Alexei Navalny: Putin critic loses appeal against jailing

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has lost an appeal against his jailing for violating the terms of a suspended sentence.

Russia's Alexei Navalny appears in court in Moscow, Russia
image captionIt is the first of two scheduled appearances in court on Saturday for Navalny

Navalny was detained last month after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was being treated for a near-fatal nerve agent attack.

He has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attack and says the charges against him are fabricated.

The Kremlin denies any involvement in his poisoning.

Navalny was accused of breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement that required him to report regularly to Russian police.

In court, in a speech that referenced both the Bible and the Harry Potter series, he argued the charges were “absurd” as he was unable to report to the police while recovering from the nerve agent attack.

“The whole world knew where I was,” he said. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”

But the judge rejected his case and he will return to jail. The judge did, though, cut his six weeks off the nearly three-year sentence imposed. 

Navalny faces another appearance in court in Saturday, on charges of slandering a World War Two veteran who praised President Putin.

The European Court of Human Rights, of which Russia is a member, says Navalny should be released out of concern for his life. But Russia said the call was “unlawful”.

Navalny’s supporters see the charges as an attempt to silence him and thwart his political ambitions.

He has been a persistent thorn in the side of President Putin, making allegations of corruption including a claim the president owns a lavish palace by the Black Sea.

Navalny’s allies are seeking to challenge pro-Kremlin parties in parliamentary elections this year, and President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday against foreign interference.

European foreign ministers are set to meet on Monday to discuss imposing further sanctions on Russia over the case.

There are divisions among EU members, with Germany going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 project which would transfer gas directly from Russia to Germany.

The project is opposed by Poland and the Baltic states. On Friday Lithuania said it should be paused until after September’s parliamentary elections in Russia.

Source: BBC

Moscow court hears case for jailing Putin critic Navalny

A Moscow court is to decide shortly whether to turn Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s suspended sentence into an actual prison term, as police detain more pro-Navalny protesters.

Many riot police – including some on horses – have been deployed outside the court. There have been some arrests.

The anti-Putin campaigner could face up to two and a half years, in a case that has sparked nationwide protests.

Mr Navalny, 44, calls the embezzlement charge fabricated.

The Russian OVD-Info monitoring group reported that 24 people had been detained near the court early on Tuesday.

Arrest near Moscow court, 2 Feb 21
image captionOne of Tuesday’s arrests: Police have cracked down hard on Navalny supporters

Mr Navalny’s return to Russia on 17 January triggered mass protests in support of him, many of them young Russians who have only ever experienced President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

He accuses Mr Putin of running an administration riddled with corruption, and recently released a YouTube video featuring an opulent Black Sea palace which, he alleged, was a Russian billionaires’ gift to the president. More than 100m people have watched it.

On Saturday Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire businessman close to Mr Putin, said he owned the palace and had bought it two years ago.

The OVD-Info group said police detained more than 5,000 people at pro-Navalny protests in 86 cities across the country on Sunday. For a second weekend, crowds defied bitter cold and a massive deployment of riot police.

OVD-Info says it is an independent Russian media project documenting police action against various groups. It gets crowdfunding in Russia and its donors include the Memorial human rights group and the European Commission.

Mr Navalny has been accused of breaking probation rules which required him to report regularly to Russian police over the embezzlement charge. His lawyers say it is absurd he is accused of breaching probation, as the authorities knew he was recovering in Berlin after a nerve agent attack that nearly killed him.

He is already serving a 30-day sentence in connection with that case, which he denounces as politically motivated.

He spent months recovering from the Novichok poisoning – an attack he blamed directly on President Putin. The Kremlin has denied any involvement, and disputes the expert conclusion that Novichok was used.

Just before the court hearing began, Mr Navalny praised his wife Yulia, who is attending in court. She was fined 20,000 roubles (£190; $260) on Monday for having joined the pro-Navalny protesters at an “unauthorised” rally.

“They said that you had seriously violated public order and were a bad girl. I’m proud of you,” Mr Navalny said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

In recent days police have arrested many of Mr Navalny’s top aides, who assist him in his Anti-Corruption Network (FBK).

Navalny: Thousands join fresh protests across Russia

Thousands of Russians have been taking part in unauthorised protests to demand the release of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

More than 5,000 people have been detained, a monitoring group says. In Moscow police closed metro stations and blocked off the city centre.

Mr Navalny was jailed on his return to Russia after recovering from an attempt to kill him with a nerve agent.

