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IMF Urges Pakistan Action On Inflation

IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn
IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn
The International Monetary Fund is urging Pakistani authorities to take action to curb inflation and protect the country from the potential economic shocks of higher oil prices.

An IMF team on March 11 completed a 10-day mission to Pakistan to assess conditions in connection with the IMF's $7.6 billion loan package to the country.

In a statement, the IMF said officials had "constructive" talks with the Pakistani government and central bank on restoring economic stability and implementing structural reforms.

Adnan Mazarei, the head of the IMF mission, urged fiscal moves that would result in reduced inflation. He said a lower budget deficit would help Pakistan manage the impact of higher oil prices on the economy.

compiled from agency reports

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Iran Sentences Dissident Rapper Salehi To Death

Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)
Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)

Iranian dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi has been sentenced to death by a court in Isfahan, his lawyer has told an Iranian newspaper on April 24. Salehi is serving a six-year prison sentence for his involvement in the 2022 protests that rocked Iran for months. Amir Raisian, Salehi’s attorney, told the pro-reform newspaper Sharq that his client was convicted of a new charge, “corruption on earth,” and sentenced to death. He said he will appeal the ruling. To read the original story in Persian by Sharq newspaper, click here.

Another Former Wagner Fighter Imprisoned For Crime In Russia

The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)
The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)

A court in Russia's Kirov region sentenced a former fighter with the Wagner mercenary group on April 24 for murdering and raping a woman. Ivan Rossomakhin returned to his native village in March 2023 after taking part in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. He was recruited by the Wagner group in 2022 from a penitentiary where he was serving a 14-year prison term for murder. He was pardoned after serving for Russia in Ukraine. The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other former ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Loses Appeal Against Conviction

Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)
Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)

A Russian court on April 24 rejected an appeal filed by anti-war activist Svetlana Marina against a "forced labor" sentence she was handed last month on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces. The charge stemmed from Marina’s online post last year where she called pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant after an explosive device in a gift handed to him detonated, "a murderer." Marina was sentenced to 18 months of work at a facility to be designated by the authorities. A portion of her salary will be deducted and given to the State Treasury. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

North Macedonia Votes For President With Eyes On EU Membership

A woman votes during the presidential election in Skopje, North Macedonia, on April 24.
A woman votes during the presidential election in Skopje, North Macedonia, on April 24.

SKOPJE -- Presidential elections are under way in North Macedonia as its 2.3 million people become increasingly anxious to see their tiny Balkan country finally join the European Union after nearly two decades of unfulfilled expectations.

Seven candidates are competing in the race on April 24, but the two favorites are incumbent Stevo Pendarovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE.

According to the latest poll by the Center for Political Research and Communications, Siljanovska-Davkova, who is 70, has a 3.6 point lead over the 61-year-old Pendarovski, whose SDSM has been in power since 2017. With neither candidate expected to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, a runoff round is widely expected.

The two faced off in the last election as well, with Pendarovski winning.

By 9 a.m. local time, turnout was some 4 percent, and the voting was proceeding in an orderly and relaxed manner in the capital, Skopje, according to election officials.

"It's super organized, everything works," Zlatko, a voter who asked not to give their last name, told RFE/RL. "I wish the citizens a successful come out and cast your vote for Macedonia."

The runoff, to be held in two weeks, would coincide with a parliamentary election and would need turnout of at least 40 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters to be valid.

The main topics of the campaign have been accession into the 27-member EU, the fight against corruption, consolidating the rule of law, and alleviating poverty.

A candidate since 2005, Skopje opened EU membership talks only in 2022 after years of opposition from Greece and Bulgaria.

The dispute with Greece was settled in 2017, when the country agreed to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia, subsequently becoming a member of NATO in March 2020.

However, Bulgaria has continued to block more consistent EU membership talks with Skopje unless it amends its constitution to mention a Bulgarian minority in the preamble -- a highly contentious issue because of the overlapping histories and cultures of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Such a constitutional amendment would need a two-thirds majority in parliament, which so far has been not possible in the face of opposition from the VMRO-DPMNE.

