Jurors shown video at ex-officer’s trial in Floyd’s death

Jurors shown video at ex-officer’s trial in Floyd’s death
A demonstrator blocks traffic outside Hennepin County Government Center during the first day of George Floyd trial of former police Derek Chauvin facing murder charges in Minneapolis. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 March 2021

Jurors shown video at ex-officer’s trial in Floyd’s death

Jurors shown video at ex-officer’s trial in Floyd’s death
  • “He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath… until the very life was squeezed out of him,” said Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell
  • Derek Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued that his client did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career

MINNEAPOLIS — George Floyd’s video gasping for breath was essentially Exhibit A as the former Minneapolis police officer, who pressed his knee on the Black man’s neck, was tried for murder and manslaughter Monday.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell showed the jurors the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, after telling them that the number to remember was 9 minutes, 29 seconds — the amount of time officer Derek Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement last May.
The white officer “didn’t let up” even after a handcuffed Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and went limp, Blackwell said in the case that triggered worldwide protests, scattered violence and national soul-searching over racial justice.
“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him,” the prosecutor said.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing: “Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career.”
Floyd was resisting arrest, and Chauvin arrived to assist other officers who were struggling to get Floyd into a squad car as the crowd around them grew larger and more hostile, Nelson said.
The defense attorney also disputed that Chauvin was to blame for Floyd’s death.
Floyd, 46, had none of the telltale signs of asphyxiation and had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, Nelson said. He said Floyd’s drug use combined with his heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as the adrenaline flowing through his body, to cause his death from a heart rhythm disturbance.
“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”
The medical examiner’s autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system but listed his cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The most serious charge, the second-degree murder count, carries up to 40 years in prison. The case is the first trial ever televised in Minnesota.
The first witness was Minneapolis police dispatcher Jena Scurry, who testified that she saw part of Floyd’s arrest unfolding via a city surveillance camera and was so disturbed that she called a duty sergeant. Scurry said she grew concerned because the officers hadn’t moved after several minutes.
“You can call me a snitch if you want to,” Scurry said in her call to the sergeant, which was played in court. She said she wouldn’t normally call the sergeant about the use of force because it was beyond the scope of her duties, but “my instincts were telling me that something is wrong.”
The video played during opening statements was posted to Facebook by a bystander who witnessed Floyd being arrested after he was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The footage caused revulsion across the US and beyond.
It prompted calls for the country to confront racism and police brutality. Confederate statues and other symbols were pulled down around the US, and activists demanded that police department budgets be cut or overhauled.
Jurors watched intently as the video played on multiple screens, with one drawing a sharp breath as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin sat calmly during opening statements and took notes, looking up at the video periodically.
The prosecutor said Chauvin used excessive force against someone who was handcuffed and not resisting, and the case was “not about split-second decision-making” by a police officer.
Blackwell said the Fire Department employee who wanted to administer aid was warned off by Chauvin, who pointed Mace at her.
The timeline differs from the initial account submitted last May by prosecutors, who said Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. The time 8:46 soon became a rallying cry in the case. But it was revised during the investigation.
Fourteen people in the jury box are hearing the case — eight of them white, six of them Black or multiracial, according to the court.
About a dozen people chanted and carried signs outside the courthouse as Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the Floyd family went inside.
Crump said the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence,” and blasted the idea that it would be a tough test for jurors.
“We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case,” he said.
The downtown Minneapolis courthouse has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences and barbed and razor wire.
Chauvin’s trial is being livestreamed, a first in Minnesota, by order of the judge and over the objections of the prosecution. Judge Peter Cahill ordered that cameras be allowed largely because of the pandemic and the required social distancing that meant there would be almost no room for spectators in the courtroom.
The Chauvin and Floyd families are allotted one seat each in the courtroom.


UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions
A Palestinian demonstrator is blindfolded and surrounded by Israeli security forces during protests against the forced evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 20 min 9 sec ago

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions

UK urged to intervene to stop illegal Israeli evictions
  • Council for Arab-British Understanding: ‘The forcible transfer of an occupied population constitutes a war crime’
  • ‘The international community continues to condemn such violations, yet little or no action is ever taken’

LONDON: The Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) has urged the UK government and the international community to take political action to prevent the forced eviction, displacement and dispossession of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.

“The UK government is well aware that the forcible transfer of an occupied population constitutes a war crime under international law,” CAABU said in a statement issued to Arab News.

“The international community continues to condemn such violations, including Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, forcible transfer of Palestinian populations and settlement expansions, yet little or no action is ever taken.”

Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, a district of East Jerusalem, have been fighting an Israeli court order — which CAABU calls “discriminatory” — that declared settler organizations the owner of numerous Palestinian homes, forcing the occupants out of their homes or into an arrangement that would see them pay rent to the settlers in exchange for the right to remain in place.

