Pakistan Says U.S. Rebuke On Religious Freedoms 'Politically Motivated'
Pakistan has criticized a U.S. decision to place Pakistan on its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, calling the move "unilateral and politically motivated."
The country is a "multireligious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a December 12 statement.
“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities," it said.
In a statement on December 11, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he designated Pakistan and several other nations as "countries of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
He said he made the designations for Pakistan as well as China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, on May 28.
The countries were designated "for having engaged in or tolerated 'systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom,'" said Pompeo.
"In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs," he said. "The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. "
Pakistan was previously on a special watch list.
The downgrade means that Islamabad could face U.S. sanctions, although Pompeo waived the penalties, citing U.S. national interests.
The United States said the decision to downgrade Pakistan was largely the result of a law that prescribes death for blasphemy against Islam.
Human rights groups have long expressed concern about the treatment of religious minorities, including Shi'a, Ahmadis, and Christians in Pakistan, where the dominant religion is Sunni Islam.
President Donald Trump’s administration has had tense relations with Pakistan, which it says has failed to combat the Taliban and other extremist groups that launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
Islamabad rejects the charges.
Washington has issued an annual ranking of countries and their treatment of religious groups annually since the passage of a 1998 law on the issue. Being ranked low, or placed on a watch list, can result in economic sanctions.
Pompeo said he had placed Uzbekistan and Russia, as well as Comoros, on the special watch list "for governments that have engaged in or tolerated 'severe violations of religious freedom.'”
That marks an upgrade for Uzbekistan, which has been a "country of particular concern" since 2006 -- a designation that has irked Tashkent.
Uzbekistan has "made substantial changes, and they’re doing it because they want to grow their nation," Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told reporters in a teleconference after Pompeo's statement.
"A freer society is one less prone and moved and pushed really towards terrorism and one more open to economic reform," Brownback said. "That’s why Uzbekistan, for the first time since 2006, is off the list [of countries of particular concern]."
Under the late President Islam Karimov, independent religious expression, particularly by devout Muslims who shunned officially sanctioned mosques, was harshly repressed.
Since Karimov's death in 2016, the Uzbek government under President Shavkhat Mirziyoev has sought to lift many of Karimov’s more repressive policies and attract investment from Western nations.
The State Department said that dozens of religious groups have been targeted in Russia -- including Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Lutherans, and others -- since a 2016 law was passed criminalizing certain kinds of missionary activity.
Several Islamic militant groups were designated as "entities of particular concern" since they do not meet the definition of countries.
They include the Al-Nusra Front in Syria, Al-Qaeda, the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia's Al-Shabab, Boko Haram in West Africa, Yemen's Huthi rebels, the Islamic State, and the Taliban.
With reporting by AFP and AP
Belarusian Leader Pardons Russian Jailed After Forced Landing Of Commercial Flight
MINSK -- Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pardoned Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was serving a six-year prison term in Belarus on charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed 2020 presidential election.
Sapega was handed to a delegation from Russia's Far Eastern region of Primorye on June 7 after she was released from prison following Lukashenka's decree pardoning her, the BelTA state news agency said.
She thanked Lukashenka for pardoning her, allowing her to return home, and giving her a second chance, according to BelTA.
Earlier reports said the Russian and Belarusian authorities had agreed to allow Sapega to serve her prison term in Russia.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Sapega and her then-boyfriend, dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich, were detained after their commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021.
Sapega was accused of administering a channel on Telegram that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces. She was sentenced in May 2022.
Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain the two.
Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram that extensively covered the violent crackdown on unprecedented protests in Belarus following an August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and Western governments say was stolen by Lukashenka, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1994.
Last month, Pratasevich told journalists he had received a pardon from Lukashenka.
In early May, a Minsk court sentenced Pratasevich to eight years in prison, and his co-defendants, Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, who were tried in absentia, to 20 years and 19 years in prison respectively, on charges stemming from their online coverage of the 2020 anti-Lukashenka protests.
Lukashenka has denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members were either jailed or forced to flee the country in fear of their safety.