He blames the security services for the attack but the Kremlin denies this.

The opposition figure was arrested after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he spent months recovering from the near-fatal incident.

Russian authorities say Mr Navalny was supposed to report to police regularly because of a suspended sentence for embezzlement.

Mr Navalny has denounced his detention as “blatantly illegal”, saying the authorities had allowed him to travel to Berlin for treatment for the Novichok poisoning, which happened in Russia last August.

protest in Moscow
image captionPolice have restricted movement in central Moscow

Mr Navalny has blamed state security agents under Mr Putin’s orders for the attempt on his life and investigative journalists have named Russian FSB agents suspected of the poisoning. But the Kremlin denies involvement and disputes the conclusion, by Western weapons experts, that Novichok was used.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied reports he is the owner of a vast palace on the Black Sea, as alleged by Mr Navalny in a video that has gone viral in Russia and has been watched more than 100m times.

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Desire for change as Putin retains support

Analysis box by Sarah Rainsford, Moscow correspondent

It’s risky protesting in Russia. Even if you escape the police batons you can be fired, face a hefty fine or criminal prosecution.

So the fact that people turned out for a second weekend, right across Russia, is significant – the fact that there were fewer than last week, unsurprising.

By blocking off central Moscow, the authorities were trying to prevent a large crowd gathering in one place and so play down the scale of dissent. Instead, they got protesters marching along main city streets to the hoots of passing cars whose passengers waved victory signs in support.

Shopkeepers were drawn to their windows to watch and, in one beauty salon, women in hairnets stood filming on their phones as the crowd filed past.

Most protesters I spoke to said they weren’t fans or followers of Alexei Navalny in particular, but they are shocked at how he’s been treated. They described him as a symbol of resistance and talked of their own desire for change.

None of this means that Vladimir Putin is about to be ousted – he still has significant support. But after two decades in power, the shine has begun to rub off his presidency.

Where were the protests?

In Moscow the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford says protesters played cat-and-mouse with police, getting up close to officers before retreating to safety. Police snatch squads pulled some protesters through the lines of riot shields. Footage showed a stream of people being escorted on to buses by riot police.

Protesters then attempted to reach the Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Mr Navalny is being held.

Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was among those detained at Sunday’s protest. She was later released.

Ahead of the protests she posted on Instagram: “If we stay quiet, then they could come for any of us tomorrow.”

Police said the protests were illegal and Russian authorities warned that the gatherings could spread the coronavirus.

A 40-year-old protester in Moscow told Reuters: “I understand that I live in a totally lawless state. In a police state, with no independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently,” she said.

In St Petersburg, Mr Putin’s home city, a crowd gathered in a central square and chanted: “Down with the Tsar.”

St Petersburg rally
image captionCrowds in St Petersburg chanted: “Down with the Tsar”

Rallies in support of Mr Navalny also took place in eastern Russia. In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, at least 2,000 people marched through the city chanting “Freedom” and “Putin is a thief”.

In Yakutsk, where temperatures fell to -40C, a protester named Ivan said it was the first rally he had attended.

“I am tired of the despotism and lawlessness of the authorities. No questions have been answered. I want clarity, openness, and change. This is what made me come here,” he said.

Protesters gather in Ordzhonikidze Square in the city of Yakutsk. 31 Jan 2021
image captionDozens of people in Yakutsk braved the extreme cold to protest against the government

Further rallies saw about 1,000 people demonstrate in Omsk, also in Siberia, and about 7,000 people protest in Yekaterinburg in the Ural region, according to local media reports.

The OVD-Info monitoring group said police had detained more than 5,000 people at protests in 86 cities across the country. They included 1,608 held in Moscow and 1,122 in St Petersburg.

Later on Sunday, Mr Navalny’s Moscow campaign headquarters announced the end of the day’s protests and called on supporters to attend a rally on Tuesday at a Moscow court where a ruling will be made on Mr Navalny’s detention.

protester in vladivostok
image captionA protester in Vladivostok wears a mask that says: “Putin must resign”

A number of close associates of Mr Navalny have been detained since last week and others, including his brother and Pussy Riot activist Maria Alyokhina, have been put under house arrest.

The chief editor of a Russian website specialising in human rights, Sergei Smirnov, was also arrested outside his home on Saturday. News of his detention, apparently over allegations he participated in last week’s protests, has been condemned by other journalists.

In Moscow, police have reportedly been struggling to find space in jail for supporters of the opposition leader.

