Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law
Apple Daily is by far the most outspoken of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media outlets. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 June 2021

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law
  • The case is the first time political views and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law

HONG KONG: Two executives from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily appeared in court on Saturday on charges of collusion and were denied bail after authorities deployed a sweeping security law to target the newspaper, a scathing critic of Beijing.
Chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung are accused of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.
Chief magistrate Victor So said there were insufficient grounds “for the court to believe that the defendants will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The two will remain in custody until their next court appearance on August 13 as prosecutors said police needed time to examine more than 40 computers and 16 servers seized from the newsroom.
The case is the first time political views and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law, which was imposed last year by Beijing to stamp out dissent in the financial hub.
Apple Daily and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long been thorns in Beijing’s side, with unapologetic support for the city’s pro-democracy movement and caustic criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.
More than 500 police officers raided the paper’s newsroom on Thursday. Five executives were arrested. Law and Cheung were charged on Friday while the three others were released on bail pending further investigations.
“We will continue to publish our paper tomorrow,” deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man said outside court. She was released late Friday on bail.
Dozens of supporters were queuing to get seats in court on Saturday morning, including many former and current employees of Apple Daily.
A staff member, who gave her surname as Chang, said she and many other Apple Daily employees treat “every day like it is our last” working for the paper.
“At first, authorities said the national security law would only target a tiny number of people,” she said.
“But what has happened showed us that is nonsense,” she added.
Another staff reporter, who gave her first name as Theresa, said she felt Apple Daily’s legal troubles were a warning shot.
“I think what has happened to Apple Daily today can eventually happen to every other news outlet in the city,” she said.
Multiple international media companies have regional headquarters in Hong Kong, attracted to the business-friendly regulations and free speech provisions written into the city’s mini-constitution.
But many are now questioning whether they have a future there and are drawing up contingency plans as Beijing presses on with a broad crackdown on dissent in the city.
Local media have an even tougher time, with journalist associations saying reporters are increasingly having to self-censor.
Hong Kong has steadily plunged down an annual press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, from 18th place in 2002 to 80th this year.
Mainland China languishes at 177th out of 180, above only Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the arrests were not an attack on the media.
Earlier this week, security secretary John Lee described Apple Daily as a “criminal syndicate.”
Apple Daily is by far the most outspoken of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media outlets. But it is not clear how long it can survive.
Its wealthy owner Lai, 73, is currently serving multiple jail sentences for his involvement in democracy rallies in 2019.
He has also been charged under the national security law and has had his Hong Kong assets frozen.
Authorities froze a further HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of Apple Daily’s company assets on Thursday.
Police say they also plan to prosecute three companies owned by Apple Daily under the security law, which could see the paper fined or banned.
It is the first time companies, rather than an individual, have faced a national security investigation.
Mark Simon, an aide to Lai who lives overseas, said the paper would have difficulty paying its staff of about 700.
Company lawyers were trying to work out the breadth of the asset freeze order, he added.
“Money is not an issue. Draconian orders from Beijing via the NSL (national security law) are the issue,” he said.


Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
Updated 43 min 41 sec ago

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
  • Move came 5 days after he created them
  • Choudary, featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, is linked to known terrorists 

LONDON: Notorious British hate preacher Anjem Choudary, 54, has had his Facebook and Twitter accounts shut down just five days after he joined the social networks.

Twitter said Choudary’s page was “permanently suspended for violating the rules” of its violent organizations policy.

Choudary, who is featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, recently had his ban on public speaking lifted. The ban had been imposed on him as one of the conditions of his early release from prison.

He was sentenced to five and a half years behind bars in 2016 for inviting support for Daesh, but served just half that time. 

The rest of the sentence was spent outside prison but under strict license conditions, including curbs to his internet and phone usage, a ban on public speaking, and a ban on contacting certain people without approval.

Those conditions came to an end on July 18 and he was legally allowed to set up an online presence, though the social networks have no obligation to allow him on their platforms.

Before he was jailed, Choudary earned notoriety as an outspoken extremist with a significant following.

Among his followers was the killer of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was beheaded in a London street, and Siddhartha Dhar, who joined Daesh in 2014 reportedly as an “executioner.”


Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
Updated 30 July 2021

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
  • The Arabic Original series will premiere on Aug. 12 exclusively on Netflix

DUBAI: Netflix has released the trailer of its Arabic production, “Al-Rawabi School for Girls,” which is the first-of-its-kind young adult series in the region.

