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A 14-old year boy is roughly detained by police in Moscow during an antigovernment protest earlier this year.

The lower chamber of the Russian parliament has passed a bill setting out punishment for people who involve minors in unauthorized protests, rallies, and demonstrations.

In its third and final vote, the State Duma approved legislation under which organizers of unsanctioned public gatherings in which people under the age of 18 participate will face up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to 50,000 rubles ($750).

Thousands of teenagers have taken part in antigovernment protests in the past few years, including demonstrations organized by opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny.

The bill was submitted to the Duma in May after police in cities across Russia detained more than 1,600 people, some of them teenagers, on the eve of rallies organized by Navalny to protest President Vladimir Putin's May 7 inauguration to his fourth term.

Some critics say the government has overstated the role of children in such protests, and Kremlin opponents fear the legislation could be used to discredit opponents by suggesting they are roping children in and putting them at risk.

In February, Putin called on the Interior Ministry to "vigorously put an end" to the activities of groups that try to engage teenagers to participate in unsanctioned protests.

The bill must be approved by parliament's upper house, the Federation Council, before it is endorsed into law by Putin.

An Indian journalist lights candles during a vigil for Afghan journalists who were killed in a targeted suicide bombing in April, including two reporters who worked for RFE/RL's Radio Free Aghanistan, as well as a female trainee.

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says 2018 was a year of “unprecedented” hostility toward journalists around the world.

In a December 18 roundup on the abusive treatment of journalists, RSF says a total of 80 journalists were killed worldwide “in connection with their work” during 2018.

More than half of the journalists killed during the year were “deliberately targeted,” it says, adding that the overall death toll does not include 10 deaths that RSF is still investigating.

The report reinforces the findings of the media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which said in October that 324 journalists during the past decade have been “silenced through murder worldwide” and that no perpetrators have been convicted in more than 85 percent of those cases.

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said “violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical.”

The increased violence reflects “the hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen,” Deloire said.

He said social-media networks also “bear heavy responsibility” for amplifying “expressions of hatred” against journalists that “legitimize violence” -- undermining “journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day.”

RSF listed the world’s deadliest country for journalists in 2018 as Afghanistan, where it says 13 journalists and two media workers were killed -- all before Afghanistan’s October 20 parliamentary elections.

Nine of those slain journalists were killed in April by a suicide attack against a group of journalists in Kabul.

By comparison, 11 journalists were killed while covering the war in Syria during 2018.

In fact, RSF said 2018 has been the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan-Iran desk, said the increase in targeted attacks and the deterioration of security for women journalists in the run-up to the elections had threatened “the Afghan people’s sovereignty and democratic choice.”

RSF’s roundup also noted the killings of prominent Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the young Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, saying their deaths highlighted “the lengths to which press freedom’s enemies are prepared to go.”

As of December 18, RSF said at least 348 journalists were being held in prisons around the world.

“More than half of the world’s imprisoned journalists are being held in just five countries -- China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey,” the report said.

“China remains the world’s biggest jailer of journalists with 60 currently held,” RSF said, noting that about 45 of those detainees are bloggers or other “nonprofessional journalists.”

Meanwhile, RSF says 60 journalists are being held as hostages of militant groups or other nonstate actors -- all but one of them in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

The one exception noted by RSF was RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service journalist Stanislav Aseyev. He has been held since June 2017 by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine who accuse him of spying.

"Journalists have never before been subjected to as much violence and abusive treatment as in 2018," Deloire concluded.

With additional reporting by AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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