Heat Wave Causes Massive Melt of Greenland Ice Sheet 

Greenland’s ice sheet has experienced a “massive melting event” during a heat wave that has seen temperatures more than 10 degrees above seasonal norms, according to Danish researchers.Since Wednesday, the ice sheet covering the vast Arctic territory has melted by about 8 billion tons a day, twice its normal average rate during summer, reported the Polar Portal website, which is run by Danish researchers.The Danish Meteorological Institute reported temperatures of more than 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), more than twice the normal average summer temperature, in northern Greenland.And Nerlerit Inaat airport in the northeast of the territory recorded 23.4 degrees C (74.1 F) on Thursday — the highest recorded there since records began.With the heat wave affecting most of Greenland that day, the Polar Portal website reported a “massive melting event” involving enough water “to cover Florida with two inches of water” (five centimeters).The largest melt of the Greenland ice sheet still dates to the summer of 2019.The area where the melting took place this time, though, is larger than two years ago, the website added.The Greenland ice sheet is the second-largest mass of freshwater ice on the planet with nearly 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles), second only to Antarctica.The melting of the ice sheets started in 1990 and has accelerated since 2000. The mass loss in recent years is approximately four times greater than it was before 2000, according to the researchers at Polar Portal.One European study published in January said ocean levels would rise between 10 and 18 centimeters by 2100 — or 60 percent faster than previously estimated — at the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet was now melting.The Greenland ice sheet, if completely melted, would raise the ocean levels by six to seven meters.But with a relatively cool start to the Greenland summer, with snowfalls and rains, the retreat of the ice sheet so far for 2021 remains within the historical norm, according to Polar Portal. The melting period extends from June to early September.

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What Are Deep Fakes and Why Are They Dangerous?

Fake videos generated by artificial intelligence — also known as deep fakes — are becoming more common and harder to detect. But some deep fakes are being used for a good cause. Karina Bafradzhian has the story.

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Taliban Assault Major Afghan Cities as US Troops Exit

Government forces in Afghanistan battled a major assault Saturday by Taliban insurgents on Lashkar Gah, the capital of embattled southern Helmand province, and officials said clashes were ongoing inside parts of the city.Both warring sides reportedly suffered heavy casualties. The fierce fighting forced civilians to flee to safety amid allegations the Afghan air force had bombed and destroyed a city hospital.An Italian medical charity, Emergency, confirmed fighting was taking place inside the city of Lashkar Gah. “Our hospital is full. Four extra bed spaces added so far,” the organization tweeted.🔴 FILE – Afghan security forces stand near an armored vehicle during fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, May 5, 2021.The Taliban also have previously assaulted and tried to seize control of Lashkar Gah but they were beaten back mainly because Afghan forces at the time had the backing of U.S. military airstrikes.That cover is no longer available to Afghan forces, though U.S. officials confirmed conducting some strikes against Taliban positions in Helmand in recent days, apparently to keep them from threatening the provincial capital.The insurgents control almost all the districts around Lashkar Gah.Taliban hang twoThe Taliban hanged two men Saturday from the entrance gate of a nearby town, accusing them of kidnapping children.An insurgent statement sent to journalists said the men were found guilty of the crime by a Taliban court. The incident revived memories of the harsh Islamic rule the Taliban had imposed on most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.The U.S.-led military coalition invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban weeks after deadly terror strikes against America in September 2001 that Washington said were plotted by al-Qaida leaders from their sanctuaries on Afghan soil at the time.VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.

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Democrat Led Investigative Panel on Capitol Attack Opens with Riveting Testimony

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA Congressional correspondent, Katherine Gypson and VOA executive editor Steve Redisch about riveting testimony and video footage of four police officers who were overwhelmed by a mob during the attack on the Capitol, what’s ahead after the GOP Senate voted to begin work on a $1 trillion national infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden’s new foreign policy focus as the U.S. will end its combat mission in Iraq, the CDC’s new mask wearing guidelines as COVID-19 variants continue to spread and world reaction to super star gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from some competitions at the Tokyo Olympics.

