Georgian Separatist Leader Schedules July Vote On Joining Russia
The de facto leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has set a date of July 17 for a referendum on uniting with Russia that is bound to be dismissed as a sham by Tbilisi and most outsiders.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and another region, Abkhazia, as independent countries after fighting a brief war against Georgia in 2008. Moscow maintains thousands of troops in both regions.
"Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia," the de facto leader's office said in a statement.
It cited the people's "historic aspiration" to join Russia.
Bibilov had said on March 30 that the mountainous region of around 60,000 people would take imminent measures to join Russia, which it borders.
Bibilov was defeated by the leader of the Nykhas party, Alan Gagloyev, in a May 8 runoff election for the leadership of South Ossetia in a vote that Georgia, the European Union, and the United States all dismissed as bogus.
Based on reporting by Reuters
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Kazakh Authorities Raise Death Toll From January Unrest To 238
NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh authorities have raised the death toll resulting from January anti-government unrest that rocked the county to 238, adding six more people who died in police custody to the overall tally.
Officials also released a full list of the victims for the first time on August 16.
The updated figure comes as officials continue to investigate the causes of the violence, and its aftermath, as well as the police response.
Thousands were detained during and after the protests, which erupted when a peaceful demonstration in a western district over a fuel-price hike led to nationwide anti-government protests that were violently dispersed by law enforcement and the military.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev blamed the unrest on "20,000 terrorists" from abroad, a claim for which authorities have provided no evidence. Russia briefly sent troops to help protect key government facilities.
In June, prosecutors said the overall death toll stood at 232. Deputy Prosecutor-General Aset Shyndaliev also said at the time that six people had been tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the January protests.
He also said that an unspecified number of security officers had been arrested in connection with the alleged torture.
Eldos Qilymzhanov, a top official with the Prosecutor-General's Office, said on August 16 that six individuals who were detained during the riots had died as a result of “illegal methods of interrogation by law enforcement structures.”
The updated overall toll now stands at 238, he said, as the Prosecutor-General's Office for the first time released the names of those killed.
Qilymzhanov also said that 15 law enforcement officers were under investigation.
The Prosecutor-General's Office said earlier that 25 people were officially considered victims of torture, and had been subjected to hot irons used by investigators during interrogations.
Human rights groups say the number of demonstrators killed was much higher than any of the various figures provided by officials. The groups have provided evidence that peaceful demonstrators and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those slain by law enforcement and military personnel.
The unrest led to the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his relatives from Kazakh politics. Some of his relatives have been stripped of their posts, have lost influential positions at companies, or have even been arrested on corruption charges.
Kazakh authorities have rejected calls by Kazakh and global human rights groups for an international probe in the events in January.
With reporting by Kazinform and KazTAG
Finland To Sharply Cut Russian Tourist Visas Amid Outcry Over Ukraine War
Finland said it will cut the number of Russian tourist visas it issues by 90 percent due to rising discontent over the war in Ukraine.
The decision, announced on August 16 by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, is the latest in a series of moves by the country in direct response to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters in Helsinki, Haavisto said Russian tourist visas would be cut to 10 percent of current volumes as of September 1.
"Tourist visas will not stop completely, but their number will be significantly reduced," he was quoted as saying.
"This means that other types of visas -- visits to relatives, family contacts, work, study -- will be given preference and more time," he said
Finland currently processes around 1,000 Russian visa applications a day, according to the public broadcaster Yle.
He said Finland will also look into establishing a specific humanitarian visa category, which could help journalists or NGO workers.
A small, but growing number of European Union members have publicly called for either restricting completely banning Russian tourists from Europe in response to the war.
The EU’s largest members, including Germany, have so far resisted the idea, though the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has pledged to discuss the issue further.
After decades of adhering to a neutral, nonaligned military status, Finland has moved quickly to embrace NATO membership following the February 24 invasion. Finnish public opinion has shifted in just a matter of months in favor of joining the alliance.
Sweden has also moved to join and currently, 20 out of NATO’s 30 members have approved the two countries’ membership.
"It's not right that Russian citizens can enter Europe, the Schengen area, be tourists...while Russia is killing people in Ukraine. It's wrong,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on August 15.
With reporting by AFP
Moscow Court Fines Telegram, Twitch For Failing To Delete 'Illegal' Content
A court in Moscow has fined the Telegram and Twitch applications for failing to delete content that the Russian government deems illegal as the Kremlin continues to ramp up pressure on social media networks.
The Magistrate Court of the Taganka district ruled on August 16 that Telegram must pay 4 million rubles ($64,770) for failing to take down materials related to Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
In a separate hearing, the court ordered Telegram to pay 7 million rubles ($113,350) for failing to remove a manual on how to prepare and conduct acts of sabotage.
The court also ordered the video-streaming service Twitch to pay 2 million rubles ($32,400) as a fine for its failure to remove materials related to the war in Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin has accused social media platforms and other foreign-based tech companies of flouting the country's Internet laws. He has been pushing ways to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and to store users' personal data locally.
The companies did not immediately comment on the decision, but in recent months, Russian courts have fined Google, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok over the personal-data issue, as well as for refusing to delete content deemed to be banned by Russian laws.
Many critics have accused the Russian authorities of trying to quell dissent by imposing stricter regulations on Internet companies.
Based on reporting by TASS and Telegram
Russian Court Fines Popular Russian Rocker For Criticizing War In Ukraine
A Russian court has fined the lead singer for the classic Russian rock group DDT 50,000 rubles ($800) for harshly criticizing President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine during a concert.
Yury Shevchuk was not present at the August 16 hearing in Ufa, the capital of the Russian region of Bashkortostan, but his lawyer, Aleksandr Peredruk, read out a statement from his client.
"I, Yury Shevchuk, have been always against wars in any country at any time. I have spoken against wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Georgia, Ossetia, Karabakh, Iraq, etc...I believe that any problems and complications of a political nature between countries and peoples must be solved by diplomatic methods...I am also against the war in the Donbas that has been underway for eight years and the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine," Shevchuk's statement said.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" and has made it illegal to refer to it as a war.
Before the hearing, Pavel Chikov, the chief of the legal defense organization Agora, placed Shevchuk's written statement on Telegram.
Peredruk said the court's ruling will be appealed.
Prosecutors charged Shevchuk in May under a law passed shortly after the February 24 invasion, criminalizing public statements that are deemed to discredit the armed forces.
During a DDT concert in Ufa in May, Shevchuk harshly criticized President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
"The Motherland is not the president's ass that one must lather and kiss all the time," Shevchuk said at the concert. “The Motherland is a beggar, an old woman that sells potatoes at the railway station. That is what the Motherland is.”
Shevchuk was loudly applauded by the audience. Videos of his statements went viral on Russian social media channels.
The law that Putin signed in March calls 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.
DDT was founded by Shevchuk in the early 1980s in Ufa and he has written most of its songs over the years.
Tajik Prosecutors Seek Life In Prison For Alleged Organizer Of Protests In Gorno-Badakhshan
DUSHANBE -- Tajik prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for retired Major General Kholbash Kholbashov for his alleged role in organizing deadly protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan region (GBAO) in May, a charge human rights organizations have called "bogus."
Sources close to law enforcement in Dushanbe told RFE/RL that prosecutors also asked the court to convict and sentence a second defendant in the case, noted journalist and human rights activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, to 25 years in prison. Mamadshoeva is Kholbashov's ex-wife.
The trial for the two began on August 3 and is being held behind closed doors on the premises of the State Committee for National Security’s detention center in Dushanbe.
Kholbashov and Mamadshoeva also face several charges of publicly calling for violent change to Tajikistan's constitutional order, organizing a criminal group, murder, attempted murder, and terrorism.
They were arrested on May 18 and later shown on the Tojikiston television channel saying that they, along with opposition politician Alim Sherzamonov and Mahmadboqir Mahmadboqirov, an informal leader in GBAO, had planned and organized the protests. Authorities in the Central Asian nation have claimed those actions were "terrorist" in nature.
The day before her arrest, Mamadshoeva, 65, told RFE/RL that she had nothing to do with the anti-government protests in GBAO's capital Khorugh, and in the district of Rushon.
Authorities say in the footage showing the so-called "confessions" that an unspecified Western country was involved in organizing the unrest. A total of 78 residents from GBAO's Rushon district were arrested at the time.
Mahmadboqirov was killed on May 22 in Khorugh. His relatives say law enforcement officers killed him, while authorities insist he was killed “when criminal groups were settling scores.”
Sherzamonov told RFE/RL that he had nothing to do with the planning of the riots in GBAO and that he suspects Mamadshoeva and Kholbashov were forced to make their televised statements.
Tajik authorities have said 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police. Residents of the Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL that 21 dead bodies were found at the sites where the clashes took place.
Deep tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.
The latest protests were sparked in mid-May by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of regional Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and Rizo Nazarzoda, the mayor of Khorugh.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters, a 29-year-old local resident Zamir Nazrishoev, was killed by police on May 16, prompting authorities to launch what they called an "anti-terrorist operation."
The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.
Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict in the 1990s.
While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is just 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.
Estonia Removes Soviet WWII Memorial In Border City
Estonian authorities has moved to demolish and relocate Soviet-era World War II memorials in the border city of Narva, a decision that earlier sparked warnings and protests from Moscow.
Engineers began removing a tank at one memorial in Narva early on August 16, with a sizable contingent of police and security forces standing guard, Estonia's public broadcaster ERR reported.
