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The Russian authorities should free the human rights defender Aleksei Sokolov and drop unsubstantiated charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today. Sokolov, a prisoners' rights advocate and a member of a public prison-monitoring board, was charged on May 22, 2009, with robbery for an incident alleged to have taken place in 2004.
"The charges against Sokolov appear to be politically motivated, and he should be freed immediately unless the prosecutor can provide credible evidence of criminal activity that would justify his lawful detention" said Allison Gill, Moscow office director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should scrutinize carefully the basis on which these charges were brought, as well as a possible connection between the charges and his important work monitoring prison conditions."
Sokolov is charged with the theft of welding equipment from a remote industrial facility in Sverdlovsk province. Sokolov's lawyer, Roman Kachanov, said that the charges are based entirely on the testimony of two inmates serving sentences for unrelated crimes at a prison colony in Sverdlovsk province. Investigations into the theft were closed and reopened several times, most recently immediately before Sokolov's detention on May 13 and implication in the theft.
It is also possible that the two men now accusing him did so following ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said, as Sokolov's lawyer noted that both men had appealed to Sokolov's nongovernmental organization (NGO) Provavaya Osnova (Legal Basis) in the past claiming abuse by the prison officials. Sokolov's lawyer said that he is unaware of any other evidence linking Sokolov to the 2004 theft, and that his client's name first came up in connection with the 2004 incident around the time of his arrest.
Sokolov heads Provavaya Osnova and has worked to expose torture and abuse in Russian prisons. In 2006, he distributed "Factory of Torture or Educational Experience," a documentary film that revealed abuse of inmates in detention facilities in and around Yekaterinburg, and described how the authorities at one facility coerce prisoners into making confessions. A clip from the film, showing prison guards beating inmates with truncheons, was shown on Russian and international television and circulated widely on the internet.
Sokolov also serves as a member of a public prison-monitoring board, to which he was appointed in January 2009, which is legally authorized to visit detention facilities, speak with detainees, and monitor detention practices.
According to a statement by Sokolov transmitted to his lawyer, on May 13, four men, one in a police uniform, approached Sokolov near his home, where he was walking with his 2-year-old daughter. The men said they were from the police, confiscated Sokolov's mobile phone, tackled him, threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, and grabbed his daughter.
One of the policemen summoned Sokolov's wife to take their daughter. The policemen then drove Sokolov to the local police station. According to the statement, on the way to the station, they hit Sokolov several times and threatened him, telling him the police may not be able to beat him but that they would "find other ways to torture" him. Apparently referring to his prison oversight work, they also told him that "the police aren't under anyone's control."
"The circumstances of Sokolov's charges speak volumes," said Gill. "Sokolov is charged based on the accusations of two prisoners who have complained about abuse and forced confessions in the past, giving rise to serious concern that coercion or duress were used against these men."
Sokolov's colleagues and wife will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. on May 27 in the Independent Press Center (ul. Prechistenka, building 17/9, entrance from the courtyard).
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again," one activist said.
In the wake of Biden administration decisions like approving ConocoPhillips' Willow project and agreeing to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), climate organizations and frontline communities across the country are launching a week of action from June 8 to 11 to demand President Joe Biden honor his promise to be the climate president and end the era of fossil fuels for good.
The action week will include a Thursday rally and sit-in at the White House along with demonstrations at 50 locations across the nation backed by 64 different Indigenous, climate, labor, and environmental justice groups.
"Young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again," Zero Hour organizing director Magnolia Mead said in a statement. "We need an immediate transition to renewable energy to slow the climate crisis, and that's impossible while our president is still approving massive fossil fuel expansion. If President Biden cares at all for future generations and frontline communities, he must choose to end the era of fossil fuels."
Our public officials clearly lack the political will or backbone to protect our people and the planet. So we must take action."
The action week—whose organizers include Zero Hour, Sunrise, 350.org, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Fridays for Future, and the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition—grew out of disappointment with Biden's Willow approval along with the desire to channel young people's online opposition to that project into direct action.
