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Iraqi Kurdish Leader Visits Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) with Iraqi Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani before their meeting in Istanbul.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) with Iraqi Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani before their meeting in Istanbul.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has begun a two-day visit to Turkey.

Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq were top of the agenda of his talks in Istanbul on November 3 with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Barzani's visit comes two weeks after Kurdish guerrillas killed 24 Turkish soldiers in attacks on military posts in southeastern Turkey.

Kurdish separatists have recently stepped up their attacks in the area, killing more than 50 Turkish security personnel since July.

Reuters

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Commander Of Georgian Legion Fighting For Ukraine Says He Was Poisoned

Mamuka Mamulashvili (file photo)
Mamuka Mamulashvili (file photo)

The commander of the Georgian Legion that is fighting alongside Ukraine against Russian troops told RFE/RL on June 12 that he was poisoned several months ago. Mamuka Mamulashvili said that blood and tissue samples were sent to a lab in Germany after he started feeling acute pains in his stomach. It discovered that they contained high levels of arsenic, mercury, and tin, which he likely ingested in food he was served. Mamulashvili said it was the third time someone tried to poison him and that Russian news outlets have reported his death several times. Mamulashvili and other members of the Georgian Legion are wanted in Russia on charges of illegally recruiting mercenaries and participating in the war in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

European Rights Court Rules In Favor Of RFE/RL Against Baku

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (file photo)
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled on June 13 that a decision by the government of Azerbaijan to block access to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service was a violation of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Azadliq, was blocked in 2017 after a ruling by a Baku court, which alleged the website had posted content that “promoted violence and religious extremism and called for, among other things, mass riots.”

Four other media outlets -- anaxeber.az, 24Saat.org, az24saat.org, and xural.com -- had joined RFE/RL’s case against Azerbaijan.

The four outlets were accused of publishing “false, misleading and libelous information.”

RFE/RL and other plaintiffs insisted in their lawsuit that the decision for the wholesale blocking of their websites was “extreme.”

They argued that the main reason they were banned was because of their criticism of the government and reporting on corruption.

The move to block RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service came after it published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev's family and his inner circle.

The reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

RFE/RL condemned the ruling back in 2017, accusing the government of “another blatant attempt" to "silence our reporting in Azerbaijan.”

In its ruling, the ECHR said the government of Azerbaijan needs to pay each applicant a total of 6,000 euros ($6,500) for damages and other expenses.

Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic since shortly before the death of his long-ruling father, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.

He has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.

Moscow Exchange Stops Dollar, Euro Trades Over New Sanctions

Russia's Central Bank said all deals in dollars and euros will now be made without the involvement of the Moscow Exchange. (file photo)
Russia's Central Bank said all deals in dollars and euros will now be made without the involvement of the Moscow Exchange. (file photo)

The Moscow Exchange said it halted trade in U.S. dollars and euros as of June 13 due to fresh sanctions imposed by the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on more than 300 entities on June 12 -- including the Moscow Exchange, Russia's National Clearing Center, and the National Settlement Depository -- over Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia's Central Bank said all deals in dollars and euros will now be made without the involvement of the Moscow Exchange. The situation caused the dollar rate to jump from 90 rubles to 200 rubles per dollar at some currency exchange points in Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Journalist Tatyana Lazareva To Wanted List

Tatyana Lazareva
Tatyana Lazareva

Russia's Interior Ministry has added self-exiled television journalist Tatyana Lazareva to its wanted list on unspecified charges. In July 2022, Lazareva, who openly condemned Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents." Lazareva and her ex-husband, journalist Mikhail Shats, fled Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Shats was also labeled as a "foreign agent." In June 2023, a Moscow court fined Lazareva in absentia for failing to mark her online reports as made by "a foreign agent." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Protesters Descend On Armenian Parliament As Pressure On Pashinian Grows

Police officers protecting the parliament faced away from protesters in Yerevan on June 13.
Police officers protecting the parliament faced away from protesters in Yerevan on June 13.