“Today’s decision helps to keep our focus on our most important tasks: ensuring Estonia’s security and helping all the people of Estonia weather the crises caused by the war in Ukraine,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was quoted as saying.
The Soviet tank will be moved to a war museum north of the capital, Tallinn.
Narva is a mainly Russian-speaking city on the border with Russia, and the government’s announcement that it planned to move the tank had sparked an outcry from Russian officials.
It's not the first time that Estonia has angered Russia over the relocation of war memorials.
In 2007, the Estonian government announced it would move a monument called the Bronze Soldier from Tallinn's center to a military cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
The monument was erected by Soviet officials to commemorate Soviet forces pushing the Nazi army out of Estonia; many Estonians considered the monument to be offensive due to the decades-long occupation of the country by the Soviet Union.
The decision sparked outrage in Russian-language media and led to two days of riots in Tallinn that injured 156 people and resulted in 1,000 people being detained. The country was later hit by massive cyberattacks that were largely blamed on Russia.
This latest move comes as Estonia and the two other Baltic nations have taken increasingly hard-line positions toward Moscow in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
Estonian authorities have called for blocking Russians from getting access to so-called Schengen visas, which allow widespread access to many European Union countries.
Russian Ammunition Depot In Northern Crimea Explodes; Authorities Blame Sabotage
A Russian ammunition storage unit in northern Crimea has exploded, the Defense Ministry said, injuring at least two people and prompting the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. The ministry blamed the blast on sabotage.
Local news organizations, meanwhile, reported a second explosion on August 16 at a nearby electrical substation in the Dzhankoy district of the Russian-occupied Black Sea peninsula.
It was unclear if the two incidents, which occurred around the same time, were related.
Video and photographs posted on Telegram and other social media showed a series of blasts and explosions in the district, which is not far from the administrative border with the mainland Ukrainian region of Kherson, now occupied by Russian forces.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the explosion occurred at a temporary storage facility for ammunition. The ministry later blamed the blast on unidentified saboteurs.
“On the morning of August 16, as a result of sabotage, a military warehouse near the village of Dzhankoy was damaged. A number of civilian facilities, including power lines, a power plant, a railway track, as well as a number of residential buildings, were damaged,” the ministry said in a statement.
“There are no serious casualties. Necessary measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of sabotage,” it added.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russia-appointed governor for the peninsula, said two people had been injured and that railway traffic had been disrupted. About 3,000 people were also evacuated from a nearby village, he said.
Refat Chubarov, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatar community, also said in a post on Facebook that the explosion occurred at an ammunition depot.
Two local Crimea news organizations, Kryminform and Crimean Wind, reported that a transformer at an electrical substation had also exploded or caught fire.
Russia’s Energy Ministry was quoted by news agencies as confirming a fire at the Crimea substation, but said it had been contained. No cause was given.
The incidents came roughly a week after a series of explosion tore through a Russia’s Saky air base, in a western district of Crimea, destroying a number of Russian warplanes.
There's been no confirmation as to what caused those explosions, though satellite imagery showed extensive destruction at the base. Most observers suggest Ukrainian forces were responsible but Kyiv has not claimed any responsibility.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a post to Twitter that the latest blasts were a reminder that the "Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses, explosions and a high risk of death for invaders and thieves."
"What is stolen does not bring prosperity," Podolyak later told Ukrainian television.
The Dzhankoy district is about 50 kilometers from the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.
With reporting by Crimea.Realities, a project of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, and AP
EU Confirms Iran Has Responded To Final Nuclear Proposal; Details Unclear
Iran says it has responded to a final European Union-brokered proposal on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, though details of the response were not immediately released.
The official IRNA news agency reported on August 16 that negotiators had submitted their reply and suggested that Tehran still wouldn't accept the EU proposal, despite warnings there would be no more negotiations.
“The differences are on three issues, in which the United States has expressed its verbal flexibility in two cases, but it should be included in the text,” the IRNA report said. “The third issue is related to guaranteeing the continuation of [the deal], which depends on the realism of the United States.”
"Iran has submitted a written response to the draft text of a Vienna agreement and has announced that an agreement will be concluded if the United States reacts with realism and flexibility," the agency reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted earlier quoted by IRNA as saying that "the American side has verbally accepted the two demands" made by Tehran.
A spokesman for the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, confirmed that Tehran had submitted its response and said it was being studied.
"We are studying it and are consulting with the other JCPOA participants and the U.S. on the way ahead," the spokesperson said, referring to the formal title of the 2015 nuclear pact.
He did not give any details on what the response contained.
The possibility of reviving the deal, which could lead to the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil output, has helped trigger a fall in global oil prices.
The landmark agreement has been on hold since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018, and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The main countries negotiating with Iran have been waiting for Tehran's response to the final draft which was submitted by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week.
