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Karabakh Separatists Say They Are Implementing Withdrawal Deal As Aid Arrives Through Lachin

Red Cross vehicles transport humanitarian aid for residents of Nagorno-Karabakh on September 23.
Red Cross vehicles transport humanitarian aid for residents of Nagorno-Karabakh on September 23.

Nagorno-Karabakh‘s ethnic Armenian separatist leaders on September 23 said they are implementing the terms of a cease-fire agreement made three days earlier with Azerbaijani officials, including evacuations of injured civilians to Armenia with the help of Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The separatists said that, as part of the September 20 agreement, aid was to be delivered from Armenia to Stepanakert -- the de facto capital of the breakaway region under ethnic Armenian control -- through the Lachin Corridor, for decades the main link between Karabakh and Armenian.

Also as part of the agreement, separatists said, talks would take place on “the political future” of the region, which has an estimated population 120,000 people, many of whom are now suffering from shortages of food, fuel, and electricity.

The separatists’ statement also said work was under way to restore power to the region, with a target date of September 24.

Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh reported that Karabakh separatists in the ethnic-Armenian populated territory have begun handing over their weapons as part of a deal worked out with Baku following Azerbaijan's lightning offensive this week.

Russian peacekeepers said that more than 800 firearms, grenades, mortars, anti-tank guided missiles, and anti-tank missile systems had been handed over, and the process would continue over the weekend.

The deal was worked out during a meeting between representatives of Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population and Azerbaijan held in the western Azerbaijani city of Yevlax on September 22.

The separatists had earlier said that they are in Russian-mediated talks with Baku to organize the withdrawal of their forces.

Ethnic Armenians Converge On Airport As 'Reintegration' Talks Held In Nagorno-Karabakh
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A witness told Reuters that an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid convoy was seen at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border early on September 23 for the first time since Baku seized the region.

The Red Cross said it was supplying fuel, blankets, and 28,000 diapers in the initial shipments to the territory.

AFP journalists and ICRC officials at the border confirmed on September 23 that Red Cross aid had entered the region along the Lachin Corridor.

The aid group’s vehicles "have passed through the Lachin Corridor to bring to the community around 70 metric tons of mainly humanitarian supplies and food supplies," ICRC spokeswoman Zara Amatuni told AFP, speaking in Kornidzor at the final checkpoint on the Armenian side of the border.

Armenian civilians have begun gathering at the Kornidzor checkpoint in hopes of receiving news of relatives in Karabakh, AFP reported.

U.S. Democratic Senator Gary Peters, who is leading a congressional delegation to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, called for international observers to monitor the situation and said people in Karabakh were "very fearful."

"I am certainly very concerned about what’s happening in Nagorno-Karabakh right now. I think there needs to be some visibility," Peters told reporters.

Peters had earlier condemned the Azerbaijani government’s “military aggression and violence toward the Armenian people.”

“The Azerbaijani government has made it clear, their goal is to erase the historic presence of Armenians in this region,” he said during his visit to the region.

Azerbaijan has claimed that the 24-hour offensive on September 19-20, which it describes as an "anti-terrorist operation," has brought the breakaway region back under its control.

The offensive was halted on September 20 after Karabakh's ethnic Armenian leadership accepted a proposal by the Russian peacekeeping mission, although sporadic fighting has been reported.

Baku has said it envisages an amnesty for Karabakh Armenian fighters who give up their arms and seeks to reintegrate the territory's ethnic Armenian population. Some separatist fighters have vowed to continue to resist Azerbaijani control.

"I wish to reiterate that Azerbaijan is determined to reintegrate ethnic Armenian residents of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan as equal citizens," Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov said in a speech to the UN General Assembly on September 23.

Yerevan's response to the Azerbaijani offensive has led to protests in the Armenian capital, with opposition leaders seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and accusing the government of inadequate support for Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic-Armenian population.

Pashinian has expressed hope that Karabakh Armenians will be allowed to return to their homes, while saying that Yerevan would accept an influx of ethnic Armenians if they chose to leave the territory.

Anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and at least two other cities over the past two days have led to the detention of scores of people who expressed anger that Pashinian’s administration had not done more to prevent Azerbaijani forces from accomplishing their swift victory in the Karabakh region.

Authorities said more than 80 people were charged in the capital with disobeying police orders on September 22, and reports said at least a further 20 people were detained on September 23.