A day after clashes with police, anti-government protesters are again gathering outside the Armenian parliament as pressure grows on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to step down as his country nears a peace deal with Azerbaijan.

Pashinian was scheduled to attend the parliament’s session on June 13 to discuss the budget, but the assembly postponed it to June 14.

Demonstrators led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian descended on the parliament, where police officers had formed a line at the entrance to the building.

Images showed that security forces had turned their backs to the protesters and were facing the parliament building.

Criticizing the prime minister and lawmakers, Galastanian charged that “they have no identity and hide behind the police.”

During a rally on June 12, nearly 100 protesters were injured in clashes with the police outside the legislature, where Pashinian spoke about the possible withdrawal of Armenia from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Police "justly used" a stun grenade after the leader of the protest, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, "directed people to attack the police," said parliament speaker Alen Simonian.

Video from the protest showed several people with small wounds on their legs and backs. It was unclear what caused the injuries, or whether police used any type of rubber bullets or pellets to disperse the crowd away.

Police In Armenia Use Stun Grenades On Anti-Government Protesters
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Armenian opposition groups have said that an exit from the CSTO and a breakup of Armenia’s broader military alliance with Russia would create a dangerous security vacuum that cannot be filled by Western powers and would only encourage Azerbaijan to launch new attacks.

Galstanian, the outspoken 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, has led protests against Pashinian for months over plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

Addressing protesters on June 12, the archbishop said he wanted to see Pashinian discuss “the terms of his peaceful departure.”

Galstanian has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators with his Tavush for the Motherland movement in an unprecedented challenge to Pashinian's six-year leadership.

Rights Groups Demand Release Of Kyrgyz Protesters As Prosecutors Seek Lengthy Sentences

Protesters demand the immediate release of the Kempir-Abad group in December 2023.
Protesters demand the immediate release of the Kempir-Abad group in December 2023.

Several international rights groups on June 12 demanded the immediate release of over two dozen Kyrgyz activists who could be facing 20 years in prison for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan.

Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan asked a court in Bishkek on June 10 to hand down lengthy sentences to 27 members of a Kyrgyz group who protested a deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan.

The 27 were arrested in 2022 and charged with organizing mass unrest and plotting to seize power. Their trial started in June 2023 and is expected to conclude on June 13.

In their statement, the rights groups said the request for lengthy sentences for each activist “compounds an already shocking miscarriage of justice.”

The groups include the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, People in Need, Civil Rights Defenders, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Freedom Now, and the International Federation for Human Rights.

They said the activists were “peacefully campaigning” and called on the authorities to drop all charges against them.

The trial is being held behind closed doors as case materials were designated classified. The rights groups said this “violates the defendants’ right to a fair and public hearing” under international law.

“While independent trial monitors have not had access to the trial, information from the defendants and their lawyers indicates that the proceedings have been marred by serious violations of due process and fair trial guarantees,” the groups said.

They charged that the prosecution had presented “no credible evidence to support the charges.

“Judicial and law enforcement authorities have also allegedly intimidated and harassed lawyers for representing their clients in this case,” they added.

The groups called on Kyrgyzstan’s international partners to support their call for the “unconditional release of the defendants” and demand “accountability for those responsible for violations of their rights.”

“Kyrgyzstan’s authorities should end their crackdown on free speech and other fundamental freedoms in the country and put in place meaningful measures to safeguard human rights in line with Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations,” the groups said.

Updated

Ahead Of Summit, G7 Leaders Agree Ukraine Funding Plan Backed By Frozen Russian Assets

G7 leaders pose for photos ahead of a summit in Puglia, Italy, on June 13.
G7 leaders pose for photos ahead of a summit in Puglia, Italy, on June 13.

The Group of Seven (G7) leaders have agreed a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using frozen Russian assets as collateral, as Britain and Canada also separately announced new financial and military support for Kyiv.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Diplomats confirmed to the Associated Press that an agreement had been reached on the deal before the leaders even landed in southern Italy on June 13 for a highly anticipated three-day summit.

Separately, G7 member Canada announced on June 13 that it was sending its first delivery of new armored vehicles to Ukraine. Defense Minister Bill Blair said Ukrainian troops would be trained to use them over the summer.

