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Iranian Rights Activist Mohammadi Refuses To Return To Prison, Calls Her Sentence 'Illegal'

Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi, pictured on February 22, was granted a release from prison to obtain medical treatment.
Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi, pictured on February 22, was granted a release from prison to obtain medical treatment.

Prominent Iranian human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi says she refuses to return to prison to continue her sentence despite receiving a summons by authorities.

Mohammadi spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on March 8 while on medical leave from prison to recover from a recent surgery for blocked arteries. Before her procedure, she was serving her sentence at the Gharchak women’s prison near Tehran.

Mohammadi said she was given leave after one of her friends posted her bail, which was set at 500 million tomans (about $120,000).

“Unfortunately, the judiciary has called my bailiff and said that I have to return to prison in the next few days,” Mohammadi said in a telephone interview with Radio Farda.

“I will talk to my guarantor. I consider the sentence illegal, and I don’t believe it should be obeyed,” she added.

Mohammadi was arrested in November 2021 after she attended the memorial of a man killed by Iranian security forces during nationwide protests in November 2019.

In late January, a court sentenced her to another eight years and two months in prison, as well as 74 lashes.

Mohammadi said her trial lasted less than 5 minutes and that she didn’t have access to a lawyer.

“I told them several times that I want my lawyer, you are putting me on trial and I can’t defend myself, yet they didn’t allow me to contact a lawyer," she said.

She also blasted authorities for having used guns to intimidate her during her arrest.

“Why did they use a gun? Why did they point a Colt at me?” Mohammadi said.

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She said judicial officials should explain why security forces use guns to arrest peaceful activists like her.

“This is a serious warning,” she said.

Before her imprisonment, Mohammadi was the vice president of the banned Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran.

She has been repeatedly jailed and harassed by Iranian authorities.

Human Rights Watch has called on Iran to release Mohammadi “immediately and unconditionally.”

"Iranian authorities' cruel detention and prosecution of Narges Mohmmadi only one year after she was released from an earlier prison term and then piling on more unfair prison sentences are clearly intended to crush her into silence at all costs," HRW said in a statement released in late January.

In May 2021, a Tehran court sentenced Mohammadi to two and a half years in prison, 80 lashes, and two separate fines on charges that include "spreading propaganda against the system."

In 2016, she was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges that rights groups said were solely related to her human rights activities.

Following her release from prison in October 2020 after her sentence was reduced, she continued to criticize human rights abuses in Iran and accused prison authorities of sexually harassing her and other female prisoners.

A journalist and an engineer, Mohammadi has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including the American Physical Society's Andrei Sakharov Prize in 2018 for outstanding leadership in upholding human rights.

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U.S. Bans Sales Of Kaspersky Software Over Russia Ties

Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)
Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)

The United States on June 20 announced plans to bar the sale of antivirus software made by Russia's Kaspersky Lab in the United States, citing the firm's large U.S. customers, including critical infrastructure providers, and state and local governments. Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a call with reporters. Raimondo said Russia has shown it has the capacity and the intent to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky "to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans and that is why we are compelled to take the action that we are taking today."

Mob In Pakistan Drags Burning Body Of 'Blasphemer' Through Streets In Swat Valley

A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.
A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.

A Pakistani man who was visiting the country's Swat Valley as a tourist on June 20 was beaten to death and his body set on fire by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.

The mob severely beat the man, identified as a resident of Punjab Province, and dragged his burning naked body through the streets, according to reports about the incident and authorities who spoke with RFE/RL.

Swat police chief Zahid Ullah said police officers initially rescued the man from the people who attacked him and sheltered him at a police station in Madian.

According to a local journalist in Madian, the mob broke down the gate of the police station and entered the building. They then poured gasoline on the man and set him on fire before dragging his lifeless body as they continued to beat him.

The rioters also burned three police cars and set fire to the police station, the journalist said.

The incident started when a number of people accused the man of having burned pages of the Koran in his bag and started a fight with him.

Police initially overpowered the mob, but then authorities announced over a loudspeaker that police had rescued the man, referring to him as "the blasphemer," and the mob then attacked the police station.

Local residents said police officers opened fired on the crowd and 11 people were injured. Police have not commented on the accusation.

Residents and health authorities said three injured people have been taken to the hospital.

The situation in and around Madian is reportedly tense. Authorities have invoked their power under Section 144 of Pakistani law to restrict people's movement and can shoot anyone who disobeys.

