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Kazakh Officials Give Contradicting Death Tolls From January Unrest

The families of detainees gather in Shymkent to complain about torture in custody on February 10.

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh officials have given contradicting death tolls from the anti-government protests in January that led to the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his relatives from the country's political scene.

Prosecutor-General Berik Asylov said on March 14 that 230 people, including 19 police officers, died during the unrest in early January that was violently dispersed by law enforcement and armed forces.

According to Asylov, 139 people were killed in the country's largest city, Almaty, where the violence was the worst.

However, Ombudswoman Elvira Azimova said at a parliament session on March 14 that the number of people killed during the unrest was 238.

She later told RFE/RL that the figure she gave included those who died in police custody after they were detained, some wounded, following the unrest.

Kazakh officials said earlier that 227 people died in the violence.

Thousands of people were detained after the protests, which President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said were caused by "20,000 terrorists" from abroad, a claim for which the authorities have provided no evidence.

The unrest occurred after a peaceful demonstration in the tightly controlled Central Asian country's western Manghystau region on January 2 over a fuel-price hike led to widespread protests.

Human rights groups say the number killed was much higher than any of the figures provided by officials. The groups provided evidence showing that peaceful demonstrators and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.

There also were reports that people in custody were tortured by the police.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said on March 2 that 62 people arrested over the deadly unrest had been sentenced to various prison terms.

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Thousands Of Fish Dead In Kakhovka Reservoir As Ukraine Launches 'Ecocide' Probe Over Dam

Thousands Of Fish Dead In Kakhovka Reservoir As Ukraine Launches 'Ecocide' Probe Over Dam
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Ukrainian officials estimate about 28,000 fish have died due to the draining of the Kakhovka reservoir following the breach of the hydroelectric dam in Russian-occupied territory. Ukraine's prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into what it's calling "ecocide" by Russia, which it accuses of destroying the dam.

HRW Calls On Kyrgyz Lawmakers To Withdraw Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Bill

HRW called on the EU, the United States, and the UN to publicly express their concern over the bill and urge President Sadyr Japarov (pictured) not to sign it into law should it pass the parliament, which may take up the bill as early as next month.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Kyrgyz lawmakers to withdraw a controversial "foreign agents" bill, calling it "a highly repressive draft law" that is intended to "discredit and stigmatize" civil society groups that receive foreign funding similar to a law in Russia that has had a chilling effect on nongovernmental organizations.

“The draft law is incompatible with international human rights obligations, restricting freedom of association and expression, as well as introducing in some cases criminal liability for nongovernmental organizations and their staff members,” HRW's Central Asia researcher Syinat Sultanalieva said in the statement on June 9.

According to the bill in question, nongovernmental organizations that receive financial or other sorts of support from foreign organizations must officially register as "foreign representatives." Failure to do so will lead to a suspension of an NGOs' activities, including its banking operations, for up to 6 months or until it is registered.

"This requirement is clearly intended to discredit and stigmatize groups that receive foreign funding and could have a chilling effect on the country’s civil society at a time when it is already under attack," HRW's statement said, adding that the bill's vague and broad definition of political activity as “actions aimed at changing state policy and shaping public opinion for these purposes” poses a particular risk for civic activism in the Central Asian nation.

In addition to mandatory audits, organizations deemed foreign representatives would have to justify all expenditures to the Kyrgyz government and even consent to the presence of government officials at their events.

The draft law also prescribes punishments of up to five years in prison for representatives of NGOs that are judged to be responsible for "violence against citizens, or other harm to their health or inducing citizens to refuse to perform civil duties."

HRW called on the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations, to publicly express their concern over the bill and urge President Sadyr Japarov not to sign it into law should it pass the parliament, which may take up the bill as early as next month.

“If passed, this draft law will have a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s civil society organizations, limiting their ability to advocate for human rights, provide social services, and contribute to the development of a robust and inclusive society,” Sultanalieva said.

Russia's own law on the designation of foreign agents was passed in 2012. The legislation originally targeted NGOs and rights groups but has since been expanded to target media outlets and individuals, especially journalists.

Attempts to introduce a foreign agents law in Kyrgyzstan come amid a widening crackdown on civil society in the Central Asian nation. Since coming to power in 2020, President Sadyr Japarov has also targeted his political opponents and the free media, his critics say.

More than one-third of lawmakers in the 90-seat parliament have backed a draft bill that was submitted for public consideration last month. However, some Kyrgyz lawmakers have withdrawn their support of the legislation in recent days.

