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KAJI-SAI, Kyrgyzstan -- Police in a northern Kyrgyz village have launched an investigation into a fire at a Baptist church that some believe was an arson attack.

Stalbek Usubakunov, a spokesman for the local police in the Ton district, told RFE/RL on January 4 that there were no casualties in the fire that occurred the previous night in the village of Kaji-Sai.

He declined to give further details because of the ongoing investigation.

The chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Evangelical Christian Churches' Association, Aleksandr Shumilin, told RFE/RL he has heard that Molotov cocktails were thrown into the church's windows, sparking the blaze.

In recent years, the attitude to Kyrgyz Christian converts has worsened across the mainly Muslim Central Asian country and several villages in Kyrgyzstan have refused to allow deceased Christian converts to be buried in local cemeteries. The issue led to a decision to set up an Evangelical Christian cemetery in Kaji-Sai, where the Baptist Church operates.

The village governor, Pamir Kutuev, told RFE/RL he would warn against jumping to a conclusion that the fire was a hate-motivated act.

"The church has been operating here since the collapse of the Soviet Union [in 1991]." Kutuev said. "There was never an arson attack on the church. There is no religious discord here. Because there were no witnesses, the investigation is proceeding slowly."

In November, a Kyrgyz man, who converted to Christianity from Islam, was buried in the Evangelical Christian cemetery in Kaji-Sai after residents of his native village of Barskoon refused to allow him to be laid to rest in the local Muslim cemetery.

Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis (right)

A Russian journalist says authorities in Latvia have given her 24 hours to leave the country, accusing her of being a threat to national security.

"Today, a resolution was issued. Local border guard services were very surprised because they themselves are trying to read it and understand how that could happen,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Olga Kurlayeva as saying on January 4.

"There will be an expulsion. The reasons are unknown yet. I was told that they are the same as in my husband's case -- that is, I pose a threat to national security," said the correspondent from Russia's VGTRK media group.

Kurlayeva’s husband, Russian TVT reporter Anatoly Kurlayev, was detained and deported from the Baltic country after he arrived to Riga on January 1.

Kurlayev later said that he was expelled because he was on a document signed by the Latvian interior minister declaring that he had been banned from entering Latvia since 2015.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said on January 3 that in 2017 Latvia had blacklisted 100 people for different reasons, including an "unfriendly attitude" toward Latvia and its people.

The government has not made the list public, citing confidentiality issues.

Commenting on Latvia's decision to expel the two journalists, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Riga "grossly violates" its international obligations to ensure freedom of speech.

"It is absolutely clear that the Latvian authorities, with the silent support of Brussels, are attempting to suppress all non-desirable media from the country," Zakharova said.

Riga is "violating the fundamental rules of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," and Russia will make an "appropriate response at the international bodies," she said.

According to Kurlayev, his deportation might be linked to a documentary he produced called NATO At The Gates, which included materials he had gathered in Latvia in 2015.

TVT said it did not understand the decision, adding that Kurlayev was in Latvia on a private visit.

It added that Kurlayev’s deportation “clearly demonstrates Latvian authorities' biased attitude toward Russian media," according to the Russian news agency TASS.

Tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republics in the Baltics -- Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia -- have increased since Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

All three Baltic states are now members of NATO and the European Union.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, AFP, Vesti.ru, and RT

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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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