Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
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Protesters hold sunflowers during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar. (Dawei Watch via AFP)
Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
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In this file photo taken on April 27, 2021, protesters make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon's Sanchaung township. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2021

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

BANGKOK, Thailand: Beaten, kicked in the groin and threatened with sexual violence — a young Myanmar teenager detained by the junta’s security forces has described the treatment suffered by some women and girls behind bars.
Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother were arrested on April 14 in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, which has been blanketed with heavy security since the military seized power in a coup.
As they were walking to a friend’s house from a morning protest, she said, they were stopped by two security trucks.
“They forced us to crouch face-down on the ground,” Shwe Yamin Htet told AFP.
The high school student then faced six days of fear and anxiety, held with women who alleged torture and abuse by police behind closed doors.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she herself had to endure a police officer molesting her during an interrogation session.
The teenager was released on April 20, but her mother was not as fortunate — Sandar Win was instead taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.
“My mother is my only family,” she said. “I’m very worried for her safety and life.”
To secure her release, she said, she had to sign documents saying she suffered “no torture” behind bars.
“It’s the opposite of what they have done,” Shwe Yamin Htet said. “It is totally unacceptable and unfair.”

Political prisoners
Her mother is among more than 3,800 civilians arrested and still languishing behind bars since the February 1 coup, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Little is known about the conditions of detainees across Myanmar, as those released rarely speak out about it.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she and her mother were taken first to a local police station where they were questioned separately.
“I was touched by a police officer, who told me he could kill me and make me disappear,” she said.
“If I didn’t push his hand away, I’m sure he would have continued.”
She added that her mother was slapped twice during her interrogation.
The following day, they were taken to a detention center on Yangon’s northern outskirts where they met other women, some of whom had bruises all over their bodies.
One of them — a woman who had been in a relationship with a foreigner — was beaten so badly she could barely talk or eat, Shwe Yamin Htet said.
“We had to feed her fried egg and rice,” she said. “She told us she couldn’t urinate because her women parts had been kicked during the interrogation.”
The National Unity Government — an underground group of ousted lawmakers opposing the junta — has announced it is investigating the “allegations of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in unlawful detention.”
“These cases are indicative of the wider pattern of sexual and gender-based violence committed by Myanmar’s military that has persisted for years with impunity, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls in armed conflict areas,” it said in a statement.

Rights and dignity violated
Another woman held in the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet recalled similar experiences.
Ngwe Thanzin — a pseudonym to protect her identity — told AFP she and four others were protesting in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township when they were arrested.
“I was kicked in my face for having a black mask in my bag,” she said, adding that security forces also yelled misogynistic abuse at them.
The women were then taken to the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet, where Ngwe Thanzin said she was handcuffed so tightly it left marks on her wrists.
“They also threatened us saying they could kill us and make us disappear without anyone knowing it,” she told AFP.
During her three-night detention, she said she saw a 19-year-old girl bruised so badly she could barely stand.
“They don’t beat or torture in front of other people. But when people were individually interrogated, they came out with bruises.”
AFP was unable to independently verify the allegations made by Shwe Yamin Htet and Ngwe Thanzin.
Repeated attempts to contact the junta spokesman for a response went unanswered.
And junta-appointed Minister of Social Welfare Thet Thet Khine — who chairs a National Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict — could not be reached for comment.
Ngwe Thanzin said the least the junta could do was have female security personnel available to interrogate them, instead of men.
“All our rights and dignity were violated and abused,” she said.
“Since we have no rights, I felt we were like water in their hands.”


Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends
Updated 5 sec ago

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends
  • Unvaccinated people are already subject to delays in freedoms that will be gradually granted to inoculated residents between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1.
SYDNEY: Sydney residents who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 risk being barred from various social activities even when they are freed from stay-at-home orders in December, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejkilian warned on Tuesday.
Under a roadmap to exit lockdown in Australia’s biggest city, unvaccinated people are already subject to delays in freedoms that will be gradually granted to inoculated residents between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1.
Berejkilian said people who choose not to be vaccinated could be barred entry to shops, restaurants and entertainment venues even after the state lifts all restrictions against them on Dec. 1.
“A lot of businesses have said they will not accept anyone who is unvaccinated,” Berejiklian told Seven News on Tuesday. “Life for the unvaccinated will be very difficult indefinitely.”
The two-tier system, designed to encourage more people to get vaccinated, has been criticized for both penalizing vulnerable groups who have not had access to inoculations and for falling short of providing a real incentive for the vaccine hesitant.
Pubs, cafes, gyms and hairdressers will reopen to fully vaccinated people on Oct. 11 in New South Wales, home to Sydney, and more curbs will be eased once 80 percent of its adult population becomes fully vaccinated, expected by the end of October.
Australia is pursuing a faster reopening through higher vaccination rates despite persistent infections, largely in its two biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Along with the capital Canberra, both cities are in a weeks-long lockdown.
The Delta-fueled outbreak has divided state and territory leaders, with some presiding over virus-free parts of the country indicating they will defy a federal plan to reopen internal borders once the adult population reaches 80 percent vaccination, expected in November. The national vaccine rate is currently around 52 percent.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the New South Wales roadmap and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The strongest possible reason to be vaccinated is to save your life,” Hunt said.
The number of COVID-19 cases recorded by Australia since the beginning of the pandemic topped 100,000 on Tuesday, with around 70 percent of those detected since a Delta-variant fueled wave hit the country in mid-June.
New South Wales reported 863 new cases on Tuesday, up from 787 a day earlier, and seven new deaths. Neighbouring Victoria reported 867 new cases, its biggest daily rise ever, and four deaths.
The northeast state of Queensland reported four cases, including its first mystery case in almost two months. Officials are racing to trace the source after an aviation worker, who has not traveled interstate or overseas recently, contracted the virus.
While the state is on high alert, officials stopped short of enforcing a lockdown.
Australia had been faring relatively well until the latest wave, but a sluggish vaccine rollout left it vulnerable to the more virulent Delta strain. Deaths stand at 1,256 but the mortality rate from Delta is lower than last year due to higher vaccination rates among the vulnerable population.
In New South Wales, the number of people hospitalized dipped to 1,155 from 1,266 a week ago as dual-dose vaccination levels in people aged over 16 topped 60 percent in the state.

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’
Updated 59 min 26 sec ago

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’
  • The missile was launched from the central north province of Jagang at around 6:40a.m.
  • The latest test underscored the steady development of North Korea’s weapons systems
SEOUL: North Korea fired a missile toward the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, as Pyongyang called on the United States and South Korea to scrap their “double standards” on weapons programs to restart talks.
The missile was launched from the central north province of Jagang at around 6:40a.m., the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Japan’s defense ministry said it appeared to be a ballistic missile, without elaborating.
The latest test underscored the steady development of North Korea’s weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief.
The launch came just before North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations urged the United States to give up its hostile policy toward Pyongyang and said no one could deny his country’s right to self-defense and to test weapons.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered aides to conduct a detailed analysis of the North’s recent moves.
“We regret that the missile was fired at a time when it was very important to stabilize the situation of the Korean peninsula,” defense ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted “the destabilizing impact” of the North’s illicit weapons programs, while the US State Department also condemned the test.
At the UN General Assembly, North Korea’s UN envoy, Kim Song, said the country was shoring up its self-defense and if the United States dropped its hostile policy and “double standards,” it would respond “willingly at any time” to offers to talks.
“But it is our judgment that there is no prospect at the present stage for the US to really withdraw its hostile policy,” Kim said.
Referring to a call by Moon last week for a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim said Washington needed to permanently stop joint military exercises with South Korea and remove “all kinds of strategic weapons” on and around the peninsula.
The United States stations various cutting edge military assets including nuclear bombers and fighter jets in South Korea, Guam and Japan as part of efforts to keep not only North Korea but also an increasingly assertive China in check.
Kim’s speech was in line with Pyongyang’s recent criticism that Seoul and Washington denounce its weapons development while continuing their own military activities.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has said the North is willing to improve inter-Korean ties and consider another summit if Seoul abandons its double standards and hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
“The conditions she suggested were essentially to demand that the North be accepted as a nuclear weapons state,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.
“Their goal is to achieve that prestige and drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, taking advantage of Moon’s craving for diplomatic legacy as his term is running out.”
Moon, a liberal who has prioritized inter-Korean ties, sees declaring an end to the Korean War, even without a peace treaty to replace an armistice, as a way to revive denuclearization negotiations between the North and the United States.
However, Moon, who has been in office for a single term, faces sagging popularity ahead of a presidential election in March.
Hopes for ending the war were raised after a historic summit between Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018. But that possibility, and the momentum for talks came to nothing, with talks stalled since 2019.

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
Updated 27 September 2021

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
  • Olaf Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy

BERLIN: The party that narrowly beat outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc pushed Monday for a quick agreement on a coalition government amid concerns that Europe’s biggest economy could be in for weeks of uncertainty after an election that failed to set a clear direction.

Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the center-left Social Democrats, called for Merkel’s center-right Union bloc to go into opposition after it saw its worst-ever result in a national election. Both finished with well under 30 percent  of the vote, and that appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties — raising questions over the stability of a future government.

During her 16 years in office, Merkel was seen abroad not just as Germany’s leader but in many ways as the leader of Europe, helping steer the European Union through a series of financial and political crises.

The unclear result combined with an upcoming French presidential election in April creates uncertainty — at least for now — in the two economic and political powers at the center of the EU, just as the bloc faces a resurgent Russia and increasing questions about its future from populist leaders in eastern countries.