What reaction has there been?

In a tweet, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he deplored the “widespread detentions and disproportionate use of force”. View original tweet on Twitter

The new US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, condemned “the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists”. 

He called for Mr Navalny and other opposition supporters to be released.

In response, the Russian foreign ministry accused the US of “gross interference” in its internal affairs and of using “online platforms” to promote the protests.

Russia braces for latest Navalny protests

Russian authorities have closed metro stations and are restricting movement in Moscow ahead of planned rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Many restaurants and shops in the city centre will be closed and overground transport will be diverted.

More than 4,000 people were arrested across Russia during rallies last week.

Mr Navalny was jailed on his return to Russia after recovering from an attempt to kill him with a nerve agent.

The opposition figure was arrested on 17 January for not complying with a suspended sentence. He had only just arrived from Berlin, where he spent months recovering from the near-fatal attack.

Russian authorities say he was supposed to report to police regularly because of a suspended sentence for embezzlement.

Mr Navalny has denounced his detention as “blatantly illegal”, saying the authorities knew he was being treated in Berlin for the Novichok poisoning, which happened in Russia last August.

protester in vladivostok
image captionA protester in Vladivostok wears a mask that says: “Putin must resign”

What’s the latest?

Mass rallies in support of Mr Navalny have begun taking place in Russia, despite fresh police warnings about gatherings, with police detaining more than 250 people, according to the OVD-Info protest monitoring group. Protests in Moscow are due to take place later. 

A number of close associates of Mr Navalny have been detained since last week and others, including his brother and Pussy Riot activist Maria Alyokhina, have been put under house arrest.

View original tweet on Twitter

The chief editor of a Russian website specialising in human rights, Sergei Smirnov, was also arrested outside his home on Saturday. News of his detention, apparently over allegations he participated in last week’s protests, has been condemned by other journalists.

In Moscow, police have reportedly been struggling to find space in jail for supporters of the opposition leader.

Seven metro stations will be closed in Moscow on Sunday and movement of pedestrians will be limited in the city centre, the AFP news agency reports.

Law enforcement officers clash with participants during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow
image captionPolice have reportedly been struggling to find room in jail for the opposition leader’s supporters

Protests are also expected in other areas of the country, despite temperatures dropping to -52C.

In the city of Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east, Mr Navalny’s team say there have been no demonstrations on the scale of last Saturday for over a decade.

View original tweet on Twitter

Mr Navalny blamed state security agents under Mr Putin’s orders for the Novichok attack which nearly killed him. Investigative journalists from the Bellingcat website have named Russian FSB agents suspected of the poisoning.

The Kremlin denies involvement and disputes the conclusion, by Western weapons experts, that Novichok was used.

Navalny slams ‘illegal’ Russian case against him

Russian anti-Putin campaigner Alexei Navalny has denounced his detention as “demonstratively illegal” in an appeal hearing via video link.

Alexei Navalny says the latest case against him was fabricated

A judge heard, and then rejected, his appeal against detention for 30 days. He was arrested on 17 January for not complying with a suspended sentence. 

He told the judge “this is all massively, demonstratively illegal”.

Police have arrested some of his top aides, including lawyer Lyubov Sobol and his brother Oleg.

The latest arrests are connected with alleged violations by Navalny supporters, who rallied in their thousands across Russia last Saturday. 

Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, complained that he had not been allowed to speak to his lawyers in private since his arrest. 

He has been detained since 17 January, when he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.

He accuses President Vladimir Putin of running an administration full of “thieves”.

He blamed his treatment on “those who want to shut me up – to scare me and everyone else.

“You want to show you’re the bosses of this country. But you are not. You have the power now, but that’s not eternal.”

He spent months recovering from the nerve agent attack which nearly killed him – for which he blamed agents of Mr Putin.

The Kremlin denies involvement. The opposition politician’s allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

Alexei Navalny: Dozens detained in protests across Russia

Dozens of people have been detained as police try to stop nationwide protests in Russia in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Police are also breaking up groups of his supporters gathered in the capital Moscow, ahead of a protest there.

Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia’s Far East, where there were also arrests.

Mr Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.

He was detained last Sunday after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.

On his return, he was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.

Several of Mr Navalny’s close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to Saturday’s protests.

Prior to the protests, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorised demonstrations and provocations will be “immediately suppressed”.

What’s happened so far?