Additionally, Britain said it would announce 242 million pounds ($309.5 million) in humanitarian aid for Ukraine during the summit, which brings together the leaders of seven of the world's wealthiest countries.

Earlier on June 12, U.S. officials were quoted as saying Washington will provide another Patriot missile system in response to Ukraine's pleas for more air defenses as devastating Russian strikes keep the country on edge and decimate its energy grid, forcing Kyiv to import record amounts of power.

Germany on June 11 also pledged to send a Patriot system, along with Gepard self-propelled antiaircraft guns and an IRIS-T air-defense system.

The G7 summit kicks off a day after Russia killed at least nine people in a deadly attack on the Ukrainian city of Kryviy Rih.

A major city in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Kryviy Rih is President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hometown and has been the target of Russian air attacks multiple times in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government on June 13 said G7 nations had separately agreed to provide more than $1 billion to support Ukraine’s energy sector.

Ukraine's Energy Ministry said in a statement the country would import 29,796 megawatt hours on June 12, exceeding the previous record of up to 28,000 MWh set earlier this month.

With reporting by AP

Iran Frees Imprisoned French Citizen, Macron Says

Louis Arnaud (file photo)
Louis Arnaud (file photo)

Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on June 12, urging Tehran to free three other French nationals "without delay." "Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran," Macron said on X, thanking Oman for helping to secure "this happy outcome." Arnaud, a banking consultant, was sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges. His arrest in 2022 came as protests roiled Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress rules. Arnaud's family said he had "kept a distance from the social movements that were starting" at the time and never acted "with political intentions or carelessness."

Microsoft Says Russia 'More Aggressive' In Cyberspace

Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)
Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. tech giant Microsoft said Russian cyberattacks are becoming even “more aggressive” and warned that Moscow could deepen collaboration with U.S. adversaries in cyberspace, making it much harder to prevent intrusions.

Hackers from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Agency (SVR) are no longer disengaging from a computer environment once they are discovered but are doubling down, leading to the equivalent of “hand-to-hand combat” in cyberspace, according to Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft, who is scheduled to testify on June 13 to the House of Representatives' Committee on Homeland Security.

The committee made a transcript of Smith’s statement to the committee available on June 12.

Smith said in the statement that Microsoft believes the SVR is now allowing its top engineers to use what they learn during the day in criminal ransomware operations they work on during their free time for financial gain as a way to retain them.

“This is creating a vicious cycle reinforcing nation-state and ransomware activity,” Smith wrote in the statement.

Smith will address the committee on Microsoft’s plans to boost security following successful intrusions by Russian and Chinese state actors. He said closer cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran on the geopolitical stage could be replicated in cyberspace.

“This is grave at multiple levels. It’s one thing to engage in cyber combat with four separate nation-state adversaries, but quite another scenario if two or all four of these countries work in tandem,” he wrote in his testimony.

He said each of those nations has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cyber capabilities, and through cooperation they could enhance each others' effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, this is where the future is likely going,” he wrote.

Smith painted a grave picture of current cyberspace, saying “lawless and aggressive cyber activity has reached an extraordinary level” and that state actors are more sophisticated and better resourced than ever. He said Microsoft detects almost 4,000 password-based attacks against its customers every second.

He called for tougher responses to such countries, saying they suffer few consequences for their actions.

“Deter nation-state threat actors by imposing appropriate punishment so that the actions of nation-state actors are not without a cost,” he wrote in his testimony.

U.S. Aware Of Reports Russia Is Listing Ukrainian Children For Adoption

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is aware of “new and credible reports” that Russia has listed abducted Ukrainian children on Russian adoption websites. Sullivan described the development as "despicable and appalling" in a statement on June 12. He acknowledged that since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, “including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.” He stressed that these children belong with their families, adding that Russia is “waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military but against the Ukrainian people” and is “committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.” To read the full statement from the White House, click here.

