U.S. Religious-Freedom Commission Recommends Egypt Be Listed Among Worst Offenders
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom made the recommendation on April 28 to the Obama administration via its annual report, which it wrote after researching conditions for religious freedom in 28 countries.
The independent, bipartisan commission was created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and is charged with making policy recommendations to the president, State Department, and Congress.
As he released the report in Washington, Chairman Leonard Leo said his commission had over the past year "championed the rights of a wide range of religious communities: Uyghur Muslims in China, Shi'a and Ismaili Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Christians and Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and Indonesia, Jews in Venezuela, Christians and dissident Muslims in Iran, Buddhists in Vietnam and China, and a range of indigenous groups and movements in China, Egypt, Iraq, Vietnam, and a number of other countries."
The State Department has already named eight "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) for religious freedom: China, Eritrea, Iran, Burma, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The designation as a CPC can carry economic sanctions unless governments take steps to improve conditions. Leo said countries that carried this designation are "the world's worst violators of religious freedom."
President Barack Obama has not designated any additional countries of particular concern since taking office in 2009, which the commission said it regretted. Leo said he hoped the White House's newly appointed ambassador at large for religious freedom, Susan Johnson Cook, would decide to add some countries to the list.
Impunity In Egypt
This year, as last year, the commission again asked the State Department to add Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam to the list. And it added a new country -- Egypt.
The commission said it recommended that Egypt be named a CPC because of the "severe religious-freedom violations" that have occurred both before and after the mass protests that forced out longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.
"In [Mubarak's] waning months, religious-freedom conditions were rapidly deteriorating, and since his departure, we've seen nothing to indicate that these conditions have improved," Leo said.
"This is especially true on the impunity front, where attacks on religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians, but also disfavored Muslims, have risen."
Leo said the commission was calling on the United States, which has long-standing ties to Egypt's military, to redirect some of the defense assistance it gives Cairo to initiatives that would protect minorities and improve civil society.
Pakistan's Blasphemy Law
Commission member Nina Shea said that in Pakistan, blasphemy laws are deployed against all members of religious minority groups and dissenters within the majority Muslim community, "and frequently result in imprisonment."
"Pakistan is arguably the most glaring omission to the State Department's CPC list, as the government is both responsible for and tolerates egregious violations of religious freedom," Shea said.
"While the Zardari government has taken some positive actions to promote religious tolerance and remedy abuses, mainly through the actions of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, it has failed to protect religious freedom for all Pakistanis."
This year saw the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was Pakistan's minister for minority affairs and a longtime champion of religious freedom for all people. His death was attributed to his opposition to the country's blasphemy law.
His death followed the assassination in January of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, who also opposed the blasphemy law.
"While it is obvious that violations of religious freedom are a fundamental human rights concern, it is also true that they have strong national security implications," commission Chairman Leo said.
"For example, the recent assassinations of high-level officials in Pakistan serve to remind us how laws against blasphemy are destabilizing a critical U.S. ally, creating a climate of impunity by fueling hatred and violence against both Muslims and non-Muslims in the country."
Iranian Violations On The Rise
The commission again faulted Iran for continuing "to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused."
Iran has been on the State Department's CPC list since 1999.
Shea said that since the disputed 2009 presidential election, human rights and religious freedom in Iran had "regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic Revolution."
"Over the past year, religious minorities -- in particular, Baha'is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims -- faced intensified physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment,' Shea said.
"During the reporting period, the number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, harassing and threatening church members, and arresting, convicting, and imprisoning worshippers and church leaders, has significantly increased."
No Improvement In Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Turkmenistan was again recommended as a CPC because the commission found that "severe religious-freedom violations and official harassment of religious adherents persist" in the country.
The report notes that despite a few limited reforms by Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's government, "the country's laws, policies, and practices continue to violate international human rights norms, including those on freedom of religion or belief."
The government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov is again designated as a CPC by the commission for being what the commission called a "systematic and egregious violator of freedom of religion of belief."
The report says that the government "violates the full range of human rights and harshly penalizes individuals for independent religious activity, regardless of their religious affiliation." It criticizes a restrictive religion law that severely limits the rights of all religious communities and facilitates state control over them, particularly the majority Muslim community.
"The Uzbek government continues to arrest Muslims and repress individuals, groups, and mosques that do not conform to government-prescribed practices or that the government claims are associated with extremist political programs," the report notes, adding that this policy has resulted in the imprisonment of thousands of people, many of whom are denied due process and subjected to torture.
Russia, Kazakhstan On Watch List
Russia and Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Belarus all made the commission's Watch List, which is the next-worst category for religious-freedom violators.
Commissioner Felice Gaer said Russia again landed on the Watch List "due to the increasing concerns about limitations on religious freedom across the Russian Federation."
"Religious-freedom conditions in Russia continue to deteriorate. Over the past year, the government increased its use of antiextremist legislation against religious groups that are not known to use or advocate violence," Gaer said.
"National and local government officials also harassed Muslims and members of religious groups that they view as nontraditional."
Kazakhstan was named a country to be "closely monitored."
The commission did note what it called a "stunning triumph for the right to freedom of religion or belief" -- the January referendum in southern Sudan that saw citizens voting to separate from the north.
With that vote, southern Sudanese Christians and animists gained independence from what the commission called "the radical version of Islam" that the north had been trying to impose.
The commission noted another victory for religious freedom that came in March, when the UN Human Rights Council rebuffed efforts by some Muslim-majority countries to create an international blasphemy law.
The world body instead adopted a resolution against religious intolerance that excluded the infamous "defamation-of-religions" language of prior years.
written by Heather Maher
All Of The Latest News
Nobel Committee Champions Human Rights With 2022 Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights activists in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine against the backdrop of harsh crackdowns by Minsk and Moscow on dissent and the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.
The head of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said on October 7 that jailed Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian rights group Memorial, and Ukraine's Center For Civil Liberties, had been awarded the prize for 2022.
"The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.
"They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy."
The 60-year-old Byalyatski, who founded the Vyasna (Spring) rights group in Belarus, is currently in prison on tax evasion charges his supporters have rejected as politically motivated.
"The prize is an important recognition for all Belarusians fighting for freedom & democracy. All political prisoners must be released without delay," said Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader.
Since a 2020 presidential election handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in power despite opposition and international cries that the vote was rigged, thousands of people have been beaten, detained, and tortured by security forces for voicing dissent.
Paval Latushka, another Belarusian opposition politician, said the prize "motivates all of us to struggle and we are sure we will win against the dictatorship of Lukashenka."
Russia's Supreme Court shut Memorial, one of the country's most respected human rights organizations, last December saying the group had violated the controversial law on "foreign agents."
Memorial has since created a new group, Memorial, The Center To Defend Human Rights, which operates without the status of being a legal entity.
"Putin has banned Memorial, but the world recognizes true heros," said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.
The Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, founded in 2007, has worked to strengthen Ukraine's civil society while also pushing to further the rule of law and adherence to international law.
Its work documenting war crimes and human rights violations has gained importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
"Proud to be awarded #NobelPeacePrize, this is a recognition of work of many human rights activists in Ukraine and not only in Ukraine," the group said in a tweet.
Leaders Of Armenia, Azerbaijan Agree To Civilian EU Mission Along Border
The European Council says the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met on the sidelines of a summit in Prague and agreed to a civilian EU mission alongside their common border, where clashes last month killed more than 200 people in the worst flare-up of fighting between the two Caucasus neighbors since 2020.
The council said in a statement on October 7 that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in the presence of the EU Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the margins of the first gathering of the European Political Community.
Pashinian agreed to “facilitate a civilian EU mission alongside the border with Azerbaijan,” according to the statement released early on October 7.
Azerbaijan “agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned,” the statement said.
The civilian European Union mission will start later this month and will last for a maximum of two months, the statement said, adding that the next meeting of a border delimitation commission will take place in Brussels by the end of the month.
The statement said the two sides have reaffirmed the recognition of each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
"Armenia and Azerbaijan confirmed their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Alma Ata 1991 Declaration through which both recognize each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty," the statement said.
"The aim of this mission is to build confidence and, through its reports, to contribute to the border commissions," the council said.
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.
The two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russia-brokered cease-fire resulted in Armenia losing control over parts of the region, which is part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent districts.
Under the cease-fire Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
EU Leaders Meet In Prague To Seek Common Approach To Energy Crisis
EU leaders meeting at an informal summit in Prague on October 7 are set to look into ways to smooth over differences on how to tackle soaring energy prices as the 27-member bloc grapples with the fallout from Russia's war on Ukraine.
Gas and electricity prices have skyrocketed after Russia turned off the taps in response to the EU slapping successive waves of sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
There are sharp disagreements among member states over how to tackle the energy crisis and how best to try to bring down prices.
Several member states support capping gas prices while others, including Germany, warn of the risks.
The risk of curbing prices from energy suppliers was highlighted on October 5 by the OPEC+ oil cartel's move to cut crude extraction in a gesture of defiance of Western efforts to choke Russia's source of revenue.
EU executive chief Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a "roadmap" of measures to help ease the burden -- including a potential price cap.
"We are at a critical juncture once more. The energy crisis is severe and has entered a new stage," von der Leyen wrote to the leaders.
"Only a common European response can reduce energy costs for families and businesses and provide energy security for this and coming winters."
Von der Leyen did not provide details of how such a response could be implemented.
Ideas for gas price measures include capping the price of Russian gas imports, reducing the price of other gas imports, limiting the price of gas used for electricity generation, and capping the price of gas transactions within the bloc.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address the summit via video link from Kyiv as the EU seeks ways to maintain its economic and military support for Ukraine and hold a tough line against Moscow.
Kyiv has been calling on Brussels to accelerate its much needed economic support after the bloc on October 3 signed a memorandum of understanding to provide 5 billion euros ($4.9 billion).
The summit is also set to look into ways to better protect critical European infrastructure in the wake of leaks from the Nord Stream pipelines carrying gas from Russia to Europe that have been blamed on "sabotage."
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
Biden Says Risk Of Nuclear 'Armageddon' High As Moscow Sustains More Ukraine Setbacks
Ukrainian forces pressed ahead with their counteroffensive to liberate Moscow-occupied territories, handing Russian forces a series of defeats that have prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to warn the threat of the Kremlin using nuclear weapons was the highest in six decades.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled threats to use his nuclear arsenal in Ukraine, and Biden told U.S. media on October 6 that Putin was "not joking."
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.
"We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [the time of U.S. President John F.] Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis" in 1962, Biden said in New York, adding that "we're trying to figure out what is Putin's off-ramp."
In 1962, the United States under Kennedy and the Soviet Union under its leader, Nikita Khrushchev, came close to using nuclear weapons over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Russia last week officially incorporated four Ukrainian regions that it only partially controls in a move that violated international law, and Putin, who marks his 70th birthday on October 7, said Moscow would see Ukrainian attacks on those regions as attacks on Russia itself and would use all means to defend them.
The move came amid rapid Ukrainian advances, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announcing on October 6 more wins in Kherson, one of the four regions claimed by Moscow.
"More than 500 square kilometers have been liberated from Russian occupiers in the Kherson region alone" since the start of the month, Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address.
The recaptured territory was home to dozens of towns and villages that had been occupied by Russian forces for months, southern army command spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said.
Kherson, a region with an estimated prewar population of around 1 million people, was captured early and easily by Moscow's troops after their invasion launched on February 24.
Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were also advancing in Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and voiced optimism about recapturing territory lost in the southeast in Zaporyzhzhya -- the fourth of the regions illegally declared by Moscow as part of the Russian Federation.
