A Chinese court recently convicted a 71-year-old journalist and writer of leaking state secrets. Gao Yu will spend the next seven years in jail, the court ruled, while rights groups are saying the verdict is just a “blow to free expression”.
In 2000, Gao Yu was named one of the International Press Institute’s 50 “world press heroes”. According to the court she “illegally provided state secrets to foreigners”. The Beijing’s No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court made this announcement on a verified social media account.
The ruling explained that Gao was the one who leaked a 2013 directive by the ruling Communist party called “Document number 9″ to a Hong Kong media agency.
The directive warns of the “dangers” of independent media, multiparty democracy, but also criticism of the party’s historical record, and “universal” definitions of human rights, according to copies which were distributed trough the internet.
“We are very disappointed with this verdict,” said Shang Baojun, one of Yu’s lawyers, who argued in front of the tribunal that a “confession” from Gao had been forcefully extracted after vile threats have been made against her son.
William Nee, a researcher for Britain-based Amnesty International, said Gao is “the victim of vaguely worded and arbitrary state-secret laws that are used against activists as part of the authorities’ attack on freedom of expression.”
Known for her outspoken appeal to democracy and press freedom, Gao disappeared last April and reentered the public life with an intervention on China’s state broadcaster a month later, in which she admitted she made “mistake”.
Shang explained the main evidence shown at Gao’s trial in November was a confession the journalist had made after police made threats against the journalist’s son, who is also in prison. Shang added that after the verdict was announced Gao replied in a “strong voice” that she would make an appeal, but was not permitted to make any other statement.
The court did not allow the defense access to the documents used to convict Gao. The septuagenarian is ill, having a high blood pressure and many groups are worried about her health.
Chinese courts are controlled by the party apparatus and almost 100% of defendants are convicted, while appeals are rarely successful.
Police and security forces held back foreign journalists hoping to hear the verdict at more than 100 yards away from the courthouse.
Image Source: The Guardian
Pope Francis is considering to add a stop in Cuba during his U.S. trip in September but until now now official decision has been made, said the Vatican.
Pope Francis has been lauded for his help offered to United States and Cuba in reaching their historic renewal of ties by writing to the leaders of both countries. Francis also offered the Vatican as the place where their delegations will be hosted for the final negotiations.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, explained Pope Francis “is considering the idea of a Cuba stop” but that discussions with Havana are at an early stage. He added it’s too soon to say that an arrangement has been made or that there is an operational plan underway.
Francis is scheduled to reach three U.S. cities in the last week of September. He will speak in Congress and have a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Pope Francis will also address the U.N. in New York and participate at a church rally in Philadelphia.
A Cuba stop could be possible on either end of the United States trip. If he goes to Havana, Francis would become the third pope to visit the Cuban nation after the historic 1998 visit of St. John Paul II. Then, the Vatican leader said Cuba should “open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI also went to Cuba, on a 2012 trip during which he expressed the Vatican’s long-standing position that the U.S. sanctions and embargo was unjust and was only felt by the most vulnerable people on the island.
Francis also declared himself out against the U.S. embargo while also blaming socialism.
Francis’ intervention in the U.S.-Cuban negotiations was one of the most visible signs that he wants the Vatican to have greater influence in international diplomacy. A more controversial mediation was his recent declaration about the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago, an act Francis considers it was “genocide.”
Catholics in Cuba are used to have greater religious freedom than the believers form other Communist states.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday The Wall Street Journal was the first media outlet to report the possibility of the pope visiting Cuba later this year.
Image Source: National Catholic Register
Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone discussion on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said the missiles he is allowing to be transported to Iran have only “defensive” purposes and won’t menace the Middle East.
The talk comes only 24 hours after Putin said Russia was immediately lifting a five-year ban on supplying one of the world’s most advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran. Two weeks ago, Iran and the world powers, including the United States and Russia, reached a framework agreement, on toning down its nuclear program in return for the stoppage of economic sanctions.
Russia announced Tuesday it would need at least six months before it could ship the S-300 air defense missile system to Teheran.
In the phone call with Netanyahu, Putin motivated the logic behind his decision, saying the action “would not pose any threat to the security of Israel or other countries in the Middle East”. According to a statement by the Kremlin, the Russian president explained that the technical and tactical specifications of the defense missile system make it a “purely defensive weapon.”
Netanyahu talked about Israel’s “grave concerns” over the missile system, by saying the sale “will only encourage Iranian aggression in the region and further undermine the stability of the Middle East.”
Israel is against the nuclear deal reached this month and believes Iran may try to push forward a nuclear bomb project in secret. Israel has menaced to use military force in order to prevent that from happening. The advanced air defense system Putin gave the green light would make an Israeli charge more difficult.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced that Russia was already supplying Iran with some goods in exchange for oil. Peskov added this trade was not forbidden under the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama launched a warning to Iran, saying its fighters must not meddle with Iraq’s sovereignty and cooperate with Baghdad in the battle against Islamic State militants.
Iran-backed Shi’ite forces have played a major role in fighting the Sunni Islamic State, the terrorist group that gained strength from the chaos in Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi was forced to use Shi’ite militias, some of which are supported by Iran and led by Iranian military officers, after Iraq’s regular military was faced with large scale desertions last summer.
Image Source: Great News
Hillary Clinton is considering to launch her presidential bid on Sunday through a video message on social media, according to CNN. After this step, she will travel to Iowa and New Hampshire to start presenting her case to voters.
The journey to Iowa, where a third-place score in 2008 led to crumbling of her presidential ambitions, shows that Hillary Clinton is taking a commitment to not leave anything up to chance in her second bid for the White House, even though she is the favorite in the Democratic field in 2016.
Clinton has already shot her campaign video. It outlines the main themes of her bid for the presidency. The message aims at sending a signal to Democrats that she wants to aggressively combat for the party’s presidential nomination.
The focus of Clinton’s second presidential bid will be on reintroducing the former first lady to the American people. Democrats whom are close to Clinton have begun to call her the most unknown famous person in the world. Their argument is that people recognize the name of Clinton, but they are not aware of her story.
Clinton will probably trade large rallies for a series of smaller events with voters, as she aims to reintroduce herself to voters. Her supporters have asked Clinton to take more time to meet people directly and build their trust.
Clinton’s presidential campaign has long been expected. Speculation that she would make another bid for the White House has followed the former first lady since she departed from the State Department in the first months of 2013.
For a large part of the last two years, Hillary Clinton has traveled around the country delivering paid speeches, but also promoting her new memoir.
In the coming months, the Clinton campaign will use themes such as her Midwestern upbringing and her time raising a daughter to cast the presidential candidate in a more favorable light than she was seen back in the 2008 presidential run.
Voters in Iowa were delighted to see they can connect with Clinton in their homes or in coffee shops, but those small events were rare in 2008, compared to speeches and large rallies. For the 2016 elections, Clinton wants to bring out more her empathetic side, which was not seen during her previous bid for the White House.
Image Source: Huffington Post
United States President Barack Obama said the Washington is worried China is using its “sheer size and muscle” to bully smaller countries in the South China Sea.
Obama’s comments come shortly after China protected its construction of artificial islands, explaining it needs to safeguard its sovereignty in the South China Sea. The mineral-rich waters are disputed by China, who has territorial claims in the region, and countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines,Taiwan and Brunei.
“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said in Jamaica, at an event ahead of a Caribbean summit in Panama.
“We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside”, the Washington leader added.
Chinese officials explained that their projects in the region would be used for military defense, but also to offer services that would be beneficial for other countries as well. The U.S. State Department mentioned that the Chinese activity was provoking anxiety in the area.
Barack Obama also said the United States supports Chinese investments in all parts of the world, but the deals need to be in the interest of the people of those countries.
China has reacted swiftly to Obama’s comments, by saying that the U.S. has no right to accuse anyone of pushing around anyone else.
“You’ve said that the U.S. leader said that China is showing its size and muscle. I think everyone can see very clearly who has the biggest size and muscle in the world. But we have many times explained China’s position on the South China Sea. China has always been a resolute proponent of peace and stability in the South China Sea. We have always proactively advocated using a dual track approach to resolve the South China Sea issue,” was the statement of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.
The Chinese official also said China has faith the U.S. can show respect for the hard work of China and other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and also play a positive role maintaining peace in the region.
Image Source: Great News
A United States jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of the Boston Marathon bombing. Despite the fact that his own lawyer admitted the guilt in court, a relative from Russia still believes that he and his now-dead elder brother had no motive to carry out the terrorist attack.
