Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed

Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed
Tarrant’s lawyers requested the trail to be moved to Auckland, where he is being kept in high security prison. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019

Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed

Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed
  • The trial is scheduled to begin on May 3, which coincides with Ramadan
  • Survivors of victims wish the trial would be delayed until after the holy month

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The trial of the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques could be delayed by several weeks to avoid clashing with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The trial had been scheduled to begin on May 3 in the city of Christchurch, where the Muslim worshippers were killed five months ago during Friday prayers. But prosecutors said during a hearing Thursday they were working with court officials to see if they could fulfil the wishes of survivors and victims’ families by delaying the trial until after Ramadan ends in late May, Radio New Zealand reported.
Also during the hearing, lawyers for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant asked if the venue for the trial could be changed to Auckland, where Tarrant is being held at a maximum security prison, RNZ reported. Judge Cameron Mander plans to hear arguments for the venue change during the next hearing on Oct. 3.
Mander had earlier issued a written note saying that Tarrant could skip Thursday’s hearing because his lawyers didn’t require him to be there and he hadn’t sought to attend in person or by video. The 28-year-old Australian white supremacist has been charged with terrorism, murder and attempted murder.
On Wednesday, prison officials admitted making a mistake by allowing Tarrant to send a six-page letter from his jail cell to a supporter. The letter was then posted on the 4chan website, which has become notorious as a place for white supremacists to post their views.
Corrections Department Chief Executive Christine Stevenson apologized for the distress the letter may have caused to victims of the March 15 attacks and said Tarrant had been stopped from sending or receiving any more letters until the department had processes in place to ensure the safety of the public.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told RNZ that Tarrant had sent seven letters since he’d been in jail and had written two more letters that prison staff had withheld. Davis said Tarrant sent two of the letters to his mother but didn’t know who had received the other five letters.
The online posting of the letter came at a sensitive time, with other alleged killers from El Paso, Texas, to Norway citing Tarrant as an inspiration.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to utter Tarrant’s name in order to deny him the publicity she says he craves, making Tarrant’s letter even more of an embarrassment for the government.
“I think every New Zealander would have an expectation that this individual should not be able to share his hateful message from behind bars,” she told media on the island nation of Tuvalu, where she is traveling to attend a meeting of Pacific leaders.
Tarrant’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday on why they wanted to change the trial venue.
University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis, who is not involved in the case, said there were precedents in New Zealand for changing venue when it could be successfully argued that a jury pool in a town where an alleged crime took place was so tainted it couldn’t be relied upon to deliver a fair verdict.
But Geddis said that, although he didn’t know the specific arguments for changing venue in the Tarrant case, he would be surprised if the application was successful. He said the Christchurch shootings were notorious enough that everybody in New Zealand knew about them, and a change in venue would also seriously inconvenience the dozens of survivors and family members who continue to live in Christchurch.

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
Updated 02 March 2021

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
  • Assaf Kaplan alleged to have worked for cyber branch of Israeli Defense Forces
  • Complaint brought by lawyers representing Palestinian Labour member

LONDON: Lawyers acting on behalf of a Palestinian activist and Labour member have complained to the opposition party over its recent hire of an alleged former Israeli intelligence operator in a social media strategy role.

The party hired Assaf Kaplan as a social listening and organizing manager, described as “a crucial new role at the heart of Labour’s new approach to digital campaigning.”

The complaint from Bindmans solicitors alleges that Kaplan worked for Unit 8200, the cyber branch of the Israel Defense Forces, from 2009 to 2013.

The lawyers outline the unit’s controversial surveillance practices against Palestinian civilians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In 2014, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations that focused on the occupied Palestinian territories because of civilians being surveilled, which they feared could be used for blackmail.

It is unclear what Kaplan did within the unit or whether he had any knowledge of the monitoring of citizens.

The job description for his new role at the Labour Party says the worker “will help to move the social media listening framework of the party to be laser focused on those we need to win over to form the next government.”

Bindmans solicitors say the party’s stance on the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories should have ruled out Kaplan from the role. They have urged Labour to explain the decision.

Kaplan’s hiring has also drawn a complaint from former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Adnan Hmidan, who Bindmans are representing, was born to Palestinian parents who were forcibly removed to Jordan.

Bindmans’ letter states that Labour conferences under various leaderships have criticized Israeli annexation plans as breaching international law.

The lawyers say if Labour knew about Kaplan’s background, it has failed to consider the views of its Palestinian members, and if it did not know, it has failed to show due diligence.

Hmidan said he is concerned about the personal data of party members that Kaplan could access in his role.

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
Updated 02 March 2021

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
  • Reduction of spending in Yemen prompts questions in Parliament
  • There is enough opposition to suggest a vote could be defeated

LONDON: The UK government may cut the amount of money it spends on foreign aid without pushing a law through Parliament, so as to avoid MPs rejecting it.

The government announced last year that it planned to reduce overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced criticism over the effect this could have in certain parts of the world.

In particular, a reduction in the UK’s spending in war-torn, famine-hit Yemen from £164 million ($233.36 million) to £87 million has met with stern opposition at home and abroad, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it “a death sentence” for millions of people.

It has met hostility from opposition MPs and government backbenchers in large enough numbers to suggest that a vote on amending foreign aid could be defeated.

On Tuesday, Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly was asked by Conservative MP Damian Green in the UK’s House of Commons whether he could “give a commitment today that further cuts won’t be made until that necessary legislation promised by ministers to this House to enact this policy has been put to a vote, so that this House can express a view?”

Cleverly failed to say if legislation would be brought to Parliament, saying he “envisaged that (the) 0.7 percent (spending) target may not be met,” and “the government is well able to listen to the mood of the House without legislation.”

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall challenged this suggestion, saying: “If the government is so reassured by its position, then I suggest it brings a vote to the House on this issue, and they can truly gauge the strength of feeling.”

Whether the government would be able to legally cut the foreign aid budget, currently enshrined in UK law, without a vote in Parliament is unclear, and would likely be subject to judicial review if attempted.

There have also been suggestions that a vote could be attached to other votes over the upcoming UK budget, set to be announced on Wednesday, to reduce the likelihood of it being rejected. The UK is the only G7 country to have proposed reducing its foreign aid this year.

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
Updated 02 March 2021

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
  • 14,000 Syrians reportedly tortured and thousands forcibly disappeared, US ambassador to UN tells General Assembly

United Nations, United States, March 2, 2021 Agence France Presse: Syria has been demanded to make the status of detainees public and return any bodies of the dead to their families in an address by the US ambassador to the UN’s General Assembly.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “at least 14,000 Syrians have been reportedly tortured and tens of thousands forcibly disappeared,” during the General Assembly debate on human rights
“We demand that the status of all those detained be made public and we demand that the bodies of the deceased be returned to their loved ones with the time, place and cause of death,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
The 193-member body heard testimony from several survivors who demanded that the international community hold Syrian perpetrators of abuse responsible.
Russia, Syria’s main ally, has repeatedly used its veto power to protect Damascus from any such measures, however.
Syrian President Bashar Assad “continues to imprison tens of thousands of innocent Syrians, women, children, the elderly, doctors, aid providers, journalists, human rights defenders,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“These innocent civilians are denied fair trials, are subject to torture, sexual violence and inhuman conditions,” she added.
She also denounced the closure of humanitarian aid entry points along the Syrian border in 2020, which occurred after agreement with Damascus could not be reached.
Only one entry point, along the border with Turkey, remains open but Russia has hinted that it intends to close it in July when its UN authorization expires.
The closures “prevented vital humanitarian aid by the United Nations,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And it is simply deplorable and it has unnecessarily deepened the suffering of millions of Syrians.”
“It is time for us to reach a real political solution,” she added. “This is the only way to bring sustainable peace, stability and security to the Syrian people.”
Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people, ravaged key infrastructure and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression on anti-government protests.

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
Updated 02 March 2021

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
  • ‘No doubt there is a danger’ from ‘puffing, panting’ runners: Oxford professor

LONDON: Joggers should wear face masks while exercising because running past people while breathing heavily could pose a coronavirus transmission risk, scientists have warned.

“There is no doubt the virus is in the air, there is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale, and that someone else has exhaled,” Prof. Trish Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford told TV program “Good Morning Britain.”

She said: “The exercising jogger — the puffing and panting jogger — you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.”

She added: “About 40 percent of coronavirus cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms. So you’re jogging along, you think you’re fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms, but you’ve actually breathed that coronavirus onto someone.”

Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh said: “This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think … I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We’re in a pandemic, so if you’re going to run or cycle in a busy area, wear a mask.”

Former UK politician Tom Watson said: “If you’re a runner you should know obviously you’re breathing more deeply, and you should try not to run into people or run near them.”

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
Updated 02 March 2021

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
  • Police brand pair ‘selfish’ for failing to quarantine upon return

LONDON: A British couple have been fined £10,000 ($13,945) each after they returned to the UK from a holiday in Dubai and failed to quarantine.

Police said the pair tried to avoid travel rules put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus by taking an indirect route back from Dubai, which is on the UK’s “red list” of restricted destinations.

Merseyside Police Chief Inspector Chris Barnes said the duo had been transported to a designated quarantine hotel on Feb. 26 following the fines.

“Strict rules around international travel have been put in place by the government for a reason, and to disregard them in this way is selfish, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous,” he added.

“Currently, the regulations mean that if you are a British or Irish national, or you have residence rights in the UK and are returning from a country on the foreign travel ‘red list,’ you must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days,” he said.

“If you are required to quarantine at a hotel, you can only arrive in England at certain ports of entry. In this instance, the pair in question avoided a direct flight route back from Dubai to one of the specified airports in an attempt to evade this process.”