"There are successes in the east as well. The day will surely come when we will report on successes in the Zaporyzhzhya region as well, in those areas that the occupiers still control," the president said.
The claims could not be independently verified.
Russian forces, meanwhile, struck the city of Zaporyzhzhya again on October 6. A missile demolished an apartment block and killed 11 people in the city, the emergency services said.
In a separate video address to a new security and energy cooperation forum gathered in Prague, Zelenskiy accused Russia of deliberately targeting the same spot twice in succession.
"In Zaporyzhzhya, after the first rocket strike today, when people came to pick apart the rubble, Russia conducted a second rocket strike. Absolute vileness, absolute evil," he told the European Political Community.
Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians.
In the Kharkiv region in the northeast, a Ukrainian general said on October 6 that Kyiv's forces had advanced up to about 55 kilometers over the past two weeks.
In the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian troops had blown up a dam near the city of Slavyansk as they withdrew, inundating the nearby town of Rayhorodok.
The report could not be independently confirmed.
As Ukrainian forces continued to make advances into several of the four regions seized by Moscow, a senior Russian lawmaker called on military officials to tell the truth about developments on the ground.
"We need to stop lying," the chairman of the lower house of parliament's defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, told a journalist from state-run media.
"The reports of the Defense Ministry do not change. The people know. Our people are not stupid. This can lead to loss of credibility."
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Russian Service
European Parliament President Says Citizens Must Know Sanctions Are Price Paid For Democracy
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola hinted that the European Union could impose more sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying in an interview with RFE/RL that the bloc's citizens must understand "the price that is being paid for democracy has to continue to be paid."
Metsola, who spoke with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the European Political Community on October 6 in Prague, said the impact of sanctions imposed thus far is starting to be felt and more could be drafted.
"If you ask the European Parliament, there can always be more sanctions. There can always be more people put on the sanctions list," she said.
While saying the sanctions "have started to bite," she added: "Are they enough to bring [Russian President Vladimir] Putin down? Are there enough to make sure that the circle around Putin's regime actually feels them? I would say that we need to do more," she said.
The EU’s eighth sanctions package targeting Russia over its war in Ukraine was officially adopted on October 6 after gaining final approval the previous day.
The package, which was formalized in the absence of any objections from the 27 EU members, is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.
Metsola, a Maltese politician who has been president of the European Parliament since January, acknowledged there have been concerns over how much longer EU citizens be willing to take the toughest of measures amid soaring energy costs and inflation, but said it's important that "Ukraine fatigue" does not set in.
The recent "sham" referendums that Russia organized in four occupied territories combined with Putin's "panicked" military mobilization had the opposite effect, she said.
"I don't think that fatigue has set in yet," she added, noting that Europe welcomed 7 million Ukrainians who fled the war.
Metsola also expressed concern about "gaps" in the enforcement of sanctions particularly among some countries that would like to join the EU or are on the path to join.
But she said she would look at all countries in terms of enforcement, whether member states, EU member hopefuls, or EU neighboring countries.
With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak
European Leaders Hold Inaugural Meeting Of New Forum In Context Of War In Ukraine
Leaders from more than 40 countries gathered for the inaugural summit of a new forum aiming to bring Europe together in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.
The stated aim of the 44-member European Political Community -- a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron -- is to improve cooperation between European Union countries and nonmembers such as Britain, Turkey, and the states of the Western Balkans and the Caucasus region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not invited, and the war in Ukraine loomed over the meeting as discussions focused on the economic and security turmoil sparked by Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion.
The summit on October 6 in Prague was billed as "a platform for political coordination," but there were few concrete outcomes, though Macron was upbeat.
"It sends first of all a message of unity," Macron said. "The objective is first of all to share a common reading of the situation affecting our Europe and also to build a common strategy."
Among those who attended at the historic Prague Castle on October 6 are the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Switzerland.
"If you just look at the attendance here, you see the importance," said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
"The whole European continent is here, except two countries: Belarus and Russia. So it shows how isolated those two countries are."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Europe to punish Moscow and up arms supplies in a video address.
"Here and now, I urge you to make a basic decision. A decision about purpose for this community of ours. For this format of ours," Zelenskiy said. "We, the leaders of Europe, can become the leaders of peace. Our European political community can become a European community of peace."
British Prime Minister Liz Truss stressed that the meeting was not an "EU construct" as she focused on unity and security.
"It is very important that we work with our neighbors and allies to face down Putin but also deal with the issues we face," she told U.K. broadcasters.
Among the important meetings on the sidelines of the summit was the first face-to-face meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev since deadly clashes between the foes last month in the worst violence since a 2020 war.
The sit-down with Macron and European Council President Charles Michel to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh came as the two sides look to draft the text of a future peace treaty.
"I hope [the] outcome of the meeting will be positive," Aliyev said prior to the meeting in response to a question from RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "Talks will advance and we’ll eventually sign a peace treaty."
The next meeting of the European Political Community will be held in Moldova at the suggestion of Michel. The proposal was met with approval from European leaders gathered in Prague, a spokesperson for Michel said.
Moldova, bordering Ukraine and one of the poorest countries in Europe, is not a member of the European Union but was granted candidate status for membership in June.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, politico.eu, and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
Opposition In Bosnia's Republika Srpska Presses For Vote Recount Alleging Voter Fraud
Representatives of the opposition in Republika Srpska and their supporters gathered on October 6 in Banja Luka to protest the results of the election for president of Republika Srpska on October 2 and to press their demand for a recount.
The central streets of Banja Luka were blocked by the protest march, which police said drew about 2,500 people.
Organizers said the turnout was more than 30,000 people, who marched through Banja Luka without incident before gathering on the town's main square.
"Mile, thief!" and "Mile, go away!" they chanted in a reference to longtime nationalist leader Milorad Dodik.
The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the List for Justice and Order are demanding a recount of votes for president amid reports of dozens of election irregularities.
