World Press Freedom At Lowest In More Than A Decade, Watchdog Says
A U.S.-based rights watchdog says press freedom in the world declined in 2015 to its lowest level in 12 years, under increased pressure from a combination of political, criminal, and terrorist elements.
"The forces against press freedom were strongest in the Middle East and Turkey, where governments and militants groups pressured journalists and media outlets to take sides, creating a 'with or against us' climate," Washington-based Freedom House said in its annual report, released on April 27.
The report, titled Freedom Of The Press 2016: The Battle For The Dominant Message, noted that Syria remained the deadliest place in the world for journalists in 2015, with at least 14 killed in the country, and three Syrian journalists assassinated in Turkey, apparently by the militant group Islamic State (IS).
Turkey's government used "real and perceived security threats to intensify its crackdown on the media," the report said, singling out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for "pursuing insult charges against journalists, bloggers, and social-media users."
The paper also described Russia as "an innovator of modern state propaganda" that tightened information control at home and also stepped up efforts to manipulate the media in "geopolitically significant" neighbor states such as Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic and Central Asian states.
"We have seen a lot of countries grapple with the idea of what to do with content that seems like news but sometimes has political motives," Freedom House research analyst Elen Aghekyan told RFE/RL.
"We've seen this happen in Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova, and it seems to be a remaining challenge as countries are trying to deal with the onslaught of such information but hopefully not also engage in censorship themselves."
She added, "This has especially gone global in the past few years through [Russian state-controlled information agency] 'Sputnik' which is broadcasting into many countries, and also through regular national Russian broadcasters which are received by audiences in neighboring countries that have Russian minorities."
The report also noted that, at home, the Russian government "reoriented the focus of its misinformation machine from Ukraine to President Vladimir Putin’s newest foreign exploit, the military intervention in Syria," the document noted, adding that authorities kept up the pressure on online journalism and blogging, the "small space left for free expression."
The report assesses media freedom in 199 countries and territories, each country and territory receiving a score from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which serves as the basis for a status designation of "free," "partly free," or "not free."
Five out of the world's 10 worst-rated countries and territories are in RFE/RL's broadcast area -- Belarus is ranked 192nd, Crimea 195th, and Iran 190th, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan occupy the 197th and 198th spots, higher only than North Korea.
"In some Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan, there is year after year almost no change -- very closed environments. In others, like Tajikistan, we have seen a lot of repression on freedom of expression associated with a crackdown on the Islamic political parties," Aghekyan said, adding, "We saw a mix of continued closed environment, further oppression and a kind of a crackdown that is a backsliding on previous gains, so unfortunately, no good news out of that region."
Concerns About Europe
The report also noted that media freedom declined "not just in repressive societies but also in Europe," singling out politicians in Poland, Serbia, and other states who "sought greater control over national media."
The new right-wing government in Poland passed legislation "allowing it to hire and fire the management of the state-owned media," said the report.
It adds that a large influx of refugees "indirectly resulted in a variety of limitations on journalistic freedom" on the European continent, singling out Hungary, where police attacked several foreign journalists reporting on violent clashes between police and migrants.
It criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, "whose well-established influence over state media was evident in their overtly biased coverage of the refugee crisis during 2015."
In the Western Balkans, Serbia, which has been designated "partly free," and Macedonia, designated "not free," were listed among the countries that suffered the largest declines in 2015.
In Serbia, several journalists suffered physical assaults, while "attacks and death threats in Macedonia and Bosnia also raised concerns, with numerous violations committed against reporters who were investigating government corruption," said the report.
"Macedonia was cause for quite some alarm after the revelations of government wiretapping of journalists, and what we've also seen in the western Balkans is ongoing violence towards journalists which has been a concern in the entire region at large and this year we also saw in places like Croatia, which previously did not have as high a degree of violence as say, Montenegro," said Aghekyan.
"The region overall is giving us quite a lot of cause for worry, as its old problems seem to be persisting but also some of the better performers seem to be headed in bad directions."
All Of The Latest News
Washington Announces $775 Million In New Military Aid For Ukraine
The United States says it will give Ukraine a new $775 million aid package to help its forces regain territory and mount a counteroffensive against Russian invaders.
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters on August 19 the package will include 15 Scan Eagle surveillance drones, 40 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) with mine-clearing rollers, and 2,000 anti-armor rounds that can help Ukraine's troops move forward in the south and east, where Russian forces have placed mines.
The aid package also includes 1,500 anti-tank missiles, 1,000 Javelin missiles, and an undisclosed number of high-speed, anti-radiation (HARM) missiles that target radar systems.
It would be the 19th time the Pentagon has provided equipment from Defense Department stocks to Ukraine since August 2021.
This would bring the total U.S. military aid sent to Ukraine to $10.6 billion since the beginning of President Joe Biden's administration.
The latest aid package comes as Russia's war on Ukraine is about to reach the six-month mark. Russian forces have made some incremental gains in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled some territory for eight years.
But they have also been put on the defensive in other regions, as Ukraine has been fielding advanced rockets supplied by the West to strike behind Russian lines.
