Hong Kong teenager returned by China appears in city court on protest-related charges

Hong Kong teenager returned by China appears in city court on protest-related charges
China imposed a contentious national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 January 2021

Hong Kong teenager returned by China appears in city court on protest-related charges

Hong Kong teenager returned by China appears in city court on protest-related charges
  • Hoang Lam Phuc part of a group of 12 captured at sea in August 2020 by Chinese authorities as they tried to flee Hong Kong

HONG KONG: One of the Hong Kong people detained in China last year for illegal border crossing appeared in one of the city’s courts on Wednesday to hear charges of arson and possession of offensive weapons related to the anti-government protests of 2019.
Hoang Lam Phuc, 17, for whom dozens gathered outside the court to show their support, was part of a group of 12 captured at sea in August 2020 by Chinese authorities as they tried to flee Hong Kong on a speedboat believed to be bound for Taiwan.
Hoang and another minor were returned by China to Hong Kong on Dec. 30 while the other 10 were sentenced by a court in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen to between seven months and three years in jail for illegally crossing the border.
Their virtual incommunicado detention has drawn condemnation from rights groups and the West at a time of growing fears about the city’s high degree of autonomy.
Authorities have denied family and lawyers access to the 12, insisting they be represented by officially appointed lawyers. China has said their “legitimate rights” have been protected and their case was handled according to the law.
All of the 12 had faced charges in Hong Kong linked to an anti-government protest movement, including rioting and violation of a contentious national security law that China imposed in June 2020.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly. Democracy activists complain that Communist Party rulers in Beijing are whittling away at those freedoms, a charge China rejects.
Hoang, who did not apply for bail, is remanded in custody and his case will resume on Feb. 26. Prosecutors are looking into whether to press further charges, including absconding and conspiracy to aid criminals.


Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
Updated 19 October 2021

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
  • Hazrat Wali was stabbed to death last week when a fight broke out near his college
  • He is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year

LONDON: A boy, 16, has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee, Hazrat Wali, in London last week.

The 16-year-old from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, appeared in court via video link from the young offender’s institution where he is being held.

He confirmed his identity and was told that his plea hearing would be held on Jan. 11, 2022. Wali’s brother and foster mother attended the brief hearing on Tuesday. 

The youth defendant was remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

Police are continuing to investigate the stabbing, which is said to have occurred when a fight broke out in a field near Wali’s college in west London.

Wali was an Afghan refugee who came to Britain two years ago, according to the Evening Standard. An unnamed relative told the free London daily newspaper: “He came here to study, he was living all on his own in London. His immediate family are all back in Afghanistan.

“I saw him in hospital. He had a fight is all that I had heard,” the relative added.

Witnesses say a teacher from the school ran over to give the teenager CPR in an attempt to save his life. While he administered first aid, Wali is said to have told the teacher the identity of the person that stabbed him. Wali died in hospital soon after.

Wali is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year.


Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
Updated 19 October 2021

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
  • Thousands of migrants -- most of them from the Middle East -- have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer
  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
The government has implemented a state of emergency which bans journalists and humanitarian workers from the area and is planning a border wall.
Charities have criticized the government’s hard-line approach, particularly its pushback policy, and have warned of the growing danger for vulnerable migrants crossing through forests in the freezing cold.


‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
  • Warning of ‘lone wolf’ attacks follows murder of British MP by man believed to have been radicalized online
  • Nick Aldworth: ‘lt’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it’

LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.

Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.

His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.

Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.

“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.

“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.

“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.

“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.

During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.

British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.

Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.

“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.

“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.


UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
Updated 19 October 2021

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
  • Sir Laurie Bristow’s urgent cables raise questions over British handling of mass evacuation
  • Two months before the takeover, Bristow predicted the Taliban would ‘escalate its campaign’ only after international military withdrawal was irreversible

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, sent repeated warnings of the imminent Taliban threat ahead of the militant group’s takeover of the country, diplomatic cables show.

The revelations prove that the UK was aware of the threat posed by the Taliban, raising questions over the decision to evacuate from the war-torn country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on a holiday to Crete at the time of the takeover, despite the urgent messages sent by Bristow.

A freedom of information request saw the cables relayed to The Times newspaper, which revealed in detail the messages sent by Bristow and his deputy, Alex Pinfield.