Baktybek Choibekov, Emil Jamgirchiev, and Emil Toktoshev, who co-authored the bill, have announced in separate statements that they have quit the group that initiated the legislation in May, acknowledging it may damage democratic institutions and human rights in the country that once was called "the island of democracy in Central Asia."

Self-Exiled Russian Journalist Added To Wanted List On Charge Of Distributing Fakes About Military

Sergei Podsytnik, the editor of Protokol, an online newspaper in the city of Samara, appeared in the wanted persons registry on June 9.

Russia's Interior Ministry has added journalist Sergei Podsytnik to its wanted list on unspecified charges. The editor of Protokol, an online newspaper in the city of Samara, appeared in the wanted persons registry on June 9. Podsytnik's parents said earlier that their son was under investigation for the alleged distribution of false news about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Podsytnik left Russia last year. His colleagues have suggested that the charge against him stems from his report about Russian troops' shelling of the Ukrainian eastern city of Makiyivka in late December. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Jailed Kazakh Journalist Charged With Financing Extremism, Faces 12 Years

Duman Mukhammedkarim is currently serving a 25-day jail term on charge of violating regulations for public gatherings. He was sentenced on May 28, just two days after he had finished serving a similar sentence. 

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Jailed Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who has been on hunger strike for 10 days to protest against his 25-day jail term, has been charged with financing an extremist group, a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeisov, told RFE/RL on June 9 that his client had already been charged with taking part in the activities of an extremist group, adding that both charges are linked to fugitive banker and outspoken Kazakh government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov and his Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement that was labeled as an extremist group in the country in March 2018.

Mukhammedkarim is currently serving a 25-day jail term on charge of violating regulations for public gatherings. He was sentenced on May 28, just two days after he had finished serving a similar sentence.

The charges stemmed from a video on Mukhammedkarim's YouTube channel that called on Kazakhs to defend their rights and his online calls for residents in the Central Asian largest city, Almaty, to rally against the government's move to introduce visa-free entrance to Kazakhstan for Chinese citizens.

Last week, Mukhammedkarim’s father, Almaz Tilepov, joined his son's hunger strike, demanding his immediate release. This week, he continued his hunger strike in front of the building of the prosecutor's office in Almaty but had to stop the hunger strike due to a medical condition.

Rights watchdogs have been criticizing the authorities of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecution of dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich nation's political scene following the unprecedented deadly antigovernment protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan, consider the reforms announced by Toqaev, cosmetic, as crackdown on dissent has continued even after Toqaev announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Ukraine's GDP Falls 10.5 Percent In First Quarter Of 2023

A Ukrainian national flag flies in front of the government building in central Kyiv. (file photo)

Ukraine's gross domestic product fell 10.5 percent in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period a year ago, the Economy Ministry said on June 9. The ministry said in a statement the fall was less than it had initially expected, indicating that the economy was adapting to events following Russia's invasion more quickly than expected. The ministry said it had initially expected GDP to fall 14.1 percent in the first quarter of 2023. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Siberian Activist Hospitalized After Falling Ill At Her Trial

Rights activist Natalya Filonova is accused of attacking four police officers when they dispersed a rally in September 2022 against the military mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin.

A rights activist in Russia's Siberian region of Buryatia, Natalya Filonova, has been hospitalized after she fell ill during her trial on a charge of assaulting police that she and her supporters reject as politically motivated. Filonova's lawyer, Andrei Sokov, says an ambulance was called to assist his client in the courtroom on June 8. Physicians said Filonova was unable to take part in the trial as she had an extremely high pressure and needed immediate hospitalization. Filonova is accused of attacking four police officers when they dispersed a rally in September 2022 against the military mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Decision Ordering Return Of Crimean Gold Artifacts To Ukraine

Objects on display in the exhibition Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam in 2014

The Dutch Supreme Court on June 9 upheld lower court decisions ordering the return of ancient Crimean gold artifacts to Ukraine, marking the end of a long legal process. The artifacts had been on display at the Allard Pierson Museum in the Netherlands when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Ukraine and museums in Russian-controlled Crimea had demanded their return. "This decision ends this dispute. The Allard Pierson Museum must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea," the ruling said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Hungary Says EU Refugee Reform Deal 'Unacceptable'

Hungary installed a border fence to prevent migrants from entering the country in Hercegszanto, in the vicinity of the border between Serbia and Hungary.

