Afghan girls win European prize for solar-powered farming robot

Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team carry their robot onto the competition floor on July 17, 2017, during 2017 FIRST Global Challenge competitions at DAR Constitution Hall, in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2017
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Afghan girls win European prize for solar-powered farming robot

LONDON: An Afghan girls’ robotics team, which was temporarily denied entry to the United States earlier this year, has won an award at a prestigious competition in Europe.
The team’s winning entry was a solar-powered robot that would help small farmers carry out tasks including seeding and cutting crops like wheat, Afghanistan’s embassy in London told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
Three teenage members of the team won the Entrepreneurial Challenge at Robotex, which bills itself as “Europe’s biggest robotics festival” and took place in the Estonian capital of Tallinn from November 24 to 26.
The category requires entries that involve “solving a real world problem” by a robot that “customers would want to buy.”
“They are an excellent example for people around the world of what can be accomplished by young Afghans if given the right support and the opportunity to excel in their education,” Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad said in an emailed statement.
“They are undeniably the future of Afghanistan.”
The team briefly found itself in the global spotlight last July when the United States denied four of its members visas to travel to an academic robotics competition.
After a public outcry, American officials reversed their decision and granted the girls an exemption, called a parole, that allowed them to travel.
Their win in Eastonia garnered a small cash prize, and they are also invited to take part in a larger US event in May where they will compete for investment money to start their own company, the embassy in London said.


Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

Updated 46 min 26 sec ago

Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

  • Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the Malay-Muslim population
  • Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states

BANGKOK: A Thai Muslim student group Wednesday called for police to drop an order requesting universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in the Buddhist-majority state.
Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states, which since 2004 have been in the grip of a conflict between Malay-Muslim separatist rebels and Thai authorities.
Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the majority Malay-Muslim population in that region — which is under martial law.
Last week the Special Branch Bureau issued a nationwide order to universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in school, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP Tuesday, citing “security” concerns.
The news sparked immediate outrage from the community, and the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand on Wednesday called for parliament to “cancel” the request.
The Special Branch’s order “is also a form of discrimination that breaches the constitution,” president Ashraf Awae said, speaking outside parliament.
Such “groundless accusations... could create divisions among the Muslim students and others in the university and society,” he said.
He added the federation had already heard of police requesting information on Muslim student groups from at least three major universities.
Junta chief-turned-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday defended the Special Branch, and denied creating a “database” would be a violation of people’s rights.
“We can’t arrest anyone if they don’t do anything wrong,” he told reporters.
Prayut’s backing shows an “alarming trend of growing Islamophobia in Thailand,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk.
“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” he told AFP, adding that the Thai constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination toward different religions and ethnic groups.
“It could feed into radicalization of Muslims in the deep south and worsen the conflict,” Sunai said.
The ex-general had masterminded a coup in 2014, leading a five-year junta regime before elections in March formally installed him as a civilian premier thanks to a new constitution tilted to the military.
Under Prayut’s tenure as junta head, police had rounded up at least 50 Thai Muslims, mostly university students, in a dragnet operation in October 2016 that authorities justified was necessary to stop a suspected car bomb plot.