Executions Down Globally In 2017, But Remain High In Iran, Pakistan
Executions and death sentences continued to drop globally in 2017 after hitting record-high levels in previous years, with Iran and Pakistan remaining among the world’s top five executioners, Amnesty International said on April 12.
The London-based human rights watchdog said in its latest report – Death Sentences And Executions 2017 – that positive measures, such as legal amendments in Iran to limit capital punishment for drug-related crimes, and notable reductions in the number of death sentences worldwide have contributed to a 4 percent drop in executions compared to the previous year.
The number of executions – 993 – returned to levels recorded before the 2015 peak, when more than 1,600 people were put to death, Amnesty said.
More than half of recorded executions -- 507 -- were carried out in Iran, followed by Saudi Arabia, with 146, Iraq, with 125, and Pakistan, with 60 confirmed executions.
However, the number does not include thousands of executions carried out by China, which remains by far the world’s top executioner but does not disclose data on executions and treats such information as a state secret.
At least five people in Iran last year were reportedly executed for crimes committed before they were 18 years of age, while juvenile offenders remained on death row in Pakistan, the report said.
"We remain highly concerned about the continued practice of the death penalty [in Iran] in clear violation of protections established by international law and standards," Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s adviser on the death penalty, told RFE/RL.
At least 31 public executions were carried out in Iran, where hanging remained the main method of execution, the same as in Pakistan.
Both Iran and Pakistan saw a decline in the number of executions compared to the previous year – some 10 percent in Iran and more than 30 percent in Pakistan.
The report said a record-high number of people -- at least 7,000 -- remained on death row in Pakistan, almost 5,000 in Punjab Province alone.
In Afghanistan, five people were put to death by hanging, the report said, in what appeared to be a hasty response to a growing number of terrorist attacks.
"The executions appeared to be carried out, in fact, in reaction to attacks that were carried out in the country. We know that the death penalty does not help solve that problem, and that was our appeal to the president of Afghanistan -- not to move ahead with executions anymore because they won't help the country reach the stability which I think we all want to see,” Sangiorgio told RFE/RL.
In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the death penalty was imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards. Among the countries cited were Iran, Pakistan, Belarus, Iraq, and China.
Military courts sentenced a high number of civilians to death in Pakistan, the report noted.
"We remain nonetheless highly concerned about the fact that nearly half of the executions that we recorded [in Pakistan] are actually carried out after people were sentenced to death for terrorism-related offenses by a military court,” Sangiorgio told RFE/RL.
In Iran and Iraq, the report says, “confessions” of guilt reportedly obtained through torture were broadcast on television before the trial took place, in violation of the presumption of innocence.
Amnesty also noted that people with mental or intellectual disabilities were put to death or remained under death sentence in Pakistan and the United States.
The sole country in Europe and Central Asia to carry out the death penalty remained Belarus, where two people convicted for rape and murder, Siarhei Vostrykau and Kiryl Kazachok, were executed by shooting in 2017. The two were put to death in secret, in May and October, the report says.
"What I find particularly concerning about the use of the death penalty in Belarus is the way in which executions are carried out. No notification is being given. The families of the prisoners only find out about the executions when they go to the prison expecting to visit or to leave parcels for the [detained] relative," Sangiorgio told RFE/RL.
Russia, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan continued to observe moratoriums on executions, although in Kazakhstan one man remained under sentence of death after being convicted and sentenced in 2016 for terrorism.
In Russia, senior legislator Vasily Piskaryov and the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, publicly called on two separate occasions last year for the reintroduction of the death penalty. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Russia's moratorium on the use of the death penalty will not be suspended, the report said.
Among the positive developments, the report highlights the progress in sub-Saharan Africa, where Guinea became the 20th state of the region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
Besides Guinea, Mongolia also scrapped the death penalty for all crimes, taking the total number of abolitionist countries to 106 in 2017.
“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.
“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. We know that by galvanizing the support of people worldwide, we can stand up to this cruel punishment and end the death penalty everywhere,” Shetty said.
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Flow Of Russian Oil To Czech Republic Resumes, Pipeline Operator Says
Russian oil flows to the Czech Republic through the Druzhba pipeline resumed on August 12 after more than a week, Czech pipeline operator MERO said.
Oil supplies through the pipeline were suspended on August 4 to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said the reason was Western sanctions prevented paying transit fees to Ukrainian transit company Ukrtransnafta.
"Supplies of Russian oil through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline on the Czech territory resumed at 8 p.m. today," MERO said in a statement.
Czech refiner Unipetrol confirmed its refineries again started receiving oil through Druzhba, and added that the weeklong outage had not affected its operations.
Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said earlier that the resumption followed a resolution of the issue with fees.
A European bank agreed to process the payment for the transit, removing the cause of the stoppage.
Flows to Hungary and Slovakia were restarted on August 10 after Hungarian refiner MOL and its Slovak unit Slovnaft found a workaround by paying the fee to Ukrtransnafta themselves.
Central European countries are partially dependent on Russian oil and have secured exemptions from the European Union's incoming ban on imports until they adjust their shipping routes and refineries so that they can receive oil from other sources.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Shelling Hits Towns Near Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine Says, As Russian Troops Remain At Facility
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster by shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which the United Nations says should have a demilitarized zone declared around it.
Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, but there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out.
"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in on the situation, echoing Guterres in saying the power plant must not be used as part of any military operation.
"I support call for demilitarisation of area starting with full withdrawal of Russian forces, and urge the @iaeaorg to visit," he said on Twitter, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"Russia must immediately hand back full control to rightful sovereign owner Ukraine," he said.
Ukraine's Enerhotam agency said the Zaporizhzhya complex in south-central Ukraine was struck five times on August 11, including near where radioactive materials are stored. The governor of the Zaporizhzhya region said the plant was hit again on the evening of August 12.
Russian-appointed officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of shelling the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, the state-run TASS news agency said.
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that Ukraine's strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.
The Ukrainian military denies having struck the plant, saying Russian troops struck it themselves and are using it as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby towns and cities.
Shelling overnight of one of those towns, Marhanets, injured three civilians, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Ukrainian forces control Marhanets and other towns and cities on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, and they have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side in recent days.
A UN Security Council meeting on August 11 discussed the situation, and Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.
The United States backed the call for a demilitarized zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.
Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.
Speaking at the Security Council meeting, he said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe" comparable in scale with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.
Ukrainian UN Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of using "elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups" to stage the shelling, which he said poses "an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, to Europe, and the world as a whole."
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, meanwhile, on August 12 reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.
Other parts of the main front line have been comparatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has been intensifying in anticipation of a planned counteroffensive in the south.
In the province of Mykolayiv, the governor’s press officer said the region is still experiencing shelling, but it has become "a little quieter."
Dmytro Pletenchuk, the press officer of the Mykolayiv military administration, said this is because there is currently a shortage of ammunition in the Russian military.
Ukrainian forces have hit Russian ammunition warehouses, and the Russian forces have now switched to more outdated weapons systems, he said on Ukrainian television.
"Now the situation has changed. There is a shortage of ammunition among the Russians. And that is very good. We feel the result of the work on their warehouses -- it has become a little quieter in Mykolayiv, but the region is being shelled," he said.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, shelling killed two civilians and wounded 13 others in Kramatorsk, the last major city under Ukrainian control in the eastern Donetsk region.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Facebook the bombardment damaged at least 20 buildings and caused a fire to break out. He called for remaining residents to evacuate.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, and Reuters
Relatives Of Victims Of Ukrainian Airlines Flight Shot Down By IRGC Begin March To Ottawa
Several relatives of victims of a passenger flight that was shot down in Iran in January 2020 by missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have set off on a 400-kilometer protest march in Canada.
The march started on August 10 in Toronto and is scheduled to end in 15 days in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, in front of the Canadian prime minister's office.
The march started at a cemetery in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill in which some of the people who were on the flight are buried.
Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, spoke at the cemetery, emphasizing that the families remain determined to bring justice after 31 months of struggle.
"These families have spent this time fighting against an inefficient oppressive government," Esmaeilion said, "The families want justice for their loved ones and all those who were killed that day in a vicious and planned crime."
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed on January 8, 2020, while en route to Kyiv, killing all 176 people onboard.
After days of official denials, Iran admitted that an IRGC unit had inadvertently shot down the plane amid heightened tensions with the United States over the U.S. drone assassination of top IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad.
The victims were mostly Iranians and Canadians. Their families have demanded transparency and accountability.
The Iranian government has allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.
Canada said last year that it found no evidence of premeditation in the downing of the airliner. A Canadian court awarded $84 million and interest to the families of six of the victims.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Shooting Rampage Leaves 11 Dead After Family Dispute In Montenegrin Town
A man went on a shooting rampage in a town in Montenegro, killing 10 people before he was shot dead in a gun battle with police, state television reported.
Montenegro state TV quoted police as saying that six other people, including a policeman, were wounded. The shooting occurred after a dispute within a family, the police said. They said children were among the 10 people killed.
The violence occurred on August 12 shortly after 4 p.m. local time in Cetinje, a town of about 18,000 in southwestern Montenegro.