Armenian Protests Continue After Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh Offensive
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Armenian opposition groups, led by a so-called National Committee, claimed that more than 350 supporters had been detained. The group called for Pashinian to resign his office.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Pashinian in a phone call on September 23 that Washington continues to support Armenia's "sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity" and that it has "deep concern for the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh."

Spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken "underscored the United States is calling on Azerbaijan to protect civilians and uphold its obligations to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to ensure its forces comply with international humanitarian law."

Pashinian and many Armenians blame Russia -- which traditionally has served as the Caucasus nation's protector in the region -- for failing to use its peacekeeping force to protect ethnic Armenians in Karabakh.

During a special meeting of the UN Security Council this week, council members including the United States and Russia called for peace, while Armenian and Azerbaijani officials traded barbs.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijan's but has had de-facto independence since breaking away in a war in the 1990s.

During a short but bloody war in 2020, Azerbaijan recaptured much of the territory as well as seven surrounding districts that had been controlled since the 1990s by ethnic Armenians with Yerevan's support.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, AP, Reuters, and AFP

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Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner From 1980s Has Been Executed

Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)
Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)

An Iranian human rights group has reported the execution of Geda Ali (Hormoz) Saber Motlaq, a political prisoner from the 1980s, and Kamran Rezaei, who was detained during nationwide protests in 2019, amid a jump in capital punishment by authorities in Tehran following unrest triggered by the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Motlaq, 62, was initially arrested in the 1980s for affiliating with the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran and the alleged murder of an official of the Islamic republic. He was subsequently released due to insufficient evidence but was rearrested and sentenced to death after returning to Iran in 2020, despite a lack of concrete evidence against him.

The nature of the charges leading to Motlaq's execution, analysts say possibly Qesas (retributive justice) or for other accusations such as "Moharebeh" (enmity against God), remains unclear. He consistently denied any involvement in the alleged murder.

Rezaei, Iran Human Rights said, was hanged on November 30 in Shiraz Central Prison, and warned it expects more protesters to be executed.

“Political prisoners including protesters are at serious risk of execution," Iran Human Rights Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"Further silence from the international community is not acceptable. The current leaders of the Islamic republic have a history of massacring political prisoners and committing crimes against humanity. It is only the high political cost from the international community that has prevented them from repeating these atrocities.”

Rezaei, a political prisoner, was accused of the "premeditated murder" of a Basij paramilitary member and coerced under torture to confess.

Executions have jumped in Iran this year, according to rights groups and the United Nations.

Earlier in November, a UN report said executions jumped 30 percent in the first seven months of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying information received by the UN human rights office “consistently indicated that the judicial proceedings did not fulfil the requirements for due process and a fair trial under international human rights law.”

Iran Human Rights said that, so far this year, more than 700 people have been executed in Iran, with a marked increase in recent months.

Two days before Rezaei's execution, Hani Shahbazi was executed in Sepidar Prison, Ahvaz. He also was accused of "enmity against God" following the alleged premeditated murder of law enforcement and Basij paramilitary members in 2019.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

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

Second Train In Days Explodes On Main Russian Railway Line In Siberia

A fire glows in the distance after an apparent explosion on Russia's Baikal-Amur Main Line.
A fire glows in the distance after an apparent explosion on Russia's Baikal-Amur Main Line.

A second train has exploded on Russia's main railway line in the Siberian region of Buryatia in recent days. A person who witnessed the November 30 explosion confirmed media reports about the blast on the Baikal-Amur Main Line, saying the explosion occurred on the segment bypassing the Severomuisk tunnel, where a train also exploded one day earlier. Ukrainian media reports cited sources in law enforcement and military entities as saying that the second train exploded while on a bridge by the tunnel. Russian officials have yet to comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Fails To Get Elected To UN Ship Agency's Governing Council

The official emblem of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York. (file photo)
The official emblem of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York. (file photo)

Russia failed on December 1 to win enough votes for reelection to the United Nation's shipping agency's governing council after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had urged countries not to allow Moscow to be part of the UN body's executive arm. The outcome is another blow for Russia after it failed in its bid to return to the UN's top human rights body in October, in an election seen as a key test of Western efforts to keep Moscow isolated. Last year Moscow also failed to win enough votes for reelection to the UN aviation agency's governing council.