The opposition parties in Republika Srpska, one of two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, maintain the candidate they backed, Jelena Trivic (PDP), defeated Dodik.
"It is not me who was robbed, it is the popular will, it is the people of Republika Srpska, and I will never recognize that," Trivic -- a 39-year-old professor of economics -- told the crowd.
"They rob the people every day of the year, but on [election] day the people were robbed in a brutal and mafia-style way," she added.
According to the results counted so far by the Central Election Commission, Dodik of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) won about 281,000 votes. Trivic won around 252,000 votes, or around 30,000 fewer votes.
Dodik, who has denied the election fraud allegations, has been the most powerful politician in Republika Srpska for years. He has close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while the United States and Britain have sanctioned him for allegedly trying to undermine peace and stability in the country.
The opposition and Trivic said the protesters who marched on October 6 were "defending the constitutional order of the Republika Srpska."
Milan Radovic, deputy president of the SDS, said the protests "defend the will of the people and the votes. If you keep pushing, Banja Luka will be full of people, so let's show who won the elections."
Trivic and the opposition parties that support her claim that votes were stolen on election night in the cities of Prijedor, Zvornik, and Doboj.
"We want to open those famous bags and reveal the real truth," said Branislav Borenovic, leader of the PDP.
A coalition of civil organizations that monitored the elections recorded 83 serious election irregularities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina during the vote.
These include violations of the voting process, violations of rules pertaining to assistance in voting, and pressure on voters.
The Prosecutor-General's Office and the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) received 27 reports from citizens.
The election for the Republika Srpska presidency was one of several contests held on October 2 that saw a range of candidates run for posts in the Balkan country's two entities.
Bosnia-Herzegovina has been governed by an administrative system created by the Dayton peace accords in 1995 that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.
With reporting by AFP and AP
U.S. Hits Hijab Compliance Officer, Other Iranians With Sanctions Over Crackdown On Protests
The United States has imposed sanctions on seven high-ranking Iranian officials over the shutdown of Internet access in the country and the “continued violence against peaceful protesters” following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the morality police.
Among those designated for sanctions on October 6 is Yadollah Javani, the lthe police chief in Tehran who oversees much of the morality police’s activities to ensure hijab compliance in the capital.
Amini was detained on September 13 by the morality police for improperly wearing a hijab, the head scarf women must wear in public under Iranian law.
The U.S. Treasury Department said that, in addition to Javani, the officials designated for sanctions include Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, Communications Minister Eisa Zarepour, and Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, the head of the Iranian Cyberpolice.
The United States also targeted Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials Hossein Nejat, a commander who it said heads the security apparatus based in Tehran that is charged with quelling anti-government protests.
The designations together with the release of a license authorizing exports of additional tools to assist Iranians in accessing the Internet demonstrate U.S. commitment to free, peaceful assembly, and open communication, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in the statement that the United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and "continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions."
The sanctions designation freezes any assets or property interests owned by the seven officials in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving them without special permission from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Since Amini's death on September 16, anti-government street protests have rocked the country, and the government has responded with a fierce crackdown.
Human Rights Watch said that at least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed over the past 18 days during the protests over Amini's death.
Amnesty International said on October 6 that at least 66 were killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in southeastern Iran during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on September 30.
Authorities have reported numerous deaths among the security forces and have accused foreign adversaries, including the United States and Israel, of meddling to destabilize Iran.
On September 22, the United States imposed sanctions on the morality police and other senior leaders of Iran’s security organizations over allegations concerning the abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Two Russians Apply For Asylum In U.S. State Of Alaska After Fleeing To Avoid Military Service
Two Russians who said they fled their home country to avoid compulsory military service have requested asylum in the United States after landing on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski's office said on October 6.
A spokeswoman for Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) said Murkowski's office has been in communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about the two Russians.
"The Russian nationals reported that they fled one of the coastal communities on the east coast of Russia to avoid compulsory military service," said Karina Borger.
Murkowski and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (Republican-Alaska) issued a statement saying they were trying to determine who the individuals are.
"Given current heightened tensions with Russia, I called the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and spoke to him as well as another senior DHS official when I was first contacted about this situation on Tuesday morning by a senior community leader from the Bering Strait region,” Murkowski said in the statement.
She said since those calls, CBP has been “responding and going through the process to determine the admissibility of these individuals to enter the United States.”
The statement said the individuals landed at a beach near Gambell, an isolated community on St. Lawrence Island about 320 kilometers southwest of Nome and about 58 kilometers from the Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia.
A DHS statement quoted by the AP said the individuals arrived on a small boat on October 4. The statement did not provide details on where the individuals came from, their journey, or the asylum request.
They have been "transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then subsequently processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act," the statement said.
With reporting by AP
West Rebuked In UN Rights Council Vote To Debate China's Treatment Of Uyghur Muslims
In a rare defeat for Western nations at the UN Human Rights Council, developing nations voted down a motion to hold a debate over alleged human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region after a UN report found possible crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslims.
The motion, pushed for by the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, was defeated 19-17 with 11 abstentions as countries from Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East banded together.
Many developing countries in the 47-member council are thought to have avoided publicly defying Beijing for fear of jeopardizing Chinese investment.
It was only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected, prompting some analysts to characterize the failure as a setback to both accountability efforts and the West's moral authority.
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, noted extreme disappointment with the fact that Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and Qatar all voted down the motion.
"This is a disaster. This is really disappointing," Isa said.
The vote came about after then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a report describing China's "appalling treatment" of Uyghurs and other minorities.
Bachelet's report, which followed a trip to the region, came just minutes before she left her post on August 31.
China has been accused for years of detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region.
The UN Human Rights Office could not confirm how many people were affected by the centers but concluded that the system operated on a "wide scale" across the entire region.
Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Initial Probe Of Nord Stream Leaks Strengthens Sabotage Suspicions, Swedish Investigators Say
Sweden's security police and prosecutor's office say a preliminary investigation into leaks from two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea has strengthened suspicions of sabotage as the cause.