The sense of urgency only mounted when the debt-ceiling agreement, signed into law by Biden Saturday, included approving the MVP and weakening the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives frontline communities a say in infrastructure projects.
The protest outside the White House, which begins at 2:00 pm ET, will specifically demand that Biden cancel the 300-mile fracked gas MVP through Virginia and West Virginia.
"We are still not deterred in our fight against the MVP and other such harmful projects," Maury Johnson, a landowner in the MVP's path and a member of Preserve Monroe and the POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, & Rights) Coalition—who is helping to arrange transport for the rally—told Common Dreams. "Hope to see hundreds if not thousands join us in front of the White House on Thursday, June 8."
The new direct action group Climate Defiance has promised to risk arrest at the protest and called on everyone of conscience to join them.
\u201cThe President stabbed us in the back. He sold us out to fossil fuel CEOs. He forced upon us the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is a death sentence for our generation.\u201d— Climate Defiance (@Climate Defiance) 1686004033
"Now is the time for climate action," Jay Waxse of Climate Defiance told Common Dreams. "Joe Biden and Joe Manchin think it's time for massive fossil fuel expansion, while our forests burn and skies fill with smoke. Our public officials clearly lack the political will or backbone to protect our people and the planet. So we must take action."
Waxse added that the group had chosen nonviolent direct action "to express to our branches of government that we won't be satisfied until we put an end to the expansion of new fossil fuels. And that means stopping the MVP now!"
As Washington D.C., along with most of the eastern U.S., chokes on unhealthy air from Canadian wildfires, Jamie Henn of Fossil Free Media said the White House protest would go ahead, though the organizers were taking health precautions including distributing N95 masks.
"This is 'exactly' why we have to take these sorts of actions," Henn tweeted.
\u201cThat said: we are absolutely going to take precautions to keep people healthy and safe, with KN95 masks and other precautions available for folks. \n\nThe fires are a real reminder of how climate, health, and disabilities all intersect, especially for the most vulnerable.\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1686161011
For those who can't travel to D.C., organizers have provided a nationwide action map for the week as well as a toolkit explaining how to register an action.
Overall, the week has four main demands for Biden:
Local actions will also target specific fossil fuel projects, such as the Canadian-owned aging Line 5 pipeline that Indigenous advocates worry will spill oil into the Great Lakes.
"As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, I am calling on the Biden administration to shut down Line 5 immediately," Bad River Ojibwe activist Aurora Conley of the Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance said in a statement.
"Our territories and water are in imminent danger, and we do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice. We do not want our lifeways destroyed," Conley added.
In Seattle, meanwhile, protesters with XR Seattle, 350 Seattle, and other groups are meeting outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building at 12:00 pm PT Thursday with both national and local demands. In addition to calling on Biden to halt the MVP and restore NEPA, they also want Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to oppose the expansion of the GTN pipeline, a plan from TC Energy to pump an additional 150 million cubic feet of methane per day through the 1,354 mile long pipeline that runs through British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The additional methane would add 3.47 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is set to decide on the expansion June 15, 350 Seattle communications director Ben Jones told Common Dreams.
The action, he said, was motivated by "the combination of looming expansion of natural gas" along the West Coast "and approval of a deeply unpopular and strongly resisted pipeline out East."
Jones was also concerned about the gutting of NEPA, which has helped communities in the Pacific Northwest to fight off more than 20 proposals for oil and gas expansion in the region in the last 15 years.
"With gutting NEPA, that's some of the main avenues that community groups have for public comment or for advocacy," Jones said.
Nationwide, organizers hope that the coming week of action will be the first in a summer-long escalation leading up to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres' hosting of a global Climate Ambition Summit in New York City in September.
"Starting this June and leading up to September, we will be taking action with national and international partners to make it clear that siding with Big Oil is a political liability for Biden—and we, the people who got him elected, demand better," the coalition said in their toolkit.
"This is bullsh*t," said one critic. "This means that he’ll be sitting there forever, putting off filing his supposed disclosures, which will probably be more BS anyway."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—who is under fire for lavish gifts he and his relatives received from billionaire Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow—has been granted a 90-day extension to file his 2022 financial disclosure report, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday.