Tsarnaev was found guilty on Wednesday of the 30 counts against him. The same jury in Boston must now decide if he should be sentenced to life in prison or to death.
Roza Tsarnaeva, a 66-year-old aunt of Tsarnaev, spoke to The Associated Press in Chechnya, explaining that she is “completely convinced that the two brothers were not guilty of this.”
“These boys didn’t need this,” the women said. “They never saw war, they were little when they arrived in the U.S. and grew up there. No one in the Tsarnaev family, none of the relatives, ever took part in the military campaigns in Chechnya”, Roza Tsarnaeva added. Chechnya is known for its troubled past and present, being a country in which separatists, among them some radical Islamists, carried out two wars against Russian armed forces.
The aunt believes that the Boston bombing was organized by “the American secret services”.
Tsarnaev’s father, who lives in the republic of Dagestan, neighboring Chechnya, has not responded to any phone calls or answered to text messages on the matter.
The Tsarnaev trial now moves into a second phase. It could start early next week and is expected to last another two weeks. The same jury, composed of seven women and five men, will decide whether to sentence Dzhokhar to death or to life in prison without parole.
Even tough he pleaded not guilty, Tsarnaev admitted his guilt culpability at the start of the trial through his lawyers. His defense team targeted an acquittal, while trying to convince the jury to exempt him from capital punishment. The lawyers portrayed him as a reckless and confused young man from a broken family who was controlled by his older brother Tamerlan, who was the mastermind behind the attack in which 3 people have died and more than 200 were injured.
Tamerlan, his 26-year-old brother, died four days after the attack during a firefight with police.
Young Tsarnaev’s lawyers carried out a relatively short defense, calling just a few witnesses in an effort to establish Tamerlan as the primary figure who purchased the bomb components and searched them on the Internet.
Image Source: NPR
Thousands of Palestinian civilians in Damascus have been trapped in the military clashes between armed local militias and Islamic State militants, according to Syrian activists.
Khaled Abdul-Majid, a spokesman for the Palestinian community in the Syrian capital, said ISIS launched an attack on several refugee camps in the Damascus area, and now the Jihadists are in control of most of the Yarmouk camp, located somewhere at the city’s periphery.
According to estimations made by the United Nations, around 18,000 refugees are trapped in Yarmouk, with the prospect of intensifying clashes looming on the horizon. The Palestinian population in the camp has been trapped under government siege for two years now, since the local factions took arms against President Assad’s regime.
Now, there is an even greater menace ahead of them, as Islamic State militants have joined up with al-Qaeda fighters to seize control of the camp. ISIS and the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch) are normally considered fierce rivals, and the two militant groups had been fighting each other since the starting of the Syrian civil war.
However, according to sources from both the Palestinians and Syrian activists, ISIS and al-Nusra seem to have set ideological differences aside in an unprecedented coordinated attack against the Damascus government and opposition forces.
The Yarmouk camp could become an important strategic stronghold for the rebels if they manage to hold it. While being very close to Assad’s palace, it is also a frequent drop zone of UN supplies and could provide the militants with a safe-place on case of airstrikes. The US-led coalition has proven reluctant to strike a location so close to the Syrian capital as it could put at risk the lives of thousands of civilians.
Out of the 160,000 inhabitants Yarmouk had in 2012, most fled when the civil war started. Those who were left behind are the poorer ones, including scores of children and old people. The Islamic State militants did not want only to take control of the camp, but also sought to prevent any civilians from escaping. Some of those who lived to tell the story claim that after they took over, the Jihadists placed snipers on the rooftops in order to counter any tentative of escape.
Latest on the ground reports from the Syrian National Coalition try to suggest the government in Damascus allowed the rebels ground access into the camp, by blockading the camp and bombing it for the whole duration of the attack.
Image Source: Albawaba
France’s Parliament adopted an amendment in order to make it illegal to use anorexic models or to boost anorexia.
Other countries like Spain or Israel have taken similar measures targeting the glorification of extremely thin women. The French action would only apply within France’s territory, but could also have international repercussions.
The lower house of Parliament passed the amendment on anorexic models Friday. The French lawmakers are making a push for public health bill which is at the start of the legislature process. The bill will go to a full vote next week. If approved it will be brought before the Senate.
The amendment prohibits anyone with a body mass index under a certain level from being paid as a model. The bar, which is set by height and weight measurements, would be set later by a decree if the law passes all the legislative hurdles.