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WHO Chief: ‘Pandemic Will End When World Chooses’

“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday in Geneva about the global COVID-19 outbreak that is now being driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and that infections in vaccinated people may be as transmissible as those in the unvaccinated.“WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year,” the WHO chief said, but added that the realization of the goals is “a long way off.”“So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only three countries have vaccinated 70%,” Tedros said.He recalled that WHO had earlier “warned of the risk that the world’s poor would be trampled in the stampede for vaccines” and that “the world was on the verge of a catastrophic moral failure” because of vaccine inequity.“And yet the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust,” Tedros said. “All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.”“Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” he said. “Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa,” with only 1.5% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated.The WHO chief said his organization was “issuing an urgent call” for $7.7 billion for the launching of the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, a response to the delta surge that would provide tests, treatments and vaccines.He also said COVAX; which provides vaccines to lower-income countries, needs additional funding.“The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments,” Tedros said, “it’s whether it can afford not to.”U.S. President Joe Biden announced Thursday that civilian federal government employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and wear masks.On Friday, a reporter asked Biden as he was leaving the White House whether Americans should expect more guidelines and restrictions related to the coronavirus. “In all probability,” he said.Passengers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus board a westbound bullet train at Tokyo Station in Tokyo, July 31, 2021.Biden also noted that on Thursday almost a million Americans received COVID-19 vaccinations and said, “I am hopeful that people are beginning to realize how essential it is to move” in response to the coronavirus threat.The White House said the average number of people getting their first shot of the coronavirus vaccines this week was up 30% over last week.Also Friday, Walmart joined a growing number of U.S. companies issuing mandates for its workers to be vaccinated, saying the policy would apply to all employees at its headquarters along with managers who travel within the United States.The Broadway League said Friday that audiences will be required to show proof of vaccination to watch Broadway performances and will be required to wear masks.Australia’s third-largest city of Brisbane said it would begin a COVID lockdown on Saturday amid rising case numbers. Neighboring areas will also be subject to the stay-at-home orders.Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that 80% of adults must be vaccinated before the country will consider reopening its border.In Israel, health officials began administering coronavirus booster shots Friday to people older than 60 who have been fully vaccinated in an effort to stop a recent spike in cases.Italy’s Health Institute announced Friday that the delta variant accounted for almost all new COVID-19 cases in the country at nearly 95% of cases as of July 20.German officials announced Friday that unvaccinated travelers arriving in the country will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result.The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on Saturday reported there have been more than 197 million global COVID-19 infections.  

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COVID-19 Spreads in China, Australia as WHO Sounds Alarm on Delta