Hungary on June 9 slammed as "unacceptable" a European Union agreement to revise the bloc's rules on member states hosting asylum seekers and migrants. "Brussels is abusing its power. They want to relocate migrants to Hungary with force. This is unacceptable, they want to forcefully turn Hungary into a migrant country," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, quoting Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, wrote on Twitter.

Updated

Ukraine Claims Audio Proves Russia Behind Destruction Of Dam

A member of Russia's Emergencies Ministry and a local resident carry an elderly woman during the evacuation of residents from a flooded area in the town of Hola Prystan in the Kherson region of Russian-controlled Ukraine on June 8.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) says it intercepted telephone communications between Russian military personnel that "confirm" Russia's involvement into the destruction of the Kakhovka dam amid reports of heavy fighting on several fronts in the south and east of the country.

The SBU released an audio recording on June 9 on its Telegram channel that it claims occurred between Russian military personnel acknowledging that the breach of the dam was the result of the actions of a "saboteur group" aiming to disrupt the Ukrainian military.

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 counteroffensives, 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 recording has yet to be independently verified.

"It was not them [Ukrainians] who struck it. It was our saboteur group there. They wanted to scare [Ukrainians] with the dam. It didn't go as they planned; it turned out to be larger than they planned," a Russian military officer allegedly says on the call.

Another person on the call seems surprised at the claim about Russian forces, who have occupied the dam since the early days of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The SBU did not give details on those who were on the call, nor did it give any more information on what was said or when. It has, however, opened a criminal investigation into war crimes and "ecocide" over the dam.

"By blowing up the [Kakhovska] dam, the Russian Federation definitively proved that it is a threat to the entire civilized world," SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk was quoted as saying in the social media post.

Russia has steadfastly rejected accusations it was behind the incident, and has repeatedly claimed Ukraine was at fault for destroying the dam and unleashing mass floods on the area that have forced thousands of people from their homes while creating a major environmental catastrophe.

Moscow has yet to comment on the Ukrainian claim over the audio interception.

WATCH: Current Time reporter Andriy Kuzakov was forced to run for cover during an interview when shelling was heard in Kherson amid flood evacuations following the breach of the Kakhovka dam.

Reporter Runs For Cover Amid Shelling Of Ukrainian Flood Evacuations
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The accusation comes amid reports of heavy fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine as analysts watch to see if Kyiv finally announces it has begun its long-awaited counteroffensive.

Russian media reported pitched battles in the Zaporizhzhya region, while Ukraine says it is making minor gains around the city of Bakhmut, which Russia claimed last month to have captured after a protracted battle that reportedly killed thousands.

Overnight at least one person was killed and three were wounded as Russia unleashed a fresh wave of drone and cruise missile strikes on military and civilian infrastructure targets across Ukraine.

Air-raid alerts were declared for several hours overnight in Kyiv and all regions of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Air Force said on June 9 that Russia launched 16 Iranian-made attack drones and six cruise missiles.

The drones were launched from southern Russia while the missiles were fired from Tu-95 strategic bombers from the Caspian Sea region, the air force said, adding that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 drones and four cruise missiles, the air force said.

The Zhytomyr region, west of the capital, Kyiv, was the most affected, emergency services and regional officials reported.

One person was killed and three were wounded by falling debris in the city of Zviagel, Zhytomyr Governor Vitaliy Bunechko said.

Across the region, four houses were destroyed by falling rocket fragments, and another 30 were damaged, the State Emergency Service said on Telegram.

WATCH: Ukrainian troops attacked enemy positions with a captured Russian tank and retook land north of Bakhmut. Current Time correspondent Andriy Kuzakov spoke with the Ukrainian soldiers about the assault and what the recaptured land means for future maneuvers.

Ukrainian Forces Storm Russian Trenches North Of Bakhmut
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A fire broke out in a damaged residential building on an area of 300 square meters, but it was extinguished by firefighters, the State Emergency Service said.

Nataliya Humenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military command, told state television on June 8 that the main objective or Russia's latest attack was to exhaust Ukraine's air defenses as much as possible.

"Missiles came from the usual launching area and their trajectory similar to previous attempts by the enemy to wear out air-defense systems," Humenyuk said.

Russia has frequently launched air strikes against Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine since the start of last month as Ukraine has been preparing for a much-anticipated counteroffensive to retake territories occupied by Russia after the start of its illegal invasion in February last year.