Nine Russian warplanes were reported destroyed by Ukrainian strikes last week at an airbase on Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Senior Armenian, Azerbaijani Officials Meet In Brussels
Senior representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan have held a discussion in Brussels, the first meeting between senior officials from the two countries since the latest escalation of violence in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia Toivo Klaar wrote on Twitter about "good and substantive discussions" with Armen Grigorian, the secretary of Armenia's Security Council, and Hikmet Haciyev, a foreign-policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, "on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and EU engagement."
Klaar did not report any details of the discussions, but posted a photograph showing the Armenian and Azerbaijani officials during talks mediated by him and other EU representatives.
There was no immediate report or comment by officials in Baku and Yerevan about the meeting.
Grigorian and Haciyev had last met in Brussels in May to discuss bilateral relations between the two neighbors that have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
They were expected to hold another meeting in June, but that has been canceled by the Azerbaijani side, according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The EU special representative visited Baku and Yerevan in mid-July in an apparent attempt to organize a new meeting.
At least one Azerbaijani and two ethnic Armenian soldiers were killed during the most recent escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, which took place August 1-3.
The two sides blamed each other for the violence.
Nord Stream 1 Pipeline To Close Three Days For Maintenance, Gazprom Says
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which supplies natural gas from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea, will be closed from August 31 to September 2, as its only remaining gas compressor requires maintenance, Russian energy giant Gazprom has announced.
The closure will bring further disruption to Europe's gas supplies with the pipeline already running at only 20 percent of its capacity.
"It is necessary to carry out maintenance every 1,000 hours" of operation, Gazprom said in a statement on August 19.
After maintenance is complete, flows of 33 million cubic meters (mcm) a day -- in line with current volumes -- will resume, it said. Nord Stream 1's full capacity is 167 mcm per day.
European gas prices soared to a new record high at the close of trading on August 19, following Gazprom's announcement.
The Dutch TTF Gas Futures contract jumped to a closing high of $258.30 amid fears of winter energy shortages.
Gazprom has previously cited the need to repair other compressors, and some experts predict Russia could halt supplies completely heading into the winter heating season.
Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP
Putin, Macron Call For IAEA Inspection Of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant
French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed concern to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin about safety risks at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant in Ukraine, Macron's office said, adding that Putin had agreed to send a mission of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the site.
A statement also said that the two presidents -- who discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call on August 19 -- agreed to continue their talks in the coming days.
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was captured by Russia in March, shortly after it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The plant -- Europe's largest -- has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant.
The Kremlin quoted Putin as saying that the shelling of the Russian-controlled nuclear site, which he blamed on Kyiv, created the risk of "large-scale catastrophe."
According to the Kremlin, both leaders called for IAEA experts to inspect the plant "as soon as possible" and "assess the real situation on the ground."
"The Russian side confirmed its readiness to provide the agency inspectors with the necessary assistance," the statement said.
The Kremlin's statement also said Putin told Macron that Moscow had called on the United Nations and the International Red Cross to send representatives to the Ukrainian town of Olenivka, where it claims a missile strike on a detention center in late July killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Olenivka is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
Russia claims that Ukraine's military used U.S.-supplied precision rocket launchers to target the prison in Olenivka.
The Ukrainian military, however, denied making any rocket or artillery strikes in Olenivka. It accused the Russians of shelling the prison to cover up the alleged torture and execution of Ukrainians there.
The Kremlin statement also said that Putin briefed Macron on implementation of a UN-brokered July 22 agreement that cleared the way for Ukraine to export more than 20 million tons of corn and other grain stuck in its Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion.
The halt in grain shipments contributed to a spike in global food prices and raised concerns about looming hunger in some African and Middle Eastern countries.
Kyrgyz President Fires Health Minister Arrested On Corruption Charges
BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has dismissed Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev, who was arrested for alleged graft and other wrongdoing related to vaccines and purported remedies for COVID-19.
The Kyrgyz presidential press service said Japarov signed the decree to fire Beishenaliev on August 19.
Beishenaliev was detained in early June along with two subordinates on charges of corruption, extortion, and abuse of office as part of a series of corruption cases at the ministry. About two weeks later he was transferred to house arrest.
Beishenaliev's lawyer, Kaisyn Abakirov, said earlier this week that the Interior Ministry dropped the charge of corruption linked to allegedly misusing state funds when buying COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. Investigations into the other charges continue.
Beishenaliev was named health minister after a new government was established following mass anti-government protests in October 2020. The unrest was sparked by parliamentary elections that many in the Central Asian country said were rigged.
He was also at the center of a scandal last year after he promoted a toxic substance -- a solution with extracts of aconite root -- as a treatment for COVID-19. Several people were hospitalized after using the solution.
Aconite roots contain aconitine, a cardiotoxin and neurotoxin. Consuming aconite root can lead to sickness or even death.
Iranian Activists Say Khadirzadeh Health Worsening Since Attempt On Life
Human rights activists say the health of Suada Khadirzadeh, a political prisoner being held at the Urmia prison in northwestern Iran, has deteriorated since she was returned to the facility hours after having a Caesarean section to deliver her baby in June.
