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HRW: Lawyers In Belarus Under 'Unprecedented Pressure' Since 2020

Human Rights Watch said on May 27 that lawyers in Belarus have been under "unprecedented" pressure since mass unrest followed the official results of a 2020 presidential election that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka victory. The report said more than 140 Belarusian lawyers have lost their licenses in politically motivated moves since the vote, while at least 23 lawyers have been arrested in what appears to be an attempt to force them to drop clients facing politically motivated charges. At least six Belarusian lawyers are currently serving politically motivated prison terms of between six and 10 years, the report said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

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Kosovar Journalist Barred From Euro 2024 After Making Gesture At Serbian Fans

Serbia's football association asked for the Kosovar journalist's removal, saying that he provoked Serbian fans by making a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. (file photo)
Serbia's football association asked for the Kosovar journalist's removal, saying that he provoked Serbian fans by making a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. (file photo)

UEFA has canceled the credentials of a Kosovar journalist covering the Euro 2024 soccer tournament following complaints about a nationalist gesture he made toward Serbian fans on June 16. Milan Vukovic, a spokesman for the Football Federation of Serbia, asked for Arlind Sadiku's removal from the tournament in Germany, saying the reporter provoked Serbian fans when he turned toward them and made a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. Ethnic Albanians make up the majority of the population in Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not recognize. Sadiku acknowledged that the gesture was unprofessional but argued that it was not "offensive to anyone."

Pakistani Journalists Hold Protest After Funeral For Colleague Killed By Gunmen

The funeral procession for slain Pakistani journalist Khalil Afridi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on June 19.
The funeral procession for slain Pakistani journalist Khalil Afridi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on June 19.

Reporters in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province protested on June 19 after a fellow journalist was shot and killed by unidentified armed men.

The protest took place after the funeral for the journalist, Khalil Afridi, who worked for Pashto-language Khyber TV. He also served twice as president of the local press club in Landi Kotal, a Pakistani town near Torkham. In addition to working as a journalist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Afridi was a civil society activist.

More than 1,000 people from the area and other members of the community were present for Afridi’s funeral in Landi Kotal.

Shams Mohmand, the head of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Journalists Association, told reporters after the funeral that the association would hold another demonstration on June 21 at Bab-e-Khyber (Khyber Gate) to demand the safety and security of journalists.

Police said Afridi was killed on June 18 at around 10 p.m. local time when his car was stopped by hooded armed men who opened fire. Afridi died at the scene, while a friend who was also in the car, was injured, police officer Sajid Afridi, who is not related to the victim, told RFE/RL.

Police said Afridi and his friend had gone to a flood site and were attacked on their way home. No one has claimed responsibility for his death.

His family and officials said gunmen had been threatening him for a long time, and his family said he had been attacked by gunmen in the past. Afridi’s family said someone planted a bomb under his car on November 24, 2017. It failed to detonate, but on the same day he and four other journalists were arrested by the militia forces and held against their will for a few days.

Domestic and international media watchdogs have called Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.

The Freedom Network, a nongovernmental organization working for media freedom and freedom of expression in Pakistan, said in its annual report on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, that there had been an increase in threats to journalists and media in the country.

The report said that four journalists were killed in Pakistan between May 2023 and April 2024, adding that their deaths were among 104 cases of violence against journalists and media workers in Pakistan during the period.

The government has repeatedly insisted that there is a free media in the country and that all citizens have the right to freedom of expression.

The government passed a law in 2021 on the protection of journalists, under which the government is to take appropriate measures against all forms of harassment, violence, and abuse of reporters and media workers.

Kyiv Identifies 5 Russian Officers Allegedly Involved In Executing Ukrainian Soldiers

Four of the Russian military officers suspected of being involved in executing captured Ukrainian soldiers (left to right:) Yury Abayev, Dmitry Nagorny, Temirlan Abutalimov, and Yusup Imagazaliyev.
Four of the Russian military officers suspected of being involved in executing captured Ukrainian soldiers (left to right:) Yury Abayev, Dmitry Nagorny, Temirlan Abutalimov, and Yusup Imagazaliyev.