IRNA quoted an unidentified Iranian diplomat as saying that "the European Union's proposals were acceptable so long as they provide assurances to Iran on various points related to sanctions and safeguards" as well as pending issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia resumed talks with Iran on the accord earlier in August after a months-long hiatus. The United States has been participating indirectly.
With reporting by AP and AFP
DJ In Russia-Annexed Crimea Jailed For Using Ukrainian Song Clip
A court in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea has sentenced a local DJ to 10 days in jail for playing a video clip of a song by Ukrainian rapper Yarmak.
The Lenin district court in Crimea said on August 15 that a Russian citizen in the town of Shcholkine was sentenced to 10 days in jail for playing the clip of the song "The Wild Field," which it said contains "the Nazi symbols of the Azov regiment that is banned in Russia," in a local cafe.
The man who was identified as a DJ in the cafe acknowledged that a customer had asked him to play the video in question.
Earlier, local media showed a video in which a man who introduced himself as Dmitry Gent said he had requested the clip.
Another video by media showed the DJ, who identified himself as Yury Radionov, saying that he had never seen the video and had no idea about its content before he played it at the customer’s request.
Created in 2014 as the Azov Battalion after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the Azov Regiment is a far-right, volunteer group that is part of Ukraine’s National Guard. It espouses an ultranationalist ideology that U.S. law enforcement has linked to neo-Nazi extremism. But supporters see it as a patriotic and effective segment of the country’s defense forces, particularly since the all-out invasion by Russian forces began in February.
Russia falsely claims that Ukraine is controlled by Nazis and used that allegation among its justifications for its unprovoked invasion.
The Azov Regiment fought Russian troops for months in the southern city of Mariupol before around 2,500 fighters surrendered in mid-May.
On August 2, the Supreme Court of Russia designated the Azov Regiment as a "terrorist" organization.
RFE/RL Urges Ukraine To Probe Who's Behind Alleged Surveillance Of Commentator Portnikov
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has urged a thorough and transparent investigation after the discovery of a listening device in the apartment where a political commentator for its Ukrainian Service was living in the Lviv region of Ukraine.
Prominent Ukrainian journalist and longtime contributor to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Vitaliy Portnikov filed a report with the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) after discovering the device in his rental apartment on August 10.
SBU agents inspected Portnikov's apartment and removed the equipment.
They say they are still working to establish the capabilities of the device and how it got there.
“We urge Ukrainian authorities to investigate the possible surveillance of Vitaliy Portnikov thoroughly and transparently,” Fly, the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster's president and CEO, said in a statement on August 15. “A free press means freedom from harassment and intimidation. It is important that democratic governments ensure that journalists are not targeted for their work, even during a time of war.”
Ukraine is in the midst of all-out war against Russian forces who rolled across the border unprovoked on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on an eight-year conflict that began with the annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Putin and his authorities have waged an intense crackdown on dissent and criticism of a war that Kremlin calls a "special military operation," including a battle for global opinion.
Kyiv has also mobilized its intelligence resources to fight what it says is "hybrid warfare" by the Russians.
Death Toll From Yerevan Market Explosion Rises To 16
Emergency officials said the death toll from a fire triggered by an apparent fireworks explosion in Yerevan rose to 16, as searchers continued to look for victims and survivors.
Emergency Situations Minister Armen Pambukhchian said in a post to his official Facebook account on August 16 that another 18 people, including an Iranian citizen and a Russian citizen, were still unaccounted for.
A blast and subsequent fire at the Surmalu market, about 2 kilometers south of Yerevan's center, sent a cloud of smoke over the capital on August 14. The explosion occurred in an area where fireworks and other pyrotechnics were stored.
Officials have signaled that the blast appeared to be accidental and not the result of terrorism.
Painter Of Iconic Brezhnev-Honecker 'Kiss' On Berlin Wall Dies At 62
Dmitry Vrubel, the author of the iconic painting on the Berlin Wall depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany's communist leader, Erich Honecker, has died in the German capital at the age of 62.
Chief editor of The Art Newspaper Russia, Milena Orlova said on Facebook that Vrubel died late on August 14.
Titled "My God! Help Me Survive This Deadly Love," Vrubel's painting on the remains of the Berlin Wall became a symbol of Germany's unification in 1990.
Sometimes also referred to as "The Fraternal Kiss,' the graffiti artwork became enormously popular and has decorated souvenirs in Germany ever since.
In 2009, Vrubel's painting was removed from the wall's remains, but the artist painted it again.
In June, Vrubel was hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. In early August, he underwent heart surgery.
Vrubel had lived in Germany since 1990.
Russia-Backed Separatists Say Swede, Croat, Briton In Ukraine Face Possible Death Penalty
Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk have charged five foreigners captured in Ukraine with being mercenaries in a trial process that began on August 15, Russian media said.