With reporting by BelTA
Six Arrested In Romania, Germany, Bulgaria In Probe Of People-Smuggling Ring
Six people have been arrested in Romania, Germany, and Bulgaria in raids targeting a network alleged to have smuggled hundreds of migrants into Romania and Germany, officials said on June 7. Fifteen properties were searched, 11 of them in Romania, German federal police said in a statement. Four of the arrests were made in searches of accommodation in Romania used to house migrants. There was one arrest in Germany and one in Bulgaria. The suspects are accused of smuggling more than 560 people into Germany and more than 300 into Romania, according to German police.
Ukraine's Prosecutor To Provide ICC With Data On Kakhovka Dam Destruction
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin on June 7 signed a decree on providing the prosecutor's office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague with data related to the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. According to a statement by his office, Kostin also informed ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan about the situation caused by the dam breach. Ukrainian and Russian officials traded blame over the breach on June 6 of the Russian-controlled dam, which prompted the evacuation of thousands of local residents.
Former Kazakh President Nazarbaev's Office Being Canceled
The office of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, known as the office of the First President of Kazakhstan, will cease to exist within the next 45 days, the Central Asian nation's Finance Minister Erulan Zhamaubaev said on June 7.
According to Zhamaubaev, the closure of the office will free up to 3 billion tenges ($6,675,000) of state money, which will be used for other needs.
Zhamaubaev's statement came less than a week after the Justice Ministry said that parliament is poised to scrap an article in the Criminal Code that envisions punishment by up to five years in prison for insulting Nazarbaev.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has taken a series of moves since January 2022 to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.
Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy."
Earlier this year, Kazakh lawmakers annulled the Law on the First President -- the Leader of the Nation (Elbasy).
Although the law was canceled, Nazarbaev himself continues to have immunity from prosecution in accordance with the law on presidents.
Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign.
Those feelings came to a head in January last year when unprecedented anti-government nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike.
The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich nation's wealth.
Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges, of whom some were handed prison terms.
On June 7, Kazakhstan's Anti-Corruption Agency said Nazarbaev's once powerful nephew, Qairat Satybaldy, who was sentenced to six years in prison in September after being found guilty of fraud and embezzlement, will hand over his property, including the Double Tree by Hilton Almaty hotel, as well as jewelry, automobiles, and cash to the state treasury to compensate damages caused by his crimes.
The agency added that investigations into Satybaldy's alleged tax evasion and money laundering activities are under way.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, KazTAG, and Tengrinews
Kazakh Opposition Politician Detained On Bribe-Taking Charge
Nurzhan Altaev, the leader of Kazakhstan's unregistered El Tiregi (People's Pillar) party has been detained on a charge of taking a bribe, the Central Asian nation's Anti-Corruption Agency said on July 7. Altaev quit the ruling Nur-Otan (now called Amanat) party in 2021 and has been trying to register his party since then, accusing the Justice Ministry of refusing to do so. In April, a court in Astana sentenced Altaev to 15 days in jail on a charge of violating regulations on holding public gatherings after he openly supported protesting oil workers who demanded jobs. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Russia Claims Ukrainian 'Saboteur' Group Blew Up Ammonia Pipeline, Kyiv Yet To Comment
Russia's Defense Ministry claims a Ukrainian "saboteur group" blew up a segment of the Tolyatti-Odesa pipeline, the world's largest ammonia conduit, in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Kyiv has not commented on the statement but previously it has said that the pipeline has come under repeated Russian shelling. Ammonia is a main ingredient in production of nitrate fertilizer, of which Russia is one of the world's leading producers.
Banks In Kazakhstan, Armenia, Hong Kong Block Payments For Electronics Deliveries To Russia
Banks in Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Hong Kong have started blocking payments for deliveries of electronics to Russia to avoid U.S. sanctions for helping Moscow evade Western penalties imposed over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kommersant newspaper cited sources as saying on June 7. In March, the United States said Russian companies evaded sanctions using intermediaries in other countries. The same month, the EU's special sanctions envoy, David O'Sullivan, publicly questioned the final destination of many goods imported to Kazakhstan, Armenia, and several other nations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Belgrade To Prod Ethnic Serbs In North Kosovo To Vote In Elections
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he will try to use his influence to persuade Serbs in northern Kosovo to take part in elections, the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, told journalists on June 7 in Belgrade.