The Hengaw Human Rights Organization said the Kurdish political prisoner tried to end her life by hanging herself and giving pills to her infant in protest of her detention.
She was saved by other prisoners and, along with her baby, was transferred to the prison hospital.
Khadirzadeh was arrested by security forces in October 2021, but officials have still not made public the reason for her detention, nor what charges she faces.
Hengaw reported that the vision in one of Khadirzadeh's eyes was badly damaged in the incident.
Kurdpa news agency also confirmed Khadirzadeh's eye injury and referred to her as being in a "psychologically unsuitable" situation.
Last month, Khadirzadeh was denied postnatal and postsurgical care for several days even though she was suffering from postoperative bleeding and her infants health was poor.
During her pregnancy, Khadirzadeh said she was held hostage on false accusations.
Urmia prison officials have also opposed her request for a temporary medical release despite a doctor's certificate outlining her physical condition.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
More Charges Filed Against Jailed Iranian Journalist Samimi
The lawyer for jailed journalist Keyvan Samimi says his client faces new charges on top of those filed against him for attending a protest rally in May 2019.
Samimi, a member of the Religious Nationalists Council, was on temporary medical release when he was summoned to the Evin court on May 18 and subsequently sent to the Semnan prison.
Lawyer Mustafa Nili wrote on Twitter on August 18 that authorities have added charges of conspiracy and collusion against the Islamic system.
The 73-year-old Samimi was previously charged with "assembly and collusion against the state" for his presence at a protest rally that was held in front of parliament in May 2019 to mark International Labor Day.
Earlier this year, Samimi was sent to Semnan prison after he called the death of imprisoned writer Baktash Abtin a "premeditated murder."
On February 3, he was temporarily released from prison due to his health condition and a "forensic report."
However, he was rearrested on May 18 and sent to Semnan.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russia Imposes 'Coercive' Measures Against TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord, Pinterest
Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, says it has decided to "apply coercive measures" against several foreign IT companies, including TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord, and Pinterest, for violating Russian law.
"The above IT companies do not comply with the procedure for deleting prohibited information and the main obligations established by federal law," Roskomnadzor said in a statement on its website on August 19.
The statement said the measures would remain in place until the companies comply with the rules and the law.
In recent months, Russian courts have fined Google, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, WhatsApp, Telegram and TikTok over the personal-data issue, as well as for refusing to delete content deemed to be banned by Russian law.
President Vladimir Putin has accused social-media platforms and other foreign-based tech companies of flouting the country's Internet laws. He has been pushing ways to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and to store data locally.
Many critics have accused the Russian authorities of trying to quell dissent by imposing stricter regulations on Internet companies.
With reporting by TASS and Interfax
Replacement Of Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Confirmed
MOSCOW -- Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov has confirmed media reports that he has taken over as commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet after a series of setbacks.
Sokolov said on August 19 that he had been appointed to take over the Black Sea Fleet for Igor Osipov, who was removed from the post earlier this week in one of the most prominent dismissals of a military official so far in Russia's war against Ukraine.
The change came after a series of explosions rocked Russian-occupied Crimea, which had previously been seen as a secure rear base for Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, launched in late February.
Osipov had been on the hot seat since April, when Russia's flagship vessel in the Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, sank near Crimea.
Ukraine claimed it hit the ship with a missile strike, while Russia said a fire caused a munitions explosion onboard and that the ship sank in stormy seas while being towed to port.
Either way, the sinking of the vessel was widely seen as an embarrassment for the Kremlin.
In late July, the fleet's headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol were hit by what is believed a bomb launched from a drone. Although the attack's damage was not serious, Russian authorities cancelled events marking Navy Day on July 31 and introduced highest level of terrorist threat in the city instead.
On August 9, a Russian Air Force base in Crimea was hit by several explosions. Russia's Defense Ministry has denied any serious damage, but images taken by Western satellites showed significant aircraft losses.
The dpa news agency on August 19 quoted Western officials as saying recent explosions in Crimea had put more than half of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet aircraft out of action and forced the fleet into a defensive posture.
TASS quoted Sokolov as telling a group of naval officers that the fleet was "successfully completing" all of the tasks set for it.
With reporting by TASS and Interfax
UN Chief Says More Must Be Done To Get Ukraine's Grain To World Markets
During a visit to the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said there is still much to do to make sure that Ukrainian grain, as well as Russian-produced food and fertilizers, can reach global markets.
"It is time for massive and generous support so developing countries can purchase the food from this and other ports," he said on August 19.
He praised a UN-brokered agreement between Ukraine and Russia that has opened up Ukraine's Black Sea ports and enabled the first shipments of Ukrainian grain to leave the country since Russia's unprovoked invasion in February.
"This is an agreement between two parties locked in bitter conflict," he said. "It is unprecedented in scope and scale. But there is still a long way to go on many fronts."
Some 25 ships loaded with 630,000 tons of agricultural products have already been dispatched from Ukrainian ports since the deal was reached on July 22.
A further 10 cargo ships are being loaded with grain in Black Sea ports for shipment, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on August 19.