The Russian TASS news agency quoted the judge in the case as saying the charges against three of the men -- Swede Matias Gustavsson, Croat Vjekoslav Prebege, and Briton John Harding -- carry the death penalty.
Reports said all five pleaded not guilty to charges of mercenary activities and training to "seize power by force."
The separatist-administered court's next hearing for the five is reportedly scheduled for October.
The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) last week accused Gustavsson, Prebeg, Harding, and Britons Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy of joining Ukraine's armed forces.
They said the five would be charged with being mercenaries, preparing for terrorist activities, and activities aimed at seizing power.
Last month, Britain's Foreign Office condemned 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 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.
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, and the European Court of Human Rights warned Moscow that it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.
The British government insists that, as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
The Ukrainian government has set up a recruitment channel and Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in wartime.
With reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL's Russian Service
Navalny Says He's Been Placed In Solitary As Retaliation For Starting A One-Man Union
Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny says he was placed in punitive solitary confinement for violating prison dress code by having an unbuttoned jacket, a punishment in retaliation for his decision to set up a one-man labor union in the penal colony.
Navalny said on social media on August 15 that the penal colony's acting warden handed him three days in solitary, but warned it could be prolonged if he "does not change his attitude."
An extension would mean Navalny wouldn't be able to meet his family in September at a scheduled three-day visit that is given to inmates three times a year.
Last week, Navalny said he had established a labor union -- of which he is the sole member -- and managed to have stools that were hurting the backs of inmates seated at sewing machines replaced with proper chairs.
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 said was 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 of court 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 Telegram and other social media through his representatives.
Iranian President Signs Decree Further Restricting How Women Can Dress
An order by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to enforce the country's hijab and chastity law has resulted in a new list of restrictions on how women can dress.
The IRIB news agency, which is affiliated with Iranian state television, quoted Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani as saying at the National Conference of Hijab and Chastity on August 14 that under the new order, "violators" will be fined, while female government employees will be fired if their social media profile pictures do not conform to Islamic laws.
Golpayegani is the secretary of Iran’s "Headquarters for Enjoining Right and Forbidding Evil," which is responsible for determining and enforcing behavioral models in society.
Based on the new Hijab and Chastity law, women who publish their pictures without a hijab on the Internet will be deprived of some social rights for six months to one year.
The news comes amid recent reports that authorities in Iran are increasingly cracking down on women deemed to be in violation of wearing the hijab, which is mandatory in public in Iran.
In recent weeks, women judged not to be in compliance have been barred from entering government offices, banks, or riding on public transportation.
The notorious Guidance Patrols, or morality police, have become increasingly active and violent. Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, forcing them into vans, and whisking them away.
The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over nine years of age after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Another Belarusian Activist Gets Prison Term Over His Anti-Lukashenka Views
A Belarusian activist has been handed a prison term for his criticism of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his regime.
The Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center said on August 15 that the Vitsebsk regional court in the country's east sentenced 28-year-old Mikita Palyayonak to four years in prison after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, organizing an extremist group, and inciting hatred.
It is not clear how Palyayonak pleaded.
Also, on August 15, the Hrodna regional court in the country's west started the trial of Dzyanis Ivashyn, who was arrested in March last year.
Ivashyn's trial is being held behind closed doors, though diplomats from the embassies of Austria, Britain, and the Czech Republic were allowed into the hearing. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Belarusian human rights organizations have recognized Ivashyn as "a political prisoner."
Many in Belarus have faced trials since a disputed presidential election in August 2020, with authorities brutally suppressing dissent in any form.
Rights activists and opposition politicians say the 2020 vote was rigged to extend Lukashenka's rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Many of Belarus's dissident leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.
U.S. Basketball Star Griner Appeals Russian Conviction Amid Reported Talks On Prisoner Swap
Brittney Griner has appealed her nine-year sentence for drug possession in a Russian court, as reports suggest talks are continuing between Moscow and Washington over a possible prisoner swap involving the U.S. women's basketball star .
Griner's lawyers were quoted by Russian media as saying she was requesting an acquittal or a reduced sentence.
A two-time Olympic champion and six-time Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) all-star, the 31-year-old Griner has been in Russian detention since police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. She was returning at the time to Russia, where she has competed since 2014.
Griner admitted in court to an "honest mistake" in packing the cartridges.
U.S. President Joe Biden has assigned a hostage negotiator to Griner's case and said his administration is "working hard" toward her release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said early this month that Washington would "pursue" Russia's offer -- expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- to discuss at the presidential level a possible prisoner swap.
U.S. officials have said their proposal also involves former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he denies.
News reports suggest a deal could involve jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
CNN has quoted multiple sources as saying that the Russian side is also pressing for the handover of Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) who was convicted last year of murder in Germany in the death of an emigrant Chechen former fighter.