Swat Valley, nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan, is frequently visited by tourists from all over the country. It is especially popular in the summer season, when people go there to escape high temperatures.

Putin Calls For 'New Security Architecture' For Asia On Visit To Vietnam

Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.
Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 20 that it is time for a "new security architecture" for Asia as he wrapped up a short visit to Vietnam.

Putin signed 11 public agreements and memorandums of understanding with Vietnamese President To Lam while in Hanoi. Lam said he and Putin made other deals that are not publicly available.

The agreements centered on energy, education, science, and technology -- sectors the United States and other countries have targeted when sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology center in Vietnam.

Russia's TASS news agency quoted Putin as saying, "We are firmly committed to deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam, which remains among the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy."

Lam said Putin has contributed to global "peace, stability, and development." Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and this marked Putin's first trip to Vietnam since 2017.

In Vietnam, Putin also met with Communist Party General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.

The United States has been working to strengthen and build partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, including with Vietnam.

Prior to Putin's visit, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities."

The U.S. State Department announced on June 20 it will send Assistant Secretary of State and former ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink to Hanoi this week.

Putin kicked off his four-day trip to Asia in North Korea on June 17.

Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a robust defense pact in Pyongyang. The pact was described as a comprehensive strategic partnership and ensures mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country.

Speaking in Hanoi on June 20, Putin also said he "does not rule out" sending weapons to North Korea.

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

South Korea responded with a statement that Seoul would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

Putin also said Russia is thinking about changing its nuclear doctrine, which states Russia may use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or in the event of a conventional attack that poses an existential threat to the state.

But he said there was no need for Russia to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Major-General Pat Ryder, responding to Putin's comments on its nuclear doctrine, said, "It's certainly irresponsible for countries that maintain these capabilities to make those types of comments."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Tsikhanouskaya's Adviser Vyachorka Sentenced To 20 Years In Absentia

Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))
Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))

The Minsk City Court on June 20 sentenced an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 20 years on multiple charges. Franak Vyachorka was sentenced in absentia for charges including conspiracy to seize power, organization of mass disorders, creation of an extremist group, and defamation of the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said the court also ordered Vyachorka to pay a fine of 60,000 rubles ($18,340). Vyachorka, who resides abroad, wrote on Facebook that the court rejected his request to take part in the trial over a video link. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. To 'Reprioritize' Missile Sales To Speed Ukraine Deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.

WASHINGTON -- The United States will "reprioritize" planned deliveries of Patriot air-defense missiles to get them to Ukraine faster, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 20 as Washington works to fill Kyiv's "desperate need" for more air-defense capabilities.

The decision means that the deliveries of "missiles rolling off the production line" will go to Ukraine and other countries will have to wait for missiles they ordered.

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"This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war," Kirby said, describing the decision as "difficult but necessary."

The decision also affects missiles used in the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as missiles used in the Patriot systems, Kirby said, stressing that only missiles are involved in the decision.

The other components -- radar systems and launchers -- currently are not available, Kirby said.

"Right now, we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So, it was something we looked at. But right now, the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves."

U.S. defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, makes the radar systems and launchers for both the Patriot and the NASAMS. The missiles for the two systems are made by Raytheon and other companies.

Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told RFE/RL recently that it could take as long as two years to produce a new Patriot system.

Kirby said the first shipments headed to Ukraine will happen before the end of the summer. The total deliveries will cover an estimated 16 months of Ukraine's needs. He declined to say which countries agreed to reprioritize deliveries, though he said the decision will not have an impact on missile deliveries to Taiwan.

Kirby's comments came after Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting more power blackouts. Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the attacks.

Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK, said it was the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months. The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry recently cut its outlook for economic expansion this year due to the energy shortage caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Western nations last week announced a $50 billion loan for Ukraine, part of which will go toward helping rebuild the nation's energy system.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV

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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

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

Major Storm Kills 2 People In Moscow

People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.
People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.

A severe storm hit Moscow on June 20, killing two people and injuring nine as hurricane-force winds and pounding rain swept across the city. Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tree that fell during the storm, while another person died after falling when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Video circulating on the Internet showed falling billboards, trees, and other materials being whipped around by strong winds as heavy rains drenched the capital. Some videos appeared to show the formation of tornados. Officials said around 23 trees were uprooted and eight vehicles damaged in Moscow. One person was injured in a surrounding region where the storm felled some 200 trees, they added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

EU Countries Agree On Fresh Russia Sanctions That Include Ban On Liquefied Gas

European Union ambassadors on June 20 approved a fresh package of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine aimed primarily at closing loopholes that exist in previous restrictions and targeting for the first time Moscow's lucrative liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.