'We also have more than 40 applications for shipping to Ukrainian ports," Kubrakov said in a post on Facebook.
On August 18, Guterres met in Lviv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss ways of scaling up the exports.
Before the agreement, exports from Ukraine -- a leading global grain producer -- had been halted by a Russian naval blockade and the Ukrainian mining of the ports.
The halt in grain shipments contributed to a spike in global food prices and raised concerns about looming hunger in some African and Middle Eastern countries.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Erdogan To Discuss Russian-Occupied Ukrainian Nuclear Plant With Putin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, says he plans to discuss the issue of Ukraine's Russian-held Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Talking to journalists on his return to Turkey from Ukraine on August 19, Erdogan called the situation around the Zaporizhzhya station -- Europe's largest nuclear plant -- "a threat for the world."
Erdogan added that Zelenskiy said during their talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv the day before with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he wanted Russia to demine the area around the nuclear power station.
"We will discuss this issue with Mr. Putin, and we will ask him specifically for this so that Russia does its part in this regard as an important step for world peace. [Russians] need to take this step. Ukraine has both its own technical staff and its own military forces in Zaporizhzhya. And they are capable of securing safety with their technical staff and solders there," Erdogan said.
On August 18, Erdogan warned that "we don't want another Chernobyl."
Ukraine's state nuclear company Enerhoatom on August 19 accused Russian forces of planning to switch off the functioning power blocks at the plant and to disconnect them from the Ukrainian power grid.
It said the move was part of a "large-scale provocation" being planned by Moscow, which itself accused Kyiv of preparing a "provocation" at the site.
Speaking in the Black Sea port of Odesa on August 19, Guterres stressed that electricity generated by the plant belonged to Ukraine and called on Russia not to cut the plant off from the country's electrical grid.
"It is necessary especially during the winter for the Ukrainian people," Guterres said. "That principle must be fully respected."
On August 18, after talks with Erdogan and Guterres, Zelenskiy said he agreed to the parameters of a mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the plan to demilitarize the zone around the plant "unacceptable," saying it would make the plant even more vulnerable to attack.
Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.
With reporting by Ahaber, CNN Turk, and Milliyet
RFE/RL Journalists In Ukraine In Group Honored With 2022 Free Media Award
RFE/RL journalists Andriy Dubchak and Vladyslav Yesypenko, who is jailed in Russia-annexed Crimea, have been named as part of a group of Ukrainian media members to win the prestigious Free Media Award 2022 for their coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Norway-based Fritt Ord Foundation said on August 19 that, in all, six Ukrainian photographers, journalists, and media outlets will be awarded the prize jointly "in recognition of their efforts to document the suffering and the challenges that Ukrainian people are facing due to the hostile destruction and war crimes committed by Russian troops."
The foundation called Yesypenko's incarceration "a striking example of the persecution of journalists who try to report from" Crimea, which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014. Weeks later, the Kremlin threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east.
Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who is a freelance contributor to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities project, was sentenced in Crimea to six years in prison in February after a closed-door trial for allegedly collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. Before the arrest, he had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on social and environmental issues on the peninsula.
WATCH: RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko made detailed allegations in court in September 2021 about being tortured while in custody.
Yesypenko testified during a court hearing that Russian authorities "want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea."
In May, he was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in the United States, which is given to honor writers who are political prisoners.
On August 18, a Russia-controlled court in Crimea shortened Yesypenko's prison term by one year.
Jamie Fly, president and CEO of RFE/RL, thanked the Fritt Ord Foundation and ZEIT-Stiftung for recognizing what he described as "the extraordinary courage Vlad has shown in his reporting from Russian-occupied Crimea."
"Until his detention, Vlad helped open the world’s eyes to the daily cruelty of life under occupation. He should be returned home to his family immediately," Fly said in a statement on August 19.
The Fritt Ord Foundation called Dubchak, a longtime correspondent of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, "one of the most important sources of information about life on the front lines in" Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Others in the group of winners include AP photographer Mstyslav Chernov and Yevheniy Maloletka, who a freelance photojournalist for several outlets. Author Natalia Gumenyuk and the online newspaper Zaborona are also in the group.
On February 24, Moscow launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In recent weeks, it has intensified its bombardment of areas in the east to tighten and expand its grip on areas where the separatists have a stronghold.
The Free Media Awards Press Prizes are earmarked for journalists from Eastern Europe and awarded through a collaborative program between the Fritt Ord Foundation of Norway and the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius of Germany.
The awards ceremony will be held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute on October 17.
Several Serbian Ruling Party Members Say Twitter Has Frozen Their Accounts
Several parliamentary deputies and politicians belonging to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic say Twitter has blocked their accounts.
"Twitter just suspended my account on which I had 34,000 followers, without explanation," Arnaud Gouillon, director of the Serbian Foreign Ministry's Directorate for Cooperation With the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region, confirmed in a post on Facebook on August 19.
Some 13 members of the SNS said their accounts also were blocked, including the Belgrade city manager, Miroslav Cuckovic, and Slavisa Micanovic, who reportedly leads the Internet team of the SNS.