Ukraine's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) said on June 19 that it has identified five Russian military officers suspected of being involved in the execution of four Ukrainian soldiers who were surrendering in May in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region. According to the HUR, Colonel Yury Abayev, Captain Dmitry Nagorny, and Lieutenants Temirlan Abutalimov, Zaur Bekov, and Yusup Imagazaliyev are suspected of fatally shooting the Ukrainian soldiers. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin said earlier that Russian armed forces have executed at least 61 captured Ukrainian soldiers since Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Tajik Parliament's Upper Chamber Approves Bill Banning Hijab

 The bill mostly targets the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and other traditional items of Islamic clothing. (file photo)
The bill mostly targets the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and other traditional items of Islamic clothing. (file photo)

The Tajik parliament's upper chamber, the Majlisi Milli, approved a bill on June 19 banning "alien garments" and children's celebrations for two major Islamic holidays -- Eid al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, known as idgardak. The bill, approved on May 8 by the lower chamber, the Majlisi Namoyandagon, mostly targets the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and other traditional items of Islamic clothing, which started coming to the Central Asian nation in recent years from the Middle East and have been associated with Islamic extremists by officials. The bill sparked controversy among the mostly Muslim population of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, which borders Afghanistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Journalist Lazareva To Terrorists List

Russian journalist Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)
Russian journalist Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)

Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, added self-exiled television journalist Tatyana Lazareva to its list of "terrorists and extremists" on June 19. Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said it had launched a probe against Lazareva on a charge of justifying terrorism. The charge stems from Lazareva's report about Ukrainian drones attacking Russian sites. Last week, the ministry added Lazareva to its wanted list. In July 2022, Lazareva, who openly condemned Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents." Lazareva fled Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

No Escaping The Belarus 'Nightmare'? Serbian Case Tests Lukashenka's International Reach

Belarusian journalist and activist Andrey Hnyot on June 14 in the rented Belgrade apartment where he is under house arrest pending a decision on his possible extradition to Belarus.
Belarusian journalist and activist Andrey Hnyot on June 14 in the rented Belgrade apartment where he is under house arrest pending a decision on his possible extradition to Belarus.

As expressions of concern and outrage pile up over the possible fate of Belarusian journalist and regime critic Andrey Hnyot, the 42-year-old exile remains in legal limbo in an extradition battle, he says, “to save my life.”

Hnyot remains as active as his ankle-braceleted confinement to a modest, 20-square-meter apartment in Serbia’s capital allows, while his lawyers appeal a Belgrade High Court ruling from June 13 that would send him back to Belarus's authoritarian rulers.

In his first interview since his transfer on June 5 from seven months in a Serbian jail cell to home incarceration, Hnyot told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service that he now works “from morning to night" on his defense.

The prospect of a forced return -- Hnyot, rights groups, and the European Union agree -- is enough to terrify and motivate even the hardiest champions of democracy, free speech, and the rule of law.

Since Hnyot participated in unprecedented protests after the disputed 2020 vote in which Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed an improbable 80 percent of the vote and a sixth term as Belarus’s president, Europe’s longest-reigning leader has overseen a crackdown that has left thousands of political opponents missing, fleeing, or in prison.

“Torture, blood, nightmare,” is how Hnyot describes the regime in his homeland, which he fled soon after the protests to seek safe shelter in Thailand.

He dismisses the accusations of tax fraud at the center of an arrest warrant issued from Minsk via the International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol, as “ridiculous, nonsense.”

Officials in Serbia arrested Hnyot upon his arrival at Belgrade airport on October 30 on the basis of that warrant and locked him up in isolation at the city’s central prison.

A court of first instance green-lighted his deportation to Belarus in December, but an appellate court overturned that decision and ordered a new hearing that eventually led to the High Court’s decision earlier this month to extradite him.

Hnyot’s case has heightened international scrutiny on Moscow’s allies in Serbia as the Kremlin seeks diplomatic and other support from Belgrade to ease the economic and diplomatic isolation brought on by its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

It also highlights longstanding criticism of Interpol and whether its system of issuing warrants based on claims by authoritarian regimes furthers its stated goal of uniting disparate law enforcement organizations to “make the world a safer place.”

Taking Repression Global: What's Interpol Exactly, And How Do Some Governments Abuse It?
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The European Union responded to the latest extradition ruling with a blistering warning for authorities in EU candidate Serbia.

“There are sufficient grounds to believe that the arrest warrant against Mr. Hnyot was motivated by political reasons, and that he would face political repression and ill-treatment if he were to be extradited to Belarus,” EU spokesman Peter Stano told RFE/RL in a statement.

The specter of becoming an accessory to authoritarian-style persecution has already tested notions of justice inside the European Union itself.

Moscow has so far failed in its efforts to squeeze member states like Bulgaria to repatriate critics of Putin’s war.

The EU is following the Serbian case with concern, Stano said, adding, “We expect that Mr. Hnyot’s case will be carefully examined in accordance with international human rights law and EU standards, and we continue to call for his release.”

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade would say only that it is monitoring the case.

“This is an ongoing judicial process, and the Embassy is closely following it,” it said in a written statement earlier this month. Embassy spokespeople did not answer repeated telephone calls seeking additional comment on June 19.

Neither the EU nor the United States recognize Lukashenka’s legitimacy since the 2020 election seen by the opposition and many Western nations as having been "rigged, and the subsequent brutal crackdown he launched against any and all dissent.