Based on reporting by Meduza.io, AP, and Interfax
Iranian Activist Rezaei Still In Custody Despite Being Granted Bail
Ronak Rezaei, an Iranian student and labor activist arrested in May during protests over the deadly collapse of a building, remains in prison despite being granted bail by a court.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on August 14 that a court had set bail for Rezaei, but Iranian "security and judicial institutions" had obstructed her release and the situation remains unresolved because the judge involved in the case is on a pilgrimage to the hajj.
Rezaei was arrested in a raid on her home after the collapse of the partially finished 10-story Metropol building on May 23, in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 43 people. Accusations that the accident was caused by government negligence and endemic corruption sparked protests.
Rezaei spent about a month in the detention center of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) before being transferred to Sepidar prison in Ahvaz on July 2.
Farzane Zilabi, Rezaei's lawyer, has called the proceedings against her client "propaganda."
According to Zilabi, the judicial authorities did not allow her to be with her client during the court proceedings.
Rezaei is a master's student in cultural studies at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran. She was in Abadan to do research on her thesis.
The collapse of a large section of the Metropol building, which was under construction, was one of Iran's deadliest such disasters in years.
Authorities have blamed the accident on isolated corruption and lax safety standards. So far, 13 people are reported to have been arrested for construction violations.
In recent years there have been several cases of buildings collapsing in Iran. Experts largely attribute the incidents to a disregard for safety standards and corruption in urban management.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Moscow Court Launches Bankruptcy Proceedings For RFE/RL's Entity in Russia
MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has begun bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity, RFE/RL LLC, after local tax authorities initiated the process earlier this year, a move that prompted the broadcaster to suspend operations in the country.
The Arbitration Court of Moscow ruled on August 15 to start bankruptcy proceedings, which were initiated by the Federal Tax Service on March 4, saying that RFE.RL LLC owes some 7 million rubles ($112,000) to the tax authorities for 2021.
RFE/RL LLC in Moscow represents RFE/RL's interests in Russia. It was established in 2020 due to Russia's controversial law on "foreign agents."
The bankruptcy proceedings stem from Russian media regulations requiring that RFE/RL and other outlets deemed “foreign agents” mark themselves as such with a lengthy notice in large text for all written materials, an audio statement with all radio materials, and a text declaration with all video materials.
They also coincided with a new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that took effect on March 5 and allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who distribute "false news" about the Russian Army at a time when Moscow had invaded neighboring Ukraine.
RFE/RL has refused to comply with this mandate and since last year Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has filed more than a thousand administrative charges against RFE/RL LLC and its director, ordering them to pay almost 1 billion rubles ($16 million) in fines.
The official start of the bankruptcy proceedings was sparked because RFE/RL LLC was unable to pay its taxes because its bank accounts were blocked by court bailiffs last year.
RFE/RL considers Russia's law on foreign agents to be an expression of political censorship that does not allow journalists to carry out their professional activities. RFE/RL has appealed the Russian authorities' moves against its activities with Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Many international journalist organizations and foreign governments have expressed support for RFE/RL and freedom of speech in Russia.
In March, after 30 years of operations in the Russian capital, RFE/RL had to close its bureau there. Some 27 journalists contributing to RFE/RL's programs currently are listed in the Justice Ministry's registry of foreign agents.
Websites of RFE/RL's Russian Service and several of its projects, as well as their accounts on social networks, have been blocked in Russia.
Despite that, the popularity of RFE/RL's Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, remains very high.
In March, days after Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, more than 18 million Internet users visited Radio Svoboda's sites.
Since January, more than 100 million users have visited the sites.
Kyrgyz Blogger Detained Over Post Questioning Development Of Iron-Ore Mining
BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz blogger has been detained on a charge of making public calls for mass disorder and violence after he posted online materials questioning the legality of the government's plans to develop iron-ore mining in the Central Asian nation's Jetim-Too mountain region.
The Interior Ministry said on August 15 that 19-year-old Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev was detained a day earlier after investigators questioned him regarding his post on a Facebook account called Polit Uznik (Political Prisoner).
The ministry did not specify which post sparked the teen's detention, saying only that "recently, many disputes appear regarding the development of iron-ore mines at Jetim-Too," adding that the Polit Uznik account in Facebook distributes "controversial, false information."
Polit Uznik posted a handwritten statement from Jekshenaliev while in custody in which he calls the case again him "100 percent politically motivated."
Polit Uznik also said the post in question was an old video in which a former security chief raises environmental issues when talking about the government’s
On August 14, President Sadyr Japarov condemned unspecified "defenders" of the environment in the region, calling them "false patriots and liars."
Japarov, who initiated the project to develop iron-ore mining in Jetim-Too, called on law enforcement "to work" with such persons. He did not elaborate.
