British Muslim spearheads COVID-19 vaccine campaign

British Muslim spearheads COVID-19 vaccine campaign
A London vaccination centre in operation, December 30, 2020. (Getty Images)
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Updated 18 February 2021

British Muslim spearheads COVID-19 vaccine campaign

British Muslim spearheads COVID-19 vaccine campaign
  • Kawsar Zaman is encouraging ethnic minorities by providing clear information in their native languages
  • He has received significant support from a bipartisan group of over 100 politicians

LONDON: A British Muslim has launched a campaign to provide clear and accessible information on COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to counter the misinformation “wildfire” surrounding them.

Kawsar Zaman, a successful barrister who launched the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that the importance of providing coherent and accessible information became clear to him when he tried to persuade his mother to trust the science.

“I asked her whether she wanted to take the vaccine, and although she’s in a high-risk category, she said no. She was concerned about side effects and the unusually rapid pace of the vaccine development — just 12 months,” he said.

When he tried to find information to assuage her concerns in her native Bengali language, he realized how difficult it is to find accessible information about the vaccines, especially if English is not one’s mother tongue.

That is why he launched his campaign with one clear and simple mission: “To encourage people to take the vaccine.”

Zaman said: “What I found is that information at the moment is very piecemeal. If you want to find out about the production of vaccines, for example, you have to go to the British government’s healthcare regulatory agency website or the World Health Organization’s website. But if you want to find out about specific vaccine ingredients, you have to go directly to the manufacturer’s website.”

He added: “What we’ve done, and which was one of the key objectives, is bring all of that information under one website.”

It provides key information on the vaccines, and addresses around 50 of the most commonly asked questions about them. Critically, he said, the information is provided in 18 languages.

Zaman added that the importance of including many languages becomes clear when looking at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the UK’s sizable ethnic minority populations. 

He cited the example of Bangladeshis living in the UK, who are twice as likely, and in some areas three times as likely, to die from COVID-19.

Despite this, “uptake of the vaccine has been very low among some minority groups, while deaths and cases have been high,” he said.

“But if people can’t access clear information about vaccines, you can understand their hesitancy.”

Zaman explained that historical trust issues from minority groups, as well as government messaging strategies that do not connect with their intended audiences, have meant those communities are less willing to take the vaccine.

This has been compounded by the capacity of misinformation, such as the widely debunked idea that the vaccines are not halal, to spread “like wildfire” through closely knit families and communities.

But while the challenges remain significant in countering the spread of this dangerous fake news, Zaman said the value of his campaign has already been recognized at the highest levels of government.

The campaign has drawn bipartisan support from over 100 MPs and members of the House of Lords.

Zaman said Lord Sheikh of Cornhill “has been instrumental in championing and raising vaccine uptake issues in Parliament.”

Zaman has also met with the vaccines taskforce, and will soon meet with Nadhim Zahawi, who is overseeing the UK’s vaccine rollout.

Across these meetings, Zaman said, he has been hammering home the point that getting local community hubs and leaders involved is key to increasing trust in the vaccines. 

“Local church leaders, local imams, play a crucial role in encouraging vaccine uptake by encouraging people to trust the experts,” he added. 

“We need to persuade people medically. It’s ultimately a medical question. We need to get the message across that on the balance of risks, you should take the vaccine.”


Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Updated 41 min 18 sec ago

Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
  • Hong Kong court approves bail for 24 year-old pro-democracy activist who has been jailed for four months.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s High Court on Tuesday approved bail for a pro-democracy activist who is among 47 charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on its freest city last year, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Owen Chow, 24, who has been in jail for nearly four months, was ordered to pay HK$50,000 and follow a list of bail conditions, including not threatening national security, reporting to police every day and surrendering all travel documents, according to RTHK.
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial.
Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely watching proceedings as concerns rise over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a rapid authoritarian turn since the law was imposed in June 2020.
The case offers insight into how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with Hong Kong’s common-law traditions and could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.
In contrast with past practice, the new law puts onus on defendants in the global financial hub to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
Wong and the other charged activists are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.


Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 22 June 2021

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
  • President Rodrigo Duterte is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric
  • The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination and told them to leave the country if they would not cooperate with the efforts to contain the pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, said in televised remarks Monday night that he has become exasperated with people who refuse to get immunized then help spread the coronavirus.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.
A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.
Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.
Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind.
The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.


Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
Updated 22 June 2021

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
  • Abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean woman who starved, assaulted and ultimately killed her domestic worker was sentenced to 30 years in prison Tuesday, with the judge describing the case as “among the worst types of culpable homicide.”
The affluent city-state is home to about 250,000 domestic workers who mostly come from poorer Asian countries, and stories of mistreatment are common.
But the abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, 24, was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home. The domestic worker was stamped on, strangled, choked, battered with brooms and burnt with an iron, according to court documents.
The domestic worker died in July 2016, after her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, repeatedly assaulted her over several hours.
Gaiyathiri, 41, pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges including culpable homicide. Another 87 charges were taken into account in sentencing.
She appeared in court on Tuesday wearing glasses and a black mask, and sat silently with her eyes closed and head bowed as the judge read his decision.
After hearing an additional plea of mitigation submitted by Gaiyathiri in a bid to avoid the life sentence sought by the prosecution, Justice See Kee Oon sentenced her to 30 years in prison starting from the date of her arrest in 2016.
See cited the “abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct” in his sentencing, which he added must signal “societal outrage and abhorrence” at the crime.
But taking into account the defendant’s obsessive compulsive disorder and the depression she developed around the time she gave birth, See said he did not think that life imprisonment was “fair and appropriate.”
The prosecution had sought a reduced charge of culpable homicide rather than murder — punishable with the death penalty in Singapore — after taking into account her mental health.
The maid was employed by Gaiyathiri and her husband, a police officer, in 2015 to help take care of their four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.
But Gaiyathiri physically assaulted the victim almost daily, often several times a day, with her 61-year-old mother sometimes joining in, according to court documents.
The domestic worker, who had been employed by the family for over a year at the time of her death, was only allowed to sleep for five hours a night, and was forced to shower and relieve herself with the door open.
Provided very little food, she lost about 38 percent of her body weight during her employment, and only weighed 24 kilograms at the time of her death.
Gaiyathiri’s lawyer Joseph Chen had asked for a sentence of eight to nine years, arguing that a “combination of stresses” had turned the struggling mother into an abuser.
He argued that a harsh sentence would deter mothers in a similar situation from asking for help — an argument that the prosecution called “disingenuous.”


Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
Updated 22 June 2021

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
  • Carrie Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price

HONG KONG: Foreign governments are “beautifying” acts that endanger national security in Hong Kong when they criticize the recent crackdown on a pro-democracy newspaper, the leader of the semiautonomous Chinese territory said Tuesday.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s comments come as some countries including the US condemn the arrest of editors and executives at Apple Daily and the freezing of its assets as the latest examples of eroding freedoms in the former British colony.
Those arrested at the newspaper have been accused of breaching sweeping security legislation imposed by Beijing last year by colluding with foreign countries to endanger national security.
“Don’t try to underplay the significance of breaching the National Security Law, and don’t try to beautify these acts of endangering national security, which the foreign governments have taken so much to their heart,” Lam said.
Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Hong Kong authorities were using the law to suppress the media and silence dissent. Price said that “exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime.”
“What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists,” Lam said. “It is violating the law as defined in the National Security Law and based on very clear evidence which will bring the case to court.”
In a police operation last week, authorities arrested five Apple Daily editors and executives and froze $2.3 million worth of assets of three companies linked to the paper. Apple Daily has said that if some of its funds are not released by Friday, the paper may cease operations this weekend.
The newspaper and its executives were vocal supporters of the pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong for months in 2019. The protests were sparked by concerns that Hong Kong was losing the freedoms that Beijing promised it could maintain when it was handed from British to Chinese control in 1997.


Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August
Updated 22 June 2021

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August
  • Motegi will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank, but he is not planning to visit Gaza

TOKYO: Japan’s Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu is considering visiting the Palestinian territories and Israel in August to help cement the ceasefire agreement in the region and encourage parties there to engage in fruitful talks. 

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Motegi will urge both sides in the conflict – Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government – to abide by the ceasefire agreement and work to ease tension. Motegi is also expected to offer reconstruction assistance to the Palestinians affected by the Israeli air strikes.

Diplomatic sources in Tokyo told Arab News Japan the tour might also include Egypt, Qatar and Jordan. They said Motegi will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank, but he is not planning to visit Gaza. Motegi visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last year.

Former Japanese foreign minister Kono Taro visited Israel and Palestine in December 2017.