Both outgoing finance minister and Vice Chancellor Scholz and Armin Laschet, the Union’s candidate and governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, staked a claim to leading the new government on Sunday night. Scholz, who pulled his party out of a long poll slump, sounded confident on Monday.

But the kingmakers are likely to be two prospective junior partners in any coalition, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.

“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said Monday. “They strengthened three parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats — so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: These three parties should lead the next government.”

The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats. That is the combination that has run Germany for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, though this time it would be under Scholz’s leadership with Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. But that coalition has often been marred by squabbling, and there is little appetite for it.

Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy.

“My idea is that we will be very fast in getting a result for this government, and it should be before Christmas if possible,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “Germany always has coalition governments and it was always stable.”

Scholz, an experienced and pragmatic politician whose calm, no-frills style is in some ways reminiscent of Merkel’s, pointed to continuity in foreign policy. He said a priority will be “to form a stronger and more sovereign European Union.”

“But doing so means also to work very hard on the good relationship between ... the European Union and the United States,” he added. “The trans-Atlantic partnership is of (the) essence for us in Germany ... and so you can rely on continuity in this question.”

The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.

Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or even months. Merkel announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term.

Scholz was clear that her party should bow out of government. He said the Union “received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition.”

Amid concern about rising nationalism and populism, the Europeans will be reassured that mainstream parties will form the next government. Sunday’s election saw weaker results for the far-right Alternative for Germany and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Left Party. The strong showing by the Greens could also help ease passage of the EU’s landmark “Fit for 55” climate change package aimed at making the 27-nation bloc carbon neutral within 30 years.


Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
Updated 27 September 2021

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
  • Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18

LONDON:  The families of Afghans studying in the UK are being threatened by the Taliban, a British politician has claimed.

Five students evacuated from Afghanistan when the group recently regained control the country, and who are due to start at the University of Sussex on Chevening scholarships, had not been allowed to bring their families with them to the UK, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said.

Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18, the Guardian reported.

The students told Lucas that they had received WhatsApp messages from the Taliban threatening the lives of their elderly dependents and dependent siblings still in Afghanistan.

Lucas said: “(The five students) are absolutely desperate about their families’ safety with their anguish heightened by the knowledge that their families are at risk precisely because of their decision to take up their Chevening placements – placements which mark them out as collaborators with the UK.”

She added that the fathers of two of the students had been murdered by the Taliban two years ago, and one claimed to have heard reports that the group had put pressure on a relative of school age.

The former Green Party leader said she had raised the issue with the Foreign Office, Home Office, and the Chevening secretariat but had received only “a deafening silence” in response.

She has accused the British government of failing to offer any clear assurances to people attempting to leave Afghanistan, after it pledged to take 5,000 refugees in the first 12 months and up to 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme is yet to start.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lucas said the government had told Parliament that individuals needed to wait for the scheme to open but had given no indication of when that would be.

And she pointed out that given the number of British nationals from Afghanistan living in her constituency who were seeking help, the scheme would be oversubscribed.

Her letter added: “My estimate based on my caseload is that there could be more than 33,000 family members alone that meet the scheme’s criteria, let alone those in the specified at-risk groups, so even 20,000 places over five years falls shamefully short.

“The government does not appear to know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting (UK military initiative to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover) flights but did not qualify for Arap (the Afghan relocations and assistance policy), or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.

“The government is also directing people toward a visa process that, by its own admission, is impossible to fulfil and, when it does get up and running, will incur all the usual charges and minimum income criteria,” she said.

Lucas also highlighted the difficulty for Afghans to provide the required biometrics for a visa, which are not available in Afghanistan, and demanded a waiver of visa requirements for family members of British nationals still stuck in the country.

The British Home Office said: “There will be many more people seeking to come to the UK under the scheme than there are places.” It added that it was taking a “considered approach, working with international partners and non-governmental organizations to identify those most eligible.”


Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
Updated 27 September 2021

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
  • Jordan Peterson was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019

LONDON: Jordan Peterson, a controversial academic who has been accused of Islamophobia, has said he will attend a series of seminars at the University of Cambridge in November, The Times reported on Monday.

The Canadian psychology professor was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019.

His proposed visiting fellowship offer was canceled by administrators after he was photographed with a man wearing an Islamophobic T-shirt.

When the photographs went viral, Prof. Stephen Toope, the university’s vice chancellor, said Peterson’s “casual endorsement” through association was “antithetical” to the efforts of the divinity faculty.

Peterson has faced opposition for his writing and talks on gender, politics, religion in general and Islam in particular.

His latest invitation to Cambridge was sent out by Dr. James Orr, also from the divinity faculty, who said Peterson will be spending between 10 days and two weeks at the university, where he will attend seminars, talks and other engagements.