Thomas, who according toBloomberg "typically files his financial disclosures by the May 15 deadline," requested an extension—as did Justice Samuel Alito—giving them more time to report their income, investments, gifts, and spousal salaries.
\u201cThis is bullshit, this means that he\u2019ll be sitting there forever, putting off filing his supposed disclosures, which will probably be more BS anyway. You can\u2019t expect much out of a country with a corrupt high court. https://t.co/9CCLvBLiPg\u201d— RC deWinter (@RC deWinter) 1686158901
The move means that any official information about Thomas' relationship with... Crow may not be released until after the end of the current Supreme Court term, and major rulings come down on election law, religious liberty, affirmative action, and student loans, among other issues.
The Supreme Court has been under a microscope this year as critics argue the justices are not doing enough to ensure transparency when it comes to ethics guidelines, and the late filings by Thomas and Alito could further fuel claims by watchdog groups and others that the justices are not taking seriously their concerns.
Public scrutiny and criticism of Thomas mounted in April after a bombshell ProPublicareport revealed that the right-wing justice "has repeatedly accepted and failed to disclose gifts and travel" from Crow, including private jet travel, luxury vacations, and private school tuition for a relative.
\u201cTo be fair, Clarence Thomas may not actually know how to fill one of these out properly.\n\nIs he a dependent of Harlan Crow? Is the dark money his wife gets considered a contribution or income? Are vacations with plaintiffs business trips? \n\nSo confusing.\nhttps://t.co/thxrgh0tUQ\u201d— Melanie D'Arrigo (@Melanie D'Arrigo) 1686161457
While Thomas has dismissed criticism by saying he benefited only from "personal hospitality from close personal friends" and that Crow "did not have business before the court," multiple investigations have disproven that assertion.
On Tuesday, The Leverprovided one example:
Late last month, in a 5-4 ruling on the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case, the Supreme Court dramatically narrowed the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act in an act of judicial activism so brazen, even the Donald Trump-appointed [Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh accused the court of "rewriting" the law and failing to "stick to the text."
Thomas joined right-wing Justices Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Chief Justice John Roberts in the court's majority opinion.
On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that "nothing is off the table"—including a subpoena—after Michael Bopp, a lawyer representing Crow, continued to duck questions about his largesse toward Thomas and his family.
"We must substantially lower the price that Medicare pays for prescription drugs like Leqembi," said the Vermont Independent, "and HHS has the power to do just that."
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to use the "full extent" of its executive authority to lower the "outrageously high" price of a new Alzheimer's treatment being reviewed by federal regulators.
"Alzheimer's is a horrible disease," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, wrote in a
letter to Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "We must do everything possible to find a cure for the millions of people who suffer from it. But we cannot allow pharmaceutical companies to bankrupt Medicare and our federal government in the process."
At issue is Leqembi, a drug developed by Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical corporation, and Biogen, a U.S. company that previously sought to charge $56,000 for an annual supply of a different Alzheimer's treatment called Aduhelm. Following a pressure campaign led by Sanders and other drug affordability advocates, Biogen reduced the price of Aduhelm—whose efficacy and safety have been questioned by doctors—to $28,200 per year.
"A prescription drug is not effective if a patient who needs that drug cannot afford to take it."
"Despite concerns among the scientific community about the clinical benefit of Leqembi, its manufacturers... plan to charge $26,500 per year for this drug even though the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, an independent non-profit organization, has estimated that this drug should be sold for as little as $8,900 per year based on its effectiveness," Sanders wrote.
"If just 10% of the 6.7 million older adults with Alzheimer's disease take Leqembi, the Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that it would cost $17.8 billion—or nearly half of what Medicare Part B spent on all drugs in 2021," noted the Vermont Independent. "And this is just for one drug. As you know, many of the new drugs coming onto the market are even more expensive. This is not sustainable."
Moreover, "the introduction of Leqembi at this unconscionable price would be grossly unfair to seniors suffering from Alzheimer's disease who simply could not afford to pay the 20% co-payment of more than $5,000 a year for this drug," the progressive lawmaker continued. "With a median income of about $30,000 a year for seniors on Medicare the purchase of this one drug would amount to over one-sixth of their limited income."