The attacker, who was initially counted as one of the victims, was identified as being 34 years old.
Two people were treated at a hospital in Cetinje. Several others were brought to a hospital in Podgorica, according to news reports. The senior state prosecutor is on the scene along with the emergency services and the police.
The Montenegrin police administration has not yet released a statement on the incident.
Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said the shooting was a tragedy worse than any in the collective memory of Montenegrins.
"I call on all the citizens of Montenegro to be with the families of the innocent victims, their relatives, friends, and all the citizens of the capital of Cetinje," Abazovic said on Telegram.
With reporting by AP
Russia-Backed Separatists In Ukraine Set Date For Trial Of Foreigners Accused Of Being Mercenaries
Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk have set August 15 as the date for the trial of five foreigners accused of joining Ukrainian armed forces as mercenaries.
The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic said on August 12 that Matias Gustavsson of Sweden, Vjekoslav Prebeg of Croatia, and Britons John Harding, Andrew Hill, and Dylan Healy will face trial.
According to the separatists, the five men are charged with being mercenaries, preparing for terrorist activities, and conducting activities aiming to seize power. If found guilty, the men may face the death penalty.
Last month, Britain's Foreign Office condemned what it called the "exploitation" of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes following the capture of Healy and Hill. Another Briton, Paul Ury, who was captured along with Healy and Hill, died in July while in the separatists' custody.
In early June, two other Britons -- Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner -- and a Moroccan national -- Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities."
All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by pro-Russia separatists while fighting Russian forces.
Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany condemned the death sentences.
The European Court of Human Rights on June 30 intervened in the case and warned Moscow it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.
The British government insisted that as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion that was launched in February or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians forced to flee their homes.
With reporting by Interfax
Police Identify Suspect In Attack On Author Rushdie, Say He Acted Alone
Salman Rushdie remains hospitalized on a ventilator, with a damaged liver and nerve damage, his agent says, after the author was attacked as he prepared to give a lecture in rural New York state.
Police identified the man who allegedly stabbed Rushdie on August 12 as Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene in Chautauqua, New York by troopers providing security for the event.
No charges have been filed against Matar yet; police told reporters they have yet to determine a motive.
Andrew Wylie, Rushdie's agent, said in a statement that Rushdie had undergone surgery and had suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm and that he was likely to lose one eye.
Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s and spent years in hiding, was stabbed just before he was to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, a spiritual retreat center in a rural corner of southwest New York State.
The center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.
The suspect stormed the stage as Rushdie was being introduced and attacked him and moderator Henry Reese, New York State Police said in a statement.
"Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known," the statement said.
A state trooper who had been assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody, the statement added. Reese suffered a minor head injury.
Eyewitnesses said the attack lasted for nearly 20 seconds, with Hatar allegedly continuing to punch and stab Rushdie even as onlookers rushed to restrain him.
Rushdie, 75, is the author of The Satanic Verses, a book banned in Iran because many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.
The Swedish institution that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 denounced the fatwa, saying reward money for Rushdie's death was a "flagrant” breach of international law.
Rushdie published a memoir about his life under the fatwa called Joseph Anton, the pseudonym he used while under British police protection. His second novel, Midnight Children, is set during the 1947 partition of India and won the Booker Prize. His new novel, Victory City, is due to be published in February.
Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution’s website.
Rushdie was Born in Mumbai, India, and holds British and U.S. citizenship. He has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.
Since dropping his alias and partially coming out of hiding in 2001, Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
With reporting by AP, Sky News, CBS, and Politico
Kyrgyz Court Acquits Noted Rights Activist In High-Profile Case
KARAKOL, Kyrgyzstan -- A Kyrgyz court has acquitted well-known rights activist Kamiljan Ruziev on fraud and forgery charges in a high-profile case that rights groups call trumped-up.
Ruziev told RFE/RL on August 12 that the Karakol city court concluded there were no elements of crime in his case and found him not guilty.
Kyrgyz Ombudswoman Atyr Abdrakhmatova confirmed Ruziev's acquittal on Facebook.
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security arrested Ruziev in May 2020 outside the Karakol city courthouse while the court was considering a lawsuit Ruziev had filed against the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) and the prosecutor-general’s office for failing to investigate his complaint that law enforcement officers had threatened him.
Ruziev was charged with fraud and forgery at the time, but later the fraud charge was dropped.
On August 10, the Bishkek-based Equal Rights Coalition, which comprises several leading human rights groups in the Central Asian country, issued a statement saying that instead of trying Ruziev the authorities "should thoroughly investigate Ruziev's complaint" to find out if his claims about abuse of power by the security officials who arrested him really took place.
