In an April 3 statement, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic expressed concern that authorities in Russia and elsewhere may use the fight against the coronavirus pandemic to further restrict media freedom. Mijatovic warned that “Access to information is a collateral victim of the measures governments are taking to face the pandemic.” (Russian Service)
Russia and China are deploying a campaign of disinformation around the coronavirus outbreak that could have "harmful consequences" for public health around the world, and which challenges “the credibility of the European Union and its partners," according to an April 1 report published by the EU's foreign-policy arm.
The 15 Russian military planes that delivered much-needed medical equipment to Italy last week to deal with the coronavirus outbreak were branded with the slogan "From Russia With Love." Such gestures by Russia and China both have raised questions over whether they are humanitarian efforts or propaganda stunts meant to promote their images and discredit the West. Ilya Shepelin, who leads a program debunking fake news on independent Russian TV channel Dozhd, called them “manipulation -- hybrid lies, or hybrid truth."
Russia’s Central Election Commission has postponed all election campaigns, regional elections, and referenda planned from April 5 to June 21, because of the coronavirus. In total, 94 election campaigns will be postponed, including the planned referendum on constitutional amendments set for April 22. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
RFE/RL was the first media in Belarus to break the news on March 31 of the country’s first coronavirus death, of Viktor Dashkevich, a prominent actor from Vitsebsk. Dashkevich had tested positive for the coronavirus, but his death certificate only mentions pneumonia. Fellow actors at the theater where he performed told RFE/RL they were being forced to continue their rehearsals, but they were subsequently released “on holiday” after RFE/RL reported the news. (video)
Serbian police detained Ana Lalic, a journalist with the Nova.rs newsite, who wrote a critical text on the handling of the coronavirus epidemic. She was released on April 2 after being interrogated overnight. Lalic had reported that staff at a hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad were lacking adequate protective gear and medications, and that several nurses may have become infected.
To counter false Chinese narratives, two infographics produced by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service on the basis of official data from the Serbian government, Russian embassy, and European Union show that the EU is the leading provider of pandemic-related assistance to Serbia, and that Serbia is the top recipient of EU support in the Western Balkan region. Former Swedish Foreign Minister and UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt told RFE/RL that Serbian leaders' reliance on "the China card" could prove "counterproductive from the Serbian point of view." Serbian President Aleskandr Vucic and the Russian Defense Ministry have announced that Russian shipments of medical supplies and eight brigades of military medics will arrive in Serbia on April 3. (Balkan and Russian Services)
A widely shared report by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service reviews new restrictions imposed by the government ostensibly to enforce quarantine orders associated with the coronavirus, but which risk eroding civil liberties. For example, new regulations that authorize police to access traffic data for all citizens are not subject to judicial oversight, and can remain valid after the state of emergency ends. (Bulgarian Service)
The streets of Tbilisi were mostly deserted after the Georgian government introduced a curfew on March 31 in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Drone video showed empty roads and squares throughout the Georgian capital. Residents are forbidden to leave their homes from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless they have a special permit. (video)
Schools have reopened after the spring holidays and it seems to be business as usual in crowded bazaars and streets in Tajikistan, where authorities haven't reported a single coronavirus infection.
The region's five countries have no more of a common response to the COVID-19 crisis than any other region, but if there is one person actively trying to coordinate efforts, it is Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev.
These are some products for which demand skyrocketed in Russia, compared to the same weeks last year.
First Death In Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijanis Must Text Before Going Out
Amid the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, the 20th anniversary of Vladimir Putin's first election to the Russian presidency passed largely unnoticed, and a 20-installment interview with the state news agency TASS was quietly curtailed. For blogger and filmmaker Artyom Kruglov, it’s just another day at work at what he describes as "the archeological dig" of Putin's little-known rise to power.
Twitter says it has removed more than 8,000 fake accounts allegedly linked to Serbia’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party and its leader, President Aleksandar Vucic. The social media company said it has identified “clusters of accounts engaged in inauthentic coordinated activity” to promote Serbia’s ruling party and its leader.”
A military court in Tajikistan has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to two years in prison after finding him guilty of refusing compulsory military service. The trial was held behind closed doors.
Turkmenistan has banned the withdrawal of cash in foreign currencies in banks as of April 1. Several bank officials told RFE/RL that the Central Bank of Turkmenistan had issued a verbal order that holders of bank accounts in foreign currencies can withdraw money only in Turkmen manats, and at the official exchange rate.
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