Austria Says Security Concern Was Behind Decision To Pull TASS Accreditation

The Russian Embassy in Vienna
The Russian Embassy in Vienna

Austria annulled the accreditation of two correspondents working for Russia's TASS news agency in April "due to a negative security assessment by the security authorities," the Interior Ministry said.

The Interior Ministry's statement, quoted by dpa on June 11, came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had canceled the accreditation of a correspondent for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Maria Knips-Witting, and told her to leave the country in response to Austria's expulsion of Ivan Popov, a journalist for TASS, in late April.

Though the Russian Foreign Ministry only cited the expulsion of Popov, the Austrian Interior Ministry statement referred to two journalists for TASS, both expelled in April.

ORF said it could not understand Russia's move to cancel Knips-Witting's accreditation, while the Austrian Foreign Ministry called it "completely unjustified."

A report in March in the Vienna-based Falter weekly wrote about suspected Russian intelligence activities in the Austrian capital in a story that mentioned TASS.

In addition, the Austrian Interior Ministry's latest intelligence report says foreign intelligence services are active in the country under the cover of news agencies.

Knips-Witting joined a long list of journalists expelled by Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In August 2023, Eva Hartog, a Dutch journalist working for Politico -- a U.S. based politics-focused digital newspaper -- was denied a renewal of her Russian visa.

Russian authorities in March refused to extend a visa for Xavier Colas, a reporter for Spanish newspaper El Mundo and ordered him to leave Russia.

Moscow also has arrested and charged foreign journalists with crimes.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been under pretrial arrest since late March 2023 on charges of espionage that he, his employer, and U.S. officials reject as unfounded.

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S.-Russian citizen, has been in Russian custody since October on a charge of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Kurmasheva and RFE/RL maintain her innocence.

With reporting by dpa, Deutsche Welle, and VOA

U.S. Treasury Widens Sanctions To Curb Russia's War Production

The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)
The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)

The U.S. Treasury Department on June 12 announced new sanctions on over 300 entities suspected of providing Russia with products and services needed to sustain military production for its war in Ukraine. U.S. officials expressed concern over Russia's ability to procure advanced semiconductors, optical equipment, and other goods needed to produce advanced weapons systems, despite prior sanctions. The latest sanctions primarily target Belarusian and Chinese entities suspected of aiding Russia’s defense and energy sectors. The sanctions come on the eve of the June 13-15 G7 summit in Italy. To read the full statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, click here.

Russian Warships Enter Havana Harbor Following Military Exercises

The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)
The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)

A Russian navy frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine docked on June 12 in Havana harbor, a stopover the United States and Cuba said posed no threat but which was widely seen as a Russian show of force as tensions rise over the Ukraine war. The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan were accompanied by a tugboat and fuel ship that arrived earlier in the morning. The four vessels sailed to Cuba after conducting "high-precision missile weapons" training in the Atlantic Ocean, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry said the submarine and frigate carry Zircon hypersonic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles, and Onyx anti-ship missiles.

Ukraine Peace Summit Draft Calls On 'All Parties' To Work On Future Talks

This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.
This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.

A draft of a communiqué being worked on for the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland this weekend says future peace negotiations should involve "representatives of all parties" in the conflict and follow agreements on nuclear security, food security, the return of prisoners of war and kidnapped children.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The draft, which is not final and subject to change, was seen by RFE/RL on June 12, three days before the summit is set to begin in the Swiss town of Burgenstock.

Some 160 heads of state, government leaders, and international organizations have been invited to the summit, with Swiss officials saying on June 10 that just over 90 have so far indicated their participation.

However, European Union diplomats told RFE/RL that the number has fallen to 78. While they did not name the countries that reportedly dropped out, one of the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the list could still grow as countries make last-minute decisions on participating. A final list of participants is expected by June 14.

In the current version of the communiqué, the draft specifically refers to the "aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine," while saying that the summit builds on previous discussions "that have taken place based on Ukraine's Peace Formula and other peace proposals which are in line with international law, including the United Nations Charter."