Updated

Life 'Broken' In Dozens Of Settlements Near Breached Ukrainian Dam, Zelenskiy Says

A view of a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 8.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been struggling to get drinking water after major flooding in southern Ukraine following the destruction earlier this week of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as rescuers continued efforts to bring as many people as possible to safety.

"The evacuation is ongoing," Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel on June 9. "Wherever we can get people out of the flood zone, we do so."

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 counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

"In more than 40 settlements, life is broken. For hundreds of thousands of people in many towns and villages, access to drinking water has been greatly hampered," Zelenskiy said, reiterating that Ukraine holds Russia responsible for the destruction of the dam.

"We are establishing more details about the damage Russia has caused by this disaster. Russia must be held accountable for this deliberate crime against people, nature, and life itself," Zelenskiy said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said on June 9 that at least five people died and 13 are missing in the flooding that has extended to an area of some 600 square kilometers.

Klymenko said that 34 settlements were flooded on the right bank of the Dnieper that is under Ukrainian control and 14 more were inundated on the left bank, which is under Russian occupation. As of June 9, 2,400 people had been rescued in Kherson, Klymenko said.

In the neighboring Mykolayiv region, 23 settlements were flooded and over 800 people were evacuated, he said.

Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed head of Kherson region, said eight people died and 5,800 were rescued on the Russian-occupied part of the region.

"A total of 22,273 houses in 17 settlements were flooded in the region, Saldo wrote on Telegram, adding that the water may not subside for about 10 days.

IN PHOTOS: Rescuers are struggling to reach Kherson's most vulnerable people who are trapped by flooding following the breach of a dam in Russian-occupied territory.

Earlier the Ukrainian governor of Kherson, Oleksandr Prokudin, said in a video message on June 9 that water levels are beginning to drop in the areas of the region that saw major flooding following the destruction of the dam.

"We can already see that the water has receded by 20 centimeters overnight," Prokudin said.

"In the morning, the water level in the region is 5.38 meters; in Kherson city, 5.35 meters," Prokudin said, adding that on the morning of June 9, a total of 3,624 houses in 32 settlements across the Kherson region were flooded.

Prokudin added that 2,352 people had already been evacuated from the flooded areas, although the rescue teams' efforts to bring people to safety were hampered by constant Russian shelling from across the Dnieper.

On June 8, Russian forces shelled the Kherson area shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the southern region.

An RFE/RL correspondent on the ground reported explosions Kherson’s Korabel district as rescuers in rubber dinghies continued to evacuate people who had yet to leave the disaster area.

Prokudin said Russians shelled Kherson's coastal areas and the center of the city of Kherson.

The Red Cross warned that the flooding would have disastrous effect on efforts to locate land mines that had been planted in the region.

Dislodged mines transported by the water could pose serious dangers both to the local people and the rescuers, the Red Cross warned.

WATCH: RFE/RL visited a village in the Kherson region of Ukraine, which was flooded after a large dam broke on the Dnieper River.

Ukrainian Village Underwater After Dam Breach
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On the battlefield, Ukrainian defenders repelled more Russian assaults around the Bakhmut area in the eastern region of Donetsk over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its morning report on June 9.

Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka saw 43 combat clashes, the military said, adding that Russian artillery indiscriminately pounded Maryinka.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on June 8 that he was grateful to the Ukrainian fighters who achieved "results" on the battlefield after the military said the previous day that Ukrainian forces advanced more than one kilometer in Bakhmut after months of putting up a stark defensive.

"Well done in Bakhmut. Step by step," he said. Zelenskiy referred to other areas where fighting is going on but provided no details.

His statement came amid expectations of the start of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake regions occupied by Russia since the invasion that started in February last year.

Early on June 9, the military said that in the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson areas Russian troops were on the defensive, amid reports on social media of a limited Ukrainian counterattack in the Orikhiv area of Zaporizhzhya.

The Ukrainian military has not commented on the reports.

With reporting by Aleksander Palikot in Kherson, AP, AFP, and Reuters

As Ukraine Assesses Flood Damage After Dam Breach, IAEA Says Nuclear Plant Still Getting Cooling Water It Needs

Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (file photo)

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine is still receiving water needed to cool its reactors despite the rupture of the Kakhovka dam, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on June 8 as Ukraine assessed the damage caused by flooding and as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed activists about the environmental impact.

"Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is continuing to pump cooling water from the Kakhovka reservoir," the IAEA said in a statement.

