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Human rights activist, lawyer Ivan Pavlov

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has awarded a Russian and a Saudi activist for their "courageous and tireless" work in advocating human rights.

The New York-based rights group announced January 30 that Ivan Pavlov and Hala Al-Dosari were the recipients of this year’s Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, saying they were "leading voices for justice" in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement that the annual award celebrates the valor of people who "work tirelessly and courageously to stand up for justice, often in the face of danger and at great personal sacrifice."

The statement described Al-Dosari as a prominent human rights activist, scholar, and blogger "known for speaking out against the country’s deeply entrenched discrimination against women and girls."

It said Pavlov is a lawyer and activist who has dedicated his career to defending people "wrongly accused by security services of disclosing state secrets, high treason, and espionage."

"Pavlov has persevered against overwhelming odds, threats of violence, and government surveillance," it added.

In a statement on Facebook, Pavlov said on January 31 that the award was a "great honor" for Team 29, the informal group of lawyers he leads -- and without whose other members he said "nothing would have been achieved.”

Pavlov's clients included Inga Tutisan, a Russian woman convicted of treason in 2014 for sending text messages to Georgian acquaintances about the movement of Russian Navy ships in the Black Sea after the brief 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Russia's Supreme Court reduced her six-year prison sentence by almost two years in November.

Roman Nasirov attends a court hearing in Kyiv in March 2017.

The Ukrainian government has fired tax and customs service chief Roman Nasirov, who was suspended from the post after his arrest on suspicion of embezzlement in March 2017.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman said on January 31 that the State Commission for Senior State Service Personnel had approved the government's recommendation that Nasirov be dismissed.

Nasirov is being investigated on suspicion of defrauding the state of 2 billion hryvnyas ($70 million).

He is one of the highest officials to face prosecution in Ukraine, whose pro-Western government is under pressure from the United States, the European Union, and donor organizations to tackle a deep-seated graft problem.

Nasirov was arrested after the National Anticorruption Bureau accused him of signing off on grace periods for a number of taxpayers, including companies linked to a former lawmaker who fled the country in 2016 while facing a corruption investigation.

Shortly after his arrest, he was released on bail but ordered to wear an electronic bracelet and barred from leaving Kyiv without investigators' permission.

Western officials say corruption hurts Ukraine's chances of throwing off the influence of Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backs separatists whose war with Kyiv has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, UNIAN and 5 Kanal

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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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