                            
“Al-Rawabi School for Girls” tells the story of a bullied highschool girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.
The six-episode series was created and written by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal in collaboration with Islam Al-Shomali and directed by Shomali.
Premiering on Aug. 12, the show will be released in 190 countries and available in more than 32 languages. It will also have audio and written descriptions for disabled audiences.
For Shomali, “Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is the result of a lifelong project. “What started out as scribbles on a blackboard is now an original show on Netflix,” she wrote in a blog post.
Shomali and co-creator Kamal set out to make a series that resonated with young adults while highlighting the challenges that young women experience in high school.
“The one thing I always found lacking in most shows that talk about women is the female perception on their issues,” Shomali said. This meant it was integral that female talent formed a significant part of the team working on all elements of the show, from the script to the set design and music.
The crew includes Farah Karouta as costume designer, Rand Abdulnour as production designer, Nour Halawani as sound mixer, Magda Jamil as post-production supervisor, and Rachelle Aoun and Ahmad Jalboush as directors of photography, among others.
“We collaborated with talented individuals who were solely chosen based on their artistic and creative abilities. And for that, I could not have been more proud to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew, the men and women alike, whose passion and dedication were the main force behind delivering the show’s vision,” Shomali said.
“Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is reflective of Netflix’s investment in the region. Last year, Netflix signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi Arabian animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a similar period first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects. It is also expanding its library of Arabic content, investing in more original Arabic productions, localizing content via subbing and dubbing efforts, partnering with businesses, and hiring people from the region to further fuel its growth in the Arab world.
The streaming giant is also committed to providing a platform for more female talent. Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, Netflix pledged $5 million globally toward programs that help to identify, train and provide work placements for female talent around the world.
The investment is part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which will result in the company investing $20 million a year for the next five years in building more inclusive pipelines behind the camera.
In the Arab world, this means working with creators such as Shomali. Later this year, it will launch “Finding Ola,” in which Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabry will take the role of executive producer for the first time in her career.
Currently, the platform features several Arab female talents from the entertainment industry through shows and films including “Nappily Ever After” and “Whispers,” directed by Haifa Al-Mansour and Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia; “The Kite” and “Solitaire,” directed by Randa Chahal Sabag and Sophie Boutros from Lebanon; and “Wajib,” directed by Anne Marie Jacir from Palestine.

 


Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Updated 30 July 2021

Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
  • The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko
  • A total of 28 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences

KYIV: The Belarusian Association of Journalists on Thursday called on authorities in Belarus to transfer a jailed journalist to a civilian hospital so he could get treatment for a coronavirus-induced pneumonia he has reportedly developed in detention.
The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko, head of the advertising and marketing department of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper. Skurko, who used to be the paper’s chief editor from 2006 to 2017, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, the capital.
Nasha Niva reported this week that Skurko has been transferred to the facility’s medical ward with “structural changes in his lungs,” and his cellmates were placed in quarantine because Skurko was suspected to have been infected with COVID-19.
The newspaper said before Skurko, 43, was moved to the detention facility he is in now, he had spent 13 days in another detention center that is notorious for its harsh conditions, without a bed or a mattress and lacking access to his diabetes medications.
“Andrei Skurko is an insulin-dependent diabetic. For people like him, coronavirus can be deadly,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Belarusian authorities raided the offices of Nasha Niva, the country’s oldest and most well-respected independent newspaper, on July 8 along with the homes of some staff members. Skurko was detained that day along with the paper’s editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and two other employees of Nasha Niva, who were later released.
Martsinovich and Skurko remain in custody and are facing charges over incorrect payments of utility bills, charges that carry punishment of up to five years in prison.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists so far this month alone, according to the Viasna human rights center.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
According to Viasna, Belarus authorities are deliberately creating unbearable conditions for political prisoners behind bars, including by placing them into “coronavirus cells.”
Raids targeting journalists and more detentions took place Thursday in Minsk and other cities, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities declared the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel an extremist group.
A total of 28 Belarusian journalists — including those working with Nasha Niva, Belsat and the popular independent news site Tut.by — remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
In a statement Thursday, the International Federation of Journalists condemned the government crackdown on Belarusian media.
“We call on the international community to denounce the situation in Belarus. Each day, the authorities violate the media’s and citizens’ freedoms with impunity,” said the Federation’s general secretary, Anthony Bellanger.


LinkedIn allows employees to work fully remote, removes in-office expectation

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 July 2021

LinkedIn allows employees to work fully remote, removes in-office expectation

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location. (File/AFP)
  • inkedIn will allow employees to opt for full-time remote work or a hybrid option as offices gradually reopen
  • The new policy will apply to LinkedIn's global workforce of more than 16,000 employees

NEW YORK: LinkedIn will allow employees to opt for full-time remote work or a hybrid option as offices gradually reopen, Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson told Reuters.

This new policy is a shift from the initial indication last October that Microsoft Corp's professional social networking site would expect employees to work from an office 50% of the time when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lift.

The updated policy, offering the flexibility to work remotely full-time or work at an office part-time, will apply to LinkedIn's global workforce of more than 16,000 employees.

“We anticipate that we'll definitely see more remote employees than what we saw prior to the pandemic,” Hanson said in a Wednesday interview ahead of the announcement, adding that some jobs would require in-office work.

