Myanmar junta to release 700 prisoners from Yangon’s Insein jail

Myanmar junta to release 700 prisoners from Yangon’s Insein jail
A man reacts after being released from Insein Prison in Yangon on April 17, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Myanmar junta to release 700 prisoners from Yangon’s Insein jail

Myanmar junta to release 700 prisoners from Yangon’s Insein jail
  • Across the country about 2,000 prisoners are expected to be released
  • More than 5,200 people are being held in detention, with 883 people reported to have been killed

Myanmar’s authorities will free around 700 prisoners from Yangon’s Insein jail on Wednesday, prison chief Zaw Zaw told Reuters, in a release that is expected to include some of the thousands of people detained for opposing military rule.

The prison chief said he did not have a list of those being released, but BBC Burmese language news reported it would include people accused of incitement after speaking out against the coup.

A crowd of people gathered ahead of the release outside the Insein prison, a colonial-era jail on the outskirts of the commercial hub of Yangon, photographs on social media showed.

The Myanmar Now news portal reported that across the country about 2,000 prisoners would be released. A prisons department official declined to comment.

Since the junta ousted the elected government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, authorities have faced daily strikes that have paralyzed official and private business, while ethnic insurgencies, that have beset Myanmar for decades, have also flared up. Many people have been arrested under section 505A of the penal code, which criminalizes comments that could cause fear or spread false news and is punishable by up to three years in jail.

More than 5,200 people are being held in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. It also says 883 people have been killed — a figure challenged by the junta.

On Tuesday, the army run Myawaddy television said authorities had dropped charges against 24 celebrities who had been declared wanted under the anti-incitement law after anti-government comments.

Actors, sportspeople, social media influencers, doctors and teachers have been among hundreds of people listed as wanted for opposing the junta.

Suu Kyi, 76, along with other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have been held in detention since the military overthrew her elected civilian government.

She is accused of a series of offenses ranging from bribery and violating coronavirus protocols to illegally possessing two-way radios and incitement to commit crimes against the state — allegations her lawyers reject.

The military said it took power after accusing Suu Kyi’s party of a manipulated vote that swept it to power in a November poll, though the election commission at the time rejected its complaints. The NLD said it won fairly.


WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
Updated 38 min 34 sec ago

WHO says no urgent need for mass monkeypox vaccinations

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
  • The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease

LONDON: The World Health Organization does not believe the monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa requires mass vaccinations as measures like good hygiene and safe sexual behavior will help control its spread, a senior official said on Monday.
Richard Pebody, who leads the high-threat pathogen team at WHO Europe, also told Reuters in an interview that immediate supplies of vaccines and antivirals are relatively limited.
His comments came as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was in the process of releasing some Jynneos vaccine doses for use in monkeypox cases.
Germany’s government said on Monday that it was assessing options for vaccinations, while Britain has offered them to some health care workers.
Public health authorities in Europe and North America are investigating more than 100 suspected and confirmed cases of the viral infection in the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Africa, where it is endemic.
The primary measures to control the outbreak are contact tracing and isolation, Pebody said, noting that it is not a virus that spreads very easily, nor has it so far caused serious disease. The vaccines used to combat monkeypox can have some significant side-effects, he added.
It is unclear what is driving the outbreak, with scientists trying to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed. There is no evidence the virus has mutated, a senior executive at the UN agency said separately on Monday.
Many — but not all — of the people who have been diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak have been men who have sex with men. But that may be because this demographic is likely to seek medical advice or access sexual health screening more readily, the WHO said earlier in the day.
Most of the confirmed cases have not been linked to travel to Africa, which suggests there may be large amounts of undetected cases, said Pebody. Some health authorities suspect there is some degree of community spread.
“So we’re only seeing ... the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Given the pace of the outbreak, and lack of clarity around what is driving it, there has been worry that large events and parties this summer could make things much worse.
“I’m not saying to people don’t have a good time, don’t go to attend these events,” Pebody said.
“It’s rather around what people do at the parties that matters. So it’s about safe sexual behavior, good hygiene, regular hand washing — all these sorts of things will help to limit the transmission of this virus.”


Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
Updated 24 May 2022

Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang

A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (AP)
  • Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access

BEIJING: Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.
The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.”
China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”
Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.
“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years.
The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary.
“I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.
Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.”
“I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP.
“If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.”

Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism.
It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.
An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites.
The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province.
Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access.
The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation.
Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.”
“I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added.
Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”
“There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.
In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say.
Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.


Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China -Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
Updated 24 May 2022

Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China -Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Reuters)
  • “Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said

MOSCOW: Russia’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.
“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.
He also said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.
“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.