Interpol did not respond to multiple RFE/RL requests via official channels for comment on its practices, Hnyot’s case, and the reliability of accusations from a repressive regime like Belarus, which has been accused of hijacking an international flight to capture a dissident and “weaponizing” third-country migrants against its EU neighbors.

It has previously responded to criticism of its use of “red notices” and other international alerts to track down fugitives from dubious charges by bad-faith regimes as their numbers have skyrocketed by highlighting its collaborative, membership structure. Its Lyon-based leadership has previously acknowledged that it’s not a “perfect system.”

Interpol told RFE/RL in February that “all requests sent by the National Central Bureau in Minsk are carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with Interpol rules and procedures.”

But it has produced no public findings from an investigation it was said to have launched into Hnyot’s arrest and possible extradition from Serbia.

“It looks like nobody is listening to me,” Hnyot told RFE/RL after the Serbian High Court’s June 13 decision in favor of extradition, which he called “empty and formal.”

He said the court dismissed his defense arguments as “opinion” and was overly deferential to an extradition agreement concluded between Serbia and Belarus in 2019.

Hnyot showing letters of support he received during his seven-month detention in Belgrade's Main Prison.
Hnyot showing letters of support he received during his seven-month detention in Belgrade's Main Prison.

But free-speech and free-press groups including the International Press Institute, the European Federation of Journalists, and the banned Belarusian Association of Journalists have all raised their voices to call for Hnyot’s release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reiterated its concern over the case with a fresh appeal on June 18, saying Serbia’s courts “must not indulge a request from Belarusian authorities and should overturn” the Belgrade High Court’s decision.

CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna called the Belarusian request “absurd and unfounded” and demanded Belarusian authorities “stop their attempts to instrumentalize Interpol to transnationally repress dissenting voices.”

Serbian authorities are allowed to detain individuals for up to one year in extradition cases.

As Hnyot and his defense team organize his appeal, he remains confined to the rented apartment that he found with the help of his lawyers. His only escape is the allowed hour’s walk to shop for food and other essentials that he said people normally take for granted.

He uses his smartphone and laptop to communicate with his family, human rights groups, ambassadors, activists, and journalists.

On the day of the RFE/RL correspondent’s visit, June 14, Hnyot said he spoke for the first time with exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to whom he had written from jail.

Tsikhanouskaya is herself the target of a Belarusian warrant that Moscow says extends to Russia by virtue of bilateral agreements with Minsk, and he said she responded “by personally advocating for his case.”

Hnyot said they spoke not about politics or his case but rather “talked as friends.” “That gave me a lot of energy,” he said.

Hnyot was ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet under the terms of his indefinite house arrest.
Hnyot was ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet under the terms of his indefinite house arrest.

House arrest is a step up from prison, he said, even if he still has no family members in Belgrade to come visit him.

“Everything can be good and everything can look good and normal after prison,” he told RFE/RL. “When you’ve been in hell, everything that comes after it is better than hell.”

Written by Andy Heil in Prague based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Nevena Bogdanovic and RFE/RL's Balkan Service in Belgrade

Romania's Iohannis Expected To Pull Bid To Become NATO Chief

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (third right) attends a NATO meeting with other Romanian officials.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (third right) attends a NATO meeting with other Romanian officials.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is expected to announce on June 20 that he is exiting the race to become the next head of NATO, removing the last obstacle to the candidacy of longtime Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Speaking in Bucharest on June 19 after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Iohannis said he will first discuss his decision with Romania's Supreme Council of National Defense (CSAT), and then make a public announcement. A day earlier, Hungary and Slovakia threw their support behind Rutte, leaving Romania as the only nation among the military alliance's 32 members to have not given its backing to the 57-year-old Dutch leader. To read the original story by the RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Fails To Show In Parliament Over Deputy's Alleged Corruption

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin (file photo)
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin (file photo)

KYIV -- Ukraine's Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin failed to show at the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) on June 19 where he had been summoned by lawmakers over a media report involving the real estate dealings of his deputy, Dmytro Verbytskiy.

Kostin said in a letter addressed to House Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk that he was not present because discussion of the matter in parliament should wait "until the results of an official internal investigative report" are delivered.

"This will make it possible to ensure the completeness and objectivity of the relevant information," said Kostin's letter, read aloud in parliament.

A day earlier, lawmakers voted to summon Kostin after a report by Skhemy (Schemes), an investigative reporting unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, revealed that Verbytskiy and his girlfriend own an expensive car and two luxurious houses in prestigious areas of Kyiv that appeared to be beyond the means of people in their official positions.

Skhemy's investigative report revealed earlier that Verbytskiy resides in a two-story townhouse in the elite cottage area of Konyk in Kyiv, which his nephew purchased under a power of attorney for a businessman registered in the Black Sea port city of Odesa for a price six times lower than the market value.