Mushrooming outbreaks of the highly contagious delta variant prompted China and Australia to impose stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday as the WHO urged the world to quickly contain the mutation before it turns into something deadlier and draws out the pandemic.China’s most serious surge of coronavirus infections in months spread to two more areas Saturday — Fujian province and the sprawling megacity of Chongqing.More than 200 cases have been linked to a delta cluster in Nanjing city where nine cleaners at an international airport tested positive, with the outbreak spanning Beijing, Chongqing and five provinces as of Saturday.The nation where the disease first emerged has rushed to prevent the highly transmissible strain from taking root by putting more than 1 million people under lockdown and reinstituting mass testing campaigns.Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing, with the World Health Organization announcing an 80% average increase over the past four weeks in five of the health agency’s six regions, a jump largely fueled by the delta variant.First detected in India, it has now reached 132 countries and territories.”Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.He stressed that the “game plan” still works, namely physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.But both high- and low-income countries are struggling to gain the upper hand against delta, with the vastly unequal sprint for shots leaving plenty of room for variants to wreak havoc and further evolve.In Australia, where only about 14% of the population is vaccinated, the third-largest city of Brisbane and other parts of Queensland state were to enter a snap COVID-19 lockdown Saturday as a cluster of the delta variant bubbled into six new cases.”The only way to beat the delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said while informing millions they will be under three days of strict stay-at-home orders.’The war has changed’The race for vaccines to triumph over variants appeared to suffer a blow as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released an analysis that found fully immunized people with so-called breakthrough infections of the delta variant can spread the disease as easily as unvaccinated people.While the jabs remain effective against severe disease and death, the U.S. government agency said in a leaked internal CDC document “the war has changed” as a result of delta.An analysis of a superspreading event in the northeastern state of Massachusetts found three-quarters of the people sickened were vaccinated, according to a report the CDC published Friday.The outbreak related to July 4 festivities, with the latest number of people infected swelling to 900, according to local reports. The findings were used to justify a return to masks for vaccinated people in high-risk areas.”As a vaccinated person, if you have one of these breakthrough infections, you may have mild symptoms, you may have no symptoms, but based on what we’re seeing here you could be contagious to other people,” Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and professor at New York University, told AFP.According to the leaked CDC document, a review of findings from other countries showed that while the original SARS-CoV-2 was as contagious as the common cold, each person with delta infects on average eight others, making it as transmissible as chickenpox but still less than measles.Reports from Canada, Scotland and Singapore suggest delta infections may also be more severe, resulting in more hospitalizations.Asked if Americans should expect new recommendations from health authorities or new restrictive measures, U.S. President Joe Biden responded, “in all probability,” before leaving the White House by helicopter for the weekend.He did not specify what steps could be taken.

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Evictions Looming in US as Congress Fails to Extend Ban

A nationwide eviction moratorium is set to expire Saturday after President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress worked furiously but ultimately failed to align on a long-shot strategy to prevent millions of Americans from being forced from their homes during a COVID-19 surge.More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days, as nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.Tensions mounted late Friday as it became clear there would be no resolution in sight. Hours before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds. Evictions could begin as soon as Monday.”There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” Biden said in a statement.”Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can,” he said.The stunning outcome, as the White House and Congress each expected the other to act, exposed a rare divide between the president and his allies on Capitol Hill, and one that could have lasting impact as the nation’s renters face widespread evictions.Biden set off the scramble by announcing he would allow the eviction ban to expire, rather than challenge a recent Supreme Court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline. He called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly pass legislation to extend the date.Racing to respond, Democrats strained to rally the votes early Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.But after hours of behind-the-scenes wrangling throughout the day, Democratic lawmakers had questions and could not muster support to extend the ban even a few months. An attempt to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, was objected to by House Republicans. The Senate may try again Saturday.Lawmakers were livid at prospect of evictions in the middle of a surging pandemic.Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the Financial Services Committee chair who wrote the emergency bill, said House leaders should have held the vote, even if it failed, to show Americans they were trying to solve the problem.”Is it emergency enough that you’re going to stop families from being put on the street?” Waters testified at a hastily called hearing early Friday morning urging her colleagues to act.But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats’ bill was rushed.”This is not the way to legislate,” she said.The ban was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.Congress pushed nearly $47 billion to the states earlier in the COVID-19 crisis to shore up landlords and renters as workplaces shut down and many people were suddenly out of work.But lawmakers said state governments have been slow to distribute the money. On Friday, they said only about $3 billion has been spent.By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.Biden said Thursday that the administration’s hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month. 

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Argentina Lakes Turn Pink, but Outlook Not Rosy, Environmentalists Say

Two lakes in a far-flung coastal region of Patagonia, in Argentina, have turned fluorescent pink, an as-of-yet unexplained phenomena that local environmentalists fear could be harmful and caused by industrial contamination.The lakes, located near an industrial park on the outskirts of the Argentine city of Trelew, sprawl across a dusty, desertlike plain and are largely undeveloped. Officials with the municipality of Trelew recently discovered a truck dumping waste in the watershed, according to posts made by the city on social media.Authorities gave conflicting views to local media, however, on whether the sudden change in color of the lakes was harmful. Environmentalists were more concerned.Local activist Pablo Lada, a member of Argentina’s National Ecological Network (RENACE), told Reuters in an interview that the pink color could potentially be the result of a dye typically used to give prawns raised nearby their typically rose-colored hue.”I think that the pink lagoon uncovered a … lack of treatment of this waste that has become a big problem,” Lada said.Local and regional environmental officials are investigating the cause and potential damage to the lakes but have yet to arrive at any conclusions. 