The statement came after the head of Ukraine's Ukrhydroenerho energy company, Ihor Syrota, said the water level at the reservoir had gone "below the critical point of 12.7 meters."

This means the reservoir could no longer supply "the ponds at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station to cool the plant," he said on Ukrainian television.

But the IAEA said its experts had been informed that the plant had assessed that it should be able to pump water from the reservoir after its level falls below 12.7 meters.

"So far, the results indicate that the pumps can likely still be operated even if the level drops to around 11 meters or possibly lower," the IAEA said.

The dam on the Dnieper River forms a reservoir that provides the cooling water for the nuclear power station located about 150 kilometers upstream. The plant's reactors have been shut down, but they still need water to keep them cool and prevent a nuclear disaster.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of being behind the breach that both say was caused by an explosion. The dam has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in the statement that alternatives to the reservoir, including a large pond next to the plant, can provide the required cooling water for the plant "for several months."

Grossi, who plans to travel to the plant next week, added however that the general safety and security situation around the plant remains “very precarious and potentially dangerous."

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on June 8 that a total of 32 settlements and 3,625 houses were flooded in southern Ukraine on the right bank of the Dnieper River due to the destruction of the dam.

According to the ministry, 2,339 people, including 120 children, have been evacuated, while another 563 people were rescued, including 28 children.

As the water level began to decrease, Zelenskiy addressed more than 30 global environmental activists and international experts regarding the consequences of the destruction of the dam and hydroelectric power plant.

The disaster “is not a natural disaster or a manifestation of the climate crisis. This disaster is Putin,” Zelenskiy told the meeting, referring to the Russian president.

"For hundreds and thousands of people in many cities and villages, access to drinking water has been significantly complicated due to the destruction of the dam, fuel storage facilities, chemical warehouses, fertilizer warehouses, and animal burial grounds have been flooded," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy told the meeting that a special expert group will be created in Ukraine to deal with the issues of bringing Russia to justice for crimes of ecocide on Ukrainian territory.

Among the participants in the online meeting was Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who posted her reaction to the destruction of the dam on Twitter.

The Russians “must be held accountable for their crimes," she said.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Tech CEOs Urged To Create Alliance Of 'Engineers Against Dictators' To Open Online Space In Russia

The initiative is supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. (file photo)

Representatives of Russia’s independent media and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have asked leading technology companies to create an alliance of “engineers against dictators” to prevent the total shutdown of Russia’s online informational space.

The media representatives and RSF wrote an open letter on June 8 to the CEOs of Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and other companies to ask them to consider forming the alliance, which they said could help Russian citizens get access to uncensored information and prevent the Kremlin from disconnecting Russians from remaining independent media still operating in the country.

They said there is an urgent need to “reconnect Russian citizens with pluralistic information and with the rest of the world” especially with a presidential election scheduled to take place next year.

“The Russian authorities are preparing for Vladimir Putin's reelection in 2024. They will become increasingly intolerant of any discourse that contradicts the Kremlin’s official narrative,” the letter says.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year, most major social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have been banned in Russia and the websites of other independent media outlets severely restricted.

An alliance of “engineers against dictators” could develop technical solutions to bring back the platforms, search engines, and apps that are the gateways to information, the letter says.

“It is essential to reinstate them; otherwise, Russian citizens will find themselves locked in the dark alone with their president,” the letter says.

The initiative is supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“Freedom of speech today is technology,” Muratov said in backing the "engineers against dictatorship" alliance.

Muratov said dangerous attempts were being made to destroy the means of delivering content to citizens, and an alliance of engineers could help reverse this.

The letter notes that most independent journalists have left Russia out of fears that their reporting risked breaking new anti-media laws, which call for harsh prison sentences for spreading "disinformation" about the Russian military.

It says that two major platforms remaining, through which Russian journalists try to inform their fellow citizens about the war in Ukraine, are Telegram and YouTube, and there are “strong suspicions” that they could be totally blocked in Russia as soon as this autumn.

The letter also suggests that the companies could allow domain fronting within cloud solutions to help Russians bypass censorship. Domain fronting diverts traffic to enable access to online media in case they are blocked.

Russian corporations still use the cloud for business, so Russian authorities would not be able to block domain fronting without incurring financial damage.

Another suggestion is promoting access to the companies’ blocked websites through the Tor browser by distributing the platforms’ URLs in ads. This would be “an excellent way to help Russian citizens access an uncensored online space,” the letter said.