Authorities Shut Down Museum Of Prominent Gulag Survivor In Russia's Far East

Russian writer and gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov
Russian writer and gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov

Authorities in Russia's Far Eastern town of Debin have shut down a museum devoted to prominent writer Varlam Shalamov, who was widely known for his short stories about his years in a gulag in the Kolyma area, the most notorious part of the Soviet “correctional” system. RFE/RL correspondents reported on November 30 that the museum, located in a local hospital where Shalamov was successsfully treated for starvation-related illnesses in 1943, was closed following debate around the building's possible demolition. In the end, the building was not condemned, but the museum was shut. Regional authorities have refused to comment. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Orban Says Ukraine's EU Accession Not Currently In Hungary's Interest

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said opening European Union accession negotiations with Ukraine is not currently in Budapest's interest and that the 27-member bloc should opt instead for a "strategic partnership" with the war-wracked country.

In a progress report last month, the European Commission -- the bloc's executive body -- recommended opening EU accession negotiations with Ukraine once it meets the required conditions after gaining candidate status together with much smaller Moldova in June last year.

Orban, a right-wing populist who has maintained warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long been at odds with the EU over rule-of-law and corruption concerns and has seen the bloc freeze 22 billion euros ($24 billion) in cohesion funds for Hungary until it introduces judicial and human rights reforms.

In his weekly interview with Hungarian state radio on December 1, Orban said opening membership talks with Kyiv does not coincide with Hungary's interests and we "dare say it, no matter how much pressure they put on us," in an apparent reference to alleged interference from Brussels.

"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.

"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.

Orban again spoke against continuing giving Ukraine financial aid, in what critics see as an attempt by Budapest to blackmail the EU into releasing its frozen cohesion funds in exchange for Hungary not using its veto power as the European Commission seeks unanimous support to ensure a 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) revision of the bloc's budget that would include 50 billion euros for Ukraine.

"Europe has economic problems but in the meantime throws money away -- it sends wagonloads of weapons and money to Ukraine," Orban said.

Orban and his government have repeatedly spoken against the bloc's giving military aid to Ukraine to fight Russia's unprovoked aggression, arguing without evidence that such aid would only prolong the war.

The EU will hold a summit on December 14-15.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Kara-Murza Fined For Failing To Follow 'Foreign Agent' Requirement

Vladimir Kara-Murza
Vladimir Kara-Murza

A court in Moscow on December 1 fined imprisoned Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza for a "violation of the law on foreign agents" because while incarcerated he failed to report every three months to the Justice Ministry about his activities due to his designation as a "foreign agent."

The Zamoskvorechye district court ordered Kara-Murza to pay 50,000 rubles ($560) for not filing a report to the Justice Ministry.

Kara-Murza's lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, told the Business FM radio station that since her client is serving a 25-year prison term in a Siberian penal colony, he was unable to file reports with the ministry. Stavitskaya added that her client, who took part in the hearing via a video link, said he would not file any reports even if he was at home because he considers the law on "foreign agents" in "contradiction" of the constitution.

On the same day, Ilya Yashin, another jailed opposition politician, was fined 45,000 rubles ($505) by the Babushkinsky district court because five reports on his YouTube Channel last year did not have a "foreign agent" marking.

The reports about Russian President Vladimir Putin were published on YouTube when Yashin was already being held in custody. The YouTube channel is moderated by Yashin's associates.

Yashin, who took part in the hearing via video link, said the court's ruling "has no meaning" as "the 'foreign agent' label will not get stuck on me despite propaganda’s efforts."

"Nobody will be able to frighten and muzzle me. Most importantly, nobody will be able to break my faith in Russia and its people," Yashin said.

Since 2012, Russia has used its so-called "foreign agent" laws to label and punish critics of government policies. It also has been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The "foreign agent" law allows authorities to label nonprofit organizations and individuals as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activities.

Kara-Murza, 42, was initially arrested in April 2022 after returning to Russia from abroad and charged with disobeying a police officer.

He was later charged with discrediting the Russian military, a charge stemming from Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and a Kremlin push to stamp out criticism of the subject. He was later additionally charged with treason over remarks he made in speeches outside Russia that criticized Kremlin policies.