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Biden Says Federal Workers Must Attest to COVID-19 Vaccination Status

President Joe Biden says that all federal employees will have to attest to their COVID-19 vaccination status, and those who are unvaccinated will face numerous restrictions. This comes as major U.S. businesses require employee vaccinations, and as U.S. health experts urge even the vaccinated to mask up again due to the virulent delta variant, now the most prevalent in the United States. VOA’s Laurel Bowman has our story.Camera: Saqib Ul Islam 
 

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Trump Urged Justice Officials to Declare Election ‘Corrupt,’ Notes Say

President Donald Trump urged senior Justice Department officials to declare the results of the 2020 election “corrupt” in a December phone call, according to handwritten notes from one of the participants in the conversation.”Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” Trump said at one point to then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to notes taken by Richard Donoghue, who was then Rosen’s deputy and who was also on the call.The notes of the December 27 call, released Friday by the House Oversight Committee, underscore the lengths to which Trump went to try to overturn the results of the election and to elicit the support of senior government officials in that effort.Emails released last month show Trump and his allies in the last weeks of his presidency pressured the Justice Department to investigate unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, forwarding them conspiracy theories and even a draft legal brief they hoped would be filed with the Supreme Court.FILE – In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, Attorney General William Barr speaks during a roundtable discussion in St. Louis.The pressure is all the more notable because just weeks earlier, Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, revealed that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have overturned the results. Unsubstantiated claims of fraud have been repeatedly rejected by judge after judge, including by Trump appointees, and by election officials across the country.”These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency,” committee chairman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington, March 11, 2020.She said the committee had begun scheduling interviews with witnesses as part of its investigation into Trump’s effort to overturn the results. The Justice Department earlier this week authorized six witnesses, including Rosen and Donoghue, to appear before the panel and provide “unrestricted testimony,” citing the public interest in the “extraordinary events” of those final weeks.The December 27 call took place just days after Barr had resigned, leaving Rosen in charge of the department during the final weeks of the administration that also included the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in which Trump supporters stormed the building as Congress was gathered to certify the election results.During the call, according to the notes, Trump complained that people were angry and blaming the Justice Department for inaction and said, “We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election.” He claimed the department had failed to respond to legitimate complaints and reports of election-related crime.The Justice Department officials told Trump that the department had been investigating, including through hundreds of interviews, but that the allegations were not supported by evidence. They said that much of the information the president was getting was false, according to Donoghue’s notes.At one point in the conversation, the notes show, Rosen told Trump that the Justice Department “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way.”Trump responded by saying: “Don’t expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” according to the notes.FILE – Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Oct. 21, 2020.Trump mused during the call about replacing Justice Department leadership with Jeffrey Clark, the then-assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division who also served as the acting head of the Civil Division. Donoghue replied that such a move would not change the department’s position.After The New York Times reported that Trump had been contemplating a plan to replace Rosen with Clark, the inspector general announced that it would investigate whether any former or current department officials “engaged in an improper attempt” to overturn the results of the presidential election.