Among the other five candidates are law professor Biljana Vankovska from leftist party Levica and two ethnic Albanians, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani and Arben Taravari. Approximately a quarter of North Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian.

Polls will close at 7 p.m. local time.

No exit polls have been ordered and the first results are expected early on April 25.

The elections at 3,480 polling stations are being monitored by some 320 international observers.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Relatives Demand Open Trial For Kyrgyz Group That Protested Border Deal

Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.
Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.

Dozens of relatives of 27 members of a Kyrgyz group that is on trial for protesting a border deal rallied in Bishkek on April 24, demanding the trial be open and nine defendants held in pretrial detention be released. The defendants were arrested in 2022 and charged with organizing mass disorders and plotting to seize power after they protested the deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan. The trial is being held behind closed doors as materials of the case were tagged as classified. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

8 Members Of Tajik Opposition Group Detained In Italy

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visits Italy on April 22.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visits Italy on April 22.

Activists from the Tajik opposition movement Group 24 said on April 24 that police in Italy detained the movement's eight members a day earlier. According to the Group 24, Tajik opposition activists from the EU countries gathered in Rome to take part in a rally challenging policies of the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon during his ongoing official visit to Italy. Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism. In March 2015, Group 24's founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul, Turkey. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Russian Court Orders Seizure Of JPMorgan Chase Funds In VTB Lawsuit

JPMorgan Chase building in New York City (file photo)
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City (file photo)

A Russian court has ordered the seizure of funds in JPMorgan Chase bank accounts in Russia, court filings showed on April 24, in a lawsuit filed by state-owned bank VTB as it seeks to regain funds blocked abroad. JP Morgan Chase last week sued VTB in New York to halt its efforts to recover $439.5 million from an account that was blocked after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and VTB was hit with sanctions. JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the Russian court's interim measures. VTB also did not immediately comment.

UK's Sunak To Discuss European Security, Ukraine With Scholz In Berlin

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file photo)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file photo)

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will talk defense and security with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 24 when the British leader makes his first trip to Berlin since becoming taking office 18 months ago. Discussions are expected to focus on Ukraine, defense spending levels, and a push by Germany to bolster NATO's air defenses in Europe amid Russia's relentless missile strikes on Ukraine. "At this dangerous moment for the world, the U.K. and Germany are standing side by side to preserve security and prosperity at home and across our continent," said Sunak, hailing "a new chapter" in the countries' relationship.

Orthodox Priest Suspended After Presiding At Navalny's Funeral

Relatives and supporters bid farewell to opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow church on March 1.
Relatives and supporters bid farewell to opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow church on March 1.

Russian priest Dmitry Safronov has been suspended for three years and demoted after he oversaw a farewell ceremony at the funeral of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny last month. Patriarch Kirill's decree on the move appeared on the website of the Moscow City Diocese on April 23 but it gave no explanation. Safronov also officiated a religious ceremony at the traditional Orthodox ceremony marking the 40th day of Navalny's death. He also was among priests who signed a petition demanding Navalny’s body be handed to his family after the politician died in an Arctic prison in February. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Ukraine's SBU Hit Oil Facilities in Russia's Smolensk, Says Source

Eyewitnesses reported a fire at an oil refinery in Smolensk on April 24.
Eyewitnesses reported a fire at an oil refinery in Smolensk on April 24.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) carried out drone strikes early on April 24 that set fire to oil-storage facilities in Russia's Smolensk region, a source familiar with the issue has told RFE/RL.

Drones hit two fuel and lubricant storage depots in the settlements of Yartsevo and Rozdorove in the Smolensk region, causing major fires and prompting the evacuation of employees, the source said.

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"26,000 cubic meters of Russian fuel were stored in these depots. After powerful explosions, a large-scale fire started at the facilities and forced the evacuation of personnel," RFE/RL's source said.

The SBU considers the logistics facilities that supply the Russian Army with fuel to be legitimate military targets, the source added.