Escobar was speaking after he and the EU's special envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak. held talks with Kosovar and Serbian leaders in Pristina and Belgrade.
The U.S. and EU envoys were trying to ease tensions in northern Kosovo over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that triggered clashes last week between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers, leaving dozens -- including the peacekeepers -- injured.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with an overwhelming ethnic Serbian majority -- Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
"We must immediately de-escalate the situation. This means that we hope the [ethnic Albanian] mayors will not try to [enter] the municipal buildings and [Kosovar] police units will withdraw -- but we want to be sure that [ethnic Serb] protesters will also withdraw," Escobar said.
The West has increased diplomatic pressure on Kosovo to reduce tensions in the northern part of the country and organize new local elections.
"If there are new elections, and we hope there will be, we want Serbs to participate in them without preconditions," said Escobar.
He added that the biggest challenge for the authorities in Belgrade is to convince the local Serbs in the north of Kosovo to return to the institutions, and that it must be ensured that the representatives of the Serbs who participate in the elections and institutions in Kosovo are "welcome."
The U.S. envoy also warned that Kosovo has to ensure that Serb-majority municipalities in its northern part enjoy greater autonomy if it wants to make progress toward eventual NATO and EU integration.
Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian former Serbian province. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia as well as its traditional ally, Russia, has refused to recognize it.
With reporting by Reuters
Richard Branson Calls For Release From Prison Of Iranian Rapper Salehi
Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson has called for Iranian authorities to release popular rapper Toomaj Salehi, whose health has reportedly deteriorated since he was arrested during Tehran’s clampdown on nationwide anti-government protests in October. "As his life hangs in the balance after 8 months+ of imprisonment and torture, we all must give our voice to him and call for his release," Branson said in a tweet. In November, Iran’s judiciary charged Salehi with spreading “corruption on earth,” a charge that could see him sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.
Local Official Throws Molotov Cocktails At Military Recruitment Center In Russia
A local official in the Russian city of Vladimir, 200 kilometers east of Moscow, was detained on June 7 after she threw Molotov cocktails at a military recruitment center. Media reports identified the woman as Zhanna Romanovskaya, a 55-year-old official from the local Architecture and Construction Ministry. Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, dozens of military recruitment centers have been targeted by arsonists, but Romanovskaya appears to be the first official to have done so. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
EU Launches Case Against Poland Over 'Russian Influence' Panel
The European Commission said on June 7 that it is launching legal action against Poland over its creation of a controversial body probing "Russian influence," which is seen as targeting the opposition. The announcement of the infringement procedure came despite Polish President Andrzej Duda saying last week that he would propose amending the law on the panel after criticism from the EU's executive and the United States.
Poland Deports Former FSB Officer To Russia After Rejecting His Asylum Request
Poland has deported to Russia a former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Emran Navruzbekov, who fled the country in 2017 and claimed the FSB fabricated terrorist cases against residents of the North Caucasus. The Vot Tak media project quoted Navruzbekov on June 6 as saying Polish authorities had handed him to Russian officials in the Kaliningrad exclave. Polish authorities rejected Navruzbekov’s asylum request, citing security issues. Navruzbekov's wife said earlier that she and the couple's children were granted political asylum in Poland. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Norway Rescues Russian By Helicopter Near North Pole
Norway rescued a Russian in need of emergency medical assistance on board a scientific vessel stuck in ice near the North Pole in a spectacular helicopter operation, its rescue services said on June 7. The evacuation took place on June 6 in the evening from the Russian ship Severny Polyus located at the 86th parallel north, some 444 kilometers from the North Pole. "It's the extreme limit of what the helicopter can do" in terms of range, a Norwegian spokesman told the AFP news agency. The operation was carried out despite a deterioration of relations between the two countries since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine.