The Swedish Security Police said on October 6 that the probe confirmed that “detonations" caused “extensive damage” to the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last week.
The service didn't give details about its investigation, but a separate statement from the Swedish prosecutor who led the preliminary investigation said “seizures have been made at the crime scene and these will now be investigated.”
The prosecutor, Mats Ljungqvist, did not identify the seized evidence, but he said he had given “directives to temporarily block [the area] and carry out a crime scene investigation."
The governments of Denmark and Sweden previously said they suspected that several hundred pounds of explosives were involved in carrying out a deliberate act of sabotage.
The EU and NATO also called the explosions “sabotage,” with some EU officials accusing Russia of being behind the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and pointed the finger at the United States, an accusation that Washington immediately dismissed.
Leaks in four places along the pipelines in the Swedish and Danish exclusive economic zones in the Baltic Sea lasted about a week, discharging huge amounts of methane into the air.
The pipelines -- built to carry Russian natural gas supplied by Kremlin-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom to Germany -- were filled with Russian gas at the time of the explosions, but were not operational due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine and tensions with Russia.
Russia earlier this year slashed exports through Nord Stream 1, claiming Western sanctions on equipment and services impaired its ability to maintain the pipeline. Nord Stream 2, the newer pipeline, was never put into operation.
The Nord Stream operators, based in Switzerland, said this week that they were unable to inspect the damaged sections because of restrictions imposed by Danish and Swedish authorities who had cordoned off the area.
The statement from Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the area where gas spewed out was no longer cordoned off.
Russia said on October 6 that it had been informed through diplomatic channels that it was not able to join the investigation.
"As of now, there are no plans to ask the Russian side to join investigations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow replied it was not possible to conduct an objective investigation without its participation.
Sweden's justice minister said it was not possible to let others take part in a Swedish criminal investigation.
Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told Reuters on October 6 that his ministry had not told Russia to stay out of the investigation, but that a police-led taskforce comprising members from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany was in charge of the investigation.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa
Three Jehovah's Witness Get Prison Terms In Russian-Annexed Crimea Amid Crackdown
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced three Jehovah's Witnesses to prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.
The Crimean Solidarity human rights group said on October 6 that the Nakhimov district court in the city of Sevastopol sentenced Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada to six years in prison each after finding them guilty of organizing activities for the group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017 but is legal in Ukraine.
The court also ruled that, after serving their prison terms, the three men will be placed under parole-like controls for one year. They were also banned from publicly expressing their views and from publishing articles in media and on the Internet for seven years after finishing their prison sentences.
The case against Zhukov, Maladyka, Sakada, and a fourth believer, Ihor Shmidt, was launched in October 2020 after their homes were searched.
Shmidt was tried separately and sentenced to six year in prison in late October last year.
Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.
The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.
For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.
The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.
According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were either convicted of extremism or are being held in pretrial detention.
The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who've been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.
Russia Submits Preliminary Objection To Genocide Case Brought By Ukraine In UN Court
Russia has submitted a preliminary objection to a genocide case brought by Ukraine against Russia, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on October 6.
The UN’s highest court said on Twitter that it had received the filing, which has not been made public, on October 3.
Moscow argued in a letter to the court earlier this year that the court -- the UN’s highest for disputes between states -- did not have jurisdiction because the Genocide Convention does not regulate the use of force between states.
Parties can file preliminary objections with the ICJ if they believe the court does not have jurisdiction.
Ukraine filed the case shortly after Russia's invasion began on February 24, saying that Moscow's stated justification for the invasion -- that it was acting to prevent a genocide in eastern Ukraine -- was unfounded.
During hearings in March, Ukraine said there was no threat of genocide in eastern Ukraine, and that the UN's 1948 Genocide Convention, which both countries have signed, does not allow an invasion to prevent an invasion.
ICJ judges subsequently ordered Russia to stop the invasion as an emergency measure while it looked into the merits of Ukraine's claim.
The Kremlin rejected that order, saying both sides would have to agree to end the hostilities for the ruling to be implemented.
The next step in the case will be a hearing on the objection against the jurisdiction of the court. No date has been set.
The Hague-based ICJ resolves legal complaints submitted by states over alleged breaches of international law. It is the supreme judicial institution of the United Nations.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Amnesty Says Dozens Killed By Iranian Security Forces In Southeast Amid Protests
Amnesty International said dozens have been killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province as unrest across Iran continues to build.
The rights group said in a report on October 6 that Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders, and worshippers during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 September in Zahedan.
Since then, another 16 people were killed in separate incidents in Zahedan amid an ongoing clampdown on protests that have broadened in recent weeks since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody after being detained for improperly wearing an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
“The Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in the report.
"The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lackluster response by the international community,” she added.
Since Amini's death on September 16, anti-government street protests have rocked the country.
Reports overnight on October 5 said demonstrations took place in the cities of Talesh, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Qom and Tehran.
In the northern Iranian city of Talesh, a group of young people blocked the streets by lighting fires, while in the western city of Kermanshah, a group of women rallied under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom." In a sign of support, passing cars continuously honked their horns.
In the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, many people gathered in the residential areas of the city and chanted "Don't be afraid; We are all together."
In Tehran, groups of girls took off their hijab while accompanied by boys, and then marched defiantly in the Tajrish neighborhood, while in another part of the city a group of protesters confronted security forces with the slogans "Shameless" and "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In a video sent to RFERL’s Radio Farda, security forces on motorcycles can be seen firing tear gas at protesters' cars in Tehran's Parkway neighborhood.
Amnesty's death toll for Zahedan comes after Human Rights Watch said that at least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed over the past 18 days during the protests over Amini's death.