Ruziev, who heads the Karakol-based human rights organization Ventus, has said he was arrested in retribution for his human rights activities.
For more than 20 years, Ruziev has been defending the rights of prisoners and others who have complained of torture and harassment at the hands of the police and government officials.
Human Rights Watch and Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, have demanded Kyrgyz authorities drop the charge against Ruziev and investigate his claims that he was threatened by law enforcement.
At this point, it is unclear if the authorities will launch a probe into Ruziev's claim against the UKMK officers.
Skyrocketing Inflation Pushes Iranians Away From Basic Food Items, Experts Say
Skyrocketing inflation is forcing an increasing number of Iranians to limit buying fruit and vegetables, industry experts say, as Iran continues to grapple with crippling international sanctions.
Asadollah Kargar, the head of the Fruit and Vegetable Sellers Association, said that fruit consumption has decreased by 50 percent because of rising prices.
“This increase in the price of fruit has caused some households in Iran to buy waste and throw away fruits,” he was quoted as telling the Resalat newspaper on August 11.
The Statistics Center of Iran said recently that inflation for food items in July hit 90.2 percent.
Kargar’s comments echo other remarks from major food producers.
Last month, a top official with the Beef Production and Distribution Union said that beef sales had dropped 20 percent, while the head of the Food Industry Federation said sales of overall food industry products had fallen by half.
The chairman of the Dairy Products Industry Association said household consumption in his sector had decreased by 20 percent in recent months, due to an 80 percent increase in prices for dairy products.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s government has struggled to curb the price hikes, which have raised social tensions. In May, the government announced "economic surgery," a series of policies that include reforming subsidies and halting the devaluation of the exchange rate used to import essential goods such as food.
Raisi's government also promised to give Iranians four million rials ($13) in subsidies for two months. But prices have continued to outpace the subsidies.
The economy has been devastated by years of sanctions imposed by the United States after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Talks to revive that deal are ongoing.
Extreme inflation has rattled public institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and child-care centers, which are facing possible food shortages.
The economic woes have led to sizable protests in recent months, many of which have been met by crackdowns from security forces.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Belarusian Court Orders Harsher Prison Confinement For Opposition Activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski
A Belarusian court has ordered imprisoned video blogger and opposition activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski into harsher confinement conditions after finding him in violation of unspecified prison rules.
The Vyasna human rights center said on August 11 that Tsikhanouski, who has been held in solitary confinement-type conditions in a prison colony since before he was sentenced in December 2021, will end up in a more restrictive prison.
The court in the eastern city of Mahilyou said Tsikhanouski will be transferred to prison for three years for unspecified violations.
It wasn’t immediately clear exactly what those alleged violations were.
Tsikhanouski is the husband of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is now the widely considered to be the leader of Belarus’s opposition.
A popular video blogger, Tsikhanouski intended to challenge Alyaksandr Lukashenka who was running for re-election as president in 2020. But he was disqualified and arrested before the vote.
Tsikhanouskaya subsequently mobilized voters and won the election, according to the opposition and Western countries who say Lukashenka rigged the results.
She has been living in Lithuania since fleeing Belarus due to concerns about her safety and that of the couple's two children.
Svyatlana also confirmed the news of the harsher punishment for her husband, but she said in a post to her Telegram channel that she did not know the reasons for the decision or where he would be sent.
Leading Russian Hospital Offers To Treat Jailed Ex-Kyrgyz President
BISHKEK -- A leading Russian hospital has said it would provide treatment to former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, whose health is reportedly deteriorating as he serves an 11-year prison sentence in Bishkek.
It's unclear if Kyrgyz authorities will authorize Atambaev's departure, even for medical treatment offered by the Central Clinical Hospital of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation.
There was no immediate comment on the request by prison authorities or government officials.
Atambaev, who was convicted and sentenced in 2020 for his role in the illegal release of a notorious crime boss, has in the past complained of numbness in his limbs. Another lawyer said that he had lost weight, had low blood pressure, and looked unwell.
Although Kyrgyz authorities typically cede to Moscow's requests, the government may be more reluctant to let Atambaev go, fearing he would not return to Kyrgyzstan, where he faces multiple other investigations.
Kyrgyzstan’s first president, Askar Akaev, has been living in Moscow openly since being ousted in 2005 by anti-government protests.
Bishkek authorities still want him on corruption charges and he visited Kyrgyzstan last year for the first time since he fled the country, and he was questioned in an investigation involving a major gold mine operation.
However, he was allowed to return to Moscow.