"EU Ambassadors just agreed on a powerful and substantial 14th package of sanctions in reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine," the Belgian EU presidency wrote on X.

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"This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes," it said.

The new package of sanctions includes measures to hold European operators accountable for sanctions violations by subsidiaries and partners in third countries and provide for a a ban on the transshipment of Russian liquefied natural gas and the export of helium.

It also restricts access to dual-use technologies and the trade in works of art stolen in Ukraine.

Between 4 billion and 6 billion cubic meters of Russian LNG was shipped on to third countries through EU ports last year, the bloc estimates.

The complete details of the package will be made public next week once EU foreign ministers approve the measures, most likely on June 24, ahead of an EU summit next week.

Some 47 new entities and 69 individuals were reportedly added to the EU sanctions list, bringing the total to 2,200.

The sanctions list may include explosives manufacturer Spetskhimiya; the Mayak factory that produces aircraft spare parts; and weapons manufacturer Tsniitochmash.

Among the reported individuals put on the list are Russian singer Polina Gagarina over her participation in Kremlin-sponsored events; Igor Altushkin, a former employee of President Vladimir Putin's administration and founder of the Russian Copper Company; general director of the Internet Development Institute Aleksei Goreslavsky; and Taimuraz Bolloyev, the former president of the Baltika brewing company.

Romanian President Withdraws NATO Bid, Clearing Final Hurdle For Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has withdrawn his bid to replace outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, allowing Romania to throw its support behind the candidacy of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is backed by all the other 31 members of the alliance.

Iohannis's decision was announced after a meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) on June 20 that also decided to supply Ukraine with a Patriot air-defense system that Kyiv has been pleading it allies for.

"During the CSAT meeting, the president of Romania said he had informed NATO allies at the end of last week about his withdrawing his candidacy for the position of NATO secretary-general," the CSAT said in a statement.

Iohannis then "asked the CSAT members about their position on Rutte's candidacy...and they declared they were in favor of Romania's throwing its support behind the Dutch premier's candidacy," the statement added.

On June 18, Hungary and Slovakia announced their support for Rutte, leaving Romania as the only member of the alliance that had yet to endorse the longtime Dutch prime minister for the position.

Iohannis, a former physics teacher who will end his second and last 5-year presidential term in December, announced in the spring that he would run for the NATO position that is to become vacant on October 1.

To back his candidacy, Iohannis had argued in an article in Politico in March that the alliance needed change and an Eastern European perspective amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

"NATO needs a renewal, with a strong, influential representation from this region, which meets the needs of the member states," he said.

Romania also agreed after much deliberation to donate one of its Patriot systems to Ukraine, which faces daily missile and drone strikes on its cities and civilian infrastructure.

"Taking into account the significant deterioration of Ukraine's security situation as a consequence of Russia's massive and constant attacks on its civilians and its infrastructure, especially its energy infrastructure...CSAT members, in close coordination with Romania's allies, have decided to donate Ukraine one Patriot system," the statement said.

Romania has so far received four out of the seven Patriot systems ordered from the United States for a total price of $4 billion.

At a G7 summit last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he "urgently" needed seven Patriot systems to protect Ukrainians and the country's infrastructure from Russia's continued bombardment.

U.S. President Joe Biden responded by saying the United States had received commitments from five countries -- which he did not name -- to provide Patriot and other air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Biden said the United States would supply one system, which will be redeployed from Poland. Germany has also said it too will provide several Patriot systems to Kyiv.

Amid Growing U.S.- Russian Tensions, Dual Citizen Goes On Trial In Yekaterinburg

Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.
Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.

The trial of U.S.-Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina (married name Khavana) in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg began with the judge ruling that the proceedings on a treason charge will take place behind closed doors.

Judge Andrei Mineyev, who is scheduled to try another U.S. citizen, Evan Gershkovich, later this month on an espionage charge, handed down his ruling Karelina's case on June 20.