 


UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
Updated 23 May 2022

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
  • Steiner said first thing that must be reestablished in country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights”
  • He added that the most urgent priority is saving Afghanistan’s economy from collapse

LONDON: The UN is clear about the human rights it expects authorities in Afghanistan to uphold, one of which is the right of girls to education, an official from the organization said on Monday.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN Development Program, said that girls in the country should be free to complete their education and pursue careers.
The UN “is unequivocal about the fundamental human rights that we expect a country like Afghanistan to uphold and to respect and that includes … the right of girls to attend educational institutions,” he said. “And not just primary school but also secondary school, and their ability to pursue careers and to go to university.
“It is without doubt a grave misjudgment that up to now the Taliban have not fulfilled the commitment that they have repeatedly made to their own public, but also to the international community, that they would reopen the secondary schools” to girls, Steiner added.
The Taliban has barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises made by Taliban officials when they took control of the country last year that girls of all ages would be allowed to continue their education.
The group has placed other strict restrictions on females, including ordering all women to wear clothing in public that covers them head to toe with only their eyes visible. They also issued a decree stating that women should leave their homes only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for any violations of the women’s dress code, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail time.
Steiner said the first thing that must be reestablished in the country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights.” He added: “I think this is perhaps the greatest single litmus test that the international community holds up to the Taliban — and I think quite rightly.”
However, Steiner warned that the most urgent need in Afghanistan is action to save its economy from complete collapse.
“We cannot abandon 40 million Afghans simply on the principle of moral outrage,” he said. “That is why the UN stepped back into Afghanistan and became the backbone of an international community’s presence.
“We are there because we see the desperation of the Afghan people. And while the international community finds a way with the Taliban to conclude a process of political rapprochement, we are trying to essentially intervene in an economy that has to keep people alive.”
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan nine months ago following the withdrawal of US troops triggered an economic crisis. Underpinning this was the decision of the Biden administration to freeze about $9.5 billion deposited by the Afghan central bank in American financial institutions.
President Joe Biden has signed an order to release $7 billion of these frozen assets but only half will be released for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. The remainder will go to the families of Sept. 11 victims.


UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
Updated 23 May 2022

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
  • The latest tech has benefited human rights work and efforts to battle bigotry and racism but malicious use has quadrupled in seven years, UN official said
  • Rosemarie DiCarlo called on members to build a consensus on the use of digital technologies for the good of people and the planet, and on addressing the risks

NEW YORK: Digital technologies have profoundly transformed every facet of society. They offer endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and are transforming the process of advocacy on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism, making it possible to mobilize large numbers of people around the world quickly around important topics that require urgent attention.

However, technological advances are also increasingly being misused by governments and terrorist groups to cause instability and exacerbate conflicts, including through the online spread of disinformation and hate speech.

These were among the main points made by Rosemarie DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs on Monday during a Security Council meeting on technology and security. It was the second signature event organized by the US delegation, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, after a debate last week about conflict and food security.

The Security Council has become increasingly involved in efforts to address cybersecurity issues and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The UN has also been working to leverage digital technologies to enhance its work in the field.

During a briefing at the start of the American presidency of the council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said that the issue is “a new and important focus for the Security Council” and that “it is long past time for the council to fully grapple with the impact of digital technologies.”

DiCarlo said that digital tools are helping to strengthen the UN’s information-gathering and early-warning capacities in many places. In Yemen, for example, the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement has used mapping, geographic information systems and satellite technology tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governorate.

New technologies have also helped to remove barriers to access for groups that traditionally have been excluded from political and mediation processes and, therefore, have helped to promote inclusion, DiCarlo said. She gave as an example of this the digital discussions conducted with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on TV and social media.

“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.

Similarly, in Yemen digital technologies have enabled the UN’s special envoy to engage with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “which provided insight on the gender dimensions of the war.”

However, she also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends have quadrupled since 2015, and said that activities targeting infrastructure that helps to provide essential public services is particular concern.

A report by the UN Secretary General published in May 2020 noted that new technologies were too often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment, and called for greater efforts to develop guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.

The UN Human Rights Council last month adopted a resolution concerning the role of states in countering the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. It called on members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.

“Non-state actors are becoming increasingly adept at using low-cost and widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.

“Groups such as (Daesh) and Al-Qaida remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising.”

Referring to the pernicious use of technology by “super-empowered, non-state actors,” Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said that commercially available drones are now capable of flying faster, traveling greater distances, carrying larger payloads and leveraging artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control.

“Drones do not just operate in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used a remotely operated drone boat laden with explosives to attack an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

“If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and the crew but on the environment, on local supply routes and on communities along the Yemeni coast who depend on the sea for their livelihood.”

The misuse of social media can also fuel polarization and violence, spread disinformation, radicalization, racism and misogyny, DiCarlo said.

She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet shutdowns in times of active conflict which, she said, “deprive communities of their means of communication, work and political participation.”

She called on member states to seize what she described as a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, while addressing their risks.