The 65-year-old Atambaev is currently involved in another trial linked to 2019 violence at his compound near Bishkek involving an Interior Ministry summons. A standoff between security forces and his supporters resulted in the death of a senior security officer and more than 170 injuries.
In that case, Atambaev and 13 others have been charged with murder, attempted murder, and other charges.
In June, prosecutors filed another charge against Atambaev over deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 that claimed almost 450 lives.
At that time, Atambaev led an interim government, which took over following anti-government protests that toppled then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
Nazarbaev Makes Rare Public Appearance, Along With Ousted Aides
NUR-SULTAN – Former President Nursultan Nazarbaev made a rare public appearance, attending the opening of a new mosque in the Kazakh capital, accompanied by top associates who were pushed out in the wake of the January political unrest that roiled the country.
The August 12 visit to a ceremony unveiling a new mosque in the Central Asian capital was the only the third time since the January violence that the 82-year-old Nazarbaev has been seen in public.
Nazarbaev gave only brief opening remarks about the mosque's construction.
Nazarbaev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades before resigning in 2019 and picking his long-time ally, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, as his successor.
But he retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying substantial powers with the title of “Elbasy” or leader of the nation.
In January, protests that started over a fuel price hike spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had plagued the country under Nazarbaev. More than 200 people were killed in the unrest, and hundreds arrested.
In the wake of these events, Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.
In June, a Toqaev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbaev's name from the Kazakhstan's constitution and annulled his status as Elbasy.
Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and would not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.
Russia Blocks Social Network Account Of Rights Group Over Ukraine War Coverage
Russian authorities have blocked the main social media account for police watchdog OVD-Info over its coverage of the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine.
OVD-Info said its account on VK, the dominant Russian social media network also known as VKontakte, had been blocked on the orders of prosecutors.
The group, a nongovernmental organization whose compilations of arrests and detentions nationwide are widely followed inside Russia, said the Prosecutor-General's Office declared that its reports about casualties among Ukrainian civilians and Russian troops were "false."
The Prosecutor-General's Office had no immediate statement on the order.
The organization's main website was ordered blocked in December, after a court accused it of promoting terrorism and extremism.
An appeals court later threw out that ruling and ordered a new hearing, although the website remained blocked and OVD-Info had to set up a new site.
The group's other media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram still appeared to be working as of August 12.
Since the February 24 invasion, Russian authorities have clamped down on independent media and civil society groups in particular where coverage of the Ukraine war is concerned. The Kremlin has ordered that the invasion be called a "special military operation,” and has criminalized “discrediting the armed forces.”
According to Roskomsvoboda, a group that promotes uncensored online media, more than 5,000 websites have been fully blocked since the beginning of the invasion.
Ukraine's Pipeline Operator Says Oil Flow From Russia Through Druzhba Resumes
The flow of Russian oil has resumed to Hungary and Slovakia through the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba oil pipeline, Ukraine's Naftogaz said on August 11.
Ukraine's pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta said it resumed operations upon receiving payment from Hungarian energy group MOL on the evening of August 10.
Ukraine had halted Russian oil shipments through Druzhba on August 4 after Western sanctions prevented it from receiving transit fees from Moscow.
Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft and MOL said on August 10 that oil flows were poised to resume through the pipeline.
The suspension also affected the Czech Republic. All three countries rely heavily on Russian crude and have limited ability to import alternative supply by sea.
Ukrtransnafta said that no funds were received from Transneft. Instead MOL, the Hungarian oil company, took the initiative to pay a transit fee for the Russian oil.
Ukrtransnafta also said that it had not received any data on transit fee payment from the Czech Republic so far, or any official letters from Transneft informing that the company operating the section of the Druzhba pipeline in the Czech Republic would pay transit frees for the oil flows to that country.
The chairman of the Czech pipeline operator said that oil flows through the Druzhba pipeline to the Czech Republic should resume within two days as problems with paying transit fees are resolved.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Navalny Establishes One-Man Labor Union In Russian Penal Colony
Jailed Russian opposition politician and outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has established a labor union in the penal colony where he is currently being held.
Navalny tweeted on August 11 that the name of the labor union he created is Promzona (Industrial Zone). Promzona is the official name of parts of penal colonies across many former Soviet countries in which factories and plants are located.
Navalny said the labor union, which currently has just one member -- himself -- was established due to the exploitation of around 600,000 people in Russia's penitentiaries, adding that he would also be happy to represent the interests of the guards if they wanted him to do so.
"Basically, if life has given me a lemon in the form of a prison sentence, then I need to turn it into the lemonade of at least some useful activity for society," Navalny said.