The 33-year-old resident of Los Angeles was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of sending $51.80 from her U.S.-based bank account to the Razom for Ukraine foundation, which helps Ukrainian civilians.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time that it suppressed the illegal activities of a U.S.-Russian citizen who was "involved in providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against the security of our country."

Washington has repeatedly criticized Russia for targeting and arresting U.S. citizens, accusing Moscow of detaining them as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians being held in U.S. prisons.

In late March last year, the FSB in Yekaterinburg arrested Gershkovich on espionage charges that he, his employer The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. officials reject a groundless.

Another U.S. citizen, former Marine Paul Whelan, is also being held in Russia on espionage charges. Whelan and the U.S. government reject the charges as politically motivated. While Gershkovich is still in pretrial detention, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

A third U.S. citizen, RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who also holds Russian citizenship, has been in pretrial detention since October 2023 on charges of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law and spreading false information about the Russian military. The U.S. government and her employer say the charge is in reprisal for her work.

In total, at least nine Americans are currently being detained in Russia on various charges or convictions.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "Do Not Travel" warning to U.S. citizens in the background of U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's full-scale invasion of that country. The note cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials" in its warning.

With reporting by SotaVision

Russia Adds Journalist Kurbangaleyeva To Wanted List

Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)
Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)

Russian authorities on June 19 added journalist Farida Kurbangaleyeva to the list of wanted persons and the registry of terrorists and extremists on unspecified charges. The Prague-based Kurbangaleyeva wrote on Facebook that the move was made by the Russian authorities most likely over her "openly saying that Russia...conducts a criminal, land-grabbing war in Ukraine, enslaves other peoples, annihilates identities, tortures, robs, rapes, and suppresses any kind of dissent." Through the years Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. She has a YouTube channel where she often interviews Ukrainian and Russian politicians and political observers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Blast In Southern Montenegro Kills 2

Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.
Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.

Two people were killed and three more, including a woman passing by, were injured in a powerful explosion in the southern Montenegrin town of Cetinje on June 20, police said. The explosion blew out the windows of a nearby sports hall and uprooted a tree in the center of the town, which is Montenegro's former royal capital. Police cordoned off the area and opened an investigation into the cause of the blast. They did not give any details on what may have caused the blast, but local media said it was caused by a bomb targeting members of the criminal underworld. Organized crime is seen as a serious obstacle to Montenegro's EU accession. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Tajik Detained Over Mass Food Poisoning In Moscow

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A Moscow court on June 19 ordered Tajik national Karim Normatov to be held in pretrial detention for two months over a mass food poisoning in the Russian capital. Normatov is a cook for the Savon-K food-delivery company. Three other suspects -- the company's commercial director, Vladimir Shin; the director of the Kukhnya Na Rayone restaurant, Anton Lozin; and his chief of food quality, Yelena Mashkova, were placed under house arrest. Russia's consumers' rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said earlier that more than 120 Savon-K customers were diagnosed with botulism and 50 were hospitalized. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Blogger Faces Charges After Being Detained Before Putin Siberia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.

Pyotr Shepelev, a blogger who lives in the Russian region of Sakha-Yakutia in Siberia, faces five administrative charges after being detained on June 18, just hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said on June 20 that the charges against his client were disobeying police orders and participating in an unsanctioned protest. He could face up to 15 days in jail or a fine. Hours before his detention, Shepelev wrote on Telegram that two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block, suggesting that it was linked to Putin's visit. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kazakh President Signs Into Law Controversial Bill On Media

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)

ASTANA -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has signed into law a controversial bill on mass media that will hinder journalists from getting comments from officials and interviews.

Domestic and international rights groups and media experts have expressed concerns over the new law, saying it will compromise independent journalism and lead to self-censorship in the Central Asian country.

According to the law Toqaev signed on June 20, all Internet resources are now considered media outlets.

Among other things, the law introduces a three-year period to file lawsuits over materials published in the media, as well as new regulations for the registration of media outlets in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

By 2027, weekly broadcasting in the Kazakh language will be increased from 50 percent to 60 percent, while rebroadcasting of foreign programs will be cut to 10 percent from 20 percent.

Currently 50 percent of programs broadcast on television and radio are in Russian.

The Culture and Information Ministry will monitor media programs "to prevent damaging effects on society's moral development, as well as disruption of the universally humane, national, cultural, and family values."

In 2024, Kazakhstan slipped from 134th place to 142nd in the press index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which monitors media freedom across the world.