Iran Hints Nuclear Deal Near As U.S. Says It's Responding Privately To EU 'Final Text'
The United States said on August 15 that it would respond privately to the European Union's "final draft" of a text to salvage the hobbled nuclear deal with Iran, as the international community awaited a response from Iran amid signals that Tehran might eventually sign off on the proposal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by state agency IRNA as saying "the American side has verbally accepted
Tehran's "two demands."
He did not specify what "demands" he was referring to, and the statement appeared to fly in the face of tough words from Washington.
But Amir-Abdollahian vowed that Tehran would send its "final proposals in writing by midnight" on August 15. It was unclear late on August 15 whether those proposals had been sent.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has served as coordinator for the long-stalemated talks between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 deal.
"If our opinion is accepted, we are ready to conclude and announce the accord at a meeting of foreign ministers," Amir-Abdollahian said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington's reaction would not be made publicly but would go directly to Borrell.
Price also said the only path to a return to the agreement was if Tehran stopped making "extraneous demands."
Public stagnation in the talks on renewing the deal exchanging sanctions relief for curbs on Iran's nuclear activities have given way to hints in recent weeks that a deal is within reach.
Amir-Abdollahian said recently the coming days were important in finding a solution to the remaining issues holding up a final deal, and called on Washington to show some "flexibility" to allow the talks to move forward.
"We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months, or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.... We have told them that our red lines should be respected," Amir-Abdollahian said, according to the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Borrell said on August 8 that a 25-page draft had been delivered to the capitals involved for decisions on acceptance.
The draft, according to Borrell's spokesman, was a "final text" that needed a yes-or-no answer from all of the participants, as there was "no more space for negotiations."
The State Department has previously indicated that the United States was ready to "quickly conclude a deal" to revive the 2015 agreement based on the EU proposals.
The spokesman said Washington will wait to see if Tehran's "actions match their words" following repeated signals that Iranian officials might endorse the deal.
Iran has so far said it is considering the draft amid "more comprehensive discussions in Tehran."
Amir-Abdollahian said that "like Washington, we have our own plan B if the talks fail."
Enrique Mora, the European Union’s top negotiator, has said he's “absolutely” optimistic about the talks’ progress.
Iran struck the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Washington unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear pact under then-President Donald Trump in 2018. Iran reacted by gradually backtracking on its obligations under the deal, such as uranium enrichment.
Negotiators from Iran, Russia, and the EU -- as well as the United States, indirectly -- resumed talks over Tehran’s nuclear deal on August 4 after a months-long standstill in negotiations.
With reporting by Fars and Reuters
Kosovo Walks Back Power Cutoffs To Consumers Amid Energy 'Emergency'
Kosovar authorities say electricity supplies have resumed as normal after its main power distributor announced periodic brownouts starting on August 15 that it blamed on high import costs and production woes.
Nonetheless, officials in the Balkan state signaled that there would be challenges ahead as a result of the current "energy crisis and state of emergency."
"Regular electricity supply is back," the Kosovar Economy Ministry said on Facebook.
It credited cooperation between the local KEK energy company and its counterpart in neighboring Albania for resolving the immediate problem.
"Institutions will continue to do their best to maintain regular electricity supply in the coming days," the ministry said.
"However, given the situation, they ask all citizens and businesses to take frugal measures and be as careful as possible in using electricity."
Kosovo's electricity distribution company KEDS had warned that it would limit power supplies to customers from August 15 to six hours on and two hours off due to flagging local production and the high cost of importing electricity from abroad.
KEDS said in a statement that it was informed by the national grid operator KOSTT that the cuts were necessary because it will have to rely solely on domestic production for supplies.
It has been pushing regulators to allow price hikes for consumers.
The Economy Ministry said "cooperation with Albania will be followed by other measures to address the energy crisis and the state of emergency we are in."
Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants rely mainly on two aging coal-fired power plants for domestic electricity production. Some of the output has been limited due to scheduled summer maintenance at the plants.
European electricity prices reached record highs in the first week of August as a prolonged heat wave across the continent disrupted power markets that were already under strain from Russia’s cuts to the continent’s gas supplies amid its war with Ukraine.
With reporting by Koha
Heavy Shelling Reported In Donetsk Region As Ukrainian Forces Make Gains In Kherson
Heavy shelling by Russian forces in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk was reported overnight, with officials in Kyiv saying they are managing to repel many of the attacks while recapturing ground in the southern Kherson region.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his overnight address late on August 14 that despite the heavy and constant bombardment by Russian forces, "We must fight at all levels and on all fronts, strengthen our state as much as possible, preserve our unity, and attract even more countries to our anti-war coalition.
"The stronger Ukraine will be, the weaker Russia will be, and therefore, the less time this war will last," he said in the address, noting Kyiv is pushing for new sanctions against Russia by the international community, especially ones that target the movement of Russian citizens.