Another Skhemy report said earlier this year Verbytskiy's girlfriend, Khrystyna Ilnytska, obtained a new Porsche automobile and a three-story townhouse in Konyk estimated to be worth at least 52 million hryvnyas ($1,270,000).

Her total income shown in official declarations over the last decade amounted to slightly more than 360,000 hryvnyas ($8,800).

Ukraine's Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office told RFE/RL earlier that after Skhemy's reports, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau had initiated criminal proceedings regarding the possible illegal activity of Verbytskiy.

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Kazakh Opposition Activist's Wife Says Kyiv Shooting 'Professional'

Wife Of Kazakh Journalist Says Husband In 'Grave Condition' After Shooting
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Self-exiled Kazakh journalist Natalya Sadyqova says the shooting of her husband in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, appears to be a "professional" operation that came hours after the couple issued a video critical of President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his "pro-Russian" politics.

Aidos Sadyqov, a noted Kazakh opposition activist and journalist, is currently in intensive care fighting for his life after he was shot by an unknown attacker while driving a car near an apartment block in Kyiv's Shevchenko district on June 18.

Sadyqova, who was also in the vehicle but was unharmed, said the bullet hit her husband in the temple and that he remains in a "very serious condition" after brain surgery.

Sadyqova told RFE/RL in an interview on June 19 that she saw the shooter's face. She gave no further details as an official investigation is under way.

Kazakh Opposition Journalist Shot In Kyiv
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"The only thing I can say -- he was a professional killer. We were driving by the courtyard. He shot at a moving object. He fired a single shot and hit his target. It was a very professional man, a hitman who was hired to kill Aidos," Sadyqova said.

Sadyqova added that the chief of Ukraine's National Police Ivan Vyhivskiy, who was among the police officers who arrived at the crime scene right after the attack, promised to keep the investigation of the attack under special control.

Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office has said an investigation on the "attempted murder of a journalist, a citizen of Kazakhstan," is under way, but has given no further details.

Toqaev said on June 19 that he had sent questions on the case to Ukraine via diplomatic channels, and that Kazakhstan is ready to participate in any investigation "to help find the truth."

The couple, along with their family, moved to Kyiv in 2014 after Kazakh authorities launched a case against Sadyqova, who worked as a journalist for the independent Respublika newspaper at the time. She was accused of slander.

Sadyqov used to lead a branch of the opposition Azat Social Democratic Party in his native Aqtobe region in Kazakhstan's northwest until 2010.

He later headed a group that was a major force to create a union defending the rights of Kazakh workers at the Chinese-owned CNPC-Aktobemunaygaz oil company.

Sadyqova said in the June 19 interview with RFE/RL that hours before the attack, she and her husband had issued a new video titled Toqaev Is Putin's Puppet on their Base YouTube channel.

The video criticizes Toqaev's "pro-Russian politics" and looks at the activities of Russian oligarchs and agents of influence in Kazakhstan, some of whom obtained Kazakh citizenship after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

She said Toqaev stands to be a beneficiary of the shooting "because the Kazakh opposition has been fully cleansed."

She did not present any evidence that connected Toqaev in any way to the shooting.

With reporting by Tengrinews and KazTAG

4 Ukrainians Get Lengthy Prison Terms For Murder Of Separatist Commander

Arsen Pavlov (aka Motorola) was top commander of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk before he was killed in 2016.
Arsen Pavlov (aka Motorola) was top commander of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk before he was killed in 2016.

A military court in Russia on June 19 sentenced four Ukrainian citizens to lengthy prison terms, including a life sentence for one, in the case of the 2016 death of Arsen Pavlov (also known as "Motorola"), a top commander of Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk. Oleksandr Pohorelov was sentenced to life, while Artem Yena received 17 years in prison, Vasyl Churylov got 13 years, and Oleksandr Tymoshenko was sentenced to 12 years. The four were also found guilty of the attempted murder of the Donetsk region's separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko in 2017. Zakharchenko was killed in a separate attack in 2018. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Man Suspected Of Killing Teen Girl In Siberia Identified As Former POW In Ukraine

Andrei Bykov was recruited by the Defense Ministry to the war in Ukraine in October 2023 from prison, where he was serving a lengthy term for murder.
Andrei Bykov was recruited by the Defense Ministry to the war in Ukraine in October 2023 from prison, where he was serving a lengthy term for murder.

Russia's Interior Ministry said on June 19 that a 49-year-old man suspected of killing a 12-year-old girl in the Siberian region of Kemerovo has been apprehended. Sources told RFE/RL that the suspect is Andrei Bykov, who was recruited by the Defense Ministry to the war in Ukraine in October 2023 from prison, where he was serving a lengthy term for murder. Bykov was captured by Ukrainian forces last year and was released in a prisoner exchange earlier this year. The number of crimes in Russia committed by convicts recruited from Russian penitentiaries who fought in Ukraine has been on rise since early 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kyrgyz Anti-War Activist Ordered To Pay Fine On Hatred Charge

Ondurush Toktonasyrov appears in court on June 19.
Ondurush Toktonasyrov appears in court on June 19.