"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said on October 5.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Belarusian Strongman Lukashenka Bans Price Hikes To Curb Inflation
MINSK -- Belarus' authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has banned price increases as he looks to tackle accelerating inflation in a country wracked by Western sanctions over his disputed election and support for Russia in Moscow's war against Ukraine.
Lukashenka announced the move on October 6 at a meeting with government officials.
"As of the 6th [of October], all price increases are banned. Banned! As of today. Not tomorrow, today. This is so no one can drive up prices in the next 24 hours. That is why price increases are banned as of today," Lukashenka said.
Lukashenka explained his decision by citing what he called an "outrageous" rise in food prices in recent months.
"Prices cannot go higher... But there are exclusions, and those exclusions are under the control of the [economy] minister and governors," Lukashenka added without providing further details.
Lukashenka said that for the January-September period, inflation was 13 percent, and could have quickened further to 19 percent by the end of the year if no measure had been undertaken.
He ordered the government and the central bank to take measures to slow inflation to 7-8 percent by January 2023.
Four Belarusian Journalists Handed Prison Terms As Lukashenka's Crackdown Continues
MINSK -- Four journalists from the banned BelaPAN news agency have been handed prison terms as the Belarusian government continues to crack down on independent media following mass protests sparked by a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Judge Vyachaslau Tuleyka of the Minsk regional court on October 6 sentenced BelaPAN's former Deputy Director Andrey Alyaksandrau to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason, organizing illegal rallies, and tax evasion.
Alyaksadrau's wife, journalist Iryna Zlobina, was found guilty of high treason and organizing illegal rallies and sentenced to nine years in prison.
BelaPAN's former director, Dzmitry Navazhylau, and chief editor Iryna Leushyna were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively on tax evasion changes.
The journalists, who went on trial in June, have rejected the charges. The case against them was launched last year after police searched BelaPAN's headquarters.
In late 2020, several BelaPAN journalists fled the country following another wave of searches by police of homes of independent journalists.
Lukashenka, 68 and in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country since the election by arresting -- sometimes violently -- tens of thousands of people. Fearing for their safety, most opposition members have fled the country.
The West has refused to recognize the results of the election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader. Many countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime in response to the suppression of dissent in the country.
Despite Recent Statements, Russia Says It's Committed To Avoiding Nuclear War
Russia says it is remains "fully committed" to avoiding a nuclear conflict amid global concerns that recent statements from the Kremlin indicated atomic weapons are an option if Moscow's war on Ukraine escalates.
"The Russian Federation, to the full extent, sticks to the principle of not allowing a nuclear war to unfold... We have said and confirmed that many times. There will be no winners in such a war and it must never be unleashed," Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on October 6.
President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials have said in recent days that they are not "bluffing" with their statements that Moscow "has a right to use all its military means to defend its territories," including "newly joined regions."
Many in the West have taken that to mean the use of nuclear weapons by Russia is not off the table.
According to Russia's military doctrine, the country has a right to use nuclear weapons in case if there is a threat to the country's existence.
Based on reporting by RIA Novosti and TASS
EU Formalizes Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia
The European Union's eighth sanctions package on Russia over its war in Ukraine was officially adopted on October 6 after gaining final approval the previous day, the bloc's executive arm said.
The package, which was formalized on October 6 in the absence of any objections from the 27 EU members, is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.
The European Commission welcomed the adoption of what it called fresh hard-hitting sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.
"This package -- which has been closely coordinated with our international partners -- responds to Russia's continued escalation and illegal war against Ukraine, including by illegally annexing Ukrainian territory based on sham 'referenda,' mobilizing additional troops, and issuing open nuclear threats," the commission said in a statement.
The new sanctions, which the bloc says will deprive Russia of a further 7 billion euros ($6.9 billion) in revenues, extend a ban on imports from Russia of steel and steel products, imports of wood pulp and paper, imports of machinery and appliances not yet covered by existing sanctions. They also extend a ban on imports of intermediate chemicals, plastics, and cigarettes.
Additionally, the sanctions ban the export of EU goods used in aviation, such as tires and brakes, and they extend a ban on the export of electric components, including certain semiconductors and less sophisticated components than those already banned.
In addition, the sanctions ban the export of certain chemical substances, nerve agents, and goods that have “no practical use other than for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The sanctions also target more individuals at the Russian Defense Ministry, people involved in Moscow's referendum votes in occupied parts of four regions of Ukraine, and those participating in evading sanctions.
Notably, the eighth package of punitive measures includes a ban on EU citizens sitting on the boards of Russian state companies.
"Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise," the commission said, in an apparent nod to popular outrage over the cases of Gerhard Schroeder and Francois Fillon -- former top European politicians who subsequently took jobs on Russian boards.
The EU said it was motivated to impose the sanctions by Russia’s repeated threat to use weapons of mass destruction, a reference to Putin’s comments that he would defend Russian territory “with any means at our disposal.”
The sanctions stop short of imposing measures sought by Poland and the Baltic states, including a complete ban on nuclear energy cooperation, diamond imports, and the blacklisting of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"The package could have been far stronger," said Andrzej Sados, Poland's ambassador to the EU. "But given that we require unanimity...it is important that we have this strong response to Russia's latest aggressive steps."
The new sanctions package also includes a price cap on maritime transport to third countries of Russian crude oil. It does not affect the exceptions allowing certain EU member states to continue importing crude oil and petroleum products from Russia by pipeline.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Uzbek City Mayor Arrested On Embezzlement Charges
The mayor of Uzbekistan's southern border city of Termiz has been arrested on embezzlement charges, an official close to the city administration told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.
According to the official, who spoke to RFE/RL on October 5, Isroil Khudoiberdiev was fired from the post on September 21 and is currently under arrest along with his deputy, Gairat Elamanov.
A source close to the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL that the charges against Khudoiberdiev and Elamanov stem from the construction of a large food market in the city on the border with Afghanistan, which was completed in 2020.
Khudoiberdiev has served as the mayor of Termiz since 2017.
