Kazakhstan Says Looking Into Dozens Of Alleged Abuses Following Deadly Protests
Kazakhstan says it has launched nearly 100 investigations into alleged illegal detentions and rights abuses of those arrested during and after the deadly anti-government protests last month, heeding the demands of domestic and international human rights groups.
Answering a call from Human Rights Watch earlier this week to thoroughly investigate the complaints, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a February 3 statement that it would meet the request of the international watchdog, which echoed similar demands from other human rights groups.
"According to the data from the Prosecutor-General's Office, authorities have to date launched 98 criminal cases concerning complaints of the use of illegal methods of investigation and other violations of the rights of citizens," a Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that the tightly controlled former Soviet republic's authorities "are ready and willing to thoroughly review each individual case raised by the public in Kazakhstan and internationally."
Kazakh authorities initially said the number of people arrested during and after the protests was between 10,000 and 12,000, though most of have been released.
Human rights groups in Kazakhstan say the number of people still under arrest across the country because of the protests is currently about 1,000, many of whom are being beaten and tortured in custody.
On February 3, dozens of relatives of those under arrest gathered at a local human rights organization in the capital of the Almaty region, Taldyqorghan, demanding their loved ones be released and saying that they were being tortured.
A peaceful protest in the Central Asian country's western region of Manghystau on January 2 over a fuel-price hike led to mass anti-government protests across the country and ended with deadly shootings in the largest city of Almaty and elsewhere.
During the protests, the authorities switched off the Internet and restricted mobile-phone operations for five days.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev blamed rights activists and independent journalists for "inciting" the protests, which led to the arrest of several reporters in towns and cities across the country.
Toqaev said in the wake of the protests that "20,000 extremists trained in foreign terrorist camps" attacked Almaty, but he has never provided any evidence to support the claim.
As the unrest spread, Toqaev requested help from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which sent troops to help "stabilize" the situation.
Toqaev also publicly said then that he had ordered security forces "to shoot to kill without warning."
Kazakh authorities have said that 227 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed across the country.
Human rights groups say the exact number of people killed during the unrest may be much higher, providing evidence proving that there were peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protests among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.
On February 2, activist Marat Turymbetov wrote on Facebook that Almaty city authorities had rejected activists' request for permission to hold a public event on February 13 to commemorate those killed during the protests.
Turymbetov said the event will be held even though official permission was not granted.
European Rights Court Slams Russia's Failure To Adequately Investigate Navalny Poisoning
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russian authorities failed to adequately investigate the poisoning in 2020 of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, thus violating his right to life and a proper investigation under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Navalny fell violently ill during a flight in Siberia in August 2020 and was then urgently flown to Germany where he was treated and survived what Western laboratories later established had been an attempted poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent.
The findings led the European Union to impose sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.
Russian doctors claimed that tests performed in their laboratories before Navalny was flown to Germany had found no trace of a poisonous substance in his blood and refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.
Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
The ECHR said in its June 6 ruling that it "found in particular that the inquiry conducted by the Russian authorities had not been open to scrutiny and had made no allowance for the victim’s right to participate in the proceedings."
The Russian authorities' measures "had not been capable of leading to the establishment of the relevant facts and the identification and, if appropriate, punishment of those responsible," the ruling said, adding, that "it therefore could not be considered adequate."
Navalny recovered and voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested upon arrival and sent to prison for charges that he and his supporters say are politically motivated.
"As evidence obtained with the assistance of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) indicated that Mr Navalniy had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the [internationally banned] Novichok group, Russia, as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, had been under an obligation to open a criminal investigation into any activities breaching the prohibition of chemical weapons," the ECHR said in its ruling.
The EHCR ordered the Russian state to pay Navalny 40,000 euros ($42,800) in damages.
Putin in June last year signed a law under which Russia will not follow ECHR's rulings made after March 15, 2022.
However, since Russia was a member of the Court and the Council of Europe at the time of the alleged poisoning, the judgment must be enforced, an ECHR spokeswoman told Reuters.
With reporting by Reuters
Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody
A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.
Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.
The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".
But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.
Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.
Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."
This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.
The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.
An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.
"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.
Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Turkmen Students Forced To Buy Theater Tickets
Students at the Turkmen Cultural Institute in Ashgabat have been forced by their teachers to go to theaters at least once a week. Some students told RFE/RL that they have been forced to buy tickets to the theaters distributed by their teachers. According to the students, they have neither the money to buy the tickets that cost between 10-30 manats ($2.8-$8.5) nor the time. The administration of the Cultural Institute was not available for immediate comment. Theaters, schools, and other public institutions are under the government's full supervision in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, click here.
