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A court in Russia's Daghestan region has found a man guilty of attacking a journalist and impeding the reporter's professional activities.

The lawyer for Patimat Makhmudova of the Russian-language news portal Caucasian Knot called the November 19 ruling the "first guilty verdict” in a journalist assault case in the North Caucasus.

A court in the regional capital, Makhachkala, earlier handed a suspended 18-month prison sentence to Karim Kasumov for assaulting Makhmudova and breaking her video camera.

Makhmudova's lawyer, Akhmed Elmurzayev, called the sentence too mild and said he will appeal it.

The incident occurred as Makhmudova was covering an antigovernment rally organized by Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny in June 2017.

Kasumov pleaded not guilty, claiming he was not aware that Makhmudova was a journalist.

However, witnesses testified during the trial that Makhmudova had told Kasumov that she was covering the rally as a journalist.

In the mostly Muslim-populated North Caucasus region, journalists and human rights activists, who try to cover social issues linked to organized crime, business turf wars, political disputes, and clan rivalry are often attacked and even sometimes killed.

Investigations of such attacks almost never reach the courts.

Based on reporting by Mediazona and Caucasian Knot

Msh/ab

Four actresses from Minsk's Free Theater stage a flash mob near a controversial police statue in the Belarusian capital

The "special status" of a statue in downtown Minsk of a random policeman and his canine has drawn a backlash from some Belarusians since a college student was forced to issue an apology for slapping the same sculpture's bearded face.

The latest episode of the very public back-and-forth came on November 19, when four actresses from the capital's Free Theater staged a flash mob to bestow the sculpture with hugs and cuddles, and snap a group selfie before real-live police officers intervened.

They were eventually fined for "disobeying police" in connection with the early morning stunt.

Last week a 16-year-old student in Minsk, identified as Arseniy, was forced by police to issue a video apology for his November 14 whack on the cheek of the monument to tsarist-era police in an incident that drew ridicule on social media.

After they turned up for their creative response to Arseniy's punishment, the four activists were first admonished by two police officers who told them their PDAs on bronze were illegal. Then a third cop came to tell them that kissing the statue was alright as long as no "vandalism" was taking place.

But then the women asked the third policeman, who identified himself as Sergeant Yahor Tsyrulnikau, to cite the laws that had been broken by slapping the statue, which is not considered to have major architectural or historical value.

Tsyrulnikau acknowledged that he did not know which statutes would be violated by such an action.

The sculpture of a tsarist-era policeman and his dog has provoked a number of incidents since it was unveiled in 2017. (file photo)
The sculpture of a tsarist-era policeman and his dog has provoked a number of incidents since it was unveiled in 2017. (file photo)

The women were then reportedly cited for disobeying a police order.

Arseniy had been cited for hooliganism -- the police even made a special video of the incident to show how efficiently they had handled the situation.

"We detained the delinquent in question, interrogated him, and drew up a report," a police representative said in the video.

"He thought everything would go unnoticed," the ministry wrote in its statement. "How naive.... Military Detachment 5448 reacted instantly and professionally."

An unemotional Arseniy said in the video clip: "This statue has its own history, and my actions could have desecrated it. I am genuinely sorry."

Slap! Belarus Statue A Magnet For Pranksters
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The tsarist-era police in Belarus are regarded critically by many residents in the former Russian Empire for perceived excesses to enforce reactionary policies.

But Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been accused by critics of running a police state during his nearly quarter-century of authoritarian rule, with dissenters or challengers closely monitored, routinely harassed, and frequently jailed.

The spat over the police statue and its significance has simmered for months.

'Plucky Foolhardiness'

Blogger Yauhen Lipkovich has launched a drive on the Petitions.by website, asking people to support the destruction of the police statue. The petition says the sculpture, which was unveiled in 2017 to mark 100 years since the establishment of the Belarusian police, "provokes residents and police officers [to commit] inappropriate actions."

Just over a week ago, police arrested Dzmitry Zavadsky after he tied a scarf around the sculpture's neck and tried to have a photo taken. Police detained him and took him to the station for questioning.

That was preceded on June 28 by the detention of three people for allegedly placing rainbow-colored flowers in front of the statue and painting colorful footprints on the sidewalk in front of him on their way from a rally for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. They were subsequently fined.

The LGBT embellishment of the statue led to fines for three people.
The LGBT embellishment of the statue led to fines for three people.

And, in what was one of the first instances of defiance in front of the statue, artist Vyacheslav Kasinerava was fined in March 2017 after he threw a hangman's noose over the sculpture to protest the current police treatment of political protesters.

The light-hearted attacks on Minsk's bronze policeman and his pooch are unlikely to end anytime soon in a country where officials have largely stamped out more serious displays of disaffection.

But, in the concluding words of the video showing Arseniy's apology, the police appear hopeful that he and the other potential critics of the monument will learn their lesson.

"Perhaps his words of apology to the policeman will help him rein in his plucky foolhardiness and repair his relations with the law," an unnamed official intones.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich

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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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