Khudoiberdiev's arrest comes amid a house cleaning by President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has fired mayors and governors of 14 cities and districts in the last 10 days.
London-based analyst Alisher Ilhamov told RFE/RL that corruption among mayors and governors in Central Asia's most-populous nation of some 35 million is a big problem, emphasizing the lack of transparency in the regional leaders' activities.
According to Ilhamov, if mayors and local governors were elected by residents instead of being appointed by Tashkent, they would be more accountable to voters and therefore more transparent with their decisions and operations on a regular basis.
"The accountability of governors to the people can be established only via elections. We remember Mirziyoev's words, when he promised right after he came to power [in 2016] to introduce a system of elections of governors and mayors. That has never been done," Ilhamov said.
Amnesty Calls For Halt In Retribution Sentences In Iran As Three Await Blinding
Amnesty International has issued a demand for Iran to immediately end carrying out retribution sentences as three inmates await being blinded, part of what the rights group called an "alarming" increase in such punishments.
In a statement issued on October 5, Amnesty said two men and a woman were at "imminent risk" of judicially sanctioned blinding after their cases were sent to a unit of the judiciary in Tehran to carry out the sentences under the principle of "qesas" (retribution in kind).
"[We] call on you to immediately stop any plans to implement any blinding sentences, and quash the blinding sentences of all three as they amount to torture, and grant them fair retrials without resorting to corporal punishments," Amnesty said in the statement.
Islamic law adheres to the notion of an "eye for an eye" under the qesas principle. Victims or their families have the final say in such cases and can stop the punishment.
The implementation of corporal punishment under Islamic law, including lashings, amputations, and blinding, is controversial in Iran, where many citizens have criticized it as inhumane and barbaric.
Such retribution sentences used to be rare but have increased in frequency since 2015.
Human rights groups say the punishments violate international laws and amount to torture and the cruel treatment of those convicted while requiring doctors to administer such procedures violates medical ethical codes.
In the past, Iranian officials have admitted that it has been difficult to find medical professionals willing to carry out punishments.
"Iran is a state party to ICCPR [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and as such is legally obliged to prohibit and punish torture in all circumstances and without exception," Amnesty said.
Amnesty International has previously said that the penalties expose "the utter brutality of Iran’s justice system and underlines the Iranian authorities' shocking disregard for basic humanity."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Kara-Murza Additionally Charged With Treason
MOSCOW -- Jailed Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza reportedly has been charged with high treason.
Russian media quoted unnamed law enforcement officials and sources as saying that the high-treason charge against Kara-Murza stems from his alleged cooperation with organizations in a NATO member for many years.
If convicted, the staunch Kremlin opponent faces up to 20 years in prison.
The 41-year-old politician was detained in April and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disobeying a police order. He was later charged with spreading false information about the Russian military while speaking to lawmakers in the U.S. state of Arizona.
Kara-Murza has rejected the charge, calling it politically motivated.
His lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told TASS on October 6 that the treason charge against Kara-Murza stems from speeches he gave at events in Lisbon, Helsinki, and Washington that criticized the Kremlin's rule.
“These speeches did not carry any threat to the country; it was public, open criticism,” Prokhorov said, according to TASS.
His arrest comes amid a mounting crackdown on Russian opposition figures and any dissent to the ongoing war in Ukraine that Moscow launched against its neighbor on February 24.
In August, Kara-Murza was additionally charged with carrying out activities of an undesirable organization for taking part in organizing a conference in Moscow last year to support political prisoners in Russia that was sponsored by the foreign-based Free Russia Foundation. That group has been declared "undesirable" in Russia.
The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.
Russian lawmakers have since dramatically widened the scope of the law, including to bar Russian nationals and organizations anywhere in the world from taking part in the activities of such "undesirable" groups.
In early March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian military that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza is best known for falling deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.
Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of "intentional poisoning."
U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.
With reporting by TASS, RT, and Izvestia
Schmidt Says Bosnian Election-Night Decrees Have Country 'On Right Track'
High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schmidt says he's pleased with the "definite momentum" in the Balkan country since his dramatic election-night intervention to alter and unblock key institutions.
In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL, he also said that while "the country has priority and should make decisions on its own," he could invoke his international authority again "if I don't see another way to solve problems or difficulties."
Schmidt also acknowledged that his amendment of election laws, the constitution, and the formation of the legislature in the Bosniak and Croat federation that makes up half of Bosnia was motivated by the desire to avert a "blockade" by the largest ethnic Croatian party, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZBiH).
"It seems to me that we are somewhat on the right track," Schmidt said in the German-language interview on October 5.
Critics have accused Schmidt, the UN's overseer of civilian and administrative aspects of the 26-year-old peace deal that still governs Bosnia along ethnic lines, of dealing a major blow to Bosnian democracy by using his so-called "Bonn powers" to sidestep local officials.
But he said his move "is not a test of who will win here" but rather allows elected politicians to "show what they know and can do" to overcome decades of political stalemate.
"I think that we have reached a certain stage, and some other things must happen for sure -- yes, there are some weaknesses -- but I think that overall we can still say that we are on the right path, and that's how I understood everyone I talked to [after the election], including the representatives 'under scrutiny.'"
Bosnia is made up of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a majority Bosniak and minority Croatian population, and the Republika Srpska, where majority Serbs led by Milorad Dodik have threatened secession.
Schmidt cited leaders' inability to form a government or appoint a president within the federation since elections in 2018, despite the HDZBiH party's popularity among Croats, as a major factor in his decision to intervene.
"That is absurd," said Schmidt, who took over as high representative with wide-ranging powers just over a year ago. "Until now, the situation was such that we had this blockade, which was created by the HDZ," he said.
Schmidt's election-day changes to the upcoming process of cantonal appointments and a new 30-day deadline mean "that blockade won't be able to go on like that anymore."
"I think that, because of that, it is a very pragmatic and correct decision," he told RFE/RL.