Responding to an RFE/RL inquiry, a Twitter spokesperson said: "In this instance, we took enforcement action on a number of accounts in error and these have been reinstated."
"It is our top priority to protect the health of the conversation on Twitter. We continue to enforce our rules judiciously and impartially for all accounts that engage in behaviors that violate the Twitter Rules in line with our range of enforcement options," the spokesperson said on August 19.
Gouillon's Facebook post showed a notification from Twitter saying the account was "permanently suspended" because the social media company determined it had "broke the Twitter Rules."
It added that the account will now be available in "read-only" mode, meaning the user cannot post, like, or retweet content from others. The user can appeal the ruling, it said.
Gouillon was born in France and is known for his ties to the extreme right.
In 2004, he founded the NGO Solidarity For Kosovo, which helps ethnic Serbs in the country. He has held a Serbian passport since 2015.
Fire Erupts At Munitions Depot In Russian Border Region Near Ukraine's Kharkiv
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine near Kharkiv, reported on August 19 that two villages had been evacuated after a fire broke out at a munitions depot.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that no one was injured in the incident, which occurred during the night of August 18-19. He said the cause of the fire was being investigated.
The previous day, Gladkov warned local residents to be wary of land mines that he said had been found along the border. He said the mines had been discovered after the area had purportedly been shelled by Ukrainian forces.
It was not possible to independently verify the reports.
Fighting has been intense in the area around Kharkiv for several days. Some 17 Ukrainian civilians were killed and 42 injured in the Kharkiv region by Russian shelling on August 18, the governor of the region, Oleh Synyehubov, wrote on Telegram, describing the shelling as “terrorism.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the Kharkiv shelling “a vile and cynical attack on civilians that has no justification.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians, saying the August 18 strikes in the Kharkiv region were carried out using “precision weaponry” and targeted “a temporary base for foreign mercenaries.”
The British Defense Ministry on August 19 posted on Twitter its assessment that Russian forces are trying “to force Ukraine to maintain significant forces [near Kharkiv] to prevent them from being employed as a counterattack force elsewhere.”
Kharkiv is just 15 kilometers from Russian lines and has faced nearly continuous shelling since Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February. Because of the city’s proximity to Russian forces, it is often targeted by “multiple rocket launchers and generally inaccurate are weapons” that have “caused devastation across large parts of the city,” the U.K. Defense Ministry wrote.
Kazakh Activist Released After Serving 16 Years In Prison Over Protest Case
QOSTANAI, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh activist who was sentenced along with the late prominent dissident poet Aron Atabek for helping organize protests that resulted in the death of a police officer in 2006 has been released after serving 16 years behind bars.
The administration of the UK-161/2 penal colony in the northern city of Qostanai told RFE/RL that Qurmanghazy Otegenov was released early on August 19.
His lawyer, Gulmira Quatbek, confirmed his client's release and said that Kazakh rights activists greeted Otegenov at the penitentiary's gates.
Otegenov, Atabek (aka Aron Edigeev), and two other activists were arrested in July 2006 after police clashed with homeowners in the Almaty suburb of Snagyraq over a court decision to demolish their houses because they were built "illegally."
A police officer was set on fire by the protesters and died in the hospital days later.
In 2007, the four were handed lengthy prison terms after a court found them guilty of masterminding the protests, which the activists and their supporters vehemently rejected.
The two activists were released from prison in 2020 after serving 14 years in prison.
While in prison, Atabek wrote a book, Heart Of Eurasia, which was critical of then-President Nursultan Nazarbaev. He was granted an early release in October 2021 due to health concerns.
He died in November while being treated in a Kazakh hospital for COVID-19.
As punishment for his book, which was published after it was smuggled out of prison, Atabek was moved from a penal colony to a cell-system penitentiary for two years. Atabek rejected a government pardon offer in 2012 that would have required him to admit guilt.
Moscow Court Postpones Hearing On Shutting Down Jewish Agency
A district court in Moscow has postponed for one month its hearing of a Justice Ministry request to close down the Russian offices of a prominent Jewish nongovernmental organization.
The Basmanny District Court on August 19 granted a request by the Jewish Agency for Israel for a one-month delay in the proceedings, during which the organization said it would respond to the government’s complaints.
Moscow has accused the organization of unspecified violations of Russian law. According to media reports, however, the government believes the Jewish Agency for Israel illegally collects the personal data of Russian citizens.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied Israeli media reports that Moscow wants to shutter the organization to combat a brain drain that has accelerated since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, which was founded in 1929 and began working in the Soviet Union in 1989, works to promote Jewish cultural identity and facilitate the immigration of Jews to Israel. It has helped hundreds of thousands of Jews from Russia and other former Soviet countries to immigrate to Israel.
Russia and Israel have discussed the case at the highest diplomatic levels.
Israel has warned that shuttering the organization could harm bilateral relations.
Putin, Xi Will Attend G20 Summit In November, Indonesia Says
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to attend the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on November 15-16, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on August 19.
Widodo also said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy haS been invited, even though Ukraine is not a G20 member. He has reportedly confirmed he would attend either in person or virtually.
Xi has not traveled internationally since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, he made his first trip away from mainland China when he traveled to Hong Kong.
Jakarta has faced Western pressure to exclude Putin because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, Indonesia has sought to maintain a neutral stance, and Widodo has visited both Kyiv and Moscow this year.
The G20 summit also comes at a time of high tension between China and the United States over the status of Taiwan and Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
Explosions Reported In Ukraine's Russian-Occupied Crimea Region
At least four explosions were reported in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea overnight near the Belbek military airport outside the port city of Sevastopol, according to local sources.
The Russian-imposed administrator of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, wrote on Telegram late on August 18 that anti-aircraft defenses had shot down a Ukrainian drone. He added that the explosions had not caused any damage.
The same day, a Russian official in the Crimean city of Kerch said that air defenses had been activated there. Kerch is located on the far eastern tip of Crimea and is the terminus of the Crimean Bridge (also called the Kerch Strait Bridge), a high-profile Russian-built road and rail link between the occupied Ukrainian region and the Russian mainland.
The official said: “There is no danger to the city or the bridge.”
Video clips apparently showing the anti-aircraft fire in Kerch appeared on social media.
The Crimean Bridge was completed in May 2018 and built at a cost of some $4 billion. It was a significant prestige project intended to bolster Moscow’s claims on Crimea and was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian military targets in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, have been rocked by blasts in recent days. A Russian ammunition depot in northern Crimea exploded on August 16, in an incident Russian authorities have attributed to “sabotage.”
The same day, an electrical substation in the Dzhankoy district of the Black Sea peninsula exploded, although the cause of that blast remains unknown.
On August 9, the Saky Air Base was struck by explosions that destroyed at least nine military aircraft, including Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers.
Ukrainian officials have avoided publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions, but an unnamed senior Ukrainian official was quoted in The New York Times as saying an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines was carrying out at least some of the attacks.
On July 31, the Russian Navy Day celebrations in Sevastopol were canceled after a drone strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet injured six people.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Relatives Of Kazakhs Jailed For Taking Part In January Unrest Demand Retrials, Justice
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Relatives of Kazakh citizens who were handed lengthy prison terms on charges of taking part in mass disorder and stealing firearms during unprecedented anti-government protests in January that left at least 238 people dead have demanded their release or a retrial.
Close family members, including mothers and wives, made their demands at a press conference held in Almaty on August 18 that was attended by Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, a member of the Public Commission investigating the January unrest.
Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office has said that more than 10,000 people were arrested following the January bloodshed, and more than 5,300 individuals were charged. To date, 834 people have been sentenced to various prison terms in quick trials.
Sarsenbaiuly said the investigations were poorly conducted with violations of law, adding that many suspects were severely beaten and tortured while in custody.
Bayan Shyrynbekova, whose husband was sentenced last month to six years in prison on a charge of stealing two firearms from a store in Almaty during the unrest, told the press conference that her husband had to sign a written confession after he was "beaten and tortured" by investigators.
Gulfaria Tangirbergenova said that her son was sentenced in May to five years in prison on a charge of stealing firearms as well.
Tangirbergenova denied that her son had stolen a firearm, saying he found a rifle on the ground during the unrest. She also said her son was severely beaten while in custody and she demanded that he be retried.
Several other speakers at the press conference shared similar ordeals about their close relatives.
A day earlier, the Kazakh Bureau on Human Rights and the Rule of Law issued a statement claiming that 71 percent of the people arrested during and after the January unrest were tortured while in custody.
Meanwhile, on August 16, Eldos Qilymzhanov, a top official with the Prosecutor-General's Office, said six individuals who were detained during the riots had died as a result of “illegal methods of interrogation by law enforcement structures.”
He said that 15 law enforcement officers were under investigation for those deaths.
Qilymzhanov said his office has concluded that 238 people were killed during and after the unrest. However, Kazakh human rights groups claim they have evidence showing that this number is much higher.
The unrest led to the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his relatives from Kazakh politics. Some relatives have been stripped of their posts, lost influential positions at companies, or have even been arrested on corruption charges.
Kazakh authorities have rejected calls by Kazakh and global human rights groups for an international probe into the events in January.
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine, UN Agree On Parameters For Atomic Watchdog's Mission To Nuclear Plant
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he agreed to the parameters of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant at talks with the UN secretary-general and Turkey's leader.
Zelenskiy told a news conference on August 18 after the talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv that Russia should immediately withdraw its forces and stop shelling from the nuclear facility in southern Ukraine.
As the Ukrainian leader held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of planning to stage a "provocation" at the plant in the Zaporizhzhya region, the largest in Europe.
Fears have mounted of the risk of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster as Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for shelling the Russian-controlled facility, prompting calls for an IAEA mission to the plant.
"We agreed with the secretary general the conditions of a possible mission by the IAEA to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, in a legal way, via territory free from occupiers," Zelenskiy told reporters.
"Russia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, as well as stop any provocations and shelling," he said.
Guterres said he was "gravely concerned" about the situation at the plant and said it had to be demilitarized, adding: "We must tell it like it is -- any potential damage to Zaporizhzhya is suicide.”