NATO Allies Prepare Unprecedented Air Deployment Exercise Over Europe In Show Of Force To Russia
Germany is preparing to host the biggest air deployment exercise in NATO’s history, a show of force intended to impress allies and potential adversaries such as Russia, German and American officials said. Air Defender 23 exercise starting next week will see 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 nations respond to a simulated attack on a NATO member country. While the drill, which is being led by Germany, has been planned since 2018, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has jolted NATO into preparing in earnest for the possibility of an attack on its territory. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Wife, Teenage Son Of North Korean Diplomat Go Missing In Russia's Far East
Russia's Investigative Committee said on June 7 that it has started investigating the disappearance of the wife and teenage son of the North Korean Council Choi En Nam in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok. Media reports quoted sources as identifying the missing persons as Kim Kum-Sun, 43, and Park Kwon-Chu, who went missing on June 4. Some investigators suggested that the woman and her son are on their way to defect to South Korea via China. Some reports say the two used a taxi to reach the city of Khabarovsk, from where they took a plane to the city of Krasnoyarsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Another Resident Of Russia's Far East Detained On Treason Charge
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on June 7 that a resident of the country’s Far East had been detained on a charge of high treason amid a growing number of such cases in recent months. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, had allegedly passed classified information about law enforcement and military infrastructure to Ukrainian intelligence. In the last five months, 20 treason probes have been launched, while in 2022, the number of such cases launched in the country was 22. Almost half of the probes were launched against residents of Russia's Far East. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Jury Finds Moscow Anti-War Activist Not Guilty Of Attempted Murder
A jury at the Moscow City Court has found 45-year-old Moscow activist, Vitaly Koltsov, not guilty of attempting to murder 12 Russian National Guard officers. However, the jury concluded on June 6 that Koltsov was guilty of an arson attack but recommended a lenient punishment. The charge against Koltsov, who went on trial on May 10, stems from his throwing two Molotov cocktails at a bus that was parked near Teatralnaya Square in Moscow after it brought National Guard troops to the site to prevent anti-government rallies a year ago. Koltsov was found guilty of deliberately setting fire to a police vehicle. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Ukraine Forced To Cope With Disastrous Flooding After Rupture Of Kakhovka Dam
Thousands of people sought shelter after escaping rising flood water amid an unfolding humanitarian and ecological disaster caused by the rupture of a major dam on the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian rescue teams used boats on June 7 to rescue residents from their flooded homes a day after the collapse of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam and the emptying of its reservoir.
It is still unclear what caused the breach, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again on June 7 pointed the finger at Russia as the perpetrator of an "absolutely deliberate" act. Russia, in turn, has blamed Kyiv for the destruction.
"The situation in the occupied part of Kherson region is absolutely catastrophic," Zelenskiy said on Twitter. "The occupiers simply abandoned people in these terrible conditions. Without rescue, without water, just on the rooftops in flooded communities."
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Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without normal access to drinking water, he said, adding that Ukrainian services are involved but can only help on the territory controlled by Ukraine.
Desperate residents of flooded Russian-occupied towns are begging for help, according to news reports describing the situation in Oleshkiy, opposite Kherson on the Dnieper River. Residents tried to flee immediately after the dam ruptured, but Russian troops blocked them and offered them "evacuation only to the territory of Russia," the head of the city's military administration said.
In comments to German and U.S. media, Zelenskiy expressed shock over what he said was the failure of the United Nations and the Red Cross to provide help, but he added that Russian soldiers were shooting from a distance while rescue attempts were in progress.
The Kakhovka dam -- which is 30 meters tall and 3.2 kilometers long -- is part a vital route for transport and irrigation, as well as supplying water to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, located some 150 kilometers to the northeast.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that while water levels in had fallen in ponds that are crucial in supplying cooling water to the plant, "back-up options are available" and there is "no short-term risk to nuclear safety and security."
But IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi expressed concern over how the situation could play out in the next few weeks, telling Sky News in an interview that "in the worst case without cooling" there is a risk of an accident with tragic environmental consequences. The situation is serious, he said, because a nuclear power plant requires guarantees when it comes to cooling water.
Fears of a humanitarian disaster grew as more and more countries expressed concern over the fallout from the dam’s destruction. European Council President Charles Michel called it a "war crime" and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned it as "outrageous."