"We believe that achieving peace requires the participation and dialogue of all parties. Therefore, we have decided to take concrete steps in the aforementioned areas with further involvement of representatives of all parties. The Charter of the United Nations, particularly the principles of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, can and will serve as the foundation for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine," it says.

Ukraine hopes to win broad international backing for its vision of the terms needed to end the war with Russia, which broke out after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

The United States will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and national-security adviser Jake Sullivan, while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will also attend the summit.

Beijing, which has close ties with Moscow, has so far said it will stay away from the June 15-16 summit, saying the attendance of both sides is a prerequisite for any substantive peace conference.

Russia has not been invited.

South Korean Leader Signs Deals As Central Asian Tour Hits Kazakhstan

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, on a tour of Central Asia, signed agreements on energy, oil, and chemical industry cooperation with Kazakhstan after meeting with President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12. The two leaders also took part in the Kazakh-Korean business forum in Astana. Yoon is expected to meet representatives of the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan, who are the successors of Koreans deported by Josef Stalin's regime from Russia's Far East in the 1940s. Before visiting Astana, Yoon held talks with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov and is expected to visit Uzbekistan after finishing his trip to Kazakhstan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Poland Forces Man Back To Belarus After Deportation Notice

Dzmitry Smaktunovich
Dzmitry Smaktunovich

A Belarusian man was forced to cross the Poland-Belarus border back into his homeland on June 12, a day after he resisted leaving Poland after receiving a deportation notice. Dzmitry Smaktunovich's wife, who with their three children remains in Poland, told RFE/RL that her husband was deported after his Lithuanian residence permit was canceled. Self-exiled opposition politician Paval Latushka cited the Polish border guard service as saying that among other reasons, Smaktunovich was deported over his alleged involvement in an illegal immigration ring. Polish officials refused to provide RFE/RL with information related to Smaktunovich’s case, saying that such data can be given only to Belarusian officials. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Iran Commutes Death Sentence Of Sunni Cleric Detained During 2022 Protests

Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.
Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.

Iran's judiciary has commuted the death sentence of Sunni cleric Mohammad Khezrnejad to imprisonment after widespread criticism of the punishment both at home and abroad.

Khezrnejad, originally detained during the widespread Women, Life, Freedom protests, was facing execution for charges including "corruption on Earth," "acting against national security," and "propaganda against the system."

It gave no details of the length of time Khezrnejad would spend in prison, but his initial sentence on one of the charges was 15 years.

He was arrested in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, two months after the death of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked widespread unrest in late 2022.

Khezrnejad's arrest and subsequent sentencing -- the trial was held via video conference with the defendant deprived of legal representation -- drew widespread condemnation, highlighting the Iranian judiciary's harsh stance against dissent.

Nonetheless, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

However, on June 11, the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, announced that following appeals for clemency from several Sunni scholars and expressions of remorse by Khezrnejad, his sentence was reduced.

The report highlighted his pledge of good behavior as a contributing factor to the mitigation of his punishment.

Mizan also said authorities blamed foreign Persian-language media for escalating the situation by falsely linking the case to ethnic and religious issues.

Khezrnejad's case is another example of Iranian authorities blaming "external forces" for internal dissent without giving evidence to back up the claim.

The case had attracted international attention, with human rights groups, including Amnesty International, warning against the execution.

Hundreds of Sunni clerics within Iran had also called on the judiciary for Khezrnejad's release, criticizing the lack of fairness in the judicial proceedings.

Khazrnejad remains incarcerated at Urmia prison, with the judicial process drawing ongoing scrutiny for its handling of cases related to the Women, Life, Freedom protests.

Sunni Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iran’s Kurdistan region and Sistan-Baluchistan Province but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

Since Amini's death in September 2022, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Pashinian Defends Yerevan Police After Bloody Clashes With Demonstrators

Police In Armenia Use Stun Grenades On Anti-Government Protesters
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YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has defended police actions taken on June 12 against demonstrators outside parliament where he was participating in a regular question period that saw him indicate Armenia would withdraw completely from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

An Interior Ministry spokesperson told RFE/RL that as of 8 p.m. local time 70 people had been detained and there were injuries among both the protesters and the police in scuffles in central Yerevan.