Moscow Court Sends Several Anti-War Activists To Pretrial Detention On Extremism Charges

Many members of the Vesna youth movement have fled Russia in recent months. (file photo)

A court in Moscow on June 8 sent four activists from the Vesna (Spring) youth movement to pretrial detention until at least August 5 on charges of creating an extremist group, public calls for actions aimed against Russia's national security, and distributing false information about Russian armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The charges against Yan Ksenzhepolsky, Vasily Neustroyev, Valentin Khoroshenin, and Yevgeny Zateyev stem from the activists’ online posts condemning the war in Ukraine and criticizing President Vladimir Putin. Many Vesna members have fled Russia in recent months. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Romania Tells Russia To Reduce Staff At Embassy In Bucharest

The Russian flag flies over the Moscow's embassy in Bucharest. (file photo)

The Romanian government has informed Russia that it must reduce the number of diplomats and administrative staff at its embassy in Bucharest by 51 positions. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said on June 8 that the reduction roughly halves the number of positions at the embassy, bringing it in line with the number of Romanians in the same roles in Russia. The ministry said the decision reflects the current low in bilateral relations, which have declined since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Russia has 30 days to implement the decision. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, click here.

Iran Hands Labor Activist Razavi 5-Year Sentence For Organizing Protests

Iranian labor activist Davood Razavi. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has handed down a five-year discretionary imprisonment sentence to labor activist Davood Razavi for organizing protests demanding better wages and working conditions.

The Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Workers' Union announced the sentence -- which also came with a two-year ban on online activities and participation in political groups and parties -- on June 7, saying it was immediately calling for its suspension.

Razavi, a member of the union, was arrested last October.

The charges against him included "assembly and collusion against national security" for his membership of the union's board of directors, as well as organizing labor protests and having contact with union colleagues.

The union says Razavi's sentence shows the public should be concerned about the perspective held by the judiciary and ruling powers given they are punishing someone for pursuing legitimate demands such as housing, wages, and the creation of a workers' union.

The union called on authorities to respect such rights, which are fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization.

In addition to condemning the verdict, the union said it was also calling for the cancellation of what they say are "baseless accusations" against Razavi and other imprisoned union members, including Hassan Saeedi and Reza Shahabi.

Shahabi and Saeedi were arrested in May 2022 by Intelligence Ministry officers after they attended a rally marking May Day where there were protests against high living costs and rising inflation.

The news comes as security forces across the country suppressed anti-government protests in cities triggered by the death last September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The protests over Amini's death came after a summer of unrest across Iran over poor living conditions, water shortages, and economic difficulties resulting from crippling sanctions, which the United States has imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people were killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Biden, Sunak Sign Agreement On Clean Energy, AI, Discuss 'Unwavering Support' For Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden (left) and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on June 8 agreed to deepen close economic ties between their countries, pledging to accelerate the clean energy transition and strengthen critical mineral supply chains. Biden and Sunak released the Atlantic Declaration, which Sunak described as a first-of-its-kind economic partnership on issues like artificial intelligence, climate change, and protecting technologies. The two leaders also discussed their "unwavering support for the people in Ukraine," Biden told reporters at a joint news conference with Sunak at the White House. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.K. Unveils New Sanctions Targeting Russia's Ally Belarus

The sanctions take aim at Belarusian exports that have been funding the administration of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. (file photo)

Britain announced new sanctions against Belarus on June 8 in its latest punishment for the country's support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and suppression of anti-government activists. The sanctions take aim at Belarusian exports that have been funding the administration of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and "crack down on Russia's efforts to circumvent sanctions.” The sanctions ban imports of gold, cement, wood, and rubber from Belarus. They also block exports of banknotes and machinery, along with goods, technologies, and materials that could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Sarajevo Court Sentences Five Ethnic Serbs To Prison For Crimes Committed During Bosnian War

Bosnia-Herzegovina's state court found all five men guilty of torturing Bosniaks from April 1992 to September 1995. (file photo)

Bosnia-Herzegovina's state court has sentenced five ethnic Serb ex-policemen to prison terms for committing war crimes against Muslim Bosniak civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

Milan Djokic and Branislav Trisic were sentenced on June 8 in the first instance to three years in prison each, while Zoran Tanasic, Zarko Milanovic, and Mladen Krajisnik got two years in prison each.

They were all found guilty of torturing Bosniaks in the Bijeljina area in the northeastern part of Bosnia from April 1992 until the end of September 1994 on political, national, ethnic, cultural, and religious grounds.

They were acquitted of the accusation of crimes against humanity, while three other defendants, Savo Mrsic, Milivoje Cobic, and Milan Markovic, were acquitted on all counts.

Djokic was the police commander of Janja from the end of 1992 to June 1993, and later became the deputy commander. Tanasic, Milanovic, and Krajisnik were police officers in Janja, while Trisic was an operative of the State Security Service.

Janja is located 10 kilometers south of Bijeljina.

The trial that began in 2016 initially included three more defendants, but two of them died in the meantime, while a third one was deemed incapable of standing trial because of illness.

Bijeljina was the site of a massacre committed in early April 1992 by local ethnic Serb paramilitaries and by the Serb Volunteer Guard, a Serbia-based paramilitary group led by Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, a former soccer hooligan. Up to 80 people, mostly Bosniaks, but also ethnic Serbs suspected of "collaboration" were killed during the massacre.

More than 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian conflict, which ended with a U.S.-brokered agreement that divided the country and its administration largely along ethnic lines among Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.

With reporting by Balkan Insight

Russian Officer Accuses Wagner Group Of Abductions, Torture Of Russian Military Personnel

A soldier with the private mercenary company Wagner patrols the streets of Bakhmut.

Russian Colonel Roman Vinivitin, who was captured by Wagner fighters in eastern Ukraine issued a video on June 8 accusing the private mercenary company of abducting Russian armed forces personnel and torturing them.

On June 4, Wagner issued a video with Vinivitin, who appears to have an injured nose, saying that he had ordered his troops to open fire at Wagner troops aboard the truck while being under influence of alcohol and apologizing to Wagner for his actions.

In a new video issued by the Ostorozhno Telegram channel on June 8, Vinivitin claimed that Wagner forcibly took military equipment and vehicles from Russian troops and kidnapped Russian soldiers, forcing them to sign contracts with the mercenary fighters.

According to Vinivitin, Wagner tortured some of the abducted Russian soldiers and one serviceman committed suicide after Wagner troops raped him.

"These actions by Wagner weakened our positions on flanks on the line in Bakhmut, while Wagner was accusing Russian armed forces of being unable to hold the positions on the flanks," Vinivitin said.

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The accusations could not immediately be verified.

Talking about his own ordeal after he was "captured" by Wagner for refusing to follow their command, Vinivitin said he was kept in a basement and tortured.

"They deprived me of sleep, and three times during one night took me out to imitate my execution by shooting," Vinivitin said.

Vinivitin also accused Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin of "discrediting Russia's armed forces” and said his previous video statement issued by Wagner four days earlier "was the result of the pressure" he was put under.

The two videos are a sign of ongoing deep problems between Wagner and Russia’s Defense Ministry. Prigozhin has several times openly criticized the ministry's efforts during the war against Ukraine that has followed Russia's full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

Wagner troops were seen as being instrumental in Russia's assault to take Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut, which was the epicenter of heavy fighting in the past several months, and Prigozhin's stature as a major player in the war appeared to grow as his fighters took territory -- albeit with heavy losses -- regular forces seemed unable to grab.

The city now appears to be controlled by Russia, though Kyiv says the battle continues.

International military experts have also stressed that military units involved in the invasion have regularly lacked a joint command and very often conflicted with each other.

Prigozhin, considered to be a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the Russian armed forces' General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, of corruption, unprofessionalism, and high treason for months.

Siberian Rights Defender Handed 18-Year Prison Term On Illegal-Drugs Charge He Rejects

A court in the Siberian city of Kemerovo on June 7 sentenced noted human rights defender Dmitry Kamynin to 18 years in prison for allegedly distributing illegal drugs, a charge he and his supporters call retaliation by local authorities for his rights activities. Kamynin, a coordinator of Sibir Pravovaya (A Legal Siberia), a group that monitors inmates' rights and helps people released from penitentiaries reintegrate into the society, was arrested in February 2020. Kamynin was on a hunger strike for two months while in custody, protesting the probe against him. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Updated

Explosion Rips Through Mosque In Northern Afghanistan During Funeral, At Least 19 Dead

Relatives carry the bodies of slain victims in an ambulance after a bomb explosion at a mosque in Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province on June 8.

An explosion has torn through a mosque in the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan during a funeral service for a Taliban official, killing at least 19 people, including the former Taliban security commander in the city of Baghlan, and wounding 38 others.