A Bishkek court on June 19 ordered anti-war activist Ondurush Toktonasyrov to pay a 100,000-som ($1,140) fine after being convicted on a charge of inciting hatred online. Prosecutors had sought three years in prison for the activist. Toktonasyrov said he will appeal the ruling, calling it politically motivated. The 65-year-old activist is known for publicly raising social and political issues for years. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he condemned Moscow's aggression on social media. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Moscow Municipal Lawmaker Transferred To House Arrest

Ketevan Kharaidze is awaiting a court decision on her appeal of the sentence that she insists is linked to her decision in 2022 to run for the State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower chamber.
Ketevan Kharaidze is awaiting a court decision on her appeal of the sentence that she insists is linked to her decision in 2022 to run for the State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower chamber.

A Moscow court on June 19 ordered the transfer to house arrest of former municipal lawmaker Ketevan Kharaidze, who was sentenced in 2022 to four years in prison on extortion charges that she rejects as politically motivated. Kharaidze is awaiting a court decision on her appeal of the sentence that she insists is linked to her decision in 2022 to run for the State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower chamber. In September 2022, Kharaidze took part in the election of the municipal council of Moscow Tver district while in custody and was reelected. After her conviction in December 2022, her mandate was revoked. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.

Russian Drone Barrage Further Decimates Ukraine's Energy Infrastructure

The Energy Ministry said on June 19 that a power facility in central Ukraine was hit in the attacks, with "some equipment damaged." (file photo)
The Energy Ministry said on June 19 that a power facility in central Ukraine was hit in the attacks, with "some equipment damaged." (file photo)

A barrage of Russian drone attacks overnight further damaged Ukraine's already decimated energy infrastructure. The Energy Ministry said on June 19 that a power facility in central Ukraine was hit in the attacks, with "some equipment damaged." The report comes a day after officials said Ukrainians should expect rolling blackouts because of damage to power facilities. Ukraine has been importing record amounts of power recently to make up for the shortfall caused by Russia's targeting of energy infrastructure. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. Soldier Jailed In Russia On Theft, Threat Charges

U.S. Army Sergeant Gordon Black, who was detained on suspicion of theft, appears in court in the Far East city of Vladivostok on June 6.
U.S. Army Sergeant Gordon Black, who was detained on suspicion of theft, appears in court in the Far East city of Vladivostok on June 6.

A court in the Russian Far East has convicted and sentenced a U.S. Army sergeant who reportedly broke military rules to travel to Russia with his Russian girlfriend in May to three years and nine months in prison for allegedly attacking and threatening her amid accusations Moscow is using trumped-up charges to detain foreigners to use as currency in prisoner exchanges.

The soldier, 32-year-old Gordon Black, had pleaded not guilty in the Pervomaisky district court in Vladivostok to the charges but acknowledged hitting the woman, Aleksandra Vashchuk, after he said she drunkenly attacked him and tried to prevent him from leaving the apartment they were sharing.

Russian prosecutors had requested a nearly five-year sentence for Black.

He was also ordered to pay Vashchuk 10,000 rubles ($115) in a related civil case.

Black's lawyer said his client maintains his innocence and will appeal the verdict.

U.S. authorities have said Black traveled to Russia via China from South Korea -- where he had been assigned before heading back home to Texas -- without informing his superiors.

Around the time of Black's arrest in early May, Russian authorities reported detaining another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, on what they called "petty hooliganism" and alcohol charges in a separate case.

The detentions have fueled suspicions that Russian authorities are targeting Americans for use in possible prisoner swaps as Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

Russia has other U.S. citizens that Washington insists are being held unfairly or on dubious grounds in its jails, including RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and ex-Marine Paul Whelan.

Russia's Foreign Ministry insists the cases involving Black and Nycum are not political.

A State Department advisory from September urges Americans to avoid travel to Russia due to "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials."

The State Department said in December that Moscow rejected a significant offer it made to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Russian officials have kept mum for the most part about any talks to win the release of the Americans. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly said that while "certain contacts" on swaps continue, "they must be carried out in absolute silence."

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with the state news agency TASS on June 19 that Moscow was waiting for Washington to respond to its proposals on possible prisoner swaps.

"I am not authorized to go into details, but let’s put it this way: according to diplomatic protocols, there is a notion of 'the ball being in somebody’s court.' In this situation, the ball is on the U.S.'s side; we are expecting a response from them to those ideas that were conveyed to them," Ryabov said.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

Updated

Putin, Kim Sign New Accords At Anti-Western Summit in Pyongyang

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a signing ceremony following bilateral talks in Pyongyang on June 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a signing ceremony following bilateral talks in Pyongyang on June 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a comprehensive strategic partnership on June 19 during the Russian president's first visit in 24 years to the secretive one-party state.