"There are people who have applied for medical help," a spokesperson of the health minister told RFE/RL, without specifying the number of people injured.

Police "justly used" a stun grenade after the leader of the protest, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, "directed people to attack the police," said parliament speaker Alen Simonian.

The police performed "the functions assigned to them by the law strictly within the framework of the law," Pashinisn said.

He added that all photos showing victims will be examined, and if it is found that illegal acts occurred, the state will respond appropriately.

During the question period, Pashinian told parliament that his government will decide later when to leave the CSTO, an alliance of six ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Pashinian has repeatedly said that he could pull his country out of the alliance altogether unless it addressed Yerevan’s concerns.

Armenia announced on May 8 that it had stopped making financial contributions to the CSTO. It had previously suspended its participation in joint military drills, high-level meetings, and other activities.


Tensions between Armenia and Russia arose after Armenian authorities accused Russian peacekeepers of failing to stop Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September 2023 that gave Baku full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been controlled by ethnic Armenians with Yerevan's support for decades.

Moscow rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene. Armenia requested Russian military support after weeks of hostilities along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in September 2022.

The Kremlin more recently has been angered by Pashinian’s efforts to deepen Armenia's ties with the West and distance his country from Moscow.

Armenian opposition groups have said that an exit from the CSTO and a breakup of Armenia’s broader military alliance with Russia would create a dangerous security vacuum that cannot be filled by Western powers and would only encourage Azerbaijan to launch new attacks.

Pashinian made his CSTO comments amid protests led by Galstanian, the outspoken 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, against plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

Galstanian has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators with his Tavush for the Motherland movement in an unprecedented challenge to Pashinian's six-year leadership.

Earlier on June 12, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh had been completed. Moscow has yet to confirm the statement by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry.

Pro-Kremlin Ballet Dancer's Performance Canceled In Slovenia

Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.
Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said authorities in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, canceled a performance by Svetlana Zakharova, the pro-Kremlin prima ballerina of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, at the requests of Ukraine's embassy and Slovenia’s Ukrainian community. Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August. Ukrainian-born Zakharova is a member of Russia's ruling United Russia party. She served as a lawmaker in 2007-2011. In 2014, Zakharova publicly supported Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. This year, she took part in President Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Senior U.S. Diplomat Says Ukraine-NATO Policy Unchanged Despite Biden Comments

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.

U.S. President Joe Biden's recent comments signaling Ukraine is unlikely to become a NATO member during its war to repel invading Russian troops is not a change in Washington's position on the issue ahead of a key summit for the military alliance's leaders, a senior State Department diplomat told RFE/RL.

In an interview conducted on May 28 and published by Time magazine, Biden appeared to suggest he no longer supported Ukraine's NATO membership, a change from previously stated goals by Washington and the alliance itself.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

But James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told RFE/RL on June 11 while on a visit to Armenia that "interpretations began to run away" from the meaning of Biden's comments, and that Washington remains committed to Ukraine's membership in the alliance.

"There's no change in our position. I think what the president said, if I could just paraphrase, he said he doesn't believe in Ukraine joining NATO now," O'Brien said.

"Our position, really...is that Ukraine will be in the alliance when conditions allow."

In the wide-ranging June 4 interview with Time, Biden said that "peace looks like making sure Russia never, never, never, never occupies Ukraine. That's what peace looks like."

But, he added, "It doesn't mean NATO, [that] they are part of NATO."

O'Brien further elaborated saying Biden was referring to the NATO summit in July when stating that he was "not prepared" to support Ukrainian membership.

"It will be clear that Ukraine needs to undertake some reforms, and it will take some time to adapt its military from what it had been before Russia's further invasion, to what it will be needed to be part of NATO.

"And we'll lay out [at the summit] both how NATO will assist Ukraine in getting ready. So we are talking about several steps," he added.