French President Emmanuel Macron said France would send aid in response to the crisis and condemned the "atrocious act" of the dam's destruction.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is on a visit to the United States, could not say definitively whether Russia was responsible for the destruction.
"If it does prove to be intentional, it will represent a new low. It's an appalling act of barbarism on Russia's part," Sunak told British broadcaster ITV.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it was "very concerned" about social, economic, and environmental impact from destruction of dam.
Ukraine's Energy Ministry said on June 7 that as many as 20,000 people in the Kherson region had been left without electricity in the aftermath of the destruction of the dam. Two solar power plants were also flooded in the Mykolayiv region, the ministry added.
Oleksandr Kharchenko, a Kyiv-based energy analyst, told RFE/RL that the flooding had damaged electricity transmission lines and heating stations that supply residential buildings in the winter.
He said the damage to those pieces of critical infrastructure alone would likely total in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but a more precise estimate would only be possible in a few weeks after the water recedes.
Adding to the crisis, the Ukrainian Health Ministry on June 7 warned about the possible contamination of water in wells, rivers, and lakes in the flooded area.
"Chemicals, agents of infectious diseases from cemeteries, latrines, and landfills may end up in wells and open bodies of water in the flooded area," the ministry said on Telegram, also warning against the consumption of fish from the area.
Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, said the destruction of the dam had killed a huge number of fish in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Yermak tweeted a video showing what he said was an "ecocide" of fish that died after the dam ruptured.
There was no independent verification of the video.
In the Moscow-controlled part of Kherson, Russian-installed authorities imposed a state of emergency on June 7, the TASS news agency reported.
The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said that "thousands of animals" at the Nizhnedniprovskiy National Nature Park had been killed in the flooding, along with other domesticated and farm animals in the region.
WATCH: Boat after boat of exhausted and stressed civilians arrived in the flooded streets of Kherson on June 7. Some of the people had made it here from Russian-occupied areas on the east bank of the Dnieper River.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres labeled the destruction of the dam a "monumental humanitarian, economic, and ecological catastrophe" in a statement but stopped short of blaming Russia directly.
The UN’s humanitarian agency said it was gravely concerned about the destruction of the dam and the severe humanitarian impact on hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the front line.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told an emergency UN Security Council meeting late on June 6 that thousands of people in southern Ukraine were facing "the loss of homes, food, safe water, and livelihoods."
Russia has denied it carried out the attack, with the Kremlin instead calling it "deliberate sabotage" by Kyiv.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 7 accused Ukraine of destroying the dam at the suggestion of the West despite the dam having been under Russian control when it ruptured.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, Politico, and Reuters
Ukrainian Military Says Forces Making Advances In Bakhmut Area
Ukrainian forces have gone on the offensive in Bakhmut, the Donetsk city that has been the epicenter of the war in eastern Ukraine, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on June 7. She said Ukrainian troops advanced in different areas by as much as 1,100 meters over the past day. "The enemy in this direction went on the defensive, trying to hold occupied positions," Malyar said. Earlier, the commander of Ukraine's ground troops, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said his forces continued to advance on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut. Ukrainian defenders put up a stark, monthslong defense in Bakhmut. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here and here.
Finland To Expel Nine Russian Embassy Employees Over 'Intelligence' Activities
Finland will expel nine diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Helsinki for "acting in an intelligence capacity," the Finnish president's office said on June 6. "Their actions are contrary to the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations," the president's office said in a statement, adding that it would inform the Russian ambassador of the expulsions. The decision was made at a meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and the country's ministerial committee on foreign and security policy. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Students Say Authorities Ratcheting Up Pressure On Campus Over Dress Code
Iranian student organizations have reported a significant wave of summonses at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran in a continued tightening of supervision of the dress code after months of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
The country's Student Guild Councils reported on June 5 that, during the past week, a significant number of students from the University of Science and Technology were summoned to the Disciplinary Committee, as well as at least 11 professors. The reasons cited for these summonses ranged from a refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules to what university authorities have termed "inappropriate dress".
In addition to the summoning of students to the Disciplinary Committee, patrolling security forces have reportedly harassed students under the pretext of the dress code while they are walking on the university campus.
