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Aqmaral Tobylova

Amnesty International has called on authorities in Kazakhstan to halt criminal proceedings against a pregnant woman accused of giving financial backing to an opposition political movement.

The London-based rights watchdog said in a statement on April 18 that Aqmaral Tobylova was charged "merely for browsing" the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan's (DVK) website.

Amnesty said that a Kazakh court on April 13 ruled that Tobylova be released on bail on medical grounds.

However, the 28-year-old female graphic designer, who had been held under house arrest since mid-March, remains charged with financing an extremist organization.

"There was nothing forbidden there. I was interested in their program because they promised good pensions and housing," Amnesty quoted Tobylova as telling the Kazakhstani International Bureau of Human Rights.

Tobylova, a resident of Almaty, was detained on March 13, the day after a court declared the DVK movement to be an extremist organization, saying it "propagates the forcible change of Kazakhstan's constitutional order."

DVK was established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

"Bloggers, activists, and members of the public continue to be subjected to police questioning and arrests for expressing support for the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan opposition party," Amnesty International said.

The group said the criminal proceedings against Tobylova and any others who have been charged under antiextremism legislation "simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights" should be stopped.

It also urged Kazakhstan to amend what it called "vaguely worded provisions" in antiextremism legislation and ensure that they are not "misused to target political opponents and stifle dissent."

Opponents and rights groups say President Nazarbaev, who has held power in Kazakhstan since before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.

Britain's media watchdog is investigating whether Russian news channel RT broke impartiality rules in its programs after a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury last month.

Media regulator Ofcom warned on April 18 that TV Novosti, the company which produces RT, could lose its British broadcasting rights if it failed its "fit-and-proper" test.

"Until recently, TV Novosti's overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters," Ofcom said in a statement on April 18.

"However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programs on the RT service that warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

"Ofcom has today opened seven new investigations into the due impartiality of news and current-affairs programs on the RT news channel," the regulator said.

It said it would consider "all relevant new evidence, including the outcome of these investigations and the future conduct of the licensee."

Britain blames Russia for the March 4 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a nerve agent -- a charge that Moscow denies.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has warned that British media outlets will be forced to close Russian operations if Britain expels RT, which used to be known as Russia Today.

In a statement, RT said that the channel's "editorial approach has not changed since the events in Salisbury, and we will be directly addressing this matter with the regulator."

"We are pleased to see that Ofcom has acknowledged RT’s compliance record has been in line with other broadcasters," the statement said.

Russia's Embassy in London said that "this targeted scrutiny, directed at one particular news organization and regarding one particular issue, amounts to pressure against this specific broadcaster."

"This increased scrutiny is sure to affect press freedom in Britain," it added.

With reporting by Reuters and 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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