Plus, Slovakia cannot use its Sputnik V jabs, Navalny’s health deteriorates, and more. 

The Big Story: Dozens Receive Life Sentences in Turkey Coup Mass Trial

What happened: Around 500 people, including former military officials attached to the presidential guard, faced sentencing yesterday in Ankara over a failed coup in July 2016, Deutsche Welle reports. At least six, who had been convicted of violating the constitution, received the harshest punishment possible, aggravated life sentences, which means they will never be eligible for parole. Authorities blamed a movement affiliated with cleric Fethullah Gulen for the coup attempt. 

More context: The mass trial has been underway since 2017. More than 100 other defendants were sentenced to up to 16 years in jail for violating the constitution, while more than 100 people were acquitted, according to Turkish media cited by DW. 

Worth noting: In other news from Turkey, a recent visit of high-ranking EU officials turned into a diplomatic spat dubbed “sofagate,” the BBC reportsEuropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left standing due to a lack of chairs at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today that the seating arrangement “was designed to meet [the EU’s side] demands and suggestions.”

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics 

  • Czechia has its fourth health minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. At the request of President Milos Zeman, Prime Minister Andrej Babis has appointed Petr Arenberger to lead the Health Ministry. Babis said the change was not meant to clear the way for the use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which Arenberger’s predecessor, Jan Blatny, had opposed. Babis said he would wait for the European Medicines Agency’s approval before using the Russian jab. Blatny was criticized for his approach to the pandemic, including a relaxation of lockdown restrictions before Christmas that led to a spike in cases. 
  • Slovakia cannot use its 200,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine due to incomplete or inaccurate information from the manufacturer, The Guardian reports. The Slovak national medicines agency said the doses were different from the vaccine whose peer-reviewed late-stage trial results were published in The Lancet medical journal in February. The purchase of the vaccines was a bone of contention between former Prime Minister Igor Matovic and his coalition members, ultimately leading to Matovic’s resignation as a way of defusing the political crisis that ensued. 

Southeastern Europe 

  • The arrest of a suspected criminal gang supplying false passports and identity documents in North Macedonia has turned into a political spat, BIRN reports. Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski announced on Tuesday the arrest of nine police officers who are to be charged with issuing 215 fake passports to foreigners, including members of international crime groups and drug cartels. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party accused top government officials of masterminding the ring and said only “small fish” were arrested in the bust. Spasovski denied the allegations and said the opposition had tried to sabotage the investigation.
  • An Oscar-nominated Romanian film aims to tell the story of victims of a deadly nightclub fire in 2015 for which no one has yet been held accountable. Director Alexander Nanau and co-writer Antoaneta Opris wrote in The Guardian that Collective, named after the club where the tragedy took place, “is a story about the system versus people, about truth versus manipulation, about how easily citizens can be crushed by the very state that is supposed to protect them.” The documentary has been nominated for two Academy Awards, for best documentary and best international feature.

Eastern Europe and Russia 

  • A Belarusian singer faces 1 1/2 years of hard labor for a scantily clad protest last fall, Euronews reports. Igor Bancer, an activist and a singer for Belarusian anti-fascist punk band Mister X, spent five months behind bars and is now out on bail awaiting a date for his appeal. Bancer told Euronews that his performance, which involved stripping and grinding against a police car, was meant as a reaction to the crackdown that followed elections in Belarus in August. “I thought to myself: ‘Wow, it’s a nice idea. Showing my ass to the police.’ It is almost like a radical act of art nouveau, you know?” he said. 
  • The health of detained Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has been deteriorating, his lawyer Vadim Kobzev said, according to the BBC. Navalny feels “pain while walking,” Kobzev wrote on Twitter, adding that “the illness is clearly progressing in terms of losing sensation in his legs, palms, and wrists.” Navalny started a hunger strike last week after being denied medical treatment and was moved this week to a sick ward with symptoms of a respiratory illness. His plight has attracted international attention, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying the Biden administration considers his imprisonment “politically motivated and a gross injustice.”

The Caucasus

  • Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian has been acquitted of “overthrowing the constitutional order,” in an end to a lengthy legal saga, Eurasianet reports. In July 2018, Kocharian was charged with subverting public order during the aftermath of the disputed presidential election in 2008, when security forces violently broke up a protest and 10 people died. Kocharian was released on bail in June 2020. Following the verdict, he announced that he planned to run in snap parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 20 June.

Central Asia

  • Work migrants from Tajikistan hoping to return to Russia after the pandemic shutdown are being held back by prohibitive airfares, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Although Russia reopened its borders to Tajikistan late last month, it allows Tajiks to enter only by air, and the number of flights is restricted. The Tajik economy, which depends heavily on remittances, has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing border closures. Locals told RFE/RL about a lack of “concrete information” on the prices and availability of tickets, which led to long queues forming at ticket offices in Dushanbe and one shop selling tickets for up to three times the original price.