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People place stuffed toys in front of the Russian Supreme Court during a rally to demand the release of two teenagers accused of "extremism" in a case they say is part of a growing Kremlin crackdown on Russian youth, in Moscow on August 15.

Russia’s Supreme Court has sharply narrowed when people can be charged under the country’s extremism laws, saying that simply “liking” or reposting material on social media does not alone constitute a crime.

The September 20 ruling follows a string of recent cases in which Russians have been charged for publishing materials, sometimes satirical, to social-media platforms such as VKontakte and Facebook.

Kremlin critics say that the cases are part of an ongoing government crackdown on online speech and that the authorities have used extremism laws to stifle dissent.

Vladimir Davydov, a deputy chairman of the court, told reporters on September 20 that merely reposting material on social media doesn’t automatically mean it’s a crime.

Authorities must prove there was intent to foment hatred or ethnic hostility, he said.

“Judges…should check not the actual fact of publication, not the ‘repost,’ not the ‘like,’ but they should check the actual motives,” he said.

He said the court would also review earlier convictions on extremism-related charges.

A growing number of Russians have been caught up by authorities’ strict -- and some say overly broad --interpretation of the country’s extremism laws.

Last year, a 27-year-old man in the city of Cheboksary was found guilty of "mass distribution of extremist materials" when he reposted a news item about his earlier conviction for reposting "extremist" content.

Authorities have also taken a dim view of satirical material and online publications, such as Internet memes, that poke fun at religious figures and beliefs.

In August, a 38-year-old man in the city of Barnaul was charged for a social-media posting that lampooned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church for wearing a pricey wristwatch.

With reporting by Current Time TV
World Anti-Doping Agency Lifts Ban On Russia, With Caveats
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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has lifted the suspension of Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA), despite opposition from dozens of athletes and the anti-doping establishment.

WADA President Craig Reedie said the "great majority" of the organization’s 12-member executive committee voted at a meeting in the Seychelles on September 20 to end a three-year-suspension that followed a major doping scandal.

RUSADA was suspended in 2015 after a WADA-commissioned report outlined evidence of an extensive, government-backed doping program in sports. Moscow has repeatedly denied state involvement in doping.

Following the WADA ruling, athletics' global governing body, the IAAF, said in a statement that the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) would continue to remain suspended for the time being.

The IAAF, which has allowed some athletes from Russia to compete as "neutrals" in international events, said its next update on Russia's standing would come in December.

Last week, WADA's compliance review committee recommended that its executive committee end the three-year suspension when it met in the Seychelles, saying the country had "sufficiently acknowledged" failures.

Russia's national anti-doping agency RUSADA in Moscow on September 20
Russia's national anti-doping agency RUSADA in Moscow on September 20

But critics say Russia has still failed to meet steps laid out in the RUSADA Roadmap To Compliance established in 2017, including acknowledging the findings of the WADA report and allowing access to urine samples.

In comments posted on WADA's Twitter account, Reedie said the reinstatement was "subject to strict conditions."

"This decision provides a clear timeline by which WADA must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples," he added.


Russia welcomed WADA’s decision and "confirms its adherence to the principles of clean competition," said Olga Golodets, the country's deputy prime minister in charge of sports.

In recent years "Russia has conducted enormous work on creating transparent and understandable conditions for combating doping," Golodets said in comments carried by state news agency TASS on September 20.

World Anti-Doping Agency President Craig Reedie
World Anti-Doping Agency President Craig Reedie

WADA Vice President Linda Helleland on September 19 joined the chorus of voices arguing against letting Russia back in, saying she would vote against the proposal to reinstate RUSADA if it came to a vote at the meeting of the agency's executive committee.

"I can see that progress is being made and I acknowledge the efforts done by RUSADA," Helleland said in a statement, but she asserted that Russia has not yet met key criteria for its anti-doping agency's readmission.

In an open letter to WADA, 14 members of the IAAF's athletes' commission said that RUSADA "cannot be declared compliant until all outstanding conditions set out in the Roadmap have been satisfied."

They said that any compromises would "tarnish WADA's reputation and bring global sport into disrepute."

National anti-doping agencies from around the world, including from the United States and Britain, also issued a joint statement on September 18 urging WADA not to reinstate RUSADA.

WADA on September 15 rejected accusations that it had softened requirements for RUSADA to be reinstated, saying in a statement that its actions were "grounded in pragmatism," reflected "flexibility," and were "entirely in line” with the RUSADA Roadmap To Compliance.

The athletes' commission of the International Olympic Committee said it "agreed in principle" with the recommendation to end the suspension.

With reporting by the BBC, Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP

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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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