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Russia Blames Its Software for Repositioning Space Station

Russian space officials said Friday that a software malfunction had caused the unexpected firing of thrusters on a newly arrived module, moving the International Space Station out of its intended attitude.The incident occurred Thursday, hours after the long-delayed Russian laboratory module, known as Nauka, docked with the ISS.  It took mission controllers nearly an hour to reposition the ISS, which had been bumped 45 degrees out of alignment.  Ground controllers fired Russian thrusters on other Russian elements at the station to fix the positioning.In a statement Friday, ISS Russian segment flight director Vladimir Solovyov said the software failure had prompted a direct command to turn on the module’s engines.Communications between the ground and the crew went out twice for several minutes, but in a statement, the U.S. space agency NASA said the ISS crew was never in danger.On Twitter Friday, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky said not to worry and the work to integrate the new module into the ISS was continuing as scheduled.The Russian unmanned, 20-ton, nearly 13-meter-long Nauka module — also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module — docked with the ISS following a long and, at times, uncertain journey.Nauka is now the first new module in the Russian segment of the station since 2010.The troubled trip to the orbiting space station followed years of problems getting the module off the ground. Nauka — designed to provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew — was initially scheduled to launch in 2007 but was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems.

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WHO: Japan Doing its Best to Control COVID During Games

The WHO said Friday that Japan was doing its best to minimize the risk of Covid-19 spreading during the Tokyo Olympics but stressed there was no such thing as zero risk.The World Health Organization’s warning came as Japan extended a virus state of emergency in Tokyo and expanded the measure to four more regions as it battles a record surge in infections a week into the pandemic-postponed Games.”There is no zero risk. There could be less or more risk. And then, for things to happen with low risk, you try your best,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference from the UN health agency’s Geneva headquarters.Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “did their best to minimise risk, because nobody should expect zero risk”, he said.World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, center, arrives for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.”I know that they have done their best, and we have supported them all along.”Across Japan, new virus cases topped 10,000 for the first time on Thursday, and a string of government officials and health experts have warned that the more contagious Delta variant is fuelling a dangerous surge.Tedros went to the Olympics opening ceremony and also addressed the IOC in Tokyo.On Friday he called on the world to draw on the Olympic spirit of unity to bring the pandemic to an end, and said his IOC speech was aimed at using the Games as the biggest platform to spread the message.Morally ‘wrong path'”Do you really accept 1.5% vaccination in Africa while in some countries it’s already 70%?” he said.”Don’t we need a platform like the Olympics to go and tell the truth that the world is actually morally, epidemiologically and economically doing the wrong things?”We are taking the wrong path and we need to use the spirit of the Olympics to correct it.”He said the image of an Olympic torchbearer wearing a mask would remind the world of the pandemic for generations to come.”It shows that we are doing this in very difficult conditions when we are taken hostage by a dangerous virus. But at the same time, it shows me the determination to fight back.”WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said the Games organisers and the IOC had comprehensive risk management measures in place, with strong surveillance, regular testing of athletes and delegates, and the use of quarantine and isolation.”The true drivers of this pandemic are not within the Olympic Games; they’re really related to the deep inequities we have in the distribution and availability of vaccines,” Ryan said.He said the Olympics were founded on fair play and Tedros’s trip to Tokyo was to urge the world to do likewise with regard to the distribution of vaccines to combat Covid-19, which is hitting some countries “very unjustly and very unfairly”.

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Amazon Hit With Record EU Data Privacy Fine

Amazon.com Inc has been hit with a record $886.6 million (746 million euros) European Union fine for processing personal data in violation of the bloc’s GDPR rules, as privacy regulators take a more aggressive position on enforcement.The Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) imposed the fine on Amazon in a July 16 decision, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday.Amazon will appeal the fine, according to a company spokesperson. The e-commerce giant said in the filing it believed CNPD’s decision was without merit.CNPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires companies to seek people’s consent before using their personal data or face steep fines.Globally, regulatory scrutiny of tech giants has been increasing following a string of scandals over privacy and misinformation, as well as complaints from some businesses that they abuse their market power.Alphabet’s Google, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp have drawn heightened scrutiny in Europe.In December, France’s data privacy watchdog handed out its biggest ever fine of 100 million euros ($118.82 million) to Google for breaching the nation’s rules on online advertising trackers.

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Hong Kong Activist Gets 9 Years in Prison

The first person convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law has been sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty of terrorism and secession in a watershed ruling that could act as a benchmark for the city’s revamped judicial setting.Leon Tong Ying-kit, a former waiter at a restaurant, was sentenced on Friday following his conviction Tuesday after a 15-day trial. The 24-year-old was found guilty of driving his motorcycle into police officers during a street protest in July of 2020 while carrying a flag saying, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of the times.” Ina break with past practice, the case was heard by three specially enlisted judges with no jury.Eric Yan-ho Lai, a Hong Kong Fellow at Georgetown University, pointed out that according to the text of the national security law, acts of secession deemed to be serious would face a jail sentence of not less than five years. A terrorism act that was deemed serious would warrant a sentence that exceeds 10 years.The law analyst said Tong’s sentencing indicates that the three-judge panel views secessionist acts, such as bearing a flag in a public scene, as a serious crime in Hong Kong.Writing on the Wall? Hong Kong’s Security Law’s Far-reaching RisksActivist says, ‘I believe that no one person or political party in Hong Kong can clearly know where the red-line of the National Security Law is’He tweeted, “No doubt, in the eyes of the establishment, the decision of sentencing creates a strong deterrent effect to political dissents. But for ordinary citizens, this amplifies a chilling effect that we didn’t sense before, even in colonial times…”Andrew Powner of the Hong Kong-based law firm Haldanes, said in an email to VOA that the panel took into account Tong’s actions, which led to his guilty verdict earlier this week.“The judgment was case specific and he was convicted because the offenses involved: (a) driving a motorbike at speed into police officers, (b) injuring the police officers, (c) driving through and swerving to avoid various police roadblocks, (d) whilst prominently displaying a flag with the slogan used by the protest movement, (e) previous social media exchanges allegedly setting out his intentions, and (f) taking place during the course of an unauthorized assembly on 1st July 2020.”Powner stated that the circumstances involved in Tong’s advocating secession led to the case being ruled serious by the presiding judges and that the sentencing is in line with Hong Kong’s national security law guidelines.“The judges have also, I believe, correctly applied the totality principle, taking into account the seriousness of both offenses and deciding to apply a reduction with part concurrent sentences, rather than applying consecutive sentences.”Consecutive sentences would have seen Tong face more than 14 years behind bars, instead of nine. But Powner added that Tong might only serve six years if he can show good behavior, reducing a third of his sentence because he still has the right to apply for early release under the security law.Tong’s lead defense lawyer, Clive Grossman SC, had requested the sentence be no more than 10 years during Tuesday’s verdict proceedings.Lawyer for Hong Kong Protester Asks Court for Shorter TermHe could get a life sentence; lawyer asks for no more than 10 yearsOn Friday in Hong Kong’s High Court, Tong had little reaction to the sentencing as members of his family looked on. Outside the building, crowds gathered at a footbridge inside the nearby Pacific Place Mall, hoping to catch a glimpse of the defendant as he left. Police officers soon arrived, dispersing crowds by cordoning off lookout areas and warning them of social distancing laws.Local media reported Grossman confirmed the defense team is set to appeal both the verdict and the sentencing. VOA contacted Tong’s defense team members but they declined to comment.The conviction of Tong for secession is the first of its kind under the security law, but it might not be the last.Last week five members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were arrested for allegedly “conspiring to publish seditious materials” after publishing several children’s books. Authorities claim the books, which revolve around sheep, incite hatred toward the government. Two of the members have since been denied bail.And Hong Kong authorities recently arrested a 40-year-old man after his laundry rack was spotted holding a flag stating “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” the same slogan as the flag Tong carried. This has led to increased fear about how certain phrases can be interpreted as sedition in the city.Georgetown’s Yan-ho Lai added that future security law cases that carry secession charges would see more serious sentences.“It reflects that judges see the offense of inciting secession is serious in nature, while that of a terrorist act not so. It tells the world that showing a flag with words that are “capable of inciting secession” at [a] public scene becomes a serious crime in Hong Kong.“For future NSL cases, the sentences would be much more severe if their offenses are not limited to giving public speeches,” the law analyst told VOA.Under the “one country, two systems” agreement signed by Britain and China in 1997, after the city was transferred back to Chinese rule, Beijing promised that Hong Kong would retain a “high degree of autonomy’” until 2047.  After 2019’s pro-democracy protests, Beijing implemented the national security law for Hong Kong that took effect on June 30, 2020. Among other things, it prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and its details can be broadly interpreted.  Under the law, Hong Kong has seen at least 117 people arrested and at least 60 charged, including media mogul Jimmy Lai and high profile activists Joshua Wong and law professor Benny Tai.