Two of the three seats in the ethnically partitioned Bosnian presidency were won by moderates over more ethno-nationalist candidates, with the exception being the victory of a Dodik ally for the Serbs' seat.
Losers included the HDZBiH's nominee, feeding long-running resentment that majority Bosniak votes can tip the balance for the Croats' seat.
Schmidt said his tenure so far had "really made a strong impression on me how big the difference is between the ruling political structures and normal people."
That situation "is something that needs to be broken, and the high representative cannot do it alone -- that must be done by the citizens."
Schmidt said he'd therefore amended the federation's constitution to give lawmakers one year to adopt legislation to allow citizens to submit proposed laws to parliament.
Responding to questions about Russia and Serbia's perceived encouragement of Bosnian Serb secessionist efforts, Schmidt said he spoke by phone with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on October 5 and said both men "are basically of the same opinion here and we believe the Dayton agreement [of 1995] must be accepted and the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina is inviolable."
"People don't want war here...and I think that Mr. Dodik also knows that," he said.
He cited Russia's aggression against Ukraine and said that while Moscow's influence in Bosnia remained to be seen, "I don't think that we currently have any acute danger for Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Schmidt said he desired "strongly...that in the coming years [Bosnia] will finally start the path toward European integration."
Kazakh Opposition Activists Detained At Rally Demanding Jailed Leader's Release
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Several activists from the unregistered opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (KDP) have detained during a rally in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, where they were demanding the immediate release of their jailed leader, Zhanbolat Mamai.
Dozens of KDP activists marched from a subway station in Almaty toward the headquarters of the ruling Amanat party on October 6 chanting "Down with Amanat (the ruling party) that served [former Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev," and "Free Zhanbolat!"
Police officers followed the activists as they marched.
When the activists reached Amanat headquarters, they unfolded posters saying "[President Qasym-Zhomart] Toqaev, release Zhanbolat!"
At that moment, police began detaining the activists and taking them away in police cars.
One of the detained activists, Aruzhan Duisebaeva, told RFE/RL by phone that police beat at least one of the activists while in custody.
The rally was held the day after a court in Almaty extended Mamai's pretrial detention until at least November 12.
Mamai, who was arrested in February, may face up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests in January, which he and his supporters reject as politically motivated.
Mamai, known for his strong criticism of the authoritarian government, has been trying to register the KDP for years but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government.
He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.
Meanwhile, the ruling Amanat party at its congress on October 6 in Astana, the capital, officially proposed incumbent Toqaev as its candidate for an early presidential election scheduled for November 20.
Large Demonstration In Budapest Demands Better Conditions For Teachers
Tens of thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated in Budapest against low pay and poor working conditions for teachers, who have launched an "I want to teach" campaign and called for civil disobedience to demand higher wages.
The demonstration on October 5 started with students forming a chain stretching for kilometers across Budapest, and students temporarily blocking a downtown bridge in the morning.
The protest later grew into the biggest anti-government demonstration since Prime Minister Viktor Orban's reelection in April.
Protesters carried posters that read "We are with our teachers" and "No teachers, no future." One banner said, "Do not fire our teachers" and another said, "For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present."
The demonstration was organized by civilians in solidarity with teachers who were fired due to civil disobedience actions.
Orban's government has said it can only meet teachers' demands once the European Union releases billions of euros of long-held-up pandemic recovery funds.
Brussels has not yet signed off on the release because of corruption concerns and rule-of-law disputes.
A month ago, thousands demonstrated for better working conditions for teachers, some of whom temporarily stopped work in protest as schools reopened after summer recess.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
HRW Says Iran 'Ruthlessly' Stifles Protests, Calls For International Action
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Tehran of employing excessive repressive measures, including lethal force, against participants in weeks-long nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death last month of a young woman arrested by Iran's morality police.
Mahsa Amini died on September 16, three days after being detained by morality police because of "improperly" wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is mandatory for women in Iran to wear while in public.
Authorities said the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, an allegation rejected by her family and activists, who say she was subjected to beatings while in custody.
Her death has sparked a wave of protests across the country despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown on any dissent will continue.
At least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest, according to a human rights group.
HRW said it had so far compiled a list of 47 individuals who have been killed, most by bullets, according to rights groups or credible media outlets. The names included at least nine children, two of them girls, and six women.
"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said October 5.
The New York-based group said it had documented numerous incidents of security forces unlawfully using excessive or lethal force against protesters in 13 cities across Iran.
"Videos showed security forces using shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns against protesters in largely peaceful and often crowded settings, altogether killing and injuring hundreds. In some cases, they shot at people who were running away," the group said.
"The Iranian authorities' brutal response to protests across many cities indicates concerted action by the government to crush dissent with cruel disregard for life," HRW's Tara Sepehri Far said.
"The security forces' widespread shooting of protesters only serves to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government," Far said.
HRW said that the international community should take action and make sure those responsible answer for their deeds.
"Concerned governments should cooperate to increase pressure on Iran and undertake a United Nations-led independent inquiry into serious abuses committed during the protests and recommend avenues for holding those responsible to account," HRW said.
Ukrainian Forces Prepare For Potential Attack By Belarus2
In Eastern Ukraine, Survivors Of A Deadly Ambush Recall Their Desperate Escape3
Dead Russian Soldiers Litter Roads Around Liberated Lyman4
EU Approves Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia5
Russia's 'Sham' Referendums In Ukraine Met With Silence From Central Asia6
'Let Them Feel The Force Of Their Own Weapon': Ukrainians Fire Captured Russian Artillery7
China Builds A New Symbol In The Balkans -- At The Site Of A NATO Bombing8
Ukrainian Forces Advance In South, Repel Russian Attacks In Donbas9
Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant Declared Russian 'Federal Property' After Putin Signs Annexation Decrees10
Devil In The Details: Ukraine's Tricky Bid For NATO Membership