Moazuddin Ahmadi, the head of information and culture of Badakhshan Province, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that the explosion took place on June 8 in the city of Faizabad during the ceremony for a Taliban deputy governor, Nissar Ahmad Ahmadi, who himself was killed along with his driver in a suicide car bomb attack three days earlier.

"In this incident...the former police commander in Baghlan, was martyred," he said.

He later issued an appeal for local citizens to donate blood to help treat the victims.

No individuals or groups have taken responsibility for the attack, though the Khorasan Province branch of Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack on Ahmadi on June 6.

The United Nations mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the attack was "deeply disturbing."

"UNAMA unequivocally condemns this and a recent spate of appalling and indiscriminate attacks that have shown a total disregard for civilian lives," it said in a tweet.

Islamic State-Khorasan has been the key rival of the Taliban-led government since the group seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. It recently increased its attacks, targeting both Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority.

Taliban forces have responded by carrying out military operations this month against the IS group in several provinces of Afghanistan.

The UN Security Council warned in March about an increase in the number of militants and the threat of IS in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Central Command has estimated that 2,250 IS militants are in Afghanistan. It has also said that it is possible they would target American assets and those of their allies.

Tajik Authorities Detain Dozens of 'Armed' Afghan Citizens, Sources Say

A guard post along the Tajik-Afghan border

Sources in Tajikistan's government entities told RFE/RL on June 8 that dozens of armed Afghan citizens, including former Afghan military personnel, have been apprehended by Tajik law enforcement and security troops in the Central Asian nation's southern Khatlon region. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the Tajik officials said the detained Afghan nationals had been transferred to Dushanbe. The authorities of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic have yet to confirm the situation. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, hundreds of Afghan citizens fled to other countries via neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Ilhom Theater In Tashkent Stages 'Reading' Of Play Of Jailed Russian Director Berkovich

The Ilhom Theater in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent

The Ilhom Theater in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, has staged what it called "a reading" of a play by jailed Russian theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk, who were arrested in May in Moscow on a charge of justification of terrorism through the play. Ilhom theater's Maksim Fadeyev said on June 8 the "reading" of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon was conducted to express support for Berkovich and Petriichuk. The play is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich was the director of the production that sparked the charges. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Federal Judge Dies After Apparent Fall From High-Rise Apartment In Russia's Tatarstan

A federal judge has died after apparently falling from his 12th floor apartment in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan. The body of 42-year-old Artyom Bartenev was found early in the morning on June 8. Investigators say the man most likely had fallen from his apartment. Suicide has not been ruled out by investigators. Bartenev heard administrative and civil cases at the Kirov district court in Kazan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Council Of Europe Envoy Calls Russian Rights Defender Oleg Orlov's Trial 'Travesty Of Justice'

Oleg Orlov

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has called the trial of Oleg Orlov, a leader of the liquidated Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, over the alleged discrediting of Russian forces involved in Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine "a travesty of justice."

Orlov, whose trial began on June 8, was detained for questioning and charged with the repetitive discrediting of Russian armed forces after his home was searched in March. The charge stems from Orlov's online article condemning Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. He faces several years in prison in convicted.

"Oleg Orlov's courage and dedication to human rights are crucial to speaking truth to power," Mijatovic said in a statement on June 7.

"Like many other activists serving time in prison or otherwise sanctioned on similar grounds, he should never have been charged in the first place. I stand in solidarity with Oleg Orlov and many other human rights defenders, independent journalists, and civil society activists in Russia who carry the torch of human rights in these challenging times," she added.

A member of the directorate of the German Sakharov Society, Peter Frank, also criticized Russian authorities for what he called "brutally acting" against Russians who have spoken out against the "aggression and war crimes related to it."

He added that the increased pressure and persecution of the country’s leading rights defenders indicate that Russia is sliding into a "new totalitarianism."

The Memorial Human Rights Center was shut down by a Moscow court decision in December 2021 at the request of Moscow prosecutors who accused one of the country's most-respected human rights organizations of violating the law on "foreign agents."

In a parallel case at the time, the Supreme Court ruled that Memorial International, a standalone group and the umbrella organization for many regional branches and the Memorial Human Rights Center, should be liquidated on the same charge.

Memorial and its supporters have called the move by the Russian authorities politically motivated.

Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with jailed Belarusian dissident Ales Byalyatski and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.

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