Russia’s Far East saw some of the first protests on Saturday, but reports conflict over how many of Mr Navalny’s supporters turned up.

One independent news source, Sota, said at least 3,000 people had joined a demonstration in the city of Vladivostok but local authorities there put the figure at 500.

AFP footage showed riot police in Vladivostok running into a crowd, and beating some of the protesters with batons

Meanwhile protesters braved temperatures of -50C (-58F) in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 200 people had been detained so far in 30 cities across the country.

Riot police officers detain a participant in an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Khabarovsk
image captionPolice warned that unsanctioned protests – such as here in Khabarovsk – would be “immediately suppressed”
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Yakutsk, Russia January 23, 2021
image captionProtesters – and police – braved freezing conditions in Yakutsk
A participant holds a poster reading "Strength is in the Truth" during an unauthorized rally Khabarovsk
image captionA demonstrator at the rally in Khabarovsk holds up a sign saying: “Strength is in the truth”

Unauthorised rallies are planned in more than 60 cities across the country, with one in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square just getting under way.

A number of people have already been detained at the square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter protesters. Reuters quotes a witness saying at least 100 people may have been detained there.

Meanwhile, there were reports of disruption to mobile phone and internet coverage in Russia on Saturday – though it is not known if this is related to the protests.

The social media app TikTok, which is popular among teenagers, had been flooded with videos from Russians promoting Saturday’s protests and viral messages about Mr Navalny.

Russia’s education ministry has told parents not to allow their children to attend any demonstrations.

Which aides were detained?

Several of Mr Navalny’s key aides were taken into police custody in the days leading up to Saturday’s protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, and one of his lawyers, Lyubov Sobol. They face fines or short jail terms.

Ms Sobol has since been released, but Ms Yarmysh has now been jailed for nine days.

Kira Yarmysh entering a Moscow court, 22 Jan 21
image captionNavalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh is accused of violating protest laws

Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar.

In a push to gain support ahead of the protests, Mr Navalny’s team released a video about a luxury Black Sea resort that they allege belongs to President Putin – an accusation denied by the Kremlin.

The video has been watched by more than 65m people.

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Why Navalny makes the Kremlin nervous

Analysis box by Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent

For a long time the Russian authorities made out that Alexei Navalny was irrelevant. Just a blogger. With a tiny following. No threat whatsoever.

Recent events suggest the opposite. First Mr Navalny was targeted with a nerve agent, allegedly by a secret group of FSB state security hitmen. Instead of investigating the poisoning, Russia is investigating him: on his return from Germany the Kremlin critic was arrested.

Having put Mr Navalny behind bars, the authorities are putting pressure on his supporters. The Kremlin’s greatest fear is of a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia that would sweep away those in power.

There’s no indication that such a scenario is imminent. But with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday’s potential protests.

Plus, this is getting personal. Mr Navalny’s video about “Putin’s Palace” on the Black Sea was designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Russian president.

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Who is Alexei Navalny?

Mr Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

He attempted to stand in the 2018 presidential race, but was barred because of an embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionAlexei Navalny was filmed by the BBC saying goodbye to his wife and then being led away by authorities

An outspoken blogger, he has millions of Russian followers on social media and managed to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020.

Last August, Mr Navalny, 44, was almost killed in a nerve agent attack, which he blamed personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies involvement. The opposition politician’s allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

Russia has come under pressure from the US and EU to release Mr Navalny after his arrest last weekend when he returned to the country for the first time since his poisoning.

Nord Stream 2: MEPs call for halt to Russian gas pipeline

Germany has come under increased pressure to halt a Russian oil pipeline following the detention in Moscow of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The European Parliament has backed a call for Nord Stream 2 to be scrapped.

MEPs called on EU states to impose sanctions on any Russians involved in jailing Mr Navalny after he returned from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent attack.

The US has imposed sanctions on a Russian ship laying the pipeline.

Washington argues the project will increase Russian influence over Europe.

The US Treasury’s action against the ship Fortuna came in the final days of the Trump administration, but President Joe Biden is expected to pursue the same policy, according to his nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken. In 2016, Mr Biden said the pipeline was a “bad deal” for Europe.

Asked about the US move on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her “basic attitude” on the €10bn ($11bn) project to double Russian gas exports to Germany had not changed, but she wanted to discuss the issue with the Biden administration.

“We have to talk about which economic relations in the gas sector are acceptable with Russia and which aren’t,” she said, reminding reporters in Berlin that the US itself traded with Russia in oil.