Any modeling agency or person who hires a model below that index would be punished with a maximum six months jail term and a 75,000 euros ($80,000) fine if found guilty.
“The idea behind this law is not to send people to prison or fine them,” said Olivier Veran, a neurologist and legislator who promoted the anorexia amendment, adding that the law aims at protecting the health of people who are working in the modelling sector.
The measure’s supporters claim they are protecting the models from pressure to lose weight, which is sometimes required by some modelling agencies.
According to the Associated Press, one agency representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accepted the fact that some designers prefer thinner models,, but said that his agency did not hire anorexic models because they are suffering from a medical condition.
The World Health Organization considers a body mass index of less than 18.5 as being “underweight.” Adults with anorexia usually have a body mass index of less than 17.5. For example, a woman who is about 5 foot 7 and 112 pounds is “underweight”.
French lawmakers also approved a connected amendment earlier this week which targets those who manage pro-anorexia websites. Another amendment, which would require publications to write a note that informs readers when they have modified a picture to make a model look less anorexic or thinner was also approved in Paris.
Almost 40,000 people are believed to be anorexic in France. More than 90 percent of them are women, according to the French health ministry.
Image Source: Fashion Maniacs Online
Iran, the United States and its allies have reached an agreement over the most important issues of Tehran’s nuclear program. The deal came after eight long days of talks in Switzerland.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini explained in a press conference the reached deal will set the foundation of a future complete nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. The deadline for its conclusion was set on June 30.
The deal insists that the Fordow facility will become a nuclear physics center with no missile material. The two sides also agreed that the Natantz facility would remain the only uranium enrichment complex in Iran. Tehran is obliged to refrain from developing nuclear weapons.
According to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, US and EU are to stop the international sanctions on Iran after the signing of the deal on June 30 and after IAEA verification, said
“The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the US will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments,” the statement said.
Under the future complete deal, Iran will not face any more UN Security Council resolution. “It will be an end to all UN resolutions against Iran,” added Zarif, who mentioned that the relationship between the US and Iran can be improved. “We have built mutual mistrust in the past, but some of it could be remedied by implementing the nuclear agreement,” he said in a press conference.
IAEA Director General, Yukiya Amano, has praised the plan of the nuclear deal adding that his agency will verify the implementation of nuclear measures, after the agreement will be signed. Drafting the deal for the June 30 deadline will begin immediately, said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The agreement would improve the security situation in the Middle East. Iran would now be allowed to be more active in the efforts to resolve conflicts in the region, said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon aslo praised the deal. He mentioned that it could enable all countries to cooperate more urgently in front of the security challenges they face.
US President Barack Obama lauded the agreement from the White House, calling it a ”historic” step over Iran’s nuclear deal, which is not based on trust, but on on “unprecedented verification”.
Israel criticized the deal, saying it still oppose any nuclear program in Iran while adding that the agreement is detached from reality.
Image Source: Al Jazeera
A historic event is set to take place at the White House at the end of September. Pope Francis has officially accepted the invitation to meet President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on the 23rd of September, in order to discuss a wide variety of global issues, ranging from environmental and poverty-related problems, all the way to immigration and freedom of religion.
Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, detailed in a statement that President Obama and Pope Francis will discuss “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
The visit is announced to go down in history as being only the third of its kind ever to take place. The two other visits took place in 2008, when President Bush met with Pope Benedict XVI at the White House, and in 1979, when President Carter hosted a one-hour discussion in the Oval Office with Pope John Paul II.
Furthermore, Pope Francis also accepted the invitation given by John Boehner, Speaker of the White House, to make a joint address to Congress. This shall mark yet another historic happening, as it shall be the first time that a pope holds a speech at a joint meeting of Congress.
The last time the two world-renowned personalities met was last year, when they discussed relations between the Unites States of America and Cuba in the Vatican. It is said that their meeting at the White House will develop the subjects they spoke about during the Vatican meeting.
Many officials have expressed their delight regarding the visit of Pope Francis. Catholic House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated for CNN that “Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace.”
Moreover, the visit scheduled for September 23rd will be the first official papal visit for Pope Francis in the United States. Along with the meeting at the White House, the Pope shall be present in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families and in New York, in order to address the United Nations on the 25th of September.
Photo Credits: Politico.com