In April this year, Kara-Murza was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Yashin, 40, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison on a charge of spreading false information about the Russian military amid its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by Business FM, Mediazona, and RFE/RL's Russian Service

Hundreds Of Kyrgyz Vendors Protest Plan To Introduce New Taxation System

 The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place.
The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place.

Hundreds of Kyrgyz vendors at marketplaces across the Central Asian nation rallied on November 30 to protest the government's plan to introduce a new taxation system as of January 1 that will increase taxes overall. The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. According to the government's plan, vendors will be obliged to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. Bishkek police said on December 1 that one demonstrator, who allegedly attacked a city official, had been detained. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Director Of Kyrgyz Opera And Ballet Theater Arrested For Alleged Abuse Of Office

Almazbek Istambaev (file photo)
Almazbek Istambaev (file photo)

The Kyrgyz State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on December 1 it arrested the director of the Kyrgyz Opera and Ballet Theater, Almazbek Istambaev, on a charge of abuse of office. According to the UKMK, Istambaev is suspected of illegally leasing premises of the theater to unspecified groups. Istambaev is currently in pretrial detention, a UKMK statement said. Istambaev took over the theater in February 2022. Before that, namely between 2000 and 2019, he performed at the theater as an opera soloist. Istambaev and his lawyers are yet to officially comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iran Still Top Terror Sponsor; IS Still A Threat In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, U.S. Says

Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.
Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.

Iran remained the leading state sponsor of global terrorism last year, involved in backing terrorist recruitment, financing, and plotting across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the U.S. State Department said in its 2022 Country Reports On Terrorism released on December 1.

In the Middle East, Iran continued to back Hizballah, designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, the report said, adding that it also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

"These groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank," the report said.

Tehran also provided support to extremist groups in Bahrain, Iraq, and Syria, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations with the aim to create instability in the region, the report said.

Iran increasingly encouraged and plotted attacks against the United States, including against former U.S. officials, in retaliation for the death of Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in 2022 that it had disrupted an IRGC-QF-led plot to assassinate former national-security adviser John Bolton and arrested an Iranian accused of planning the killing.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the report says that members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group, and regional terrorist groups remained active in 2022, despite the Taliban committing to prevent extremists from using the country to conduct attacks against the United States and its allies after the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in August 2021.

The Taliban's capacity to stop elements from Al-Qaeda, Islamic State-Khorasan -- an IS splinter -- or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from mounting external operations from the Afghan territory "remained unclear," the report said.

Islamic State-Khorasan in 2022 continued to conduct terrorist attacks against the Taliban and Afghan civilians, in particular against members of the Shi'ite community as well as cross-border attacks in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The report mentions that "the United States has not yet decided whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the government of Afghanistan," and says the Taliban hosted and sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul before his death in a U.S. air strike in July last year.

Georgia Does Not Allow Outspoken Russian Nationalist To Enter Country

Dmitry Dyomushkin in 2019
Dmitry Dyomushkin in 2019

Dmitry Dyomushkin, an outspoken Russian nationalist, said late on November 30 that Georgian officials prevented him from entering the country upon his arrival at the Tbilisi airport. The 44-year-old used to lead the now-banned groups called Slavic Union, Slavic Power, and Russians. In the past, he organized several marches in Moscow and called for the introduction of a visa regime for migrants from Central Asia. In April 2017, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges. In February 2019, he was granted an early release. Dyomushkin said no reason was given for his return to Russia. To read the original story by the Echo of the Caucasus, click here.


Gergiev Appointed Bolshoi Director After Predecessor, Who Protested Ukraine War, Resigns

Vladimir Urin in 2020
Vladimir Urin in 2020

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on December 1 appointed Kremlin-friendly conductor Valery Gergiev to the post of director of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, one day after Vladimir Urin left the post without explanation. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 22 last year, Urin was one of the Russian arts and cultural figures to sign an open letter calling on "all on whom it depends to stop all armed activities." Urin had led the Bolshoi since 2013. Gergiev was fired from his position as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic last year after he refused to condemn the war. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Navalny Says A New Criminal Case Has Been Opened Against Him

Aleksei Navalny appears on a screen set up in a Moscow courtroom in May 2022.
Aleksei Navalny appears on a screen set up in a Moscow courtroom in May 2022.

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who is serving a total of 19 years in prison on extremism and other charges that he rejects as politically motivated, said a new criminal case has been brought against him.