The agreement calls for mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country and is intended to take cooperation between the two states to a new level.

Kim said the agreement ushers in a new era, adding that their cooperation on political, military, economic, and other issues is peaceful and aimed at defending the interests of both states.

"I have no doubt that it will become a driving force in the accelerated development of a new multipolar world," Kim said.

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after the agreement was signed that North Korea was helping Russia kill Ukrainian civilians.

"There is no doubt that North Korea is actively cooperating with Russia in the military sphere today and deliberately provides resources for the mass murder of Ukrainians," Mykhaylo Podolyak told the AFP new agency. He called for greater international isolation of both countries.

Putin has expressed gratitude for Pyongyang's "unwavering support" at the start of a summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un that began with a red-carpet welcome on June 19 as the two fiercely anti-Western leaders sought ways to boost cooperation.

The Russian president's visit came as Moscow wages its prolonged war in Ukraine and both countries grapple with Western sanctions punishing aggression or, in Pyongyang's case, rogue nuclear and other weapons programs.

The two leaders -- both of whom have become further isolated on the international stage as their relationship deepens -- exchanged platitudes before signing the new comprehensive strategic partnership agreement amid accusations that North Korea is supplying Moscow with weapons and ammunition for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

As analysts poured over the agreement for signs that the two countries were codifying their warming relations, Putin criticized international sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile development programs, calling them "illegitimate" and "politically motivated."

In turn, Kim pledged his country's "full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army, and people in carrying out the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests, and territorial integrity." He did not elaborate.

Moscow has banned the term "war" for what it terms a "special military operation" in reference to its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine or the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea alongside support for armed separatism in eastern Ukraine that began in 2014.

Multiple votes in the United Nations have expressed support for Ukrainian territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including Crimea and four eastern regions that abut Russia.

Before arriving, Putin said he appreciated North Korea’s firm support of his military actions in Ukraine, according to an op-ed piece that appeared in North Korean state media on June 18.

Their countries will continue to "resolutely oppose" what Putin described as Western ambitions "to hinder the establishment of a multipolar world order based on justice, mutual respect for sovereignty, considering each other's interests."

The United States and its allies have accused North Korea of violating UN Security Council resolutions by supplying Russia with arms, including ballistic missiles, to use in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a joint press briefing with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on June 18 that Russia's war in Ukraine was being propped up by North Korea, China, and Iran.

NATO countries are also "concerned about the potential support that Russia provides to North Korea when it comes to supporting their missile and nuclear programs," Stoltenberg said.

From Pyongyang, Putin traveled on to Vietnam for talks that are expected to be focused on trade. Putin praised Vietnam for its "balanced" stance on the Ukraine war and listed progress on payments, energy, and trade in an opinion piece published on on June 19 in the newspaper of Vietnam's Communist Party.

The United States, which has spent years strengthening ties and accelerating trade with Vietnam, criticized Putin's planned visit.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Russian Law On 'Undesirable Organizations' Violates Rights Convention, European Court Says

European Court of Human Rights (file photo)
European Court of Human Rights (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights on June 18 ruled unanimously that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it labeled several foreign organizations operating in Russia as "undesirable" and when it prosecuted Russians for being involved with those organizations.

The court said in a statement on June 18 that the "undesirable" designation was a violation of the convention's article on freedom of assembly and freedom of association with regard to four applicants based outside Russia -- the Free Russia Foundation in Washington, the Ukrainian World Congress in Toronto, the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and the Spolecnost Svobody Informace in Prague.

The unanimous decision by a seven-member panel of judges from Andorra, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Albania, Greece, Switzerland, and Bulgaria also determined that there had been a violation of the convention's article on freedom of expression and the article on freedom of assembly and association with respect to "all applicants who had been convicted for their involvement with 'undesirable organizations.'"

The court said that the decision was handed down in a case filed by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation and others against Russia concerning the designation of the four foreign organizations as "undesirable" and the prosecution of individuals for engaging in activities with other organizations that had likewise been declared "undesirable."

The court held that the law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2015, "had not been formulated with sufficient precision to enable the applicant organizations to foresee that their otherwise lawful actions would result in their designation as 'undesirable' and a prohibition on their activities in Russia," the statement said.

The four organizations based outside Russia were designated as "undesirable," while the other applicants were convicted for having been involved with organizations that had received a similar designation.

The four organizations complained that that two criteria used to designate them as undesirable had been "unforeseeable" and had "impinged on their freedoms of expression and association." The remaining applicants complained of their convictions for involvement with "undesirable" organizations.