What is left to build

Around 94% of the 2,460km (1,528-mile) pipeline has already been laid but work was halted for a year at the end of 2019 amid the threat of US sanctions. 

Late last year the main pipe-laying company pulled out. But last month the Fortuna completed a 2.6km section in German waters and was due to start operations in Danish waters before work was suspended. The Fortuna was sailing in the Baltic on Thursday, according to most recent data.

Russia’s Gazprom, which is behind the construction project, is still working with several Western companies, which have also been threatened with US sanctions. German energy firm Uniper said on Thursday it stood by the project and was convinced it would be completed.

Why is Navalny’s case being invoked? 

When Alexei Navalny, 44, was poisoned in Russia by a Novichok nerve agent last August he was flown to Germany and recovered in a Berlin hospital.

Germany was at the forefront of European demands for Russia to investigate the attack in Siberia, which has since been blamed by investigative journalists on a team of FSB security service agents. Russia denies any involvement.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas even indicated at the time that the future of the pipeline could be at stake. Mr Maas is hoping to travel to Washington to meet Antony Blinken as soon as he is sworn in as secretary of state.

In their non-binding vote, members of the European Parliament called for the EU to “immediately prevent” the completion of Nord Stream 2 and demanded Mr Navalny’s immediate release from jail.

Nord Stream pipelines from Russia

German Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer tweeted that it was “in Europe’s interest that this pipeline is not built”.

Mr Navalny is currently being held in Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow. Russian authorities jailed him for failing to report regularly under the terms of a suspended sentence while he was recovering in Germany. He has also been accused of libelling a World War Two veteran.

His supporters are planning to take to the streets of dozens of Russian cities on Saturday in protest at his imprisonment. Police on Thursday detained Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh. and fellow opposition activist Lyubov Sobol in response to the calls for protest.

Image shows the palace on the Black Sea
image captionMr Navalny’s team allege that Mr Putin owns this Black Sea palace property

A video produced by Mr Navalny’s team and released on Tuesday during his detention has been viewed more than 47 million times. Its allegations that President Vladimir Putin spent illicit funds on an extravagant palace have been vehemently denied by the Kremlin.

EU foreign affairs ministers will discuss both Mr Navalny’s detention and the pipeline on Monday. But EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said the 27-member state union cannot prevent Germany from going ahead with Nord Stream 2.

“EU-Russia relations cannot be reduced to the poisoning of Mr Navalny. We will respond swiftly and decisively to this poisoning, but we have other dimensions in our relations with Russia that we need to continue to address,” he added.

Coronavirus: North Korea and Russia hackers ‘targeting vaccine’

BBC – State-backed hackers from North Korea and Russia have been targeting organisations working on a coronavirus vaccine, Microsoft has said.

It said a Russian group nicknamed “Fancy Bear” and North Korean groups dubbed “Zinc” and “Cerium” were implicated in recent cyber-attacks.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has previously said Russian hackers were targeting vaccine research.

But Russia denied it was responsible.

Microsoft, which develops cyber-security software, said it had detected attempts to break into the computer systems of seven pharmaceutical companies.

Vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea, and the United States were also targeted.

Microsoft said the Russian group had used “brute force” tactics, trying to log in to accounts using millions of different passwords.

One of the North Korean groups sent emails posing as World Health Organization officials and tried to trick people into handing over their login credentials.

Some of the break-in attempts failed, but Microsoft warned that some of them had been successful.

Russia has previously denied targeting vaccine research. The Russian embassy in Washington, USA told news agency Reuters it had nothing further to add.

North Korea’s representative to the United Nations has not yet responded to messages seeking comment. 

In a blog post, Microsoft called on world leaders to “affirm that international law protects health care facilities and to take action to enforce the law”.

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Analysis box by Gordon Corera, security correspondent

This is not the first time that states have been accused of targeting vaccine work. 

In July, the UK said Russian intelligence was behind the targeting of UK research, including the Oxford vaccine. 

The US also accused China of similar activity. 

Both countries have denied it. 

All of this is part of a global race for a vaccine as countries seek advantage over each other. 

There are enormous economic, social and health benefits – as well as prestige abroad and legitimacy at home – in developing treatments and vaccines first and fast. 

Most of the state-based campaigns have been about espionage – stealing information – rather than disruption but there have also been a growing number of cases of criminal groups using ransomware against hospitals.

Microsoft has urged governments around the world not to target healthcare.