Erdogan told the press conference that he was “worried” about the safety of the nuclear plant and is seeking to “find a solution” to end the war.
Erdogan, who has major geopolitical rivalries with the Kremlin but maintains a close working relationship with President Vladimir Putin, met with the Russian leader less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the plan to demilitarize the zone around the plant "unacceptable," saying it would make the plant even more vulnerable to attack.
Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims that it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.
The Turkish leader along with Guterres were key brokers of a deal inked in Istanbul last month allowing the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine after Russia's invasion blocked essential global supplies.
Ahead of the press conference with Zelenskiy, Ukraine's port authority announced that the 25th cargo ship under the deal had departed for Egypt carrying 33,000 tons of grain.
Ukraine and Russia are two of the world's biggest grain exporters and the halt in exports saw grain prices soar and fears rise of global food shortages, particularly in poor countries already experiencing shortfalls.
Guterres said during the meeting with reporters that the sides hoped to intensify efforts to bolster operations at three southern Ukrainian ports designated for exports under the deal.
"We will do our best to scale up our operations to face...the coming winter," the UN chief said, hailing the deal that saw a safe corridor established for cargo ships to exit Black Sea ports.
Guterres will visit a Ukrainian port tomorrow.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Iranian Political Prisoner Mehdipour Reportedly Beaten Again In Prison
Human right activists say Khadijeh Mehdipour, a political prisoner being held in Ilam prison in western Iran, has been beaten again by inmates who are serving time for violent crimes.
The Hengaw Human Rights Organization says Mehdipour, who is in prison without being segregated from dangerous prisoners, was beaten by violent criminals at the instigation of the prison authorities and even forced to sleep in the prison library.
Some human rights sources, including the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), say Mehdipour has been handed new charges while in prison for "insulting Islamic sanctities." Because of this, she has been banned from making phone calls with her family for a month, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Earlier in February, Mehdipour was also attacked and beaten by a number of prisoners accused of violent crimes, which resulted in an injury to her eye.
The Iranian Prisons Organization announced at the time that the reason for the "conflict" was for Mehdipour voicing "obscenities and insults" about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, the current leader of Iran, and Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force who was killed by the United States in 2020.
Reports of political prisoners being held alongside dangerous criminals in prisons across Iran are not uncommon.
Mehdipour was arrested in October 2021 for her activities posted on social media and sentenced to 20 months in prison by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Ilam for "propaganda against the regime, insulting the founder of the Islamic republic and insulting its leadership."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Jailed Contributor To RFE/RL's Russian Service Starts Hunger Strike Over Arrest
Jailed Russian journalist Yelena Shukayeva, who contributes to RFE/RL's Russian Service and several other independent media outlets, has started a hunger strike to protest a 14-day jail sentence handed to her in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on August 17 for reposting jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's investigative materials online.
The OVD-Info human rights group said on August 18 that Shukayeva revealed that her hunger strike is "a protest against police arbitrariness, the distortion of common sense, and the pandering of judges to any fantasies the police have."
Shukayeva was sentenced to 14 days in jail after a court in Yekaterinburg found her guilty of propagating and publicly displaying symbols of an extremist organization.
Russia last year declared Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation "extremist" and banned the use of any symbols tied to the group as part of a widening crackdown on dissent.
Also on August 17, police in the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan, searched the homes of seven journalists contributing to programs of RFE/RL's Russian and Tatar-Bashkir Services, as well as Idel.Realities, an online project that covers news and events in the Volga-Urals region.
Pro-Kremlin website Tatar-Inform reported that the searches were linked to the journalists' articles covering Russia's ongoing invasion against Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin signed a law in March that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.
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 Army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.
RFE/RL's President and CEO Jamie Fly has condemned Shukayeva's sentencing and the searches of the journalists' homes.
American Investor Known For Russian Nightclub, Pro-Ukrainian Stances Found Dead In Washington
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An American stockbroker who made a fortune in the Russian market in the 1990s and 2000s and later co-founded a posh Moscow nightclub before leaving the country died after being found lying on a sidewalk in Washington, police said.
Police said they were investigating the death of Dan Rapoport, 52, who was found outside an apartment building in a northwestern district of the U.S. capital, but there were no immediate indications of foul play.
A preliminary police report said officers responded to a report of a “jumper” on the evening of August 14, and the man, later identified as Rapoport, was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was declared dead.
The police report said officers found $2,620 in cash on Rapoport when they discovered his body on the sidewalk, along with headphones, a cracked cell phone, a Florida driver’s license, and other items. He was wearing flip-flops.
Brianna Burch, a police spokesperson, told RFE/RL that there did not appear to be anyone with Rapoport at the time and there were no listed witnesses. She said she did not have information to suggest he left a suicide note.
It wasn’t clear whether Rapoport was living in the apartment building. He had recently moved back to Washington after spending several years working in finance in Ukraine.
A police spokeswoman referred further questions from RFE/RL to the city’s medical examiner’s offices. An official with that office confirmed that an autopsy was pending, but had no other information.
The FBI did not immediately respond to queries about whether it was involved in the investigation.