The 2015 change in Russian law introduced a new power for the prosecutor-general to designate any non-Russian entity or NGO as an "undesirable organization" when it has been determined that the organization undermined "the foundations of the Russian constitutional order, defense capabilities, or national security of Russia."

The law gave the authority to maintain a register of "undesirable organizations" to the Justice Ministry, which as of April 2024 listed more than 150, including RFE/RL, according to the judgement.

The law, widely condemned in the West, had legal and practical consequences resulting in a ban on the operations in Russia of designated organizations.

The designation imposed severe restriction on an organization, including bans on having offices or carrying out projects in Russia, using Russian bank accounts, disseminating content through the media, and on the public accessing their websites from within Russia.

Human Rights Watch said in 2017 that the Russian government was using the "draconian and deliberately vague law" to target Russians it claimed were linked to "undesirable" foreign organizations.

In addition to the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, the other Russian organizations convicted of involvement with "undesirable organizations" are the Ekologicheskaya Vakhta Po Severnomo Kavkazu, Akoo Molodyye Zhurnalisty Altaya, and a number of other Russian nationals.

Scores Hospitalized With Botulism Symptoms In Russia; 3 Arrested

Improperly canned, preserved, or fermented foods are common sources. (file photo)
Improperly canned, preserved, or fermented foods are common sources. (file photo)

Russian authorities detained three people on June 18 in connection with a suspected botulism outbreak, a move that comes as 169 people have been hospitalized thus far with the rare disease, most of whom are from Moscow. Officials link the outbreak to ready-to-eat salads made by popular delivery service Kukhnya Na Rayone. Foodborne botulism is a rare illness that can cause paralysis, breathing difficulties, and sometimes death. Improperly canned, preserved, or fermented foods are common sources. Kukhnya Na Rayone suspended operations over the weekend, saying in an online statement that it no longer offered the salad, which had canned beans in it, and would inspect other food it makes as well.

Russian Journalist Kevorkova's Detention On Terror Charge Extended

Nadezhda Kevorkova (file photo)
Nadezhda Kevorkova (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 18 extended pretrial detention for Russian journalist Nadezhda Kevorkova until at least August 6. Kevorkova was arrested last month on a charge of "justifying terrorism." The 65-year-old journalist reiterated her innocence. Her lawyers requested her transfer to house arrest. The charges against Kevorkova stem from two posts on Telegram in 2018 and 2021. Kevorkova is known for focusing on conflicts in the Caucasus and the Middle East and on Muslims' rights in Russia and abroad. Kevorkova's former husband, Maksim Shevchenko, is a well-known political observer and politician. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Dissident Yashin Moved To Harsher Russian Prison Regime

Ilya Yashin (file photo)
Ilya Yashin (file photo)

Outspoken Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin, serving 8 1/2 years in prison for openly condemning Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has been transferred to a punitive cell unit (PKT) in a prison in the western Smolensk region, his Telegram channel said on June 18. Placement in the PKT is considered the harshest type of incarceration in Russian prisons. Unlike regular parts of prisons where inmates can move around, work, and visit a library or prayer rooms, the PKT limits those incarcerated to serve time in their cell, and they are isolated from the rest of the facility. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

China, Iran, North Korea 'Countries Of Concern' For Russia Support, Blinken Says

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrive for a news conference at the State Department in Washington on June 18.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrive for a news conference at the State Department in Washington on June 18.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described China, Iran, and North Korea as "countries of concern" for their involvement in Russia's war economy at a June 18 joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg said Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine "demonstrates and confirms the very close alliance between Russia and authoritarian states like North Korea, but also China and Iran."

Blinken condemned North Korea and Iran for supplying munitions to Russia.

He also called on China to stop supporting the Russian defense-industrial base. Blinken said China "can't on the one hand say it wants better relations with Europe while at the same time funding the biggest security threat since the Cold War."

Blinken said that China provided 70 percent of Russia's machine tools and 90 percent of microelectronics.

China's support has enabled Russia to keep its defense industrial base going -- "to keep the war machine going.... So that has to stop," Blinken said.

Blinken said China “can’t on the one hand say it wants better relations with Europe while eat the same time fueling the biggest security threat since the Cold War. This is what’s keeping the war going.”

If China really means it, "it will stop fueling the war machine."

Stoltenberg used the same language, reiterating a statement at the Wilson Center on June 17, saying: "China cannot have it both ways. This has to stop."

He again called for China to face "consequences" if it keeps backing Russia. It is "too early to say" what kind of consequences China should face for supporting Russia, Stoltenberg said, but added that China "cannot continue to have normal trade relationships with Europe."

"Unless China changes its behavior, it has to be addressed," Stoltenberg said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said in response to Stoltenberg's comments that NATO should "reflect on itself, rather than attack China."

Lin blamed NATO for Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine and said the "relevant parties" should "stop deflecting the blame and sowing discord."

Blinken and Stoltenberg referred to security as global and emphasized the importance of strengthening Indo-Pacific partnerships at the upcoming NATO summit, scheduled to take place in Washington on July 9-11.

Blinken echoed the words of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and said, "What's happening in Ukraine today may well be happening in East Asia tomorrow."

Stoltenberg and Blinken also mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin's June 17-18 visit to North Korea, the first such visit from a Russian head of state in 24 years.

Blinken condemned North Korea for providing "significant munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine."

Stoltenberg said NATO was "concerned about the potential support that Russia provides to North Korea when it comes to supporting their missile and nuclear programs."

Sweden Summons Russian Envoy Over Alleged Airspace Violation

A Swedish Gripen jet (file photo)
A Swedish Gripen jet (file photo)

The Swedish Foreign Ministry said on June 18 that it had summoned Russia's ambassador after a Russian SU-24 bomber allegedly violated its airspace near the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. The ministry said it summoned the ambassador to "express its stance against Russia's violation of Swedish airspace that took place on Friday, June 14." Sweden said on June 15 that the Russian aircraft violated its airspace east of Gotland's southern tip. The Swedish air combat command warned the Russian aircraft with a verbal call, Sweden's armed forces said. "When this was not heeded and the aircraft did not deviate from its route, it was dismissed from Swedish airspace by two JAS-39 Gripens," it said. Russia has yet to respond to the allegations.

Activists Condemn Iran-Sweden Prisoner Swap Of Convicted War Criminal Nouri

Hamid Nouri (file photo)
Hamid Nouri (file photo)

International human rights groups and activists have strongly condemned a prisoner exchange between Sweden and Iran that involved Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian prison official convicted in the Nordic country of crimes against humanity.

Nouri, who was exchanged on June 15 for Swedish nationals Johan Floderus and Saeid Azizi, returned to Iran using his alias "Hamid Abbasi," a name linked to the executions of political prisoners in 1988.

Upon his arrival in Tehran, Nouri was met with a mixed reception, a reflection on his controversial past and the contentious nature of the swap.

Floderus is a Swedish EU diplomat held in captivity for two years in Iran on espionage charges that he, the EU, and Stockholm said were fabricated. Azizi was arrested in Iran last November on what Sweden has called "wrongful grounds."

"The Swedish government has thrown dirt into the face of justice in the world by handing over a 'criminal' to the Islamic republic," said Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, noting Nouri's conviction for gross violations of international humanitarian laws.

"This disgrace and scandal will never be forgotten," Ebadi added.

Swedish prosecutors originally detained Nouri in 2019, basing their case on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the prosecution of severe crimes irrespective of location.

After a detailed and lengthy trial, Nouri was sentenced in May 2022 to life imprisonment for his role in the massacre of political prisoners during the summer of 1988.

Iran has arrested dozens of foreign and dual nationals in recent years on espionage charges that they and their governments say are groundless. Critics say Tehran uses such arbitrary detentions as part of hostage diplomacy to extract concessions from Western countries, which Tehran denies.

"The Islamic republic will take more innocent foreign and dual nationals hostage, repress people at home, and terrorize those abroad," actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi said.

"The international community needs a new approach. One that deters, not appeases the regime."

Esmat Vatanparast, who lost 11 members of her extended family during the 1988 mass executions -- including her two daughters and three brothers -- told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that "my heart broke today, tears came to my eyes, but I remain hopeful for the people of Iran" after hearing of the exchange.

The exchange was also criticized for failing to include Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish researcher who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2016.

Vida Mehrannia, Djalali's wife, expressed her dismay, announcing plans to protest in front of the Swedish Foreign Ministry against the exchange, which she labeled "shameful."

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

U.S. Announces New Sanctions On Bosnian Serb Leader Dodik

Milorad Dodik (file photo)
Milorad Dodik (file photo)

The United States on June 18 tightened sanctions targeting Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and his family, taking aim at a network of individuals and firms it accuses of raising money for him. The Treasury Department said in a statement that it was placing sanctions on two individuals and seven entities that provided Dodik with "major sources of revenue." The Treasury Department said Dodik used his official position to direct government contracts to private companies that he oversees along with his son, Igor. Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the United States "condemns Dodik's continued efforts to erode the institutions that have ensured peace and stability for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region."

Ukrainian Prosecutor Says Russian Troops Beheaded Ukrainian Soldier

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin (file photo)
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin (file photo)

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin said on June 18 that Russian troops beheaded a Ukrainian soldier in the eastern Donetsk region. Kostin said the Ukrainian military spotted the soldier's head on a damaged armored car during aerial reconnaissance. Ukrainian law enforcement officers opened an investigation to establish the facts of the case, Kostin said. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded six cases of extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian prisoners of war between February and July 2023. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other's militaries of battlefield misconduct tantamount to war crimes. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

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