In posts issued on December 1 through his associates on X, formerly known as Twitter, Navalny, who is serving his term in a penal colony, said he received a letter from Russia's Investigative Committee informing him that a case had been opened against him "for a crime under Part 2 of Article 214 of the Criminal Code," which deals with vandalism.

"Rarely an inmate, confined to a solitary cell for over a year, has had such a vibrant social and political existence," one of the messages attributed to Navalny on X said. "It means that they really initiate a new criminal case against me every three months."

On November 21, Navalny was placed in 15-day punitive solitary confinement for an unspecified violation after having finished his previous solitary confinement a day earlier. It was the 23rd time he had been placed in solitary confinement since August 2022, totaling 266 days in punitive incarceration.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics, had his sentence increased to 19 years in August after being found guilty of creating an extremist organization and was transferred to a harsher “special regime” facility.

His previous sentence was handed down in 2021 after he arrived in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on the Kremlin.

He was Russia's loudest opposition voice and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.

Three of Navalny's lawyers -- Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster -- were taken into custody in October and prosecuted for allegedly participating in an extremist community because of their association with Navalny and his foundation to root out corruption.


Another Journalist From Independent Investigative Outlet Detained In Azerbaijan

Journalist Nargis Absalamova
Journalist Nargis Absalamova

BAKU -- Another journalist from the independent Abzas Media news website in Azerbaijan has been detained in a smuggling case that the outlet rejects as trumped up, the latest in a series of arrests in what rights groups say is a crackdown on the outlet's "pioneering journalism" to root out corruption.

Nargiz Absalamova's relatives told RFE/RL that she was summoned for interrogation for a second time on November 30 and was detained later on charges of smuggling.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ibragim Amiraslanli confirmed to the Turan news agency on December 1 that Absalamova had been detained on unspecified charges and that an investigation is under way.

Absalamova is the fourth journalist from Abzas Media arrested in recent days.

Abzas's director, Ulvi Hasanli; chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi; and employee Mahammad Kekalov were arrested less than two weeks ago after police claimed they found 40,000 euros ($43,800) in cash in Abzas's offices.

The journalists insist the case against them is in retaliation for their reports about corruption among officials.

Critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's government say authorities in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil society advocates on trumped-up charges.

Amnesty International has demanded the immediate release of Hasanli, Vaqifqizi, and Kekalov, saying the government's campaign "fits into a pattern of critics being arrested by the authorities to stifle their dissent," while Human Rights Watch (HRW) chided Azerbaijani authorities for pursuing "dubious, punitive criminal charges against their critics.”

Aliyev has repeatedly rejected criticism from rights groups and Western governments accusing him of jailing his opponents and abusing power to stifle dissent.

Earlier this week, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S., French, and German envoys to protest what it called "illegal financial operations" by organizations located in the three countries to support Abzas Media.

Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 2003, taking over for his father, Heydar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.

With reporting by Turan

Russia's Investigative Committee Says Russian-Italian Citizen Arrested For Railway Bombing

Russia's Investigative Committee says it has arrested a Russian-Italian citizen suspected of bombing a freight train in the Ryazan region last month. The man, whose identity was not disclosed, allegedly detonated an improvised explosive device that damaged 15 freight train cars on November 11, the committee said on its Telegram channel. It said the man, 35, was a resident of Ryazan who had been recruited by Ukrainian intelligence in February last year and underwent "sabotage training" in Latvia. The message said the man had "confessed" to the bombing during an interrogation. Ukraine has not commented and the claim could not be independently confirmed.

Air-Raid Alert Declared In Kyiv As Ukraine Claims 18 Russian Drones, One Missile Downed

Ukrainian soldiers of a drone-hunting team are seen on the outskirts of Kyiv on November 30.
Ukrainian soldiers of a drone-hunting team are seen on the outskirts of Kyiv on November 30.

Ukraine's air defense said 18 out of 25 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia at several Ukrainian regions were shot down early on December 1 as an air-raid alert was declared in the capital, Kyiv, and its surrounding region.

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 Ukrainian Air Force said it also destroyed one of the two X-59 guided missiles launched at its territory.

Russian drones were shot down over the Mykolaiyv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, and Dnepropetrovsk regions, the Ukrainian air defense said on Telegram.

There were no immediate reports about casualties or material damage.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry says its navy destroyed an unmanned Ukrainian sea drone in the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine's occupied Crimea region.