Hanson said LinkedIn is not currently requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to the office, in contrast to tech companies such as Facebook and Google that have responded to a rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases by requiring shots. Twitter Inc is closing its recently reopened offices due to the surge in cases.

LinkedIn employees who move locations could see their pay adjusted based on the local market where they're based, said Greg Snapper, director of corporate communications.

The tech industry was among the first to allow employees to work from home when COVID-19 hit the US last year. But the extent to which tech companies are embracing permanent remote work is now diverging.

Apple Inc will require most employees to work from the office three days per week starting in October, while Zillow Group Inc and Reddit Inc will allow most employees to work remotely. Alphabet Inc's Google expects 60 percent of its workforce to return to the office at least part-time.

LinkedIn is reopening its global offices based on COVID-19 infection rates in each location.


From Facebook to Twitter, Big Tech sees social commerce driving sales growth

The success of social commerce stems in part from product targeting based on user interests, with sales generating more data. (File/Facebook)
The success of social commerce stems in part from product targeting based on user interests, with sales generating more data. (File/Facebook)
Updated 30 July 2021

From Facebook to Twitter, Big Tech sees social commerce driving sales growth

The success of social commerce stems in part from product targeting based on user interests, with sales generating more data. (File/Facebook)
  • Social media platforms, including Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat and Twitter, ramp up investment in shopping features to drive revenue growth
  • This move comes despite the lifting of restrictions, with analysts predicting that the demand for shopping online is unlikely to retreat

LONDON: Led by Facebook, social media platforms from Alphabet’s YouTube to Snap Inc. and Twitter are investing heavily in shopping features to drive revenue growth, a major theme that emerged during second-quarter results over the past week.
The companies are vying for a piece of the so-called social commerce industry, which relies on users’ ability to discover and buy products through social media apps and is expected to balloon to $50 billion from $36 billion in annual sales by 2023 in the United States according to research firm eMarketer.
The success of social commerce stems in part from product targeting based on user interests, with sales generating more data that can be used for future advertising and merchandise placements.
Facebook, widely considered the leader in social commerce, and Google helped retailers bring in sales in the last quarter, with ecommerce player Shopify saying the growth rate of products sold through the two tech companies’ platforms was “several times that” of websites run by the merchants themselves.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that enabling commerce and making it easier for businesses to communicate with customers through its Messenger and WhatsApp apps was “the right long-term bet.”
Retailers are increasingly hopping on to the trend as COVID-19 restrictions weigh on brick-and-mortar sales.
Brands ranging from luxury fashion house Burberry to fast fashion giant H&M have signed up celebrities and influencers to get millions of their followers to make purchases off ephemeral stories or posts by asking them to “swipe up to purchase.”
While the business is small for now, the social media giants are eyeing the data generated from users’ shopping and browsing habits for targeted advertising.
The scramble for user data has become even more crucial as recent privacy changes from Apple Inc. limit tech companies’ ability to track iPhone users and serve personalized advertising, ad experts have said.

THE FUTURE OF COMMERCE?
Facebook launched Shops in May 2020 during the height of the pandemic, luring brands with an easy way to sell items directly through Facebook and Instagram and consumers with a curated and personalized way to discover trendy clothes or home goods.
Facebook was the top social commerce platform according to a survey conducted by eMarketer in June 2020, with 18 percent of respondents saying they had purchased a product via Facebook. That compared with 11 percent for Facebook-owned Instagram and 3 percent for Pinterest.


Even as restrictions lift, analysts say the demand for shopping online is unlikely to retreat.
“People have gotten accustomed to buying online,” said Edward Jones analyst Dave Heger. “I don’t think that they’re going to go completely back to the level they were at before in terms of purchasing at brick and mortar stores.”
Snap Inc. is investing in augmented reality technology designed to help users virtually try on items like watches, jewelry and other apparel to cut down on returns, a major problem faced by online retailers.
Snapchat users can take a photo of a friend’s outfit with the app and find similar looks or product recommendations, Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said last week during the company’s earnings conference call.
“The holy grail of advertising is to actually sell merchandise,” said Rich Greenfield, a partner at LightShed Partners, in a note on Snap last week.
“While these initiatives are still in the early stages, we believe an increasing number of brands want to be associated with where commerce is headed.”
Popular short-form video app TikTok is testing live-streamed shopping with select brands in the UK, allowing viewers purchase clothes as an influencer models the item in real time during a live video.
Twitter, a platform most known for following breaking news or current events, said on Wednesday that it will begin testing a shopping feature that lets users browse items for sale at the top of a brand’s profile page.
Streaming video site YouTube, known for “unboxing” videos in which YouTubers review toys or tech gadgets, wants to integrate shopping directly into the platform, said Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler on Alphabet’s earnings call on Tuesday.