Top Diplomat: U.S. Aims To 'Build Bridge' For Ukraine Into NATO
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NATO stated in the final declaration of last year's summit in Vilnius that "Ukraine’s future is in NATO" and there are indications that the upcoming summit of the alliance in Washington next month would reinforce the message of support for Kyiv's eventual membership.

In reaction to Biden's interview, a NATO source who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that "my understanding is that the American line has been and still is that Ukraine should be offered 'a bridge to NATO membership.'"

O'Brien echoed those comments, with Ukraine remaining a NATO ally in the near future as it prepares for the longer term.

"We're talking about NATO assisting with building Ukraine's future force, so that it will know that it has a military able to deter and repel further Russian aggression, but also that NATO will assist with Ukraine's reforms," O'Brien said.

U.S. Diplomat Says Armenia-Azerbaijan Deal A 'Momentous' Step Forward

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."

The leaders of Armenian and Azerbaijan say they are committed to a "momentous" demarcation accord signed last month that is designed to end decades of hostile relations in the volatile region, a top U.S. diplomat said during a visit to Yerevan.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought wars over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh -- with more than 30,000 people killed -- as they transitioned into independent countries.

Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightening military offensive last year, but much of the border between the countries remained in dispute, with both sides occupying villages that formerly belonged to the other side.

"I think both sides say that they're committed to peace. It's a momentous agreement. It will be a generational commitment by the two countries," James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told RFE/RL in an interview on June 11 during a visit to Yerevan.

O'Brien was referring to an agreement between Yerevan and Baku completed on May 15 that delineated the border between the two bitter rivals who have seen their relations marred by several deadly wars and conflicts.

Some critics have cited the lack of progress following the agreement, with the Armenian side often suggesting Baku has been slow to follow through on efforts to attain an overall peace deal to settle longstanding issues.

"It's appropriate to be careful and take time, so the two countries have had a number of discussions at the level of the leaders, deputy prime ministers, foreign ministers, national security advisers, technical teams, just to be sure that they are aware of all the implications of an agreement," he said.

"I think the recent demarcation arrangement was a very good step forward."

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.

O'Brien said the deal "acknowledged that some territory belonging to Azerbaijan had to be transferred, but also that the basis of further demarcation would be the Alma-Ata agreement, and that, I think, is a very constructive basis for next steps."

The deal, which involved Yerevan returning to Baku four abandoned villages that had been part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era but which had been occupied by Armenian forces, has sparked protests in Armenia and calls for the country's leadership to resign.

U.S. Diplomat Sees 'Great Moment' For Peace, New Trade Routes In Armenia, Azerbaijan
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Armenian opposition groups have denounced what they describe as the latest "unilateral territorial concessions" to Azerbaijan. They argue that the border demarcation that affects the infrastructure of border communities leaves local residents more vulnerable to further possible Azerbaijani aggression.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has rejected the criticism, saying the demarcation agreement was necessary to assure Armenia's security and end decades of enmity with Azerbaijan.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the demarcation agreement, stressing it contains a reference to the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration, a document by which a dozen former Soviet countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, pledged to recognize each other's territorial integrity within existing administrative borders.

The declaration was named after the city now known as Almaty in Kazakhstan where it was signed.

"In our [U.S.] view, there's a once-in-a-generation -- maybe several generations -- opportunity to build a trade route from Central Asia across to the Mediterranean. That can come only if there is peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said.

When asked whether the United States would be willing to act as guarantor of an agreement between the two sides, O'Brien said that "neither side has asked us to play that role."

"We are very happy to support the peace agreement that the sides reach. And the exact role that we might play, or no role, is really up to the two sides to conclude. We are not looking to serve as intervener or superpower in the region."

James O'Brien spoke from Yerevan. RFE/RL's Armenian Service's Heghine Buniatian conducted the interview from Prague.

Trial Begins Of Belarusian Rights Defender In Exile

Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."
Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."

A court in the Belarusian city of Homel on June 12 started a trial in absentia of noted rights defender Leanid Sudalenka on a charge of participating in extremist activities. Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order." The charge stemmed from Sudalenka's participation in mass protests in the summer of 2020 against the results of a presidential election that pronounced authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner. In October 2022, Belarusian authorities added Sudalenka to their list of extremists. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Yashin Says He Will Reject Swap With Russians Jailed In West

Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."
Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, says he will not agree to get exchanged for Russian citizens jailed in the Western countries if such a proposal occurs.