The Student Guild Councils said the intrusion into the lives of students has even extended to the dormitories, where curfew infractions have been cited.
In addition to students, at least 11 professors at the University of Science and Technology have also been summoned by the Faculty Disciplinary Board in recent days. They said they were summoned for signing a statement protesting against "the attacks carried out on schools and female students."
Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.
There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.
According to a report by the "Committee for Following Up on the Situation of Detainees," since the beginning of the nationwide protests in September 2022, more than 720 students have been arrested, some of whom are still under arrest.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iranian Embassy Reopens In Saudi Capital
Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 6, Saudi media reported, months after the two regional rivals agreed to end a diplomatic rift under a China-mediated deal. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to reestablish relations following years of hostility that has endangered stability in the Middle East and fueled regional conflicts including in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The deal was struck seven years after Sunni Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shi'ite Iran following the storming of its embassy in Tehran during a dispute over the execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
- By Current Time
Russian Anti-War Activist Deported From Kyrgyzstan Charged With Arson Attack
Russian anti-war activist and anarchist Aleksei Rozhkov was deported from Kyrgyzstan in late May and is currently in pretrial detention in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg for allegedly setting the building of a military recruitment center in the town of Beryozovsky on fire in March 2022, the Zona Solidarnosti (Solidarity Zone) rights project said on June 6. Rozhkov left Russia for Kyrgyzstan in December after Russian authorities equated arson attacks targeting military recruitment centers to terrorism amid a sharp rise in such incidents after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Sabalenka Says She Does Not Support War, Lukashenka After Defeating Ukrainian At French Open
Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka says she does not want her country to be in any conflict and she does not support the war in Ukraine or its authoritarian ruler. "I don't support war, meaning I don't support Alyaksandr Lukashenka," Sabalenka told a press conference on June 6 after her quarterfinal victory against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine at the French Open. Sabalenka opted out of press conferences last week, citing mental health reasons after being grilled about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Belarus being used as a staging ground for Russian troops. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Belarusian Prosecutors Seek 25 Years In Prison For Self-Exiled Activist
Prosecutors have asked the Minsk City Court to sentence self-exiled opposition activist Vadzim Prakopyeu to 25 years in prison on multiple charges, including coordinating an attempted arson attack at the house of a pro-government lawmaker, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, Aleh Haydukevich, in June 2021.
Prosecutor Maksim Chuprys asked Judge Syarhey Khrypach on June 6 to convict Prakopyeu on 14 charges related to terrorism and the illegal possession of firearms.
Prakopyeu and two former law enforcement officers, Ihar Chamyakin and Dzyanis Khamitsevich, are being tried separately in absentia after they fled the country and whose current whereabouts are unknown.
Fifteen other defendants in the case are involved in a separate trial that started on March 6.
Also on June 6, the @MAYDAYMog human rights group said that police in the city of Barysau near Minsk had arrested noted rights defender Aleh Matskevich on unspecified charges last week.
Separately, the Belarusian Interior Ministry published a video on June 6 which shows the leader of the People's Student Chorus at the Belarusian State University, Volha Minyankova, offering an apology for her refusal to bring her chorus to parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region controlled by Russian troops.
It is not clear whether Minyankova's "repentance" video statement was recorded under duress, or if she is currently in custody.
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election where Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner.
Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
U.S. Ex-General Says Russia Benefits From Dam Blast, Putin 'Likely' To Use Nuclear Weapons Rather Than Lose In Ukraine2
Destruction Of Major Dam In Ukraine Causes Massive Flooding, Raises Fears Of Environmental Disaster3
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Ready To Launch Its Long-Awaited Counteroffensive4
Ukrainian Military Says Forces Making Advances In Bakhmut Area5
Kyiv Using 'Ukrainian Storks' For Reconnaissance Over Bakhmut6
Kremlin Says Putin Mobilization Announcement Broadcast On Radio Stations Was 'Fake'7
Wagner Group Posts Video Of Russian Officer In Sign Of Rising Tensions With Army8
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine9
Belarusian Tennis Star Says She Does Not Support Ukraine War Or Lukashenka10
After The Flood: What We Know About The Destroyed Ukrainian Dam And Its Consequences