"People with Alzheimer's disease deserve a drug that is safe, effective, and affordable," he added. "A prescription drug is not effective if a patient who needs that drug cannot afford to take it."
\u201cAlzheimer\u2019s is a horrible disease and we must find a cure. But we cannot allow pharmaceutical companies to bankrupt Medicare in the process. We must substantially lower the price that Medicare pays for prescription drugs like Leqembi, and HHS has the power to do just that.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1686152167
Sanders pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to convene an advisory meeting on Leqembi this week.
"As it considers whether to grant full approval of this drug, FDA has a special responsibility to restore the public trust after its inappropriate relationship with Biogen during the agency's review" of Aduhelm, wrote Sanders, alluding to evidence that the pharmaceutical firm and those tasked with regulating it collaborated before the medicine received a green light.
If the FDA approves Leqembi, HHS "must protect patients and substantially reduce the price," Sanders stressed.
The senator went on the remind Becerra—who routinely expressed support for invoking executive authority to rein in soaring drug prices before he joined the White House—of the powers at his disposal:
Under current law, Medicare has the responsibility to determine whether Leqembi is "reasonable and necessary" for the treatment of Alzheimer's. In my view, charging an outrageously high price for this drug is not reasonable. It will prevent seniors who need this drug from receiving treatment. It will undermine the finances of Medicare. And it will increase the premiums of over 60 million seniors who receive Medicare whether they need to take this drug or not.
If Biogen and Eisai refuse to lower the price of this drug, HHS has the authority (under 28 U.S.C. Section 1498) to break the patent monopoly on Leqembi. Further, HHS can direct the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to launch a new demonstration project that would limit payment for Leqembi to reflect the drug's actual benefit.
Sanders told Becerra that he and other HELP committee members "look forward to discussing this important issue with you as soon as possible." The panel "would like to know how Biogen and Eisai came up with a cost of $26,500 and what the cost of this drug will mean to the finances of Medicare," Sanders wrote. It "would also like your estimate as to how much Medicare premiums will go up for all seniors if Biogen and Eisai are allowed to charge $26,500 for Leqembi, as well as how many seniors who need this drug would not be able to afford to pay a 20% co-payment for it."
Sanders' letter comes one day after the pharmaceutical giant Merck sued the Biden administration over an Inflation Reduction Act provision that empowers Medicare to directly negotiate the prices of a small number of ultra-expensive prescription medicines with drugmakers.
It also comes less than a month after Sanders condemned Big Pharma CEOs for years of deadly price gouging and reiterated the need to make all prescription drugs affordable at a HELP committee hearing.
"I know that our guests from the drug companies will tell us how much it costs to develop a new drug and how often the research for new cures is not successful," Sanders said in May. "I get that. But what they are going to have to explain to us is why, over the past decade, 14 major pharmaceutical companies... spent $747 billion on stock buybacks and dividends."
"They will also have to explain how as an entire industry pharma spent $8.5 billion on lobbying and over $745 million on campaign contributions over the past 25 years to get Congress to do its bidding," Sanders continued. "Unbelievably, last year, drug companies hired over 1,700 lobbyists including the former congressional leaders of both major political parties—that's over three pharmaceutical industry lobbyists for every member of Congress."
As Sanders put it, "That could well explain why we pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world and why today drug companies can set the price of new drugs at any level they wish."
"While Americans pay outrageously high prices for prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry and the [pharmacy benefit managers] make enormous profits," the lawmaker lamented. "In 2021, 10 major pharmaceutical companies in America made over $100 billion in profits—a 137% increase from the previous year. The 50 top executives in these companies received over $1.9 billion in total compensation in 2021 and are in line to receive billions more in golden parachutes once they leave their companies."
"In other words, Americans die, get sicker than they should, and go bankrupt because they cannot afford the outrageous cost of prescription drugs, while the drug companies and the PBMs make huge profits," he added. "That has got to change and this committee is going to do everything possible to bring about that change."