Earlier on April 24, Smolensk Governor Vasily Anokhin reported that Ukrainian drones struck fuel and energy facilities in his region, setting them on fire.

"Our region is again under attack by Ukrainian UAVs," Anokhin wrote, adding that there were no casualties and that the fires were being put out by emergency workers in the Smolensk and Yartsevo districts.

Separately, eyewitnesses reported fires at the Smolensk and Yartsevo oil refineries. The Astra Telegram channel published a video filmed by eyewitnesses purporting to show a large fire at one refinery.

Confronted with an increasing lack of air defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Western aid dries up, Kyiv has increasingly resorted to air and naval drone strikes deep inside Russian territory, targeting both military installations and critical oil-refining capabilities.

The strikes are part of an effort to cut fuel supplies to the Russian military and also cut export revenues that Moscow uses to fund the war.

Earlier this month, the Istories website said Ukrainian drones might have destroyed 15 percent of Russia's oil refinery facilities, while the Russian statistics service said that by the end of last month, the country's gasoline production had decreased by 14.3 percent and diesel production had reduced by seven percent.

According to British intelligence, as of March 23, Russia lost at least 10 percent of its oil refinery capacity due to drone strikes.

London believes the strikes are causing financial losses for Russia by affecting its domestic fuel market.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Detained On Suspicion Of Corruption

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov (file photo)
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov (file photo)

Russian law enforcement officials have detained Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on suspicion of taking a bribe, the Investigative Committee said on April 23.

The committee announced the arrest of Ivanov on Telegram but provided no further details.

The 49-year-old was the subject of an investigation published in December 2022 by Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

It said that Ivanov oversaw and profited from construction projects in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was largely destroyed by Russian forces in the first months of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The investigation showed that Ivanov and his wife, Svetlana, spent more than 1 million euros ($1.07 million) on vacations, renting villas and yachts, jewelry, and clothes. It also showed that the personal bills of Ivanov’s wife were paid by a company engaged in the restoration of Mariupol.

According to the FBK, which has been banned in Russia for alleged extremism, the minister divorced his wife to allow her to bypass EU sanctions.

"Today is a good day," said Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations at the foundation, in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"The person involved in our investigation was detained on suspicion of bribery. We talked about the glamorous and luxurious life of Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov back at the end of 2022."

Ivanov was appointed deputy defense minister by presidential decree in May 2016.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a report on Ivanov's detention had been presented to President Vladimir Putin, according to Russian news agencies.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had been informed in advance of his detention, he said.

Ivanov's duties included overseeing housing for troops and the construction and overhaul of ministry facilities. Ivanov has been designated for sanctions by United States, the European Union, Britain, and Canada.

Forbes magazine listed Ivanov as one of the wealthiest men in Russia's security structures.

With reporting by AFP

Latest U.S. Sanctions On Iran Target Four People, Two Companies Suspected Of Hacking

The hackers targeted companies and entities on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command, the Treasury said.
The hackers targeted companies and entities on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command, the Treasury said.

The United States on April 23 imposed more sanctions against Iran, designating four people and two companies that the U.S. Treasury Department said were "involved in malicious cyber-activity" on behalf of the country's military.

"These actors targeted more than a dozen U.S. companies and government entities through cyberoperations, including spear phishing and malware attacks," on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command (IRGC-CEC), the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In addition to the sanctions, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI unsealed an indictment against the four individuals for their alleged roles in cyberactivity targeting U.S. entities.

The defendants are accused of engaging in a coordinated hacking campaign originating in Iran that targeted more than a dozen American companies and the U.S. Treasury and State departments, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. The activity started in about 2016 and continued through about April 2021, the Justice Department said.

The Treasury Department said Iranian cyber-actors "continue to target the United States using a wide range of malicious cyber-activity, from conducting ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure to conducting spear phishing and other social-engineering campaigns against individuals, companies, and government entities."

It said the IRGC-CEC was one of the Iranian government organizations behind the malicious cyber-activity and worked through a series of front companies to target the United States and several other countries.