Ukraine Brands Russia 'Terrorist State' To Open Hearings In Case At Top UN Court
A top Ukrainian diplomat called Russia a "terrorist state" on June 6 as he opened his country's case against Moscow at the United Nations' highest court, and lawyers argued that Russia bankrolled a "campaign of intimidation and terror" by separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Anton Korynevych was addressing judges at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Poisonous Cider Death Toll In Russia Rises To 25
Russian authorities said on June 6 the number of people killed by tainted cider in the regions of Ulyanovsk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, and Udmurtia had risen to 25. Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia as people look to save money on cheaper drinks. In 2021, 34 people were killed by surrogate alcohol in the Urals region of Orenburg. In December 2016, 78 people died in the Siberian region of Irkutsk after drinking a scented herbal bath oil, which contained methanol, a highly poisonous type of industrial alcohol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Ukrainian Activist From Crimea Jailed By Russia For 15 Years On Terror Charges
A Russian court on June 6 sentenced Ukrainian activist Bohdan Zyza from Russian-occupied Crimea to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges. Zyza was arrested in May 2022 after he splashed yellow and blue paint -- the colors of the Ukrainian flag -- on a building of the Moscow-imposed administration in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. He also threw a Molotov cocktail at it. At his trial, Zyza said he will go on hunger strike from July 10, demanding the Russian citizenship forcibly imposed on him by occupying Russian authorities be annulled and all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia or territories it controls be released. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.
Journalists Not Allowed To Attend Navalny's New Trial Inside Russian Prison
The administration of a prison in Russia's Vladimir region has barred journalists from entering the facility, where the preliminary hearing into a new criminal case against already jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is set to start on June 6.
Navalny's press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on Twitter that journalists were barred from entering the penitentiary's territory hours before the hearing.
"They are doing this because there is no evidence in the case. And the only way for them to save face (as they think) is to fully classify [the case]," Yarmysh tweeted.
Navalny faces charges of creating an "extremist" group, making calls for "extremism," creating a nonprofit organization that violates citizens' rights, financing of "extremism," involving a minor in criminal activities, and rehabilitating Nazism.
When first making public the new case in April, Navalny called the charges "absurd."
Navalny also said another case charging him with propagating terrorism and Nazism was launched in October over his self-exiled associates' statements on the Popular Politics YouTube channel. The comments criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government and condemned Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed in April that Navalny's associates, along with Ukraine's secret services, were involved in the assassination of pro-Kremlin journalist and propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg.
Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 after he was arrested a month earlier upon his return to Russia from Germany -- where he had been undergoing treatment for a near-fatal poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent that he says was ordered by Putin.
The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning, even though experts say only state actors have access to such a nerve agent.
On June 6, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ordered Russia to pay 40,000 euros ($42,800) to Navalny for refusing to investigate his poisoning.
Uzbek Supreme Court Denies Appeals Of Karakalpak Journalists
TASHKENT -- The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has rejected appeals by Karakalpak journalists Dauletmurat Tajimuratov and Lolagul Kallykhanova against the lengthy prison terms they were handed over mass anti-government protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic last year.
According to Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, the Supreme Court, which looked into the appeals of 18 men and women sentenced in the high-profile case, also ruled on June 5 that the prison sentences of eight defendants must be changed to parole-like sentences, while six more had their prison terms shortened.
Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At People's Service) newspaper, where he previously was the chief editor, was sentenced on January 31 by the Bukhara regional court along with the other defendants. His 16-year prison sentence was upheld.
Kallykhanova, a founder of the Makan.uz website, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her sentence was also left unchanged.
In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus, were convicted, with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years, while 11 were handed parole-like sentences.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died during the protests in early July 2022, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
The violence forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
Kyrgyz Group Suspected Of Planning To Seize Power Apprehended, Officials Say
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 6 that a group of men and women suspected of plotting to seize power had been apprehended. According to the UKMK, the group was led by the leader of the Eldik Kenesh (People's Council) political party, who, along with four associates, confessed to the charge. The statement gave only the initials of some of the suspects. the Eldik Kenesh party is led by Roza Nurmatova. The UKMK statement came a day after local media reported mass arrests. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Belarusian Activist Gets 12 Years In Prison On Charges Called 'Politically Motivated'
Belarusian rights activist Yana Pinchuk, who was extradited to Minsk from Russia in August 2022, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges rights groups say are politically motivated.
Judge Tatsyana Falkouskaya of the Minsk City Court sentenced Pinchuk on June 6 after finding her guilty of inciting social hatred, creating an extremist group, involvement in the creation of a terrorist group, calling for the disruption of the constitutional order, and harming national security.
Rights watchdogs insist that the charges are politically motivated to punish Pinchuk for joining protests after Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was declared the winner of an August 2020 presidential election despite allegations of widespread voter fraud that triggered Western sanctions.
Police in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, arrested Pinchuk in early November 2021 at the request of Minsk. She was later extradited to Belarus and went on trial on April 10.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which was critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as "extremist" in Belarus.
Pinchuk has rejected all of the charges, saying she immediately closed the Telegram channel after it was officially designated extremist.
She is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests following Lukashenka's contested reelection.
Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Belarusian authorities have also shut down several NGOs and independent media outlets.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.
The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.
The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.
"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.
Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a rage of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.
Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.
Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.
Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.
Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.
In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.
Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
EU, U.S. Diplomats Urge Kosovo To Hold New Elections Amid Tensions In North
The European Union envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak, and the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, have told Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti he needs to calm the situation in the north of Kosovo, hold new municipal elections, and return to dialogue with Serbia on normalizing relations. The two diplomats met with Kurti late on June 5 in Pristina. Tensions over the seating of ethnic Albanian mayors sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers last week, leaving dozens injured. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
- By Reuters
Deputy Governor Of Northern Afghan Province Killed In Car Bombing
The deputy governor of Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan Province was killed by a car bomb on June 6, the provincial spokesman said. "Nissar Ahmad Ahmadi, with his driver, has been killed and six civilians were injured," said the head of the provincial information office, Mahzudeen Ahmadi. It was not clear who was behind the attack, which was the first known major blast in Afghanistan in several weeks. The Taliban administration has been carrying out raids against members of Islamic State, which has had claimed several major attacks in urban centers, including Kabul. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ukraine Says Russia Blows Up Major Dam In Act Of 'Ecocide,' Orders Mass Evacuation
Ukraine has accused Russia of blowing up a huge Soviet-era dam on the Dnieper River in a Moscow-occupied area in the south, sending millions of liters of water cascading through the region in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called an act of "terror."
Ukrainian authorities said tens of thousands of people were being evacuated from areas threatened by massive flooding downstream in the Kherson region after the attack in the early hours of June 6. Within hours, water levels had already risen by 10 to 12 meters, they added.
The mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Volodymyr Kovalenko, told News of Azov, a project of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, that the the lower part of the river's bank had already flooded the Kazkova Dibrova zoo, a summer cinema, a park area, and stadiums, while architecturally significant buildings were threatened by the rising water that is likely to remain for several days before receding.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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"The Kakhovska [dam project] has actually been destroyed, it's hard for me to imagine whether it will be possible to do something with it once the war has ended. The destruction is of such a scale that a lot of water will come out and there will be flooding, especially in the old part of the city," Kovalenko said.
With the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant also in possible peril, Zelenskiy called an emergency meeting of the country's National Security and Defense Council to discuss the situation.
"Russian terrorists," Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter, where he posted a video of the broken dam and the water rapidly flowing through the huge breach.
"The destruction of the [Nova] Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land. Not a single meter should be left to them, because they use every meter for terror.... The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles or anything else," Zelenskiy wrote, adding that all services were working.
Russia denied it carried out the attack, with the Kremlin instead calling it "deliberate sabotage" by Kyiv.
Natalya Humenyuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine's southern military command, said Russia blew up the dam to keep Ukrainian troops from being able to cross the Dnieper as it prepares to go on the counteroffensive to push Russian troops out of the region.
"They were aware that the movement of the (Ukrainian) defense forces would take place and in this way tried to influence the defense forces so that the crossing of the Dnieper, which they feared, would not happen." she told an online briefing, calling it a "hysterical reaction."
While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was monitoring the situation, Ukraine's nuclear energy agency warned that the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam could pose a danger for the safety of the Zaporizhzhya plant -- Europe's biggest nuclear plant -- which uses water from the reservoir for the cooling process.
"Water from the Kakhovka reservoir is necessary for the station to receive power for turbine capacitors and safety systems. Now the station's cooling pond is full: as of 8 a.m., the water level is 16.6 meters high, which is enough for the station's needs," Enerhoatom, the plant's operator, said, adding later that the situation was "not critical."
The IAEA said the plant should have enough water to cool its reactors for "some months" from a pond located above the reservoir created by the dam.
"It is therefore vital that this cooling pond remains intact. Nothing must be done to potentially undermine its integrity. I call on all sides to ensure nothing is done to undermine that," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement.
The Nova Kakhovka dam -- which is 30 meters tall and 3.2 kilometers long -- is part a vital route for transport and irrigation, as well as supplying water to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula as well as the Zaporizhzhya plant, which are both under Russian control.
International condemnation of the attack was swift, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg calling it "an outrageous act," while European Council President Charles Michel expressed “shock” saying Russia should be held accountable for the "war crime" of destroying civilian infrastructure.
"The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today puts thousands of civilians at risk and causes severe environmental damage. This is an outrageous act, which demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia's war in Ukraine," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also put the blame squarely on Moscow for the destruction of the dam, saying that while it was "too early" to make any kind of meaningful assessment of the details, "it's worth remembering that the only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine."
Ukraine has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss what it called a "Russian terrorist attack" on the Kakhovka dam. It also said it wanted the IAEA's board of governors to discuss the incident and demanded new international sanctions on Russia, and in particular on the Russian missile industry and nuclear sector.
Officials continue to scramble to move residents out of the area, with Oleksandr Prokudin, the governor of the Kherson region, saying water levels will reach a "critical level" in the early afternoon.
"I specifically appeal to the residents on the left bank [of the Dnieper]: do everything possible to protect yourself and save your life -- immediately leave the dangerous areas," Prokudin said earlier on Telegram.
"As of 7:30 a.m., the following settlements are completely or partially flooded: Tyahynka, Lviv, Odradokamyanka, Ivanivka, Mykilske Tokarivka, Ponyativka, Bilozerka, and the Ostriv microdistrict of the city of Kherson. Other settlements will be flooded, we're prepared," he told national television.
The evacuation of approximately 16,000 people from the threatened area on the right bank of the Dnieper was already under way, Prokudin added.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine's presidential administration, accused Russia of "ecocide" in a message on Telegram.
"Another war crime by Russian terrorists. The president convenes the National Security Council. This is ecocide," Yermak wrote.
Presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak accused Russia of committing a "premeditated crime" in an attempt to delay any chance of ending the conflict.
"The purpose is obvious: to create insurmountable obstacles on the way of the advancing [Ukrainian forces]; to intercept the information initiative; to slow down the fair end of the war. On a vast territory, all life will be destroyed; many settlements will be ruined; colossal damage will be done to the environment," Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Officials in Russian-occupied parts of Kherson rejected the accusation, blaming the damage on Ukrainian strikes in the contested area.
The Moscow-installed administrator of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said Ukrainian strikes on the dam destroyed its valves, and "water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably flow downstream."
With reporting by AP and Reuters
UN Expert Assails Serbia For Using Mass Killings To 'Stir Up Hatred,' Attack Rights Defenders
Irene Khan, UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, expressed concerns over the rise in hate speech in Serbia following two mass-killing incidents in the Balkan nation. “Serbia must take immediate and effective measures against hateful and divisive rhetoric in public discourse which fuels violence in society,” a UN statement said. “The shootings have traumatized the entire country. It is unconscionable to use this tragedy as yet another occasion to stir up hatred, demonizing and vilifying independent media, human rights defenders, political opponents, and others critical of the government.” To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Robert Hanssen, FBI Agent Who Spied For Soviet Union, Russia, Dies In Prison Cell At Age 79
Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history, was found dead in his prison cell in the U.S. state of Colorado on June 5, prison officials said. The 79-year-old Hanssen was arrested in 2001 and pleaded guilty to selling highly classified material to the Soviet Union and then Russia. He was serving a life sentence. Hanssen began spying in 1979.
Ten Arrested In North Macedonia In People-Smuggling Raids
Authorities in North Macedonia on June 5 said 10 men were arrested as suspected members of an international people smuggling ring following an investigation that lasted nearly two years. In a statement, police described the group as a sophisticated criminal organization that operated routes between Greece and Hungary as well as from Bulgaria and Serbia to various destinations in the European Union, charging each migrant $2,140-$4,280. Police raided 11 locations in three towns. The arrested suspects as well as their alleged associates were charged with people-smuggling offenses that carry a minimum prison sentence of five years. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Biden Praises Denmark For 'Standing Up' For Ukraine In War with Russia
U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on June 5 for Denmark’s role in a Western alliance "standing up" for Ukraine as it tries to fend off Russia’s 15-month-old invasion. The Oval Office visit kicked off the first of a pair of critical meetings Biden is holding with European allies this week that will focus heavily on what lies ahead in the war in Ukraine -- including the recently launched effort to train, and eventually equip, Ukraine with American-made F-16s fighter jets. Biden on June 7 will meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. To read the original story by AP, click here.
- By dpa
IAEA Chief Calls On Iran To Follow All Nuclear Commitments
Iran has not sufficiently implemented commitments to more transparency regarding its nuclear program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said in Vienna on June 5. In March, Grossi and the leadership in Tehran had agreed on increased surveillance of nuclear facilities and investigations into formerly secret nuclear sites. Since then only "a fraction of what we envisaged" has been implemented, Grossi said during an IAEA board meeting. The IAEA chief conceded that some surveillance cameras and devices had been installed. "Some progress has been made, but not as much as I had hoped," he said.
U.S. Places Sanctions On Seven Russians For Attempt To Destabilize Moldova
The United States has imposed sanctions on seven leading members of a Russian influence group with links to intelligence services for their role in Moscow's campaign to destabilize Moldova and instigate an insurrection.
In a statement issued on June 5, the Treasury Department accused the individuals of provoking, training, and overseeing protesters in Moldova with the aim to topple President Maia Sandu and a newly appointed Western-leaning government earlier this year.
The statement said Konstantin Sapozhnikov, one of the sanctioned individuals, led the group and also organized the plot to destabilize the Moldovan government. The other members designated were Yury Makolov, Gleb Khloponin, Svetlana Boyko, Aleksei Losev, Vasily Gromovikov, and Anna Travnikova.
In February and March, several thousand people took to the streets in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, against Sandu and the pro-Western government with many in the crowd linked to the Russian-friendly Shor Party.
The protesters demanded Sandu's resignation and called on the government to pay citizens' utility bills following a spike in energy prices caused by Russia's decision to slash natural-gas exports to Europe.
Ilan Shor, the tycoon who founded the Shor Party, fled Moldova following Sandu's election in 2019.
"Russia's attempted influence operations exploit the concerns of the citizens of these countries, to destabilize legitimately elected governments for Moscow’s own interests. The United States remains committed, along with the EU, to target individuals who engage in such activities against the government of Moldova," Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement.
Sandu and the government want Moldova, an impoverished former Soviet republic, to join the European Union and escape Moscow's orbit. The Kremlin opposes Moldova's tilt to the West and has used its energy resources as a tool to punish Chisinau.
Russia has denied any involvement in a covert plot to destabilize Moldova.
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu, in a Facebook post, said that "we welcome today's decision by the United States Treasury Department to sanction seven more individuals with foreign citizenship who tried to destabilize the internal situation in the Republic of Moldova. This measure is an important step in our joint efforts to maintain stability and public order in our country.'
It is not the first time the United States has placed sanctions on Russian individuals for undermining democracy in Moldova.
In October 2022, the Treasury Department designated Yury Gudilin, Olga Grak, and Leonid Gonin for their coordinated action in 2020 and 2021 to influence the outcome of Moldova's elections. The EU has also sanctioned several Russian and Moldovan individuals for activities against the government in Chisinau.
In its June 5 statement, the Treasury Department said Sapozhnikov and his group did not limit their actions to Moldova. They also targeted Ukraine, Balkan countries, the EU, Britain, and the United States.
"These malign influence operatives analyze countries vulnerable to exploitation and stoke fears that undermine faith in democratic principles in the targeted countries," the statement said.
The Treasury's decision to place sanctions on Sapozhnikov and his cohorts freezes any U.S. assets in their possession, including U.S. dollar bank accounts at foreign institutions.
In Rare Display Of Defiance, Iranians Dance To Mark Death Of Ruhollah Khomeini
A wave of public demonstrations has swept across Iran on the anniversary of the death of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, with Iranians dancing in the streets in a display of defiance of authority amid a crackdown on unrest that has swept the country.
Videos posted online showed many Iranians demonstrating on June 3, the day Khomeni died in 1989, with some showing footage of the burning of the flag, as well as images of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid chants of "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei, curse on Khomeini."
The public demonstrations follow a series of recent protests in Iran. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience, challenging the values and rules put in place by the regime.
In recent months, the anger has focused on the mandatory hijab rule, which forces women to cover their heads while in public. Unrest erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation.
Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others. At least seven protesters have been executed after what rights groups and several Western governments have called "sham" trials.
Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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