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The Kremlin said late on December 31 that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a bill into law that scraps the right to a jury trial for defendants in cases involving terrorism, insurrection, or other public unrest, AP reported.

Those accused in such cases -- which in addition to terrorism and treason would include armed revolt, sabotage, and rioting -- will instead be tried by a three-judge panel.

Critics say the measure, which won legislative approval in mid-December, marks a clear retreat from democratic reform and a return to Soviet practice as an implicit social contract breaks down.

It comes amid growing fear of civil unrest (also here and here) in Russia as economic woes mount and an effort by lawmakers to expand the legal definition of treason.
'Kargozaran' front page that its editor says prompted officials to close it
The editor of a reformist daily in Iran has blamed its closure on December 31 on authorities' reaction to the paper's criticism of Hamas's role in the current Israeli air strikes in Gaza, AP reported.

Mehran Karami said the order to shut down "Kargozaran" followed its publication of a reformist student group's statement saying Hamas was at fault in sparking the Israeli assault, which has left more than 300 people in Gaza dead.

The statement condemned the Israeli actions, he said, but labeled Hamas a "terrorist" organization that hid in schools and thus incurred civilian casualties.

Reuters noted the paper's perceived cozy relationship with former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and quoted the official IRNA news agency as saying officials shuttered the paper for "publishing an article authorities said was sympathetic to Israel."

Iran is a major backer of Hamas, and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has suggested Israel should be "wiped off the map."

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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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