The UK should immediately intervene politically to prevent these evictions and dispossessions, CAABU said.

“A clear political demand that should be asked is a moratorium on evictions for Palestinians based on discriminatory law and that Israel stops applying such discriminatory laws,” it added.

Last week, the UK’s consul general in Jerusalem said: “The UK position on this is clear. East Jerusalem is occupied and it has been illegally annexed. The restitution and planning laws here, and their implementation, are unfair and they breach Israel’s obligations as an occupying power.”

CAABU welcomed the consul general’s statement, but warned that for Palestinians, “such words will do little to convince them that justice for them will be taken seriously unless the egregious human rights abuses related to their forced eviction and dispossession also come with actions and consequences for the occupying power, Israel.”

Joseph Willits, a parliamentary officer at CAABU, told Arab News: “There’s a lack of willingness by the (British) government to go further than issuing standard pro forma statements which issue condemnations, talk of a two-state solution and a peace process — but effectively, there’s no action.”

Willits echoed the demands made by over 80 British MPs in an open letter in February, which said: “All measures should be considered including reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products in full conformity with international law obligations in order to challenge the settler economy that profits from the occupation.”  

He said: “There’s a willingness from so many quarters, including among so-called progressives in the UK, to justify, ignore or remain tacitly complicit in such egregious human rights abuses. We need to begin to call this anti-Palestinian racism out for what it is.” 

He added: “If we’re unable to stand with, or speak up for, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere, to help save Sheikh Jarrah, then human rights abusers globally will continue to rub their hands with glee.” 


Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison
Updated 06 May 2021

Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison
  • Dominic Ongwen was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape and sexual enslavement
  • Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence
AMSTERDAM: Judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced a former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army to 25 years in prison.
Dominic Ongwen, who was taken into ICC custody in 2015, was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the panel of judges had considered sentencing Ongwen to life imprisonment, the court’s harshest punishment, but had sided against it due to the defendant’s own personal suffering.
Led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorized Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighboring countries. It has now largely been wiped out.
Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence. At the same time, the judges found, he knowingly committed a vast range of heinous crimes as an adult, many of them against defenseless children and women who had been forced into slavery.
He was “a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims, however, also a perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader,” Judge Schmitt said.
Prosecutors had demanded he get at least 20 years in prison, while his defense argued he should get no more than a 10-year sentence because he was traumatized as a child soldier.
The sentence can be appealed.

France ‘won’t be intimidated’ by UK maneuvers around Jersey

France ‘won’t be intimidated’ by UK maneuvers around Jersey
Updated 06 May 2021

France ‘won’t be intimidated’ by UK maneuvers around Jersey

France ‘won’t be intimidated’ by UK maneuvers around Jersey

PARIS: France “won’t be intimidated” by the deployment of British navy ships to the Channel island of Jersey, which is at the center of a standoff between the two neighbors over post-Brexit fishing rights, France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said Thursday.
Beaune told AFP he had spoken with Britain’s minister for relations with the EU, David Frost, and added: “Our wish is not to have tensions, but to have a quick and full application of the (Brexit) deal.”


Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions challenged in court

Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions challenged in court
Updated 06 May 2021

Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions challenged in court

Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions challenged in court
  • Government resisting growing pressure to lift the Indian travel ban imposed last week until May 15
  • Almost one third of Australians are born overseas and most barred from leaving the country for more than a year