"On December 1, at about 8 a.m. Moscow time, a Ukrainian Navy unmanned boat was detected in the western part of the Black Sea, heading in the direction of the Crimean peninsula. The target detected was destroyed by...the naval aviation of the Black Sea Fleet," the ministry said on its telegram channel.

Ukraine has not commented and the claim could not be independently verified.

LGBT Initiative Ceases Work In Russia Following Move To Label 'Movement' As Extremist

The Russian Supreme Court ruled that what it called the “international LGBT social movement” is an "extremist organization."
The Russian Supreme Court ruled that what it called the “international LGBT social movement” is an "extremist organization."

The human rights initiative LGBT+ Cause announced that it is ending its Russia operation following the Russian Supreme Court's ruling that what it called the “international LGBT social movement” is an “extremist organization” and banned its activities in the country. “Due to external circumstances, we are forced to announce the self-dissolution of our initiative and, accordingly, the cessation of activities" in Russia," LGBT+ Cause said on Telegram. LGBT+ Cause has been active in protect the rights of people discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. To read the original article by Current Time, click here.

Russian Court Extends Detention Of RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan on December 1.
RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan on December 1.

A court in the Russian city of Kazan has extended by two months the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist from RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service who has been in Russian custody since October 18, until February 5.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

Authorities on October 11 fined Kurmasheva 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities, according to local media reports based on court documents they've seen.

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of "foreign agents" who carry out “purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia,” which, if received by foreign sources, “can be used against the security of the country."

It gave no further details.

“Alsu has spent 45 days behind bars in Russia and, today, her unjust, politically motivated detention has been extended,” said RFE/RL acting President Jeffrey Gedmin. “We call on Russian authorities to immediately grant Alsu consular access, which is her right as a U.S. citizen. Alsu must be released and reunited with her family."

The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of "foreign agents," she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.

Kurmasheva and RFE/RL have both rejected the charge.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be held by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians who said the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.

The court decision to extend Kurmasheva's detention comes a day after leading Russian human rights group Memorial recognized Kurmasheva as a political prisoner.

Moscow has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.

Kazakh Lawmakers OK Controversial Amendments To Media Law On First Reading

Kazakh lawmakers have approved on first reading controversial amendments to the law on mass media that would allow citizens to file a libel lawsuit up to three years after publication. Currently, there is no time limit for such lawsuits. Organizations defending journalists' rights have insisted that the limit for filing libel suits against journalists and media outlets should be one year. The amendments approved on November 30 also would oblige journalists to get accredited by a single accreditation system. Journalists’ rights organizations have expressed concerns that the mandatory accreditation requirements may allow authorities to muzzle independent reporters. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Iranian Rapper Rearrested Less Than Two Weeks After Release From Prison

"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," rapper Toomaj Salehi said in a video posted on November 27. (file photo)
"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," rapper Toomaj Salehi said in a video posted on November 27. (file photo)

Iranian authorities on November 30 rearrested a dissident rapper and returned him to jail less than two weeks after his release on bail, according to his own social media account.

Toomaj Salehi was violently detained by armed plainclothes agents in the city of Babylon and then taken to an unknown location, according to social media accounts affiliated with him. The account attributable to Salehi said he was arrested with "beatings."

According to, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, Salehi was arrested on a new charge of spreading lies and “the violation of public opinion.”

Salehi was released from prison on November 18 after spending more than a year in custody on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests in the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after being detained for allegedly breaking the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Salehi was accused of “spreading lies” on the Internet and publishing “anti-state propaganda.”

Salehi said in a video message earlier this week that he was tortured and put in solitary confinement for 252 days after his arrest in October 2022. Amini died the previous month.

He also said he was given an injection in his neck during his detention, which he said most likely was adrenaline so that he would not pass out during torture and thus endure the maximum amount of pain.

"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," Salehi said in the video, posted on November 27 on his YouTube channel.

“I tried to stop the blows with my hands when my fingers broke," he said, adding that the injuries required surgery.

Salehi had been sentenced to more than six years in prison. His release on bail on November 18 came after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence” and sent the case back to a lower court.

Thousands were arrested in Tehran's crackdown on the protests, which largely died down earlier this year. Eight of those arrested were executed for allegedly attacking security forces after being convicted in secretive courts where rights groups say they were denied the right to defend themselves.

Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.

He said that he had sued prison officials and media close to the government for torture, saying that security agencies "ordered the prison warden" to pressure him.

The singer's detention had been met with widespread domestic and international backlash, with numerous global calls for his release.

With reporting by AP

Russian Court Sentences Ukrainian Soldier To 12 Years In Prison On Terrorism Charges

 Pavlo Zaporozhets
Pavlo Zaporozhets

A military court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on November 30 sentenced Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Zaporozhets to 12 years in prison on terrorism charges. Zaporozhets was arrested in Ukraine's then Russian-occupied city of Kherson in May 2022 while installing an explosive device. Russian investigators say Zaporozhets was targeting civilians, while he insists he was planning an attack against a Russian military patrol. Zaporozhets' lawyers requested that their client be considered a prisoner of war, which the Russian court rejected. Ukrainian armed forces regained control over the city of Kherson in November 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Hungary Will Not Agree To Starting EU Membership Talks With Ukraine, Minister Says

Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungary will not support any European Union proposal to begin talks on making Ukraine a member of the bloc, a government minister said on November 30. Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said at a news conference in Budapest that it was premature to begin formal talks with Kyiv on the war-ravaged country joining the EU and that Hungary would not consent to opening the discussions when EU leaders meet in mid-December. Earlier this month, the EU's executive arm recommended allowing Ukraine to open membership talks once it addresses governance issues.

Kazakh Ex-Minister Faces Up To 20 Years In Prison For Allegedly Killing Wife

Former Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in 2018, but served only 18 months before being freed in a mass amnesty.
Former Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in 2018, but served only 18 months before being freed in a mass amnesty.

ASTANA -- Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted after the charge of murder was revised up to murder with extreme violence, Deputy Prosecutor-General Zhandos Omiraliev said on November 30.

Omiraliev added that the previous charge envisioned a punishment between 8 and 15 years in prison, while the new charge may lead to Bishimbaev facing between 15 and 20 years if found guilty.

Omiraliev confirmed that a relative of Bishimbaev was also arrested on a charge of failing to report an ongoing crime.

In 2018, Bishimbaev and 22 others faced a high-profile corruption trial that ended with Bishimbaev's conviction on charges of bribery and embezzlement while leading a state-controlled holding company.

A court in Astana sentenced him to 10 years in prison, but Bishimbaev was subsequently granted an early release through a mass amnesty decreed by the government. He had served about 18 months of his term when the amnesty occurred.

Since the 43-year-old Bishimbaev was arrested this month and charged with beating his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, to death in a restaurant in the Central Asian country's largest city, Almaty, many in Kazakhstan have raised the issue of domestic violence, emphasizing that in many cases, including deadly ones, the perpetrators avoid justice.

Domestic violence has been a major issue in the former Soviet republic for decades.

Amid the public outcry over Nukenova's death, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev publicly called on the Interior Ministry to have the investigation of the case under its "special control."

The Interior Ministry said earlier that, in general, more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence are officially registered each year, though the number of unregistered cases, analysts say, is likely much larger.

International rights watchdogs have urged Kazakh officials to curb the spread of domestic violence for years.

According to United Nations experts, about 400 women die in Kazakhstan as a of result of domestic violence every year.


Appeals By Russian Director, Playwright Against Extension Of Pretrial Detention Rejected

Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich appears at a hearing at a Moscow court on June 30.
Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich appears at a hearing at a Moscow court on June 30.

The Moscow city court on November 30 rejected appeals filed by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk against an extension of their pretrial detention on charges of justifying terrorism with the production of the play Finist-The Brave Falcon, about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria.

The court upheld a lower court decision in early November to extend the two women's pretrial detention until at least January 10.

During the hearing, Berkovich expressed gratitude "to all who were involved" for allowing her to travel from a Moscow detention center to St. Petersburg to attend the burial of her grandmother, noted human rights defender Nina Katerli, who died at the age of 89 on November 20.

However, Berkovich said "the act of mercy had tuned into an act of torture" as while being transported to the funeral she spent 25 hours in "a cage of avtozak" -- a special vehicle designed for transporting suspects and convicts, which affected her health.

"I did not have warm clothes with me because I was not aware where I was going and my lawyers did not know. It was a cage -- a piece of an iron cage 1 meter by 2 meters, in which it is not possible to stand or properly sit. Because of that, it is painful for me to stand up or sit down. It was not possible to sleep there either as there was no heating.... For those 25 hours, I was allowed to get out to a toilet only twice," Berkovich said.

But Judge Oksana Nikishina rejected Berkovich's complaints, saying that she should be grateful that she was allowed to attend her grandmother's burial at all.

Katerli, who defended several high-profile persons at politically motivated trials, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other former leaders of the Yukos oil company in the early 2000s, was buried in St. Petersburg on November 25.

Berkovich and Petriichuk were arrested in May. They both maintain their innocence. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.

With reporting by Meduza

Azerbaijani, Armenian Deputy PMs Agree To Intensify Border Talks

Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev (combo photo)
Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev (combo photo)

Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev and his Armenian counterpart, Mher Grigorian, led a fifth meeting of the two South Caucasus countries' border-delimitation commissions on November 30 and agreed to intensify future talks. Both countries' Foreign Ministries said an agreement was reached to start work on negotiations for the draft regulation on the joint activities of the commissions. The issue of Azerbaijani-Armenian border delimitation has been under focus amid preliminary steps for a peace agreement after Baku regained control over the then mostly Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September.


OSCE Opens Summit In Skopje Amid Boycotts, Criticism Directed At Russia's Presence

Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani (right) welcomes his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to the OSCE summit in Skopje on November 30.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani (right) welcomes his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to the OSCE summit in Skopje on November 30.

SKOPJE -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on November 30 kicked off its annual summit in North Macedonia amid boycotts and criticism from some member states for the presence in Skopje of Russia's top diplomat as Moscow continues its war on Ukraine.

North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the pan-European security body, slammed Russia's ongoing invasion in his opening remarks as host of the summit.

"Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine flies in the face of all this organization holds dear," Osmani said.

Despite Osmani's remarks, North Macedonia has still faced criticism that it has given in to Moscow by allowing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend the meeting, though not without issues.

WATCH: The OSCE opened its annual summit in North Macedonia on November 30. But the attendance of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has sparked a rift among member states as Moscow continues its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

OSCE Summit Split Over Attendance Of Russia's Lavrov
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Sofia lifted an EU-wide ban imposed on Lavrov's plane flying over the bloc's airspace -- implemented as a measure against Russia for its full-scale invasion -- to allow him to attend the summit.

Russia, however, said the plane with the Foreign Ministry delegation was refused entry at the last minute because spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is under European Union sanctions, was on board the plane as well and didn't have permission. The flight was rerouted over Greek airspace after Athens approved an exception.

Sofia has not commented on the Russian claims.

Lavrov's intention to attend the summit already threatened to overshadow the meeting after it sparked a boycott by Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Established initially as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, in 1975 as a tool of cooperation between the West and the Soviet-led Eastern bloc, the OSCE brings together 57 states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America.

The Vienna, Austria-based OSCE deals with issues such as arms control, the promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.

Osmani told RFE/RL in an interview ahead of the summit that he regarded the meeting as a "victory of the rules-based international order."

"What we are doing is continuing the rules of conduct of this organization so that all participating states are at the table, since this is a consensus-based organization," Osmani told RFE/RL.

"All the more, taking into account that the organization goes through an exceptional moment when its very existence is being questioned, we considered it crucial to reach a consensus, especially on those pillars that ensure the functionality of the organization for the future."

Still, several other members, including Poland, took issue with Lavrov's presence in Skopje.

"We just cannot ignore the fact that the Russian minister of foreign affairs will be present at the table of the organization that is supposed to build peace and security in Europe," Polish Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Osmani also rejected criticism that by allowing militarily neutral Malta to take over the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in January, the organization acquiesced to Moscow, which had vetoed Estonia's taking the helm of the group because of its being a member of NATO.

"I think [Malta's chairmanship is] a diplomatic victory. It is a victory for the OSCE and a victory for the rules-based international order," Osmani said, adding that Russia was "not happy" during the chairmanship of NATO member North Macedonia.

"We were unequivocal in our condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Russia openly violated the basic, founding principles and obligations of the organization, and from the beginning we recognized our role as guardians of those principles and obligations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Skopje on November 29, attended a pre-summit dinner with representatives of other OSCE states, but did not attend the opening of the summit on November 30.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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