According to Navalny, other inmates were more worried than the prison's guards about the creation of the union.
"Each time I talk about it, my fellow murderers sadly say: 'Aleksei, stop it, please. Because of you they will never let us out at all, and all this will end badly,'" Navalny said, explaining that is why his is a one-man union.
Navalny added that his labor union had already won some victories, citing the penal colony's administration providing inmates seated at sewing machines with proper chairs. This was an improvement over stools, which had hurt their backs.
Navalny was arrested in January last year upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with what European labs defined as a Soviet-style nerve agent.
He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.
In March, Navalny was sentenced in a separate case to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated.
He was transferred in June to Correctional Colony No. 6 in the town of Melekhovo in the Vladimir region east of Moscow after the Moscow City Court rejected his appeal against the nine-year jail term.
Navalny is still able to use Twitter and other social media through his representatives.
With reporting by dpa
Russian TV Journalist Who Protested Ukraine War On Air Is Put Under House Arrest
MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has placed TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova under house arrest on a charge of distributing false information about Russia’s armed forces.
The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital announced the decision on August 11, one day after Ovsyannikova’s home was searched and she was detained.
Ovsyannikova's lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said on August 10 that his client was charged with "public distributing false information about Russian armed forces" and may face 10 years in prison if convicted.
Ovsyannikova, known for delivering a live on-air anti-war protest in March, wrote on Telegram that the charge filed on August 10 stems from her one-person protest in front of the Kremlin in early July in which she held a poster saying "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is a murderer, his soldiers are fascists" and displayed photos of children killed in Ukraine.
Last week, a court in Moscow fined Ovsyannikova 50,000 rubles ($820) for that protest.
Ovsyannikova gained international recognition on March 14 when she burst onto the set of Channel One's Vremya news program holding a poster reading: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you” in Russian. She also shouted: "Stop the war. No to war."
Ovsyannikova was a producer with Channel One at the time of her protest. She was later detained and fined 30,000 rubles ($490) by a court for calling for illegal protests.
Ovsyannikova resigned from Channel One and spent several months abroad, including in Ukraine, repeatedly expressing her condemnation of the war.
On August 8, a court in Moscow ordered Ovsyannikova to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles ($660) for her latest online posts protesting the war in Ukraine.
In March, Putin signed a law that provides for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian Army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.
Western Nations Pledge $1.55 Billion In Military Aid To Ukraine
Western countries committed more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.55 billion) in cash, equipment, and training on August 11 during a donor conference to boost Ukraine's military capabilities in its war against Russia.
The money was pledged by 26 countries at the conference of defense ministers in Copenhagen, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bodskov told journalists.
“All the countries that came to Copenhagen came with the intention of supporting Ukraine,” Bodskov said at the end of the one-day meeting.
The money will be used to supply weapons, missiles, and ammunition, increase weapon production for Ukraine, train Ukrainian soldiers, and demine war-torn areas in Ukraine.
The defense ministers of Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic signaled a willingness to expand the production of artillery systems, ammunition, and other military equipment for Ukraine, Bodskov said.
In a joint statement, the countries pledged to ensure continued and sustained military support for Ukraine and agreed to hold a virtual meeting in September.
Britain pledged an additional 300 million euros, including multiple-launch rocket systems and precision guided M31A1 missiles that can strike targets up to 80 kilometers away.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the donations were “proof of the opposite” of what Russian President Vladimir Putin would have bet would be true by now -- that Western governments “would have all got bored of the conflict and the international community would have gone off in different directions.”
Wallace also said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was "starting to fail in many areas."
Denmark also made additional commitments to help Ukraine's military defense.
“We will not let you down,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said as she opened the conference. Denmark said a new contribution of $113 million would push the total amount of funding from the small northern nation of 5.8 million to over $500 million. She called it “a huge donation.”
Ukraine has made repeated appeals to the West to send more weapons, including long-range artillery, while Moscow has accused Western countries of dragging out the conflict by giving Ukraine more arms.
Russia took apparent steps on August 11 to strengthen its control over the eastern Luhansk region after driving out the last Ukrainian troops last month.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, said he was joined on a visit to the region by Russia's top law enforcement and security officials and also the minister in charge of construction.
Medvedev, who is now vice chairman of the Russian Security Council, said on Telegram that they met in the city of Luhansk with local Kremlin-backed officials to discuss “restoring infrastructure, repairing hospitals and preparing schools for the start of the school year, solving social problems, and supporting civilians.”
Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas, the area that has been the focus of the war for months. While Moscow already controls Luhansk, it is now fighting to take the remainder of Donetsk.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa
Tallinn To Bar Russian Citizens With Estonia-Issued Schengen Visas From Entering Country
Estonia plans to bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas that were issued by the Baltic state from entering the country because of Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said after a government session on August 11 that, although the Schengen visas issued by his country will remain valid, they will not be accepted for entry into Estonia.
Estonia stopped issuing new tourist visas to Russians shortly after the invasion of Ukraine in February, except for the relatives of Estonian citizens.
Reinsalu emphasized that the decision affects only the estimated 50,000 visas issued by Estonia, adding that the government plans to discuss in the coming days ways of barring all Russian citizens from entering Estonia.
The minister also said that holders of Schengen visas issued by Estonia will be able to enter other countries of the Schengen area.
The move does not affect diplomats and members of their families, individuals involved in international transportation businesses, people who need to visit Estonia for humanitarian reasons, or the close relatives of Estonian citizens and permanent residents.
In addition, people who have a right to move freely across the European Union under EU laws will also be able to enter Estonia.
Estonia and Finland have called on other EU countries to ban tourist visas for all Russian citizens over the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine. The issue will be discussed on the EU level because current EU legislation does not allow for such a move.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev on August 11 condemned the calls for a visa ban as "overt manifestations of chauvinism and a reckless attempt to cancel all things Russian, which is impossible."
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on August 11 that he is against a ban on tourist visas for Russian citizens.
"This is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war, so I have a very hard time with this idea," Scholz told reporters in Berlin.
Scholz stressed that he is confident that Western sanctions imposed on Russia because of the war in Ukraine would become less effective if they target "everyone, including innocent people."
With reporting by dpa and TASS
One Of Three Iranian Filmmakers Arrested In Crackdown Has Been Released On Bail
Mostafa al-Ahmad, one of the three prominent filmmakers jailed last month in Iran as part of a broad crackdown, was released on bail on August 10. He had contracted COVID-19 in prison.
Ahmad, 52, was arrested in July as Iranian authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests across the Islamic republic. Fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasulof and Jafar Panahi were arrested around the same time.
It had been reported recently that Ahmad and Panahi had developed COVID-19 in Tehran's Evin prison, but judicial authorities prevented them from being hospitalized outside that detention facility.
Days prior to his arrest, Ahmad had joined a group of Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down their arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people in May.
More than 100 Iranian filmmakers backed the statement, which said that soldiers "have turned into the people's oppressors.”
The arrests of the three prominent directors has prompted international criticism. Three European film and arts festivals have strongly condemned the government over the detention of the filmmakers.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Journalists In Western Iranian Province Face Prosecution
At least six journalists have faced prosecution for their professional work in the last month in Iran’s western province of Lorestan, local sources reported.
The Roydad24 news agency wrote on August 10 that Mohammad Basati, the editor in chief of the Balutestan newspaper, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 80 million rials ($260) following a complaint by the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF).
The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation is an Iranian charitable organization founded in 1979 to provide support for poor families. The foundation is supported by the Iranian government and receives budgetary funds.
The verdict stated that Basati "published fake news that he was not able to prove" in a WhatsApp news group, without giving further details.
Sina Ghalandari, a local journalist in Lorestan Province, reported on August 1 that he had been sentenced to 27 months in prison and banned from media work for two years.
Last September, Ghalandari published the story of Mobina Suri, a 16-year-old teenager who was murdered by her husband in a so-called “honor” killing. Her husband was a clergyman.
According to Roydad24, the same judge presided over the trials of both Ghalandari and Basati.
Local sources have reported that four other journalists have faced prosecution in Lorestan in the last month.
Recently, the governor of Lorestan ordered that charges against all journalists be dropped to mark the Journalists’ Day holiday in Iran.
Iran has a long history of arresting and imprisoning journalists and media activists for reporting corruption and other stories that are embarrassing to the authorities. In provincial cities, even the smallest criticism of officials can bring harsh retribution.
In some cases, journalists have faced direct threats of violence from the authorities.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Man Jailed In Kazakhstan For Painting Pro-War 'Z' Symbol On WWII Memorial
SARAN, Kazakhstan -- A court in central Kazakhstan has sentenced a local resident to seven days in jail for painting the Latin letter "Z" -- a sign of support for Russia's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine -- on a tank that is a part of a memorial honoring World War II veterans.
The Saran municipal court in the Qaraghandy region announced on August 11 that it had sentenced the man, whose identity was not disclosed, after convicting him of hooliganism.
According to the court's press service, the 54-year-old, who was detained on July 29, pleaded guilty and expressed regret.
Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with the Latin letters "Z" and "V," and the symbols have been promoted by Russian state media and other Kremlin supporters as patriotic emblems expressing support for the military and the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine and several European Union member-states have banned the symbols. Although Kazakhstan has not officially banned them, several drivers in the Central Asian nation have been fined in recent months for displaying them on their vehicles.
Another Navalny Team Member Flees Russia Amid Crackdown
An aide to the former coordinator of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Murad Manapov, has fled Russia amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent.
Manapov told RFE/RL on August 11 that he is currently in Poland, adding that he has not yet applied for political asylum there.
Manapov also said he decided to leave Russia after the coordinator of Navalny's team in Daghestan, Eduard Atayev, was arrested earlier this year on an illegal weapons charge that Atayev and his supporters say was fabricated in retaliation for his political activity.
In recent months, many of Navalny's associates and members of his teams across Russia fled the country fearing for their safety amid a broad crackdown on political and civil dissent in Russia.
Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 that he blames on Russian security operatives acting at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, has been in prison since February 2021. His Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices have been designated "extremist" organizations.
Trial Begins Of German Reserve Officer Charged With Spying For Russia
A German military reserve officer has gone on trial on charges of spying for Russia in the western German city of Dusseldorf.
The trial of 65-year-old Ralf Goelert, who allegedly passed sensitive information to the Russian military intelligence from 2014 until 2020, opened on August 11.
Investigators say Goelert provided Russian agents with information about the Bundeswehr's reserve system, civilian-military cooperation in crisis situations, and data about the effects of sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 following the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
Goelert also purportedly provided Moscow with information about the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, a project that was halted following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.
According to the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the suspect did not receive any financial compensation for the documents he provided but was regularly invited to events organized in Germany by the Russian Embassy.
A court spokeswoman said the suspect made a partial confession during the preliminary proceedings.
With reporting by Kommersant, Der Spiegel, and dpa
Russian Official Says Child Suicide Has Risen Nearly 40 Percent Since 2020
An adviser to the office of Russia's children ombudswoman says the number of suicide cases among minors in the country has increased almost 40 percent.
Roman Chuprikov said on August 11 that the number of registered suicides among children across Russia last year was 753 while in 2020 that number was 548.
An expert from the Moscow Psychiatric Research Center, Karine Keshchyan, said the number of attempted suicides among children is much higher.
According to Keshchyan, psychiatric experts are unable to keep up with "the huge number of children" who attempt to kill themselves because their parents often refuse to seek professional assistance.
With reporting by Interfax
Russia Nixes Plan For Switzerland To Represent Ukraine's Interests
Moscow has rejected a plan by Kyiv to have Switzerland represent Ukraine's interests in Russia, saying it no longer considers Switzerland a neutral country.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said on August 11 that Switzerland had applied to Moscow for permission to represent Ukraine’s interests and that Moscow had denied the request.
"We very clearly answered that Switzerland had unfortunately lost its status of a neutral state and could not act as an intermediary or a representative," Nechayev said. "Bern has joined illegal Western sanctions against Russia."
Nechayev added that Switzerland also could not represent Russia's interests in Ukraine.
Ukraine broke off diplomatic relations with Russia shortly after Moscow’s unprovoked massive military invasion of the country on February 24.
Kyiv on August 10 asked Switzerland to represent its interests in Russia, a move that Bern insisted requires Moscow’s assent.
Switzerland has a long history of such arrangements, representing U.S. interests in Iran, Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, Russian interests in Georgia, and Georgian interests in Russia, among others.
Switzerland has joined nearly all the sanctions the European Union has imposed on Russia since its military intervention in Ukraine.
Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and dpa
Latvian Parliament Designates Russia A State Sponsor Of Terrorism
Lawmakers in Latvia have designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, citing Moscow’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, its military activities in Syria, and several high-profile cases of poisoning of Kremlin-critics.
The Latvian parliament adopted the resolution on August 11 after 67 lawmakers voted for it. Sixteen lawmakers abstained.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted on Telegram that the Latvian resolution was "xenophobic."
Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Twitter that he was grateful for the resolution.
"Ukraine encourages other states and organizations to follow suit," Kuleba wrote.
The resolution denounced Russia's "violence against civilians in pursuit of political aims" and condemned Moscow's use of cluster munitions "to sow fear and indiscriminately kill civilians."
The parliament called on other "like-minded countries" to join the move and urged the European Union to stop issuing visas to citizens of Russia and Belarus, noting that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was carried out "with the support and involvement of the Belarusian regime."
With reporting by Delfi, Reuters, and AFP
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