In his interview to Dozhd TV, parts of which were published on Telegram on June 12, Yashin said a possible swap would mean emigration for him, which he called "unacceptable" for him.

"I have stayed in Russia to be a Russian voice against the war and dictatorship. And, of course, it is important for me to share the fate of my country and my people. I sincerely believe that a Russian politician must be with Russia, as we say, both in joy and sorrow," Yashin said.

Talking about the self-exiled widow of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Yashin said her role is "to explain to the world and the Western leaders that the Russian people and Putin are not the same, that our compatriots are in fact hostages in the hands of the Kremlin junta."

The former municipal lawmaker also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

"Just remember that sooner or later that tank will stop, and then we have to be ready to disassemble it," Yashin said.

Yashin, 40, is an outspoken Kremlin critic and one of the few prominent opposition politicians who stayed in Russia after a wave of repression against those who have condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine since the full-scale invasion was launched in February 2022.

The sentence handed to Yashin in December 2022 was the harshest among the cases against those charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces under a new law introduced days after the invasion commenced.

The criminal case against Yashin was launched in July 2022. The charge against him stemmed from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

Yashin is serving his prison term in correctional colony No. 3 in the western Smolensk region.

Kazakh Court Rejects Appeals Of Convicted Killers Of Anticorruption Activist

Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.
Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.

A court in Kazakhstan on June 11 rejected the appeals of four men imprisoned for the killing of a noted anticorruption activist in the Central Asian nation's Aqmola region. Ghaly Baqtybaev, 59, was shot dead near his house in May 2019. In January, former police officer Ghalym Akhmetzhanov and businessman Azamat Bokenaev were sentenced to 15 years in prison each for their roles in ordering and organizing the assassination. Iman Miyashev was handed 16 years for attacking Baqtybaev, while a fourth man, Eldar Zhaken, was handed a three-year prison term for his role in the crime. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Stoltenberg Says Hungary Agrees Not To Block NATO Support To Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Hungary will not block support to Ukraine, though it will exercise its opt-out and not provide soldiers or funds the military alliance supplies to Kyiv as it battles to repel invading Russian forces.

Stoltenberg has been meeting with NATO members on a tour as he looks to shore up support ahead of a summit in Washington next month for the alliance to increase its role in aiding Ukraine's military.

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Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, arguably Moscow's closest ally in the European Union, has been wary of NATO's involvement in the conflict and has suggested a new definition for Budapest's position to keep Hungarian forces from operations outside the territory of NATO members.

"Hungary will not participate in these NATO efforts and I accept this position," Stoltenberg told reporters in Budapest after meeting with Orban on June 12.

"At the same time, the prime minister has assured me that Hungary will not oppose these efforts, enabling other allies to move forward, and he has confirmed that Hungary will continue to meet its NATO commitments in full."

Orban, at the same news conference, confirmed Hungary won't block NATO support.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, Orban has forged closer relations with the Kremlin, angering Brussels for refusing to join EU sanctions against Moscow or to allow, like other NATO countries, arms shipments to Ukraine.

Western government have been unhappy over Orban's continued warm ties with Moscow and Hungary's delay in the ratification of Sweden's NATO accession, though Budapest ultimately approved the move.

Hungary had asked the Brussels-based military alliance for an exemption from providing military support to Ukraine in exchange for allowing decisions to be carried out, meaning it would not exercise its veto power, since NATO makes all of its military decisions by consensus.

Stoltenberg said he had agreed with Orban on "modalities for Hungary's nonparticipation in NATO's support for Ukraine," though he gave no details on what such an agreement entailed.

NATO is looking to create a plan to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in the coming years to repel Moscow's full-scale invasion, as better-armed Russian troops assert control on the battlefield.

The alliance will hold a summit next month in Washington where its leaders are looking to finalize such a plan.

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