Rapoport's wife, Alonya, a native of Ukraine, did not immediately respond to a Facebook message, but she confirmed his death in a Facebook post.
A native of Latvia and a fluent Russian speaker, Rapoport emigrated with his family to the United States in 1980. After graduation from a U.S. university, he moved to Russia in the early 1990s as a wave of privatizations swept across the country.
The sale of former state-owned companies created a booming stock market, minting a new generation of millionaires, Russian and foreign.
Rapoport was respected within Russian financial circles, where he worked for more than a decade at a local brokerage called CenterInvest, making his way up to managing partner. He claimed his clients included some of the nation's wealthiest tycoons.
In 2007, he opened a swanky nightclub in downtown Moscow called Soho Rooms, which became the go-to location for Moscow’s elite, Russian and foreign alike.
In 2012, he left Russia and returned to the United States, saying the stock brokerage industry that had made him a fortune "had died" as commission fees shrunk with improvements in technology.
But in a media interview prior to his departure, he also criticized the direction Russia had taken and expressed support for Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who was jailed last year.
"Our flight to Washington is in 12 hours. It's sad to leave Russia, but for thoughtful people, living here has become unbearable and disgusting," Rapoport wrote on his Facebook page on June 13, 2012.
He moved to Washington, where he said his parents lived, and set up a company called Rapoport Capital to advise and assist technology start-ups as well as venture capital funds on fundraising options.
The company’s website said it was registered in Washington, D.C., though public records say the company was registered in St. Petersburg, Florida, in February 2022.
An e-mail sent to the company’s website was not immediately responded to.
In 2016, four years after leaving Russia, Rapaport set up an office in Kyiv and opened a private equity fund. In social media posts, he was a vocal supporter of Ukraine, and an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rapoport gained a degree of publicity in January 2017, after The New York Times reported that the daughter and son-in-law of newly elected President Donald Trump had purchased a mansion owned by him and his first wife. The mansion was located in an exclusive neighborhood of the U.S. capital.
Later that same month, Raporport's co-founder of the Soho Rooms nightclub, Sergei Tkachenko, was found dead outside a Moscow building. Investigators said Tkachenko's body was found on a building awning “with injuries typical of a fall from a great height.”
In 2018, the open-source investigative organization Bellingcat reported that Rapoport had been the creator of a fictional persona named David Jewberg, who was frequently quoted in Ukrainian media as a senior Pentagon analyst.
Todd Prince reported from Washington, D.C. Mike Eckel reported from Prague.
Russian-Controlled Supreme Court Of Crimea Trims Sentence For Jailed RFE/RL Writer
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The Moscow-controlled Supreme Court of Russian-annexed Crimea has shortened the prison term of RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko by one year to five years.
Yesypenko's wife, Kateryna Yesypenko, told RFE/RL on August 18 that the decision to fine her husband 110,000 rubles ($1,810) remains in effect.
"We will continue to appeal the verdict. Because of the decision by the court of appeals, we now have a very good chance. In half-a-year, we can request an early release. If the sentence remained six years in prison, the time for early release would be in one year," Kateryna Yesypenko said, adding that her husband was present at the hearing and looked well.
Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities project, was sentenced in Crimea in February after a closed-door trial.
He was detained in Crimea in March 2021 for allegedly collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. Before the arrest, he had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on social and environmental issues on the peninsula.
Yesypenko testified during a court hearing that the Russian authorities "want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea."
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called the judgment a “travesty” of justice.
Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.
In May, Yesypenko was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in the United States, which is given to honor writers who are political prisoners.
Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in early 2014 and weeks later threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east.
On February 24, Moscow launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In recent weeks it has intensified its bombardment of areas in the east to tighten and expand its grip on areas where the separatists have a stronghold.
Russia Calls UN Proposal To Demilitarize Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant 'Unacceptable'
Moscow has rejected a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to demilitarize the area around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
During a press briefing on August 18, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said the proposals were "unacceptable."
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant was captured by Russia in March, shortly after it launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The plant -- Europe's largest -- has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
Guterres and the international community have expressed deep concern over the risk of disaster at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant amid reports of fighting in its vicinity in the past week. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant.
The United Nations has also offered to help facilitate a visit by its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to Zaporizhzhya, but Moscow has dismissed the idea of a mission traveling through Kyiv despite vowing it would do all it could to help ensure IAEA access to the plant.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Interview: What Ukraine's New Strategy Means For The Next Phase Of The War2
American Investor Known For Russian Nightclub, Pro-Ukrainian Stances Found Dead In Washington3
Azerbaijani Official Fired, Charged Over Leaked Sex Video4
Explosions Reported In Ukraine's Russian-Occupied Crimea Region5
Ukraine Says Kherson Attack Repelled, Kharkiv Hit By Deadly Russian Bombing6
Fit For Fighting: Combat Training For Civilians Now Part Of Ukraine's Wartime Lifestyle7
China Says It Will Send Troops To Russia For Joint Military Drills8
Russia Pounds Kharkiv Region With Fresh Air And Artillery Strikes9
China In Eurasia Briefing: How Beijing Lost Central And Eastern Europe10
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine