Freedom House: Global Decline In Democracy Has 'Accelerated'
Freedom House says the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, and conflicts across the world contributed to the decline of global freedom in 2020.
In its annual report released on March 3, the Washington-based human rights watchdog said that the number of countries designated "not free" was at its highest level in 15 years.
The country-by-country review said Kyrgyzstan and Belarus were ranked among nations recording the biggest losses in scores for political rights and civil liberties. Meanwhile, North Macedonia ranked among nations recording the biggest gains.
The report downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, including not just authoritarian nations like China, Belarus, and Venezuela but also "troubled democracies" like the United States and India.
The report said that in 2020 "democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny."
"Incumbent leaders increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleaguered activists -- lacking effective international support -- faced heavy jail sentences, torture, or murder in many settings," it said.
'Blatantly Fraudulent' Elections
In Kyrgyzstan, the report said, "blatantly fraudulent" parliamentary elections in October led to protests that triggered the toppling of the government and the resignation of then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Sadyr Japarov, serving a 10-year prison sentence for hostage taking, was among several prominent politicians freed from prison by protesters during the unrest. He was elected president in January after a landslide victory.
The report said Japarov has "advanced a new draft constitution that could reshape Kyrgyzstan's political system in the mold of its authoritarian neighbors."
Kyrgyzstan's freedom score declined by 11 points, the largest of any country, and its status was changed from "partially free" to "not free."
Belarus suffered the second-largest decline following violent government crackdowns against demonstrators demanding the resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka after a disputed presidential election in August.
The United Nations says authorities have detained more than 30,000 protesters. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.
"The crackdown left a handful of protesters dead and hundreds at risk of torture in the country’s jails," the report said.
Freedom House also cited "problematic elections" in the region, including in Russia where a “rigged referendum” could potentially see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036.
The report also mentioned the "comparatively free but flawed parliamentary elections in Georgia" that deepened the country’s political crisis. The second round of voting was boycotted by opposition parties.
In Ukraine, the report said, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s reform agenda "faltered in the face of the pandemic and political corruption, culminating in a constitutional crisis."
Meanwhile, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian made "some headway in his reform drive," although the report said the "consensus behind his government was shattered by defeat" in the six-week war with Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
In Europe, the report said the government of right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban "misused" emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic to "withdraw financial assistance from municipalities led by opposition parties."
In the Western Balkans, Freedom House reported both setbacks and progress.
It said that "flawed parliamentary elections dealt a grievous blow to Serbia’s multiparty system," while in Kosovo "the political old guard ousted Prime Minister Albin Kurti's short-lived government and formed a new one, unconstitutionally."
Freedom House said Montenegro "bucked a six-year string of score declines" as elections ushered in the first transfer of power in three decades.
North Macedonia's reformist government was reelected, and its "institutions have largely recovered from damage inflicted by the fugitive former Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski," the report said.
In the Middle East, the report highlighted the Iranian government’s use of censorship and prosecutions to "suppress independent reporting" on the true extent of the country's coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities, the report said, used similar tactics to suppress information about the deadly government crackdown on anti-government protesters in November 2019 that killed hundreds of people and Iran's accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 people.
The Freedom House report also said political rights and civil liberties in India have declined since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014, with "increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims."
Meanwhile, the report said China "ramped up its global disinformation and censorship campaign to counter the fallout from its cover-up of the initial coronavirus outbreak, which severely hampered a rapid global response in the pandemic’s early days."
The report also cited Beijing’s "brutal crackdown" on “massive prodemocracy protests” in the territory of Hong Kong.
Freedom House also mentioned that former U.S. President Donald Trump "openly strove to illegally overturn his loss" in the November presidential election, "culminating in his incitement of an armed mob to disrupt Congress's certification of the results."
The report accused Trump, during his four years in power, of "condoning and indeed pardoning official malfeasance, ducking accountability for his own transgressions, and encouraging racist and right-wing extremists."
"Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States," the report said.
Poland Recruits Record Number Of Soldiers Following Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
Poland's armed forces have recruited the largest number of soldiers since it ended conscription in 2008 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked greater interest in defending the homeland. Poland recruited more than 13,500 professional soldiers last year, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on January 28. The number is equivalent to about 8 percent of Poland’s total armed forces of 164,000. Poland, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, intends to increase its armed forces to 300,000 professional soldiers in the coming years.
Five Russian Men Who Fled Mobilization Stranded At Seoul Airport As They Await Asylum Hearing
Five Russian men who fled their country after President Vladimir Putin announced a military mobilization have been stranded for months at an airport in South Korea. Seoul denied the men’s request for asylum upon their arrival in October and November. They have been living at their airport since then as they wait for their appeal to be heard. Russian nationals are allowed visa-free entry to South Korea, but immigration officials can deny permission to enter the country. The five men, whose identities are unknown, were among hundreds of thousands who fled Russia after the draft was announced. To read the original story by CNN, click here.
Russian Cash Transfers To Caucasus, Central Asia Surged In 2022 Amid Ukraine Invasion
Residents of Russia sent money to accounts in Central Asian and the Caucasus at the greatest rate in more than a decade as hundreds of thousands of people fled the country following its invasion of Ukraine, the RBC news agency reported.
Residents of Russia last year transfered $2 billion to Georgia, the largest since 2012, and more than $2.5 billion to Kyrgyzstan, the biggest since 2005, RBC reported. More than $3 billion was transferred to Armenia.
Uzbekistan received $14.5 billion, more the double the total for 2021, while Kazakhstan received $775 million.
Russians fled their country in a first wave after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February, triggering Western financial and trade sanctions that made it difficult for many citizens to work and conduct transactions.
Russians relocated en masse to Georgia and Armenia in the Caucasus, as well as Central Asia, where they could access dollar bank accounts and Western technology.
Hundreds of thousands more Russians fled to those nations after Putin announced in September the mobilization of up to 300,000 men for the war in Ukraine.
The number of Russians traveling to the Caucuses and Central Asia reached a five-year high last year, RBC reported.
Migrants may have also contributed to the jump in cash transfers in 2022.
Millions of migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus work in Russia and regularly send money to their families back home.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western economic sanctions have triggered a recession in Russia. As a result, many migrants have lost their jobs, forcing them to return home and repatriate their money.
More migrants could lose their jobs in 2023 as Russia’s economy contracts for a second straight year amid the weight of the war.
Italy Signs $8 Billion Gas Deal With Libya As It Seeks To Cut Russian Dependence
Italy’s state-run energy company ENI has signed an $8 billion deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields as European nations seek to cut their dependence on Russian energy.
ENI will help develop two offshore fields, with production expected set to start in 2026, the company said on January 28. ENI estimated the fields could produce about 7.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year or more than two-thirds of the amount Italy imported from Russia last year.
European nations have been rushing to purchase natural gas from non-Russian sources, including North Africa, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe prior to the invasion, sharply cut exports to the continent last year in what EU officials said was an attempt to blackmail Brussels into cutting support for Ukraine. Italy had been the second-largest consumer of Russian gas in Europe after Germany.
The Russian energy cut caused natural gas prices in Europe to skyrocket to record levels, forcing companies and consumers to slash consumption. Prices have since returned to prewar levels amid a warm winter.
The ENI announcement came as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni toured energy-rich North Africa.
Days earlier, Meloni visited Algeria, Italy’s main supplier of natural gas, to sign memorandums on energy. Italy in May signed a deal with Algeria to increase imports starting in the autumn of 2022. That agreement called for up to an additional 9 bcm in 2023-24.
During her visit to Libya, Meloni said Italy wasn’t seeking a “predatory” role but wants to help African nations “grow and become richer.”
Libya’s exports to Italy have fallen by 5.5 bcm, or two-thirds, since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising overthrew longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, ushering in a period of instability and underinvestment.
In addition to North Africa, European nations have sought more natural gas imports from the United States and Qatar.
Russian gas exports to Europe via pipelines plummeted to a post-Soviet low in 2022 and are expected to fall further this year.
The EU is aiming to end Russian imports of natural gas via pipeline later this decade, a business that had generated Moscow tens of billions of dollars annually.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Gazprom Says It Will Ship 24.3 Million Cubic Meters Of Gas To Europe Via Ukraine
Russia's Gazprom said it will ship 24.3 million cubic meters (mcm) of natural gas to Europe via Ukraine on January 28. The previous day, Gazprom announced the shipping of an almost identical quantity -- 24.2 mcm. Gas is no longer flowing through the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic Sea pipelines, so the Ukrainian pipelines are the last remaining direct routes to Europe. Russian gas exports to Europe via pipelines plummeted to a post-Soviet low in 2022 as deliveries plunged because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Countries in Europe are working to find alternative supplies of gas due to the war. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Death Toll In Afghanistan Cold Snap Rises To 166
At least 166 people have died in a wave of bitterly cold weather sweeping Afghanistan, the Disaster Management Ministry said on January 28. Afghanistan has been frozen by temperatures as low as -33 degrees Celsius since January 10, combined with widespread snowfall, icy gales, and regular electricity outages. Aid agencies had warned before the cold snap that more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people were facing hunger, while nearly 4 million children were suffering from malnutrition. The ministry said on January 28 that the death toll had risen by 88 over the past week and now stood at 166. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Zelenskiy Adviser Slams International Olympic Committee For 'Antihuman Policy'
Senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak criticized the International Olympic Committee on January 28 for siding with Russia after the IOC said the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes a chance to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics. "#IOC proposes to the world promotion of violence, mass murders, destruction. That's why it insists Russian athletes should participate in contests as real 'ambassadors of death'," Podolyak wrote on Twitter. "Sport doesn't exist outside politics -- sport promotes it. Thus, the IOC promotes the [Russian] anti-human policy."
Australian Open Chief Tells Djokovic's Family To 'Be Really Careful'
Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on January 28 advised tennis ace Novak Djokovic's family to be "really careful" of people using the tournament's global exposure as a platform for "disruptive" purposes. It follows a video posted on the Internet showing Djokovic's father, Srdjan, posing in Melbourne with a fan holding a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin's face. It sparked a backlash from Ukraine, which is battling Russia's full-scale invasion. "My advice is that you have to be really careful because, if this is an event of global significance, it's a platform," Tiley said he told them. To read the original article by AFP, click here.
Ukraine To Summon Hungarian Envoy Over 'Unacceptable' Remarks By Orban
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry will summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27. Hungary has repeatedly criticized EU sanctions on Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko, writing on Facebook, said Orban had told reporters that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan. "The Hungarian ambassador will be summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for a frank discussion. We reserve the right to take other measures in response," Nikolenko said. To read the original article by Reuters, click here.
Russians Launch Deadly Strike On Donetsk City As Fierce Fighting Rages In East
A Russian strike on a city in the eastern region of Donetsk killed at least three people on January 28 as Ukrainian forces engaged Russian troops in ferocious battles in several hot spots in the east, where Moscow has been pressing its offensive with increased urgency amid Western pledges of modern tank deliveries for Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy used the occasion to call on Western partners to supply his nation with long-range precision missiles, known as ATACMS, to reduce Russia’s ability to target cities.
“It would be possible to stop this Russian terror if we could source the appropriate missiles for our military forces,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on January 28.
A Russian strike on a residential neighborhood in the Donetsk city of Kostyantynivka killed three people and wounded at least two others, regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.
Kyrylenko said four apartment buildings and a hotel had been damaged and that rescuers and police officials were at the site to "carefully document yet another crime by the Russian occupiers."
Earlier on January 28, Kyrylenko said four people had been killed and at least seven wounded by Russian strikes in the last 24 hours.
The January 28 strikes were just the latest in a series by Russian forces to hit Ukrainian civilian targets as Moscow seemingly tries to use terror to weaken the nation’s resolve.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior Zelenskiy aide, said in an interview on January 28 that Ukraine is engaged in “fast-track” talks on the possibility of acquiring ATACMs and jet fighters.
The United States has so far refrained from sending Ukraine either weapon for fear it would be perceived by Moscow as escalatory.
The ATACMs could strike Russian arms depots and other equipment up to 300 kilometers away, weakening Moscow’s ability to supply its troops at the front lines.
U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby said on January 27 that the Biden administration does not have plans at the moment to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
Air support is a crucial element of a fighting strategy known as "combined arms" that also includes the use of artillery, tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and infantry.
The United States and its NATO allies earlier this month announced plans to send tanks, fighting vehicles, and more artillery to Ukraine as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, the fighting on the front line remains extremely intense, especially in Donetsk, where major battles are under way for Vuhledar and Bakhmut, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report early on January 28 that Russian troops continued to press on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
"The enemy continues to conduct offensive actions in the Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlivka directions," the General Staff said.
"In the Kupyansk, Lyman, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson directions, the enemy is on the defensive," it said.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told local media that "there is fierce combat" in Vuhledar.
"For many months, the military of the Russian Federation...has been trying to achieve significant success there," he said.
Vuhledar, a town with a preinvasion population of around 15,000 people, has strategic significance as a communications node in southern Donetsk.
The secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told RFE/RL that Moscow was preparing for a new offensive on February 24, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
"Now they are preparing for maximum activation...and they believe that by the anniversary they should have some achievements," Danilov said. "There is no secret that they are preparing for a new wave by February 24, as they themselves say."
WATCH: Ukrainian combat medic Oksana Lebedenko lost contact with her 11-year-old daughter Yeva after Russian forces occupied her hometown of Vovchansk in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Lebedenko later discovered that her pro-Russian brother had taken her daughter to Russia without permission. After nearly a year apart, volunteers helped reunite the mother and daughter in Kyiv in December.
Ukraine's Western allies continue to pledge military equipment and aid to shore up Kyiv's defenses.
U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington anticipates an “intense period of fighting” in the coming months," adding that there is "no sign" of the war stopping.
Zelenskiy said on January 27 that Ukraine needs up to 500 tanks.
"We need 300 or 500 tanks now. We need tanks to protect our territory, our land. We need armored vehicles to protect our people, that's all," Zelenskiy said in an interview with Sky News.
So far, a total of 321 heavy tanks have been promised to Ukraine by several countries, Ukraine's ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, said on BFM television on January 27, without giving further details.
The United States, Poland, Germany, and the United Kindom alone pledged more than 130 advanced tanks, with Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, and other countries expected to announce donations soon.
Russian forces in Ukraine have built hundreds of kilometers of field fortifications over the past few months. Breaking through those lines will require tanks in a coordinated attack with other weapon systems to punch through those defenses.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also reassured Ukraine of the bloc's unconditional support. Speaking in the German city of Duesseldorf on January 28, von der Leyen said, "We stand by Ukraine's side without any ifs and buts."
Von der Leyen and her fellow EU commissioners plan an EU-Ukraine summit on February 3.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gestures of Western solidarity with Ukraine and said it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating "direct involvement" of the United States and NATO in Russia's war of aggression, something both deny.
In a separate development, Ukraine said it would summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nykolenko said Orban had told the media that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Kurti Resisting Western Proposal Even Though It Could Cost Kosovo Critical Support
PRISTINA -- Prime Minister Albin Kurti has remained defiant over a Western proposal for improving relations with Serbia even as he says it could cost Kosovo critical support.
In an interview with RFE/RL on January 27 in Pristina, Kurti again rejected a request to create an association of Kosovo municipalities with an ethnic Serbian majority, a step the West says is necessary to resolve tensions between the two Balkan neighbors.
Kurti said the association should not be based on ethnicity.
Kosovo and Serbia agreed in 2013 to the creation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities when they signed the Western-backed Brussels Agreement. However, Pristina has failed to implement it.
Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, told RFE/RL last month during a visit to region that the creation of the association was a priority for the United States, the biggest backer of Kosovo.
Escobar’s visit came amid protests by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo that have accerbated already tense relations between the two countries.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following a bloody war in the 1990s. While most European countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia has refused to do so, preventing both from potentially joining the bloc.
The United States and the European Union have been trying to reconcile the two countries, opening the door to joining Western organizations.
The EU last summer submitted its plan for normalizing relations to Pristina and Belgrade. According to a copy of the document seen by RFE/RL, the proposal calls for equal rights for Kosovo and Serbia, respect for territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, recognition of state symbols, and a special arrangement for the Serbian community in Kosovo.
It does not, however, mention mutual recognition. The creation of the association is not part of the EU plan.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Kurti said that the plan "does not contain everything Kosovo would want."
"It is not even called a final deal and I believe that it rightly isn't [called so] because discussions are needed. It is a common platform for discussions. It is not a final version of the 'take it or leave it kind,'" he said.
Kurti said that the West had alluded to downgrading its support for Kosovo if it does not back the plan and the association proposal. Kosovo is dependent on Western financial and technical aid.
However, he said he was not concerned about a weakening of Western support.
"We are very constructive on top of being very determined and creative," Kurti said.
Dialogue between Kosovo's and Serbia's leaders has intensified in the months since the EU submitted its plan.
Last week in Pristina, Kurti met with several Western emissaries led by Miroslav Lajcak, the EU special representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
Lajcak said his group expected a "better understanding" from Kurti on the opportunities the proposal offers.
Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo will host a meeting expected to take place on January 31 to discuss the association proposal.
During the interview, Kurti said that he had not received an invitation to the meeting but added that he is interested in continuing talks in hope of reaching tangible results by March of this year.
Serb Who Joined Russian-Backed Forces In Ukraine Has Jail Sentence Overturned
A Serbian court has overturned the one-year prison sentence handed down to a citizen who fought for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine in 2015.
The Court of Appeal in Belgrade let Vlado Stanic go free after lowering his conviction to a suspended sentence, according to his lawyer.
The decision was made on December 13, 2022, but Stanic's lawyer only received the official decision yesterday.
Stanic was arrested at Belgrade's airport on July 15, 2022, and charged with joining the Russian-backed Hussar Regiment paramilitary formation.
According to reports, Stanic checked passengers and vehicles entering and leaving Snezno, a town in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. He allegedly wore the official uniform of the Luhansk and Donetsk separatists.
Stanic was among 300 Serbian citizens who participated on the side of the Kremlin-backed forces from 2014 through 2018, according to estimates of the Embassy of Ukraine in Serbia.
Serbia has historically had close ties with Russia.
Serbia's Criminal Code forbids citizens from participating in foreign wars. The act is punishable with a prison sentence of six months to five years.
The penalty is higher -- from one to eight years --for participating in a war as part of a paramilitary group.
Stanic was sentenced in September to one year in prison by an extrajudicial verdict after pleading guilty. His lawyer, Katarina Nikic, immediately filed an appeal.
Serbia has convicted 32 citizens for participating in the war but the sentences handed down have been mild.
In 28 cases, the court sentenced the defendants to a suspended prison sentence, while four people were sentenced to house arrest for six months.
One of those sentenced to house arrest was a man who helped recruit fighters. According to the Criminal Code, the punishment for recruiting fighters is from two to 10 years.
The lenient punishments have had consequences. Several Serbian citizens convicted of fighting in Ukraine violated their probation and returned to the front.
Russia Summons Latvian Charge d'Affaires Over Riga's Move To Downgrade Diplomatic Ties
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on January 27 it summoned Latvia's Charge d'Affaires Dacija Rutka to express protest over Riga's move to downgrade diplomatic relations with Moscow, expressed days earlier. The ministry requested outgoing Latvian Ambassador Maris Riekstins to leave Russia in two weeks. On January 23, Latvia and Estonia told their ambassadors to leave Moscow after Russia downgraded diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia." The two Baltic states have been among the strongest backers of Ukraine since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine Bans Officials' Trips Abroad Except In 'Exceptional' Cases
Ukraine's government has approved a resolution banning officials from traveling abroad. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27 that lawmakers, government members, local officials, prosecutors, judges, and other officials can travel abroad only on business trips, for medical reasons, or to take care of minors. "No travel [abroad] to have a rest," Shmyhal wrote on Telegram. A day earlier, lawmaker Mykola Tyshchenko was expelled from the ruling Servant of the People party for being in Thailand without parliament's knowledge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Ukraine Needs $17 Billion In Additional Financing For Energy Repairs, PM Says
Ukraine will need an additional $17 billion in financing this year for energy repairs, demining, and to rebuild infrastructure, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27. He told a government meeting that five high-voltage substations in the central, southern, and southwestern regions were hit during Russia's air attacks on January 26. The energy sector has been severely damaged following four months of Russian missile and drones attacks. Shmyhal said the government hosted a meeting with Western partners this week to coordinate financial support in a transparent and efficient way. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranians Use End Of 40-Day Mourning Period To Protest Against Government
Iranians continue to gather at the graves of those who have been killed by security forces in ongoing nationwide protests that have rocked the country since the death of a woman in police custody, calling for regime change despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities.
Since Mahsa Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
In recent weeks, protesters have turned the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following a protester's death into a stage for anti-government demonstrations.
Videos published on social media on January 26 showed crowds at the grave of Hamidreza Rouhi, a university student who had a modeling career since childhood and was shot dead during a demonstration in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on November 18.
They chanted "Death to the dictator!," a reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as they gathered to honor Rouhi.
In the western city of Khorramabad, people flocked to the cemetery where Nika Shakrami -- a 16-year-old killed after participating in anti-government protests in Tehran on September 20 -- was buried.
Similar scenes were repeated in the central city of Arak, where Mehrshad Shahidinejad was buried. Shahidinejad was a 19-year-old aspiring chef who was reportedly killed after being arrested during a protest.
Reports also indicate that a group of people and family members of Mohammad Mehdi Karami visited a cemetery in the city of Eshtehard to lay flowers at the graves of Karami and another protester, Mohammad Hosseini.
The were hanged in prison on January 7 following threats by Iranian authorities of harsher penalties to those who participate in the unrest.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 15, at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Two Iranian Professors Dismissed After Supporting Student Protests
Two Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs following their support of students in nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
The Hakim Sabzevari University Students Union Council announced on January 26 that Hassan Bagherinia, a member of the psychology faculty, had been suspended.
In a letter to the president of the university, the council described Bagherinia's suspension as unfair and said that "in these days when the truth is clouded, he has not remained silent and has always supported the people."
Meanwhile, the Union Council of Iranian Students announced that Amir Nikpey, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Beheshti University, had also been dismissed.
According to the council, Nikpey is the fourth professor to be fired from Beheshti University after Negar Zilabi from the faculty of theology, Mohammad Ragheb from the faculty of literature, and Eslam Nazemi from the faculty of computer engineering.
Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.
Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend class. Protesting students have chanted "woman, life, freedom" and "death to the dictator" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.
In most of the protests, students have asked the professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.
In a rare act of protest, Encieh Erfani resigned from her post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences, which is located in the northwestern city of Zanjan.
"Student protesters were chanting, 'the streets are soaked with blood, our professors are silent,'" she told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "So I submitted my resignation."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.
Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.
Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Kazakh Teenage Girl Beats Russia's Noted Chess Grandmaster Karyakin
An 18-year-old female Kazakh chess player has beaten Russian grandmaster Sergei Karyakin at the Chess Stars International Tournament in Moscow.
Bibisara Asaubaeva, the first Muslim woman in history to become women's World Blitz chess champion twice, defeated Karyakin in the tournament's rapid format on January 26.
Asaubaeva, who currently holds the titles of international master and woman grandmaster, is competing for the tournament's prize pool of $216,247.
The blitz competitions are next up and will be held on January 28-30.
Karyakin commended Asaubaeva's performance, calling her a "world champion who plays very well."
Last year, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) disqualified Karyakin for six months for publicly supporting Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The 33-year-old Karyakin has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine since it started on February 24, 2022, which has been harshly criticized by many in the chess world.
Karyakin, who was born in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that was illegally annexed by Russia eight years ago, represented Ukraine until 2009.
With reporting by Kazinform and KazTAG
EU Prolongs Economic Sanctions Over Russia's War In Ukraine Until July 31
The Council of the European Union on January 27 extended sanctions targeting specific sectors of Russia's economy by six months, until July 31. The sanctions, first introduced in 2014, were significantly expanded since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the council said in a statement. They include restrictions on trade, finance, technology, industry, transport, and luxury goods; a ban on the import or transfer of seaborne crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU; a de-SWIFTing of several Russian banks; and the suspension of Russian broadcasting activities.
EU Seeks Effective Justice For 'Horrific' Crimes In Ukraine War
The EU wants swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine, EU justice ministers said on January 26, even as they differed over the methods about how to bring prosecutions, seek evidence, or fund war-damage repairs. The bloc's 27 justice ministers met in Stockholm ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine. "Nobody doing this kind of war crimes shall go free. It's very, very important that we will find a way to hold responsible people accountable," Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said. "The question is, how can we deal with this in a practical and efficient way." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Moscow Blocks CIA, FBI Websites, Citing 'False' Information About Russian Armed Forces
Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked the websites of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department's national security rewards program, according to the Roskomsvoboda project. There was no immediate comment from Washington, but earlier this month the intelligence service posted a message on Facebook saying Russia's military mobilization could radically change the lives of Russians and asked them to contact FBI agents as "it is in your power to change this." The FBI regularly launches advertising campaigns on social networks in different languages, including Russian. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Rogue Russian Priest Gets Additional Prison Term On Hatred Charge
MOSCOW -- An ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 2021 has been handed an additional sentence of 5 1/2 years in prison on charge of inciting hatred toward Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.
The Babushkin district court ruled on January 27 that it was combining the two sentences, meaning the general prison term for Nikolai Romanov, also known as Father Sergiy, will amount to seven years.
The additional charge against Romanov, who is already in prison after being convicted of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide, stemmed from his six online posts about religions other than Orthodox Christianity.
His co-defendant Vsevolod Moguchev, who placed Father Sergiy's sermons on his YouTube channel, was also found guilty of inciting hatred and sentenced to five years in prison.
Father Sergiy was arrested in December 2020 after law enforcement raided his convent in the Sverdlovsk region. Parishioners and some clergy skirmished with the police during the arrest of the rogue priest, who was then sent to a detention center in Moscow.
The priest made headlines in June 2020 after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women's Monastery in the Urals by force with help from Cossack guards.
He was later stripped of his religious rank by the Diocesan Court in the Sverdlovsk region for what the court called disobedience toward Russian Orthodox Church authorities.
Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, calling the coronavirus pandemic a Western plot, and publicly condemning the Russian Orthodox Church's order in April 2020 to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the virus.
After forcibly taking over the convent, Father Sergiy issued political statements saying that constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system."
The constitutional changes approved in 2020 allow Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 21 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.
Armenian Officer Arrested For Negligence Over Fire That Killed 15 Soldiers
An Armenian military officer has been arrested over a deadly fire last week that killed 15 soldiers and critically injured three others in the South Caucasus country. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on January 27 that Gor Aghabekian, the deputy commander of the military unit, who was responsible for fire-safety rules, was sent to pretrial detention for at least two months on a charge of negligence that led to the deaths. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
U.K. Court Says Russian Businessman Cannot Pause $850 Million Fraud Case Over Sanctions
The High Court in London has ruled a prominent Russian businessman cannot pause an $850 million fraud lawsuit brought by two Russian banks because of British sanctions. Boris Mints and his sons Dmitry, Aleksandr, and Igor are being sued by National Bank Trust, which is 99 percent owned by Russia's central bank, on behalf of Bank Otkritie, once Russia's largest private lender before its 2017 collapse. Lawyers representing the Mints family -- who deny the fraud allegations -- say the lawsuit should be indefinitely put on hold because, if the banks win at trial, damages could not be paid, as Bank Otkritie is under British sanctions. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Police Officer Gets Eight Years In Prison In Absentia Over Posts About War In Ukraine
A Moscow court sentenced in absentia police officer Oleg Kashintsev to eight years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces by spreading "false" information about Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Kashintsev's lawyer said on January 27 the court also stripped Kashintsev's major rank and barred him from administering social networks and from serving in police ranks for four years. Kashintsev fled Russia several months ago. His case is the first about "fake" news on Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine that was tried in absentia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Kyiv Says Forces Outnumbered, Battling 'Intensifying' Russian Attacks Near Bakhmut2
Kyrgyz Workers With Russian Citizenship Prevented From Leaving Russia, Urged To Fight In Ukraine3
Interview: For Putin, The War In Ukraine Is Hard To Win And Even Harder To End4
Leader Of Group Of Mothers And Wives Of Russian Soldiers Detained En Route To Moscow5
Romance And Realism: The Former Banker Photographing Rural Romania6
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official7
Ukrainian Military Says Russia Advancing In Three Directions As Air Strikes Increase8
Russian State Duma Head Joins Officials Warning Of Nuclear Retaliation In Ukraine9
Ukraine's SBU Responsible For Killing Of Banker Who Was Conduit For Russian Intelligence, Says Intel Chief10
Romania's Traditional Clothing Makers Call For Action After UNESCO Listing