Today’s news headlines: controversial amendments in Armenia; COVID hits guest workers in Germany; Russian journalist on trial for terrorism; and more.

Armenia Debates High Court Reforms

Armenian lawmakers yesterday approved constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling bloc that will force the departure of Constitutional Court judges appointed by previous governments. The opposition criticized the vote as being politically motivated, Reuters writes. The amendments allow for the suspension of three Constitutional Court judges, with more to follow in coming years, and the election of a new head of the court. Under previous legislation, judges were allowed to serve until reaching retirement; the new rules impose a 12-year term limit, Radio Free Europe writes. The changes were initially meant to be subjected to a referendum in April, until it was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Consulted on the changes, the Venice Commission said it was mostly in favor of them. However, the Council of Europe advisory body said it would have preferred a transitional period that would “allow for a gradual change in the composition of the court in order to avoid any abrupt and immediate change endangering the independence of this institution.” The government has been pressuring the current head of the court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, and six other judges to step down, RFE says.

The Armenian Constitutional Court. Image by Ben Men Lyun/Wikimedia Commons.

Russian Journalist Charged in Terror Case Slams “Sham” Trial

Her trial was a “sham” and a justification for Russian authorities’ growing censorship, journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva said yesterday, Reuters writes. Prokopyeva faces seven years in prison if found guilty of justifying terrorism. The charges refer to a radio program she hosted in November 2018, where she discussed the case of a 17-year-old youth who blew himself up at the office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Arkhangelsk, in an act that the authorities labeled terrorist. In her program, Prokopyeva spoke out against the state’s approach to dissent. “As a journalist I am on trial for the job I did,” she told Reuters. “I cannot try to prove I did not do it, because I did my job and now they say my job [as a journalist] is the crime itself. There is no justification of terrorism in my words … I was speaking about how to prevent terrorism,” she said. Several rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have criticized her trial. Prokopyeva’s prosecution “is a violation of freedom of expression, but not just hers – it sends yet another chilling message that in Russia, raising uncomfortable questions can have severe repercussions – a lesson the authorities have been giving the media for years,” HRW said.

New COVID-19 Outbreak Hits Foreign Workers in Germany

A new coronavirus outbreak at an abattoir in the North Rhine-Westphalia region has put Germany on guard again – and the conditions for foreign workers from southeastern Europe back on Berlin’s agenda, the Financial Times writes. The meat processing plant at Rheda-Wiedenbrueck enlisted the help of the army to test, track, and quarantine its 6,500 workers. More than 1,300 abattoir employees tested positive for the virus in the largest single outbreak so far in Germany, according to the FT. Most workers at the plant came from Romania and Bulgaria, RFE/RL reports. Last month, recently arrived Romanian workers shared videos on social media of crowded living conditions they were offered by their employers in Germany, at odds with social distancing rules. In April, the severe shortage of agricultural workers pushed Germany to ease travel restrictions and allow Romanian workers to work in the fields, picking crops such as asparagus.

Other news of note:

  • Mongolia will hold parliamentary elections tomorrow, Nikkei Asia Review reports. The ruling Mongolian People’s Party, which holds 65 out of the parliament’s 76 seats, hopes to capitalize on its successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, before any potential turmoil hits the Mongolian economy. The sparsely populated country has so far recorded 215 cases of coronavirus, all of them coming from abroad, and is still keeping its borders closed.
View of Ulaanbaatar with the Blue Sky Tower. Image by Zazaa Mongolia/Flickr.
  • Mongolia has also been in the U.S. news this month after revelations that President Donald Trump’s eldest son and grandson took a trip there last summer that cost taxpayers over $75,000, most of it for Secret Service protection, the BBC writes. During the trip, Donald Trump Jr. shot a rare Argali mountain sheep – only getting permission from Mongolian authorities afterwards – and met with Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga.
  • In Russia, the pandemic has not only impacted the daily lives of people but also of their pets. Many concerned animal lovers and organizations stepped in, fostering pets whose owners were quarantined or taking dogs on daily walks for their locked-down owners, The Moscow Times reports. Similar initiatives have sprung up in bigger cities and also smaller ones, such as Lipetsk in western Russia.
  • The Arctic Circle is experiencing one of its warmest summers ever, with a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius degrees recorded in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, which is 18 degrees higher than the average maximum daily temperature in June, the BBC writes. A persistent heatwave has hovered over the Arctic in the past three months, with temperatures around 10 degrees C above normal.
  • The Czech Republic is experiencing what some are calling the worst drought in the past 500 years, the European Space Agency reported last month. Satellite maps produced by the Dutch company VanderSat show that soil moisture is down by 30 percent over the long-term average, with the Olomouc region in the east and the Usti region in the northwest being the most affected.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu