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The rally was held in a suburban area of Yakutsk after permission was denied to hold it in the city center.

YAKUTSK, Russia -- Dozens of activists protested in the Siberian city of Yakutsk against a plan by Russian federal authorities to abolish mandatory Yakut language lessons at schools.

The two-hour rally of some 150 people on June 7 took place in a suburban area of Yakutsk after authorities did not give permission for it to be held in the city center of the capital of Russia's Sakha region.

Demonstrators charged that the Education Ministry’s plan to make voluntary the study of the indigenous languages in ethnic regions and republics would create chaos in the education system.

A resolution signed by activists claimed that the move violates the constitutional rights of ethnic republics to use their state languages.

Feliks Antonov, the organizer of the rally, told RFE/RL that the event was planned for the day before the State Assembly was expected to discuss amendments to the federal law on education.

The Turkic-speaking Yakuts make up about half of the 1 million residents of Sakha, Russia's largest region by territory, which is also known as Yakutia.

In recent months, the language issue has been a subject of controversy in Russia's so-called "ethnic" regions, where indigenous, non-Russian ethnic groups are well-represented.

President Vladimir Putin said in July 2017 that children in ethnic regions must not be forced to learn languages that are not their mother tongues and ordered prosecutors to determine whether that was taking place.

That led to abolishing mandatory indigenous language classes in the regions.

In April, a group of parents in Tatarstan urged the government of the Russian region to return mandatory Tatar-language classes to schools across the republic.

NIDA activists Uzeyir Mahammad-oglu Mammadli (left) and Zaur Araz-oglu Gurbanli

The European court has ruled that Azerbaijan's arrest of four civil-society activists was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on June 7 said it found the arrests of the men "were inconsistent and had lacked clarity, with no evidence being presented to back up the investigators' and prosecutors’ accusations."

The men were board members of the NIDA civic movement, which was established in 2011 and has organized protests in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, against corruption and the detention of what it calls are political prisoners.

The ECHR said they were arrested a few days after a "peaceful protest" in March 2013 against alleged mistreatment of soldiers in the army. Authorities charged them with supplying firebombs that they said were found in the apartments of two other NIDA members.

The European court said that "given the lack of evidence against the four, and other facts and circumstances, it had concluded that they were arrested and detained in order to silence them and punish them for their involvement in NIDA."

The men denied all charges, calling them politically motivated, ECHR said in its ruling.

The men were eventually convicted in May 2014 and sentenced to terms of seven to eight years each. Two were released in late 2014 and the other two in March 2016 after being pardoned by presidential decree, the ECHR said.

In its ruling, the court in Strasbourg ordered the Azerbaijani authorities to pay 20,000 euros ($23,670) compensation to each of the men.

It listed them as Rashad Zeynalabdin-oglu Hasanov, Zaur Araz-oglu Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mahammad-oglu Mammadli, and Rashadat Fikrat-oglu Akhundov, all born in the 1980s.

ECHR rulings are not final and parties have three months to request that the case be taken to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.

Azerbaijan's opposition, as well as Western governments and international human rights groups, have criticized President Ilham Aliyev's government for persistently persecuting opposition politicians, activists, independent media outlets, and journalists, often using what they allege are trumped-up criminal charges.

Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic with an iron hand since shortly before his father, Heydar Aliyev, died in 2003 after a decade in power.

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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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