A cable sent on June 28 saw the ambassador note that US aerial firepower was the central force deterring the Taliban from entering Afghan cities. Bristow said: “It (The Taliban) is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US airpower.

“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.

“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”

But US President Joe Biden, less than a week later, on July 2, ordered a military withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

A month later, on Aug. 2, the effects of the declining US presence in the country were seen in a cable sent by Bristow, where he said: “The gloves are off ... we are entering a new, dangerous phase of the conflict.”

When the Taliban appeared prepared to stage an assault on their first city, he added, warning: “If that happens, the impact on already fragile political unity, military, and public confidence and sentiment will be significant.

“The UK legacy in Helmand may add fuel to the public debate in the UK over relocating those who have worked for us during the last two decades in Afghanistan.”

The ambassador also warned of the threat posed to the capital, Kabul, which until the takeover was largely insulated from the conflict raging elsewhere in the country.

In response to the revelations, a government source said: “While the situation in Afghanistan was clearly deteriorating, the Taliban’s final advance on Kabul was significantly faster than anyone predicted.

“Despite an extremely difficult situation on the ground, months of intensive cross-government planning allowed us to deliver the biggest evacuation in living memory, bringing 15,000 people, including 7,000 British nationals and their families, to safety.”

Another source defended the government’s decisions, saying that Bristow’s cables were only “a fraction of the advice going to ministers.”

As a result of The Times report, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, himself a former army officer, demanded that the UK Foreign Office reveal the full extent of the decisions it made in light of Bristow’s warnings.

Smith said: “I’m glad the ambassador was telling the Foreign Office but the question now is what did Raab do and did anybody in the government say to the US ‘this is going to be a disaster if you close Bagram?’

“Did we, at any stage, say to them ‘Do not close Bagram?’”


Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis
Updated 19 October 2021

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis
  • The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal
  • The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage

LISBON, Portugal: Portugal paid official homage Tuesday to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who during World War II helped save thousands of people from Nazi persecution, by placing a tomb with his name in the country’s National Pantheon.
Leading Portuguese politicians and public figures attended the formal televised ceremony as the tomb was placed alongside other celebrated figures from Portuguese history at the landmark Lisbon building.
The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal.
“People who at the decisive moment put their and their family’s safety at risk for the greater good are rare. Sousa Mendes was one of those people,” Ferro Rodrigues said in a speech.
The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage.
Perhaps Portugal’s most famous 20th-century diplomat, Sousa Mendes defied his superiors, including dictator António Salazar, when as consul in Bordeaux, France, in 1940 he handed out visas to many people who feared being hunted down by the Nazis.
The Portuguese visas allowed people, including Jews fleeing the Holocaust, to escape through neutral Portugal by air and sea to the United States and elsewhere.
The Portuguese diplomatic service was supposed to ask for the Lisbon government’s specific consent to grant visas to certain categories of applicants, as the country trod a careful path of neutrality, but Sousa Mendes gave out visas on his own initiative.
Leah Sills, a board director of the Sousa Mendes Foundation in the United States, said she flew in for the ceremony “to be able to honor the man that rescued my father and my grandparents” on May 24, 1940.
“It’s been just a beautiful experience,” she said.
Álvaro Sousa Mendes, a grandson of Aristides Sousa Mendes, said his family had seen an ambition fulfilled.
“This was a ceremony we had been requesting for a long time,” he said. “Finally he was recognized ... with National Pantheon honors.”
Breaking the rules got Sousa Mendes fired from the diplomatic service, with public shame attaching to his family at the time. He died in poverty in 1954.
Decades later, he won recognition for his key role in saving people from the Nazis.
In 1966, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, recognized Sousa Mendes as a “Righteous among the Nations.”
Last year, he drew praise from Pope Francis, and last March the US Senate in a motion saluted “the humanitarian and principled work” of Sousa Mendes.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that he earned recognition in Portugal, with authorities posthumously granting him accolades.
In 2017, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa bestowed Portugal’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty, on Sousa Mendes.
Last year, the Portuguese parliament voted to honor the former diplomat at the National Pantheon by placing there a plaque and a tomb without his body. Sousa Mendes wanted to be buried at his birthplace near Viseu, in northern Portugal.
Of the 19 historical figures entombed at the National Pantheon, 12 contain the person’s remains.