CANBERRA: Australia’s drastic COVID-19 strategies of preventing its citizens leaving the country and returning from India were challenged in court Thursday.
The government is resisting growing pressure to lift the Indian travel ban imposed last week until May 15 to reduce infections in Australian quarantine facilities.
A challenge to the ban by Gary Newman, one of 9,000 Australians prevented from returning home from India, will be heard by a Federal Court judge on Monday, Chief Justice James Allsop said.
The ban was made by order of Health Minister Greg Hunt under the Biosecurity Act which carries penalties for breaches of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $51,000 (A$66,000).
A libertarian group LibertyWorks took its case to the full bench of the Federal Court on Thursday against a separate order under the Biosecurity Act that has prevented most Australians from leaving the country without compelling reasons since March last year.
The government hopes to maintain Australia’s relatively low levels of community transmission of the virus by preventing its citizens from becoming infected overseas and bringing variants home. Travel to and from New Zealand has recently been exempted.
LibertyWorks argues that Hunt does not have the power to legally enforce the ban, which has prevented thousands of Australians from attending weddings and funerals, caring for dying relatives and meeting newborn babies.
With almost one third of Australians born overseas and most barred from leaving the country for more than a year, a win by LibertyWorks is likely to lead to a surge in citizens wishing to travel internationally. The three judges hearing the case will likely announce their verdicts at a later date.
The challenge to the Indian travel ban will be heard by Justice Michael Thawley five days before flights could potentially resume.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the pause was working in reducing infection rates among returned travelers within Australian quarantine facilities.
“The early evidence indicates that that temporary pause to May 15 is on track and that we are very hopeful and confident that on the other side of May 15 we’ll be able to start restoring those repatriation flights,” Morrison said.
A decision would be made before May 15, but Morrison could not say how long before that date that a decision would be announced. Around 20,000 Australians had been repatriated from India before the travel ban.
Newman’s lawyer Christopher Ward told a preliminary hearing on Thursday that the legal team wanted a verdict before May 15.
Newman’s lawyers argue that it is important that the minister’s power was reviewed by the court even if the travel ban was not extended.
The court cases were heard in Sydney where new pandemic restrictions were imposed on Wednesday due to two recent cases of community infections.
Masks have become compulsory in the greater Sydney area in all public indoor venues and on public transport from late Thursday and visitors to homes in Australia’s largest city have been capped at 20.
The measures follow a Sydney man on Wednesday becoming New South Wales state’s first case of COVID-19 community transmission in a month. The man’s wife on Thursday was confirmed as also being infected.
Authorities have yet to determine how the couple became infected with the same variant as a traveler from the United States had been diagnosed while in Sydney hotel quarantine.


Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong handed extra jail time for Tiananmen vigil

Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong handed extra jail time for Tiananmen vigil
Updated 06 May 2021

Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong handed extra jail time for Tiananmen vigil

Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong handed extra jail time for Tiananmen vigil
  • Pleads guilty to taking part in an ‘unlawful’ protest last year over the Tiananmen Square crackdown
  • Joshua Wong currently serving a total of 17.5 months in jail for two convictions linked to the 2019 protests

HONG KONG: Jailed Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong was handed an additional 10-month sentence on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to taking part in an “unlawful” protest last year over the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Hong Kong has regularly marked the anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 repression of protests in Tiananmen Square with huge candlelight vigils.
But last year’s event was banned for the first time, with police citing the coronavirus pandemic and security fears following huge democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong the year before.
Tens of thousands defied the ban and massed peacefully at the vigil’s traditional site in Victoria Park.
Since then prosecutors have brought charges against more than two dozen prominent democracy activists who showed up at the vigil, the latest in a string of criminal cases that have ensnared the city’s beleaguered democracy movement.
On Thursday, four of those activists – Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen and Janelle Leung – were handed jail terms after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly charges last month.
Wong – one of the most recognizable faces of Hong Kong’s democracy movement – is currently serving a total of 17.5 months in jail for two convictions linked to the 2019 protests.
Judge Stanley Chan handed the 24-year-old a consecutive 10 months of jail for the new conviction which will start once current sentences are finished.
“The sentence should deter people from offending and reoffending in the future,” Chan said.
Shum, 27, was given six months while Yuen, 27, and Leung, 26, were both handed four months.
Wong, Shum and Yuen have also been charged under a new national security law Beijing imposed on the city last year.
Ahead of Thursday’s sentencing they were being held in pre-trial detention and face up to life in prison if convicted under the new security law.
The other defendants – who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, many of them also jailed or in detention – will be tried later this summer.
The annual Tiananmen vigil remembering victims of the 1989 suppression of pro-democracy protests has taken on particular significance as many Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Crowds grew in size in recent years, often chanting slogans like “End one party rule” and calling for democracy in China.
But it is unclear if Hong Kong will ever see another legal Tiananmen vigil.
Beijing has rolled out a sweeping crackdown against critics in the finance hub, with scores of opposition figures in detention, facing prosecution or fleeing overseas.
As well as the security law, a new campaign dubbed “patriots rule Hong Kong” will ensure everyone standing for public office is vetted for political loyalty first.
Officials have already signaled that this year’s Tiananmen vigil will be refused permission both as a security risk and because of the coronavirus.
Some have also suggested that chanting “End one party rule” – as well as the vigil itself – could now be illegal under the new law, which criminalizes a wide array of acts deemed to be subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
Chow Hang-tung, a barrister and a member of the coalition that organizes the annual vigil, criticized Thursday’s sentencing.
“The court has failed to draw a line between what is really unlawful, that is violence activities and what is completely within our rights – peaceful assembly,” she told reporters.
But Judge Chan said the four defendants’ attendance at the vigil was “deliberate, premeditated ... and openly defied the law.”
Protests can only go ahead in Hong Kong with police permission, something that has been routinely denied since the 2019 protests and subsequent coronavirus outbreak.
Chow said Hong Kongers would still mark each Tiananmen anniversary, even if the traditional vigil is banned.
“We will find a way to remember this and we will find a way to publicly do this,” she said.