For several weeks, Ukraine's military has tried to lay the groundwork for a counteroffensive to reclaim southern Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea and fell to the Russians soon after the February 24 invasion.
Particularly heavy fighting has focused on the village of Pisky, near Donetsk Airport, according to the British Defense Ministry, which said on August 15 that it is likely Moscow is in the advanced planning stages to hold a referendum aimed at making the region part of Russia, "though it is unclear if the final decision to go ahead with a vote has yet been taken."
"The Kremlin will likely see the military’s failure to occupy the entirety of Donetsk Oblast thus far as a setback for its maximalist objectives in Ukraine," it said in a daily statement on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant -- Europe's largest nuclear power station -- continues to be a source of major concern for the international community.
Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation.
Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.
While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine on February 24.
"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," a statement by 42 nations worldwide that was published by the European Union on August 14 said.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Tehran Blames Rushdie For Attack; Blinken Slams 'Despicable' Iranian Press
Tehran says Salman Rushdie is to blame for the stabbing that left the award-winning author seriously wounded as Washington slammed Iranian state media for its "despicable" reaction to "this heinous attack."
In its first reaction to the stabbing, Tehran on August 15 "categorically" denied any link with the attack that occurred three days earlier in the western part of New York state.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie's insults against religion. His 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.
"[Regarding] the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of...reproach and condemnation," Kanaani told a news briefing on August 15. "No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard."
Rushdie was taken off a ventilator on August 14 and was able to speak after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack as he was preparing to speak at a panel on the topic of freedom of creative expression at the Chataqua Institution.
Tehran was initially silent on the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran's state media for its reaction.
"Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life," Blinken said in a statement issued late on August 14. "This is despicable."
The man accused of attacking the author of the novel The Satanic Verses has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime.
An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment. A judge ordered him held without bail.
Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye in the attack. He is likely to lose the injured eye.
Matar, 24, is accused of running onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Rushdie at least 10 times in the face, neck, and abdomen.
NBC News quoted a law enforcement official as saying that Matar's social media accounts showed him to be sympathetic to Shi'ite extremism and the causes of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
There are no definitive links to the IRGC, but the initial assessment indicates he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, the official said, according to NBC.
"More than a literary giant, Rushdie has consistently stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press," Blinken said in his statement.
"While law enforcement officials continue to investigate the attack, I am reminded of the pernicious forces that seek to undermine these rights, including through hate speech and incitement to violence," he added.
The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran. 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.
In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.
Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000.
Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told AP on August 13
Flags of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group Hizballah are visible across the village, AP reported, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini, and slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
At Least Seven Dead, 22 Still Missing As Rescuers Fight Yerevan Market Fire
Firefighters and rescue crews found a seventh body and were using special cameras to search for survivors on August 15 as they continued to battle a blaze at a large market in Yerevan a day after an explosion triggered the fire.
They said that, aside from the seven confirmed deaths, 22 others remain missing at the site of the disaster, including six Iranians and a Russian national.
A least 12 more victims were being treated at a local hospital for their injuries.
Officials say the fire at the Surmalu market, about two kilometers south of the center of Armenia's capital city, still has not been completely contained.
Emergencies Minister Armen Panbukhchian told reporters late on August 15 that he could not confirm reports that rescuers had located a possible survivor under rubble.
"We do not confirm this information at the moment," he said. "We are now carrying out search and rescue operations in this area, including using special equipment, that is, cameras."
Panbukhchian was earlier quoted as "almost" ruling out terrorism as a cause of the incident.
“Watching the footage of the explosion, we almost rule out such a theory [that a bomb had been planted], because first there was smoke, then fire covering some small area, then came an explosion," he said. "Quite a large amount of explosive materials was stored there."
A blast and subsequent fire at Surmalu sent a towering cloud of smoke over the capital on August 14, shared on social media. The explosion was in an area where fireworks and other pyrotechnics are stored.
The building surrounding the site of the blast and fire was initially still standing but very shaky, according to Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Davit Hambaryan.
Heavy Shelling Reported In Donetsk Region As Ukrainian Forces Make Gains In Kherson2
Tank Warfare Plays Crucial Role In Battle For The Donbas3
Ukraine Targets More Russian Arms Depots As Safety Fears Grow At Occupied Nuclear Plant4
Bulgaria's Underground Truffle Trade5
Interview: With The 2008 Georgia War, 'We Knew What Was Coming, But We Were Slow To Believe It'6
Defending Bakhmut: How Ukraine Is Countering The Russian Offensive In The Donbas7
Kherson Clampdown: Russian Authorities Going Door-To-Door, Mandating Russian Passports, Official Says8
Estonia's Contentious Soviet Monuments9
'Final Stage Putin' And The War In Ukraine10
New Despair For Ukrainian Refugees As Georgia Ends Program Housing Them In Hotels