Russian Teacher Gets 20 Years In Prison For Transferring Cash To Ukraine

Daniil Klyuka (file photo)
Daniil Klyuka (file photo)

A military court in Moscow on June 20 sentenced schoolteacher Daniil Klyuka from the western city of Lipetsk to 20 years in prison on charges of high treason and assisting terrorist activities, which he denies. Klyuka was arrested in February 2023 after investigators accused him of transferring 20,000 rubles ($237) to the Azov Assault Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard. The brigade has been declared a terrorist group and banned in Russia. Klyuka rejects the accusations, saying he transferred the cash in October 2022 to his brother, who resides in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Luhansk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former RFE/RL Journalist Could Be Charged In Kyrgyzstan Over Social Media Comments

Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany
Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany

Retired former RFE/RL journalist Bayan Jumagulova, who lives in Germany, told RFE/RL on June 20 that she was summoned by the police in Bishkek, where she had arrived earlier in June, for questioning in a case launched against her on a charge of inciting hatred. The case was launched over her posts on Facebook, where the 65-year-old expressed personal opinions about the spread of Arabic culture in her native Kyrgyzstan. Jumagulova, who left RFE/RL in 2007, added that she was ordered to come to the police on June 22 and that a court will decide on her pretrial restrictions then. Kyrgyz officials have yet to comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Tajik Foreign Minister Zarifi Reportedly Arrested

Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)
Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)

Several sources told RFE/RL that former Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi was arrested on unspecified charges last week. One source close to law enforcement said Zarifi was suspected of financial crimes related to the construction of the Foreign Ministry's new building. The 75-year-old Zarifi served as the Central Asian country's foreign minister from 2006 to 2013. From 2015 until his retirement in 2018, Zarifi served as Tajikistan's ambassador to Japan. Last week, investigators arrested lawmaker Saidjafar Usmonzoda on a charge of "usurping power." No further explanation of the charge was given and it remains unclear if the two arrests are linked. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Fire At Iranian Hospital Leaves At Least 9 Dead

The private Qaem hospital in Rasht
The private Qaem hospital in Rasht

A devastating fire at the private Qaem hospital in Rasht, northern Iran, has resulted in the deaths of nine people, Iranian news agencies reported, including some patients in intensive care.

Mohammad Taghi Ashoubi, head of Gilan University of Medical Sciences, confirmed that the death toll had risen to nine following the death of another victim from the fire, which started in the early morning hours at the 250-bed facility on June 18.

At the time of the blaze, approximately 140 patients were in the facility, with 120 sustaining injuries, officials said.

Rasht fire department officials said it took three hours to bring the fire under control.

"By the time we arrived, the basement and the intensive-care rooms were on fire. The fire originated in the hospital's utility room," said Shahram Momeni, head of the fire brigade.

Qaem hospital, established in 2013 and affiliated with the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, houses over 200 beds and includes facilities catering to both local and medical tourists. These include specialized and super-specialized departments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, emergency services, angiography, and maternity and pediatric care.

The fire highlights ongoing safety concerns in Iranian health-care facilities as it follows a tragic fire in November 2023 that killed 36 people at the First Step to Freedom addiction treatment center in Langarud, Gilan Province.

Other notable fires at Tehran medical facilities include a large blaze at the Gandhi Hospital and the deadly explosion at Sina At'har medical diagnostic clinic in July 2020, which claimed 19 lives and injured 14 others.

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

Lawyer Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years For 'Propaganda Against The Regime'

Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.
Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amirhossein Kouhkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Kouhkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including "assembly and collusion" and "propaganda against the regime."

Kouhkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj intelligence department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges also follow the arrest of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami's father, highlighting a pressure campaign rights groups say the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply into the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Kouhkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Moved To Stricter Prison Regime

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)
Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza has been transferred to a cell-type facility -- one of Russia's strictest prison regimes -- for six months, his former lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said. The administration of the maximum-security prison in Omsk where Kara-Murza is imprisoned moved him to the facility after he allegedly failed to hold his hands behind his back for several seconds after being ordered to do so, Prokhorov said. Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023 on charges of high treason and discrediting Russia's military. He rejects the charges as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Armenia's Pashinian Orders Change To Constitution To Pave Way For Treaty With Baku

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has ordered the drafting of a new constitution amid demands by Azerbaijan that a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh be removed from Armenia's fundamental law. Pashinian gave the Council of Constitutional Reforms until December 30, 2026, to draft and approve the new constitution. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly demanded that Yerevan change its constitution as a main condition for concluding a peace treaty with Armenia. Baku wants a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh's unification with Armenia removed from the constitution. Azerbaijan retook control of the breakaway region in September 2023, following a lightning offensive. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Ukraine, Russia Target Energy Facilities With Drones, Missiles

Russian strikes on energy infrastructure have led to blackouts, such as in Kyiv last month.
Russian strikes on energy infrastructure have led to blackouts, such as in Kyiv last month.

Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting even more power blackouts, while Ukrainian drones reportedly struck deep inside Russian territory, setting oil installations on fire in two regions.

Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said early on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the latest wave of Russian drone and missile attacks.

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"Equipment was damaged at energy facilities in the Vinnytsya, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Kyiv regions," Ukrenerho said in a message on Telegram.

A thermal power plant sustained "serious damage" in the Russian strikes, according to Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK.

"This is already the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months," DTEK said on Telegram, without disclosing the location of the facility. It said three workers were injured in the attack.

The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said, adding, however, that electricity supply for critical infrastructure will not be restricted.

Separately, the air force reported that Russia attacked Ukraine with nine missiles and 27 drones. Ukrainian air defenses shot down all the drones and five missiles, the military said.

Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine's critical energy infrastructure, causing enormous damage and limiting electricity supply for the civilian population, prompting regular blackouts.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said during a June 20 meeting with senior Ukrainian military officials that he hopes to develop a renewable energy infrastructure in response to the attacks.

"All public and administrative buildings must be equipped with energy-saving technologies. Solar panels, smart meters, and energy storage facilities should appear in every school and hospital as soon as possible," Zelenskiy said.

In return, Ukrainian drones have struck deeper inside Russia, damaging energy facilities critical for Moscow's military effort, mainly oil installations.

On June 20, drones belonging to Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) struck a fuel and lubricants warehouse in Russia's Tambov region, some 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow, and a LUKoil oil depot in the North Caucasus region of Adygea, setting both on fire, a Ukrainian security source told RFE/RL.

The Baza channel, which is linked to Russian security services, confirmed that a fire had broken out at the Platonov oil depot in Tambov.

Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of the Russian region of Krasnodar, said a private house was completely destroyed, and a local resident was killed in a Ukrainian drone attack on the city of Slavyansk-on-Kuban.

The SBU told RFE/RL that its drones had carried out almost three dozen successful attacks on Russian oil facilities in various regions since the start of the war.

None of the claims could be independently confirmed.

Canada Adds Iran's Revolutionary Guards To Its List Of Terrorist Groups

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.

Canada has listed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity and advised any Canadians in Iran to leave the country.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement on June 19 at a news conference in Ottawa, saying the decision to declare the IRGC as a terrorist organization is based on "very strong and convincing evidence."

LeBlanc told reporters that Canada "uses all possible means to fight the terrorist acts of the IRGC."

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly noted at the same news conference that Ottawa broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran several years ago. She urged Canadians against travel to Iran and said those in the country now should "come back home."

The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group has long been sought by Iranian expats and relatives of those killed on a flight brought down in January 2020 by Iranian forces shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, about half of them Canadians.

The Association of Families of Ukrainian Flight PS752 said in a statement on June 19 that it was grateful to the government for making the designation and to "all political parties, activists, and individuals who contributed to this achievement."

The statement added that that the association is "also grateful to the brave people of Iran who have stood up against this oppressive organization and have continuously supported the families of the victims."

The association also said it continues to insist on its other demands, including pursuing the case of the downed flight in the International Court of Justice and before other international courts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government had been reluctant to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization over concern that listing it as such would have unintended consequences that could inadvertently impact Iranians in Canada opposed to the regime.

Trudeau signaled the move earlier this year at a memorial service for the victims of the downed plane, saying that his government was looking for ways to add the IRGC to the list of terrorist organizations.

"We know there is more to do to hold the regime to account and we will continue our work, including continuing to look for ways to responsibly list the IRGC as a terrorist organization," Trudeau said on January 8.

Once a group is placed on Canada's terrorism list, police can charge anyone who financially or materially supports the group and banks can freeze assets.

Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, a branch of the IRGC, as a terrorist entity, and in 2022 permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including members of the IRGC.

Ottawa severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012.

With reporting by AFP

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