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Maria Alyokhina

MOSCOW -- A leading member of the Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot has been fined for evading community service.

A court in Moscow on July 11 ordered Maria Alyokhina to pay a fine of 400,000 rubles ($6,500).

In April, a Moscow court ordered Alyokhina to perform 100 hours of community service for participating in an unauthorized protest against Russia's ban on the messaging app Telegram.

Earlier that month, Alyokhina and other activists threw paper planes -- Telegram's logo -- at the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Moscow's Lubyanka Square.

The demonstrators were charged with violating regulations on public gatherings.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor started blocking access to Telegram on April 16, following a court ruling against the popular messaging app days earlier.

The move to block Telegram has deepened concerns that the government is seeking to close avenues for dissent after President Vladimir Putin secured a new six-year term following elections in March.

Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012, when Alyokhina and two other women were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a stunt in which band members burst into Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang a "punk prayer" against Putin, who was prime minister and campaigning for his return to the presidency at the time.

Alyokhina and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were close to the end of their two-year prison sentences when they were freed in December 2013, under an amnesty they dismissed as a propaganda stunt to improve Putin's image ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Hairullo Mirsaidov

KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- A court in Tajikistan has sentenced prominent journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov to 12 years in prison.

The court in the northern city of Khujand found Mirsaidov guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds, and false reporting to police, and sentenced him on July 11.

Mirsaidov was arrested in his native city of Khujand in December and charged with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred.

Mirsaidov pleaded not guilty and said the case against him was retaliation for his critical reporting of government corruption.

His lawyers called the verdict "unfair," and said they will appeal it.

Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany's Deutsche Welle radio.

He is also the leader of the Tajik national KVN comedy team, a stand-up comedy competition that originated among university students in the Soviet Union and is still popular in many post-Soviet states.

His case has drawn international attention, with London-based Amnesty International describing him as "a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression."

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists said journalists like Mirsaidov should be "recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges."

Weeks before his arrest in December, Mirsaidov published an open letter to President Emomali Rahmon, Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon, and Sughd region Governor Abdurahmon Qodiri asking them to crack down on alleged corrupt local officials.

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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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