a van.

The woman, described as having dyed, long hair and a slim build, was reportedly shouting for the officers to release her. Security forces present at the scene issued warnings to bystanders not to film the arrest and to disperse.

Elections for the parliament, the Majlis, are scheduled for March 1 along with voting to fill the Assembly of Experts, with a majority of would-be candidates already disqualified.

Many Iranians have said they will not vote in what they said will be "meaningless" elections that are likely to consolidate the power of the country's hard-liners.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Iran's elections could not be considered free and fair.

"I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair," Miller told reporters at the State Department on February 29.

"As you probably already know, thousands of candidates were already disqualified in an opaque process and the world has long known that Iran's political system features undemocratic and nontransparent administrative, judicial, and electoral systems.”

In the lead-up to the election, "Free Tribunes" have been organized by student groups in Tehran, where sentiment against the elections has spilled out.

Similar events have taken place -- in public and online -- in several areas of the country.

In the West Azerbaijan Province, police chief Rahim Jahanbakhsh announced the arrest of 50 people responsible for managing social-media pages that authorities say incited public unrest and discouraged election participation.

The arrests, Jahanbakhsh noted, were conducted in coordination with judicial authorities, though the identities of those detained remain undisclosed.

Jahanbakhsh also warned that publishing any content deemed provocative on social media would be considered a criminal offense.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has tried to push the importance of high voter turnout in the elections after more than a year of unrest that had boosted growing skepticism over the efficacy of participating in the electoral process.

'Engineered Elections': Iran To Vote On Assembly That May Name Next Supreme Leader
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:50 0:00

Independent polling on electoral participation is restricted in Iran, with government-conducted surveys rarely made public.

However, a leaked poll from a state-affiliated center suggested a mere 30 perecnt of voters may turn out for the upcoming elections, a figure that was swiftly retracted from publication. In the previous parliamentary elections in 2020, voter turnout was reported at a historic low of approximately 42.6 percent.

Prominent figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, have said openly they will boycott the elections, calling them superficial and predetermined. Similarly, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, has voiced his refusal to vote, criticizing the supreme leader's indifference to the country's crises.

The elections also mark the first balloting since the widespread "Women, Life, Freedom" protests, ignited by the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police. The protests led to a heavy-handed response from the government, including widespread arrests and crackdowns on demonstrators. At least 500 protesters were killed.

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

Ukraine Says 19 Russian Soldiers Killed In Missile Strike In Donetsk Region

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said on February 29 that 19 Russian soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in a missile strike on a group of Russian troops in the town of Olenivka in the Russian-occupied part of the Donetsk region. According to the statement, a deputy commander of a Russian military unit was among those killed, while the unit's commander was among the wounded. The statement has not been confirmed by Russia's military.

Russians Jailed In Mass Cider-Poisoning Case

Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia.
Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia.

A Russian court on February 29 sentenced former police officer Ivan Grebyonkin and father and son Aleksei and Dmitry Yegorov to prison terms of between 3 1/4 and 3 1/2 years for their involvement in making and selling cider tainted with methanol, a highly poisonous type of industrial alcohol, that killed 40 people last summer in the regions of Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, and Udmurtia. Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia as people look to save money. In 2021, 34 people were killed by surrogate alcohol in the Urals region of Orenburg. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

German-Iranian Woman Returned To Tehran Prison After Medical Furlough Cut Short

Nahid Taghavi after her release
Nahid Taghavi after her release

A German-Iranian woman has been ordered back to jail in Tehran after several weeks of medical leave despite mounting concerns over her health, her daughter said on February 29.

Nahid Taghavi, 69, was sent back to Evin prison "arbitrarily and for no clear reason" on February 28, said Mariam Claren on X, formerly Twitter.

Taghavi's supporters have previously said she suffers from a herniated disc, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Claren said she developed "a painful eye disease in the last weeks, which must be strictly monitored by doctors."

Taghavi, held in Iran since 2020 on national security charges, was granted a medical furlough on January 9 under strict conditions, including that she wear an electronic tracking device and remain within 1 kilometer of her home in Tehran.

Her daughter said the conditions made it almost impossible for her to receive necessary medical care.

Taghavi, an architect, was convicted in 2021 of "leading an illegal group." She was sentenced to 10 years in jail, according to her lawyer. She has been forced to endure prolonged solitary confinement.

The German Foreign Ministry condemned the decision to send Taghavi back to jail, which it said was "taken in blatant disregard of her health."

The ministry said Taghavi was seriously ill and should be receiving medical treatment.

"Her furlough was terminated abruptly, without her even being able to receive the necessary medical treatment," the ministry said, adding that Germany will "continue to work tirelessly for her release."

Human rights groups and Western governments have accused Iran of imprisoning foreign nationals and dual citizens in order to pressure other countries into releasing jailed Iranians in prisoner swaps.

Tehran has repeatedly said it does not recognize dual nationality and denies holding foreign nationals for political reasons.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Two More Billionaires Renounce Russian Citizenship In Wake Of Ukraine War

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Forbes reported on February 29 that billionaires Andrei Baronov and Ratmir Timashev have become the latest tycoons to renounce their Russian citizenship since Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. According to Forbes, Baronov and Timashev are now citizens of Cyprus, with Baronov residing in Switzerland and Timashev in the United States. Baronov has criticized the war, saying it caused him "deep suffering." Timashev did not comment. Other tycoons who have given up their Russian citizenship since February 2022 include Vasily Anisimov, Timur Turlov, Ruben Vardanyan, Yury Milner, Nikolai Storonsky, Oleg Tinkov, and Igor Makarov. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Load more

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.