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Vladimir Shvetsov's wooden house was completely destroyed by fire. (file photo)

VERKH-BIYISK, Russia -- The home of a Russian activist has been burned down in what he suspects was an arson attack in retaliation for his opposition to deforestation in the Altai Republic in southern Siberia.

Vladimir Shvetsov's wooden house in the village of Verkh-Biyisk was completely destroyed by fire on February 18.

Speaking to reporters, Shvetsov linked the incident with a February 13 demonstration in which he and others protested the felling of 100-year-old conifers in the region. A neighbor and fellow activists said opponents of the deforestation have been threatened.

The protest was held outside the office of President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Siberia in the city of Novosibirsk.

Shvetsov's neighbor Olga Toruchak, who is also an anti-deforestation activist, told RFE/RL that everybody in the village believes the overnight fire was an arson attack.

"Thanks to the dogs, who started barking, Vladimir woke up and managed to get out of the house in time, saving himself and his little dog. His two cats died in the fire," Toruchak said.

"Those who own the land and those who are involved in the deforestation did not like our protests," she said. "They have openly threatened us, saying they will bring people with assault rifles to shoot everyone, especially Shvetsov, who impede their activities."

Toruchak said the activists will continue their protests against cutting old pine trees in the area.

"Of course, our people are shocked by the fire but I think nobody will manage to frighten us," she said.

Since January, local residents held three rallies in the region protesting the deforestation. The next protest is scheduled for February 24.

With reporting by MBK.Media
Saida Rustamova

DUSHANBE -- A dance teacher in Dushanbe who was fired for not watching President Emomali Rahmon's address to the nation on television has been rehired after reports about her ordeal.

The Federation of Unions of Tajikistan told RFE/RL on February 16 that Saida Rustamova had been reinstated at its request by the choreography school that had fired her a few days earlier.

On February 14, Rustamova told RFE/RL that she was fired and official documents stated that she lost her job because she was not present in the school auditorium where students and teachers were gathered to watch Rahmon's annual address.

Rustamova said she had left the auditorium because there were no available seats left.

The school's principal, Kenja Ibrohimov, said that Rustamova was dismissed because of what he said was poor professional performance and her failure to follow her supervisors’ recommendations.

In August, authorities in the southwestern Huroson district fired Ziyoda Salomova, the head of the district's Department for Women and Family, after a group of women played Tajik folk music on out-of-tune traditional instruments during a visit by Rahmon.

Rahmon reinstated Salomova days later after her story was picked up by the media.

Much of the media in tightly controlled Tajikistan frequently showers Soviet-style praise on Rahmon, portraying him as a savior who brought peace to Tajikistan following a five-year civil war in the 1990s.

Rahmon, 65, holds titles including Founder of Peace and National Unity of Tajikistan and Leader of the Nation and enjoys lifelong immunity from prosecution, according to a law he endorsed in December 2015.

Rahmon, a former collective farm chief, has been in power in Tajikistan since 1992 -- a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Critics accuse his government of systematic rights abuses.

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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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