Much of the Iranian public is not aware that some companies in Iran such as Mehrsam Andisheh Saz Nik, one of the two companies designated for sanctions on April 23, are used as front companies to support the IRGC-CEC, the department said.

"The Iranian public should be aware that the IRGC-CEC uses private companies and their employees to achieve illegal goals," it added.

The sanctions freeze any assets the entities and individuals have in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Writers, Artists Demand Iran Release Cartoonist Arrested For Trying To Hang Picture

Atena Farghadani (file photo)
Atena Farghadani (file photo)

PEN America, along with a group of organizations that support cartoonists and artists, has condemned the violent arrest of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist currently being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for attempting to hang one of her drawings on a wall near the presidential palace.

Farghadani's lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, said she was violently arrested on April 12 by intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and sustained facial injuries that were visible during her arrest.

Moghimi said in a post on social media that Farghadani refused bail in protest against her violent arrest and was initially transferred to Qarchak prison, only to be moved to Evin prison due to the refusal of Qarchak to accept her because of her injuries.

A statement issued jointly on April 22 by PEN America, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists Rights, and the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation expressed outrage over the treatment of Farghadani by Iranian authorities, noting her work in support of human rights and democratic values.

"We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and permanently cease their deliberate and brutal campaign against artistic freedom, and artists like Farghadani, and for the charges against her to be dropped immediately," Julie Trebault, managing director of Artists at Risk Connection, said in the statement.

The Iranian Cartoonist Arrested For Her Art
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The groups highlighted Farghadani's courage in upholding democratic values under "severe repression" and called for her "unconditional and immediate release."

At a recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, PEN America joined an international coalition that urged the extension of a mandate of a commission that is investigating human rights abuses in Iran, underscoring ongoing concerns about the suppression of free expression in the country.

In 2022, the association reported that Iran was responsible for imprisoning over one-third of all female writers jailed worldwide, emphasizing the systemic suppression of women's voices amid their struggle for full human rights.

Farghadani was previously detained in 2015 and served 18 months on various charges including "propaganda against the regime."

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

Five Suspects Named In Deadly Attack On Police In Russia's Karachai-Cherkessia

The regional Investigative Committee added the five men to its wanted list. (file photo)
The regional Investigative Committee added the five men to its wanted list. (file photo)

Authorities in Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia on April 23 identified five men suspected of opening fire on a police patrol a day earlier, killing two officers and wounding another. Ruslan Semyonov, Vladimir Averyanov, Kazbek Dzhazayev, Akhmat Elkanov, and Ruslan Elkanov were added to the wanted list, the regional Investigative Committee said. The committee said earlier that it launched an investigation into "a deadly attack against law enforcement officers and illegal firearms possession." The assailants managed to take a pistol, an AK-47, and ammunition from the officers during the attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Sister Of Iranian Teen Killed In Anti-Government Protests Released From Prison

Aida Shakarami (file photo)
Aida Shakarami (file photo)

The sister of a 16-year-old killed in 2022 in anti-government protests has been freed from an Iranian jail. Aida Shakarami, sister of Nika Shakarami, was released on April 23 after about a week of detention for violating Iran’s hijab law. Shakarami was arrested by the morality police during the government's attempt to reimpose the compulsory head scarf. Nasrin Shakarami, the mother of Nika and Aida, said the judge in the case had insulted and threatened her daughter, including accusations of promoting corruption and prostitution. Pictures of Aida Shakarami on social media after her release showed her without a hijab. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

U.S. Journalist Gershkovich's Appeal Against Russian Detention Denied

Evan Gershkovich stands inside the defendants' cage during a hearing on the extension of his pretrial detention at the Moscow City Court on March 26.
Evan Gershkovich stands inside the defendants' cage during a hearing on the extension of his pretrial detention at the Moscow City Court on March 26.

A Moscow court on April 23 rejected an appeal by jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich against the extension of his pretrial detention until June 30.

The judge in the case said a ruling on March 26, which extended Gershkovich's pretrial detention until June 30, "should be left unchanged."

The Wall Street Journal reporter, who has spent more than a year behind bars on espionage charges, has lost multiple appeals seeking to end his pretrial detention.

The 32-year-old U.S. citizen was arrested in late March 2023 in Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip.

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected. They say Gershkovich was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy said in March after Gershkovich's detention was extended that his case "is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends."

The U.S. State Department said in December that Moscow rejected a significant offer it made to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Another U.S. citizen currently held by Russian authorities is Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist who was arrested in Kazan in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" and spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

Prior to her arrest, Kurmasheva, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, had her passport confiscated following a visit to care for her elderly mother. RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges against her are reprisals for her work.

Russian officials have kept mum about any talks to win the release of the Americans. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly said that while "certain contacts" on swaps continue, "they must be carried out in absolute silence."

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

No Russian Fencers At Paris Olympics, European Fencing Says

Russia's fencers last year rejected the format set out by the International Olympic Committee to come back to international competition, raising the possibility they would boycott Olympic qualifying events. (file photo)
Russia's fencers last year rejected the format set out by the International Olympic Committee to come back to international competition, raising the possibility they would boycott Olympic qualifying events. (file photo)

No fencers from Russia or Belarus will take part in the Paris Olympics after those eligible under a neutral banner did not enter European qualifiers, according to the European Fencing Confederation (EFC). "There are unfortunately no Russian or Belarusian athletes," EFC President Giorgio Scarso told reporters on April 23. "The reason for their absence is not known, there was no official declaration of letter to explain it," Scarso added. Russia's fencers last year rejected the format set out by the International Olympic Committee to come back to international competition, raising the possibility they would boycott Olympic qualifying events.

RFE/RL, Kazakh Foreign Ministry Reach Agreement On Accreditation

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in Astana
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in Astana

ASTANA -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has reached agreement with the Kazakh Foreign Ministry over the accreditation of dozens of its journalists in the Central Asian country amid fears the government was trying to stifle independent media.

Details of the agreement, reached on April 23, were not immediately available.

"We welcome the agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said in response to the deal.

"Throughout this process, all we have wanted was for our journalists to be able to continue their vital work in Kazakhstan safely, without compromise. We remain committed to serving our audiences with independent, trusted reporting and I am confident that this agreement will enable us to do just that."

In January 2023, the ministry denied accreditation to 36 journalists of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Radio Azattyq. Some of the correspondents had not been able to extend their accreditation since late 2022.

The situation around the accreditation of RFE/RL correspondents turned into a hot topic in January after a group of Kazakh lawmakers approved a draft bill that would allow the tightly controlled former Soviet republic's authorities to refuse accreditation to foreign media outlets and their reporters on grounds of national security.

According to the draft legislation, the Foreign Ministry could refuse accreditation to foreign media outlets and their reporters "in case of a threat to the national security of the Republic of Kazakhstan."

The bill states that any activities of foreign media and their journalists without accreditation are banned, and the decision to suspend the activities of foreign media in the country can be made by the ministry without a court ruling.

In accordance with current legislation, the Foreign Ministry must make decisions on accreditation within two months of receiving an application. In case of refusal, the ministry must provide an explanation for its decision.

Ukraine Restricts Consular Services For Conscription-Age Men Living Abroad

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukraine has moved to restrict consular services at its diplomatic missions for men of conscription age (18-60) who live abroad as Kyiv tries to increase troop levels in its fight to repel invading Russian forces.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on April 23 that he ordered the restrictions because "staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the Homeland."

"As it looks like now, a man of conscription age goes abroad and shows his state that he does not care about its survival. He then comes back and wants to receive services from this state. It does not work this way. Our country is at war," Kuleba wrote.

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Kuleba added that he will clarify in the coming days the process of legally obtaining consular services in Ukraine's foreign diplomatic missions by men of conscription age as the law on mobilization signed by President Zelenskiy last week will come into force.

According to the law that Zelenskiy signed on April 16, all men between 18 and 60 years of age must update their draft data with military conscription centers across the country.

Though lawmakers watered down some amendments to draft dodging, the law does allow for the punishment of those convicted of avoiding service.

An unknown number of Ukrainian men fled the country after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 despite Kyiv's move to ban men of conscription age from leaving the country.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men working abroad as migrant laborers have also not returned to Ukraine as Russia continues its full-scale aggression against its neighbor.

"The obligation to update one's documents with the conscription centers existed even before the new law on mobilization was passed. If anyone believes that while one person is fighting far away at the frontline and risking his or her life for this state, another can stay abroad and receive services from this state, well, this is not how it works," Kuleba added.

Torture Conviction Of Five Russian Prison Officers Canceled, Sent Back For Retrial

Kezhik Ondar with his wife
Kezhik Ondar with his wife

A court of appeals in Siberia has canceled the conviction of five former prison officials who were sentenced in a high-profile case involving the torture and rape of an inmate.

In August 2023, Maksim Volf, the former head of the operative department of the detention center No. 1 in Irkutsk, was handed five years in prison, while his former subordinates, Andrei Melentyev, Maksim Danchinov, Yevgeny Shadayev, and Andrei Moskvitin, were sentenced to four years in prison each for organizing the torture and rape of Kezhik Ondar, who was left disabled after the ordeal.

Ondar's lawyers said at the time that the sentences were too lenient and that they would appeal the ruling.

The Court of Appeals No. 5 in the city of Novosibirsk on April 22 sent the case back to prosecutors for additional investigation. It is not clear if the court considered the sentences too lenient or too harsh, since the whole case is now starting again from the beginning.

The five men accused of torturing Ondar were arrested in March 2021 along with the former warden of the IK-6 prison in Irkutsk, Aleksei Agapov, and his former subordinates, Aleksandr Mednikov and Anton Yerokhin.

Agapov, Mednikov, and Yerokhin were sentenced to five years in prison each in February 2023 on the same charge after a court in Irkutsk found them guilty of involvement in the separate beating, torture, and rape of Tahirjon Bakiev, an inmate with Central Asian roots, in January 2021.

In all, three probes were launched in the Irkutsk region in late May 2022 into allegations of the torture and rape of three inmates -- Kezhik Ondar, Tahirjon Bakiev, and Yevgeny Yurchenko -- while they were held in a detention center in Irkutsk and a prison in the nearby city of Angarsk.

Bakiev died in prison in February this year, a day before a hearing that would decide financial compensation he had demanded from his abusers. The prison administration called the death a suicide, while Bakiev’s family insists he was murdered or forced to commit suicide while in custody.

In April 2020, inmates at the IK-15 prison in Angarsk started a mass riot, protesting what they claimed were incidents of torture.

Afterward, many of them were transferred to other prisons in the region.

Human rights groups have quoted some of the inmates as saying that they faced beatings and torture after they were transferred to other prisons, where guards used other inmates who agreed to "cooperate" with the administration to force them to confess to organizing the riot.

In May 2022, courts in Irkutsk sentenced several inmates who agreed to "cooperate" with the guards to prison terms between five and 11 years on charges of rape, premeditated HIV infection, and inflicting serious bodily damage.

Bosnian Police Officials Arrested In Large-Scale Drug Operation

The raids were conducted at dozens of locations across Sarajevo.
The raids were conducted at dozens of locations across Sarajevo.

Bosnian police have raided multiple locations in Sarajevo in a large-scale antidrug operation that led to the arrest of 23 people, including several high-ranking Bosnian law enforcement officials suspected of close links with Edin Gacanin, a drug kingpin arrested in November 2022.

The raids were conducted on April 22 with the backing of EU and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Those arrested are suspected of involvement in organized crime, money laundering, influence peddling, abuse of office, bribe taking, and the disclosure of classified information, according to a statement by the Interior Ministry of Sarajevo Canton -- one of the 10 cantons of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of the two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Vahidin Munjic, the acting director of Bosnia's federal police, and Mustafa Selmanovic, the commander of a police special unit, were among those arrested during the raids, the interior minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, Ramo Isak, confirmed to RFE/RL.

The raids were conducted in more than 30 Sarajevo locations with support from the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the FBI.

The two police officials are suspected of being close associates of Gacanin, nicknamed "Tito," who since March last year has been on the sanctions list of the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which has described him as "one of the world's most prolific drug traffickers."

Raids were also conducted in Zenica and Mostar.

Europol described the raid as a "milestone in the fight against the so-called ‘super cartel,’ an alliance of criminal networks that controlled much of Europe’s cocaine trade."

"The primary objective of operation codenamed 'Black Tie' was to indict and prosecute a Bosnian-Herzegovinian/Dutch national considered a High Value Target by Europol and the Netherlands," Europol said in a statement, without mentioning Gacanin by name.

Europol said that, despite his arrest in 2022, the individual "continued to steer drug trafficking from source countries in South America such as Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, to Europe, and Australia from his base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates."

Europol added that those arrested include "not only accomplices, but also corrupt officials identified as facilitators of the network’s criminal activities."

One of the agencies involved in the operation, Bosnia's State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), said several bank accounts were checked and transactions of more than 300,000 euros ($320,000) were blocked.


U.S. Report Highlights Worsening Human Rights Abuses In Russia, Iran, Afghanistan

Russian police officers detain a man during an opposition rally in Moscow. (file photo)
Russian police officers detain a man during an opposition rally in Moscow. (file photo)

Russia has continued to show blatant disregard for human rights both in its unprovoked war against Ukraine and in the treatment of its own citizens over the past year, the U.S. State Department has said in its latest annual report on human rights around the globe, which also highlights the abuses committed by Iran's theocratic regime and the Taliban's mistreatment of Afghans -- especially its discrimination against women and girls.

Russian troops continued to commit numerous abuses and atrocities, some amounting to war crimes, the report says, highlighting the issuance by the International Criminal Court of arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children's rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for their role in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

"There were credible reports of summary execution, torture, rape, and attacks killing and injuring civilians and damaging or destroying civilian infrastructure by Russia's forces in Ukraine, as well as war crimes, including those involving forced deportation or transfer of civilians, and the forced placement in foster care or adoption of Ukrainian children," the report notes.

At home, Russian authorities continued to step up the pressure on dissent and independent expression, imprisoning political opponents and anti-war protesters, clamping down on the media, prosecuting numerous people for expressing their opinions online, and forcibly closing down nongovernmental organizations.

More moves were made to persecute opposition politicians such as the sentencing of Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on charges including treason and the slapping of an extra 19 years for "extremism" on the already imprisoned Aleksei Navalny, who subsequently died under suspicious circumstances in February in a penitentiary in Russia's Arctic region.

"Tragically, as we saw with Aleksei Navalny's unjust imprisonment in a Russian penal colony, incarceration can come with horrific conditions -- with abuse, even death," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on April 22 while presenting the report.

The report also highlights a multitude of other human rights abuses committed by Russian authorities on Russia's territory and abroad, such as, but not limited to, arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; pervasive torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; and serious problems with the independence of the judiciary.

Harsh Punishments Meted Out In Iran

Brutal human rights abuses continue to take place and even worsen in Iran, where women and members of marginalized communities bear the brunt of the regime's human rights violations and abuses, the report says, highlighting the harsh punishment meted out to prisoners, including executions, for bogus or unjust reasons.

"Women continued to face discrimination, including through enhanced means for enforcing the mandatory dress code, which led to acts of civil disobedience," the report says, adding that many people have reportedly disappeared during extended protests that were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police in September 2022.

The number of executions was up by more than one-third last year compared to 2022, with 798 people being put to death, some of them political dissidents.

Executions In Iran Drive Global Death-Penalty Spike
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"The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, some of which carried the death penalty, such as 'antirevolutionary behavior,' 'corruption on earth,' 'siding with global arrogance,' 'waging war against God,' and 'crimes against Islam,'" the report notes.

The Iranian regime is also guilty of serious violations outside its borders, which include enabling abuses by terrorist groups throughout the region by the Syrian government, Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, and Yemeni Huthi militants, as well as the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, the document said.

Systemic Mistreatment, Discrimination In Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has resorted to systemic mistreatment of and discrimination against Afghanistan’s women and girls since it returned to power in August 2021 following the hasty withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

"In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, 'immoral behavior,' end quote," Blinken said.

The report says Taliban authorities have issued more than 50 pieces of legislation "that effectively erase women from public life."

The Taliban authorities have shown continuous and widespread "disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses," the document says, adding that both the Taliban and their current arch-foe, the Islamic State group, have been using child soldiers.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on April 23 pushed back against the criticism, emphasizing the Taliban's commitment to upholding Shari'a law, which he argued defines and guarantees the rights of Afghan citizens based on their wishes.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a Shari'a and Islamic obligation to give the rights of its citizens," Mujahid said on state-controlled RTA Radio. "When America or other Western countries talk about rights, they should not impose Western culture on other countries. What is defined as rights in America may not be the same in Afghanistan."

Referring to the ongoing war in Gaza that was triggered by an October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, the report notes "serious Hamas and Israel."

It says those abuses include unlawful or widespread civilian deaths and harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture, as well as "violence or threats against journalists."

British Foreign Secretary Holds Talks With Uzbek Counterpart In Tashkent

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron visits the Hazrati Imam Mosque in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on April 23.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron visits the Hazrati Imam Mosque in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on April 23.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron held talks with his Uzbek counterpart Baxtiyor Saidov in Tashkent on April 23, focusing on regional security, education, climate change, bilateral trade, and the development of business relations, according to official Uzbek media reports. Cameron held similar talks with top officials in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan earlier this week before making his way to the region's most populous nation of 37 million. Cameron will also visit Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia during his tour of Central Asia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

State Of Emergency Declared In Kyrgyz District Over Mudslides And Floods

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan's northwestern district of Talas declared a state of emergency on April 23 over ongoing mudslides and floods caused by heavy rains, which hit the region over the weekend. The latest mudslides were reported in the villages of Ar-Jar, Kok-Kashat, and Kara-Suu. Some 250 private houses have been damaged, as well as one bridge and several roads in the area. A day earlier, authorities in the southern Osh region announced a state of emergency after a mudslide killed one person while another local resident was killed by lightning. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Court In Tatarstan Reinstates Fine For Activist Who Supported RFE/RL Journalist

Iskander Yasaveyev must pay a fine for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December.
Iskander Yasaveyev must pay a fine for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December.

KAZAN, Russia -- A court in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, has reinstated a fine against sociologist Iskander Yasaveyev for holding a poster demanding the release of RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been held in Russian custody since October 18.

The Vakhitov district court ruled on April 22 that Yasaveyev must pay 15,000 rubles ($160) for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December in Kazan in support of all journalists currently held in Russian detention.

Yasaveyev was initially ordered to pay the 15,000-ruble fine on February 1 after he was found guilty by the same court of violating regulations for holding public events.

He appealed that ruling and on March 20, Tatarstan's Supreme Court canceled the sentence and sent the case back for retrial.

Yasaveyev's lawyers said on April 22 that they will appeal the new sentence as well.

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

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

On October 11, a court in Kazan fined Kurmasheva 10,000 rubles ($106) for "failing to inform Russian officials about holding a second citizenship."

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

The Investigative Committee said at the time that Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out the “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.

Many critics and rights group say the so-called foreign agent law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

On December 12, the Tatar-Inform news agency in Tatarstan and the Baza Telegram channel, both linked to the government, said Kurmasheva was additionally accused of distributing "fake" news about Russia's armed forces, a charge that comes with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

RFE/RL has called the cases a reprisal against her for her work as a journalist.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be held by Moscow in 2024, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals new level of war-time censorship.

Russia's leading human rights group Memorial has 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 in March last year for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny.

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