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Arrest of Eswatini Lawmakers Condemned by International Community

Rights groups have condemned Eswatini’s arrest of two lawmakers this week and the use of force against pro-democracy protesters.  The southern African kingdom, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has been rocked by protests since June. Protests re-ignited Thursday in Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, as two pro-democracy members of parliament appeared in court.Mthandeni Dube and Mduduzi Mabuza were arrested earlier this week on charges of terrorism for inciting unrest and violating COVID-19 regulations.The unrest began over a month ago with protests calling for political reform.Twenty-five-year-old Vuysiwa Maseko is a member of the Swaziland National Union of Students, which is among the central groups leading the demonstrations.He says the arrests exemplify the lack of freedom in the country.”Indeed, it’s angering and raging because these are the people’s representatives in parliament,” said Maseko. “They are the voices of the voiceless and arresting them means government is shutting 1.1 million voices – the population of Swaziland.”Weeks of demonstrations have cost the landlocked country’s economy at least $200 million.They’ve also cost lives. Local police have confirmed over 30 people have been killed and many more arrested.International organizations and governments have condemned the response by authorities, calling the use of force excessive.Amnesty International spokesperson Robert Shivambu says the lawmakers should be released immediately.”They have committed no crime and have been targeted by the government solely for for their political views,” said Shivambu. “We believe that both MPs are victims of political witch hunt, which is designed to silence any critical voice that is demanding political reforms and human rights.”Government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamani declined to comment in response to the condemnation.Instead, he deferred to Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini’s parliamentary address on Wednesday, in which he vehemently denied political motivation for the lawmakers’ arrest.UN Alarmed at Eswatini Protest Violence The protests in the tiny landlocked southern African country, formerly known as Swaziland, first erupted in May following the death of a 25-year-old law student, allegedly while in police custodyBut the prime minister also said the rule of law would be upheld and applied to anyone who incited violence under the guise of free expression.Until the government meets with the public for peaceful negotiations, Amnesty International spokesperson Robert Shivambu says more episodes of violence are feared.”The government thinks that the only way to respond to these protests is crackdown that we have seen, they have deployed the police and the army to crack down on dissent. So we are we are concerned that things could escalate,” said Shivambu.The international support is welcome by student protesters like Maseko.But members of the United Eswatini Diaspora say they want to see more than just talk from the international community.Qhawekazi Khumalo says they want countries, from neighboring South Africa to other global powerhouses, to halt business with the government.”We’re calling for sanctions of all Swaziland products, particularly those that Emaswati are business shareholder in, and those are some of the things that the world has authority, you know to do,” Khumalo said.The jailed members of parliament remain behind bars after a judge deferred a decision to grant them bail at a Thursday hearing.   A new date for a ruling has yet to be announced.

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Lebanon’s Health Crisis Worsens

Lebanon is running desperately short of life-saving medicines to treat cancer, heart ailments, or even of basic vitamins needed by expectant mothers. It is all a direct result of Lebanon’s deepening political and economic crisis which has led to severe shortages hard currency and fuel. Anchal Vohra has this report for VOA from northern Lebanon.Videographer and producer: Tilo Gummel

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