India’s top court puts controversial sedition law on hold

India’s top court puts controversial sedition law on hold
The law has long been misused by all Indian political parties in power but critics say Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has widened its scope. (AP)
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Updated 11 May 2022

India’s top court puts controversial sedition law on hold

India’s top court puts controversial sedition law on hold
  • Colonial-era law has been widely seen as a means to suppress dissent
  • Supreme Court also allowed people detained under the law to seek bail from courts

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday put a stay on a controversial colonial-era sedition law, under which hundreds of journalists and activists have been imprisoned in the past few years.

The 19th-century law, which the British colonial government used against Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of a campaign for independence, remained on the books after India’s independence in 1947, and has been widely seen as a means to suppress dissent.

Most of the 405 sedition cases for criticizing the government have been registered under the law since 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, according to data compiled by Article14, a website run by Indian lawyers, journalists and academics.

The Supreme Court ruled the law should not be operational until further orders, adding that those who have been charged or imprisoned under its provisions could seek bail from trial courts.

“We expect that till re-examination of this law is complete it will not be used,” N.V. Ramana, India’s chief justice, said in the ruling.

The apex court said the law was “not in tune with the current situation and it was intended for the time when the country was under colonial law.”

The decision followed a petition by the Editors Guild of India, opposition politicians, retired military officers and independent journalists who challenged the law. The Indian government said it respected the ruling, but Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters that “the court should respect government.”

Journalists and activists cautiously welcomed the decision. Sanjay Kapoor, secretary of the Editors Guild of India, said it was a “big step forward in stopping the government from using the sedition law against adversarial reporting, which is the core of journalism.”

But Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of The Caravan magazine, who is facing 10 sedition charges, told Arab News he was “very doubtful the sedition law and such draconian anti-democratic laws will disappear in both spirit and letters for good.”

He added: “The consequence of the Supreme Court order might be that the word ‘sedition’ might disappear, but old wine might appear in new bottles.”

Dhiren A. Sadokpam, a journalist in northeastern Manipur state who was booked under the sedition law last year, said the Supreme Court’s order to suspend all pending cases registered under the law was a “big relief.”

“Everybody knows that the sedition law is outdated and not to be used in a democratic society like ours. I hope the state forces and the government authorities follow the court’s order,” he told Arab News.

Sanjay Hegde, a Supreme Court lawyer, was optimistic that Wednesday’s ruling was the beginning of a process to scrap the law, which he said was “an anachronism from pre-independence times.” 

“The law survived constitutional scrutiny in the early years of the Supreme Court, and is now being tested against a constitution that has evolved with the experience of many years,” he added. “The government would be well advised not to look to salvage the law, but to completely abolish it altogether.”


Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs
Updated 5 sec ago

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs
  • The Chinese commercial hub of 25 million aims to essentially end from Wednesday prolonged lockdow
SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Shanghai announced on Sunday further steps toward returning to more normal life and lifting a two-month COVID-19 lockdown this week, while Beijing reopened parts of its public transport, some malls, gyms and other venues as infections stabilized.
The Chinese commercial hub of 25 million aims to essentially end from Wednesday a lockdown that has severely damaged the economy and seen many Shanghai residents lose income, struggle to source food and to cope mentally with prolonged isolation.
The painful coronavirus curbs in major Chinese cities run counter to trends seen in the rest of the world, which has largely moved toward co-existing with the virus even as infections spread.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city, will ease testing requirements from Wednesday for people who want to enter public areas, said city government spokeswoman Yin Xin, adding these tweaks should encourage work resumption.
“The current epidemic situation in the city continues to stabilize and improve,” Yin said, adding Shanghai’s strategy was now “pivoting toward normalized prevention and control.”
People entering public venues or taking public transport will need to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours, versus 48 hours previously.
Bus services within the Pudong New Area, home to Shanghai’s largest airport and the main financial district, will fully resume by Monday, officials said.
Plaza 66, an upscale mall in central Shanghai that hosts Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands, reopened on Sunday.
Authorities have been slowly relaxing curbs, with a focus on resuming manufacturing.
More people have been allowed to leave their flats, and more businesses permitted to reopen, though many residents remain largely confined to their housing compounds, and most shops limited to deliveries.
The authorities approved 240 financial institutions in the city for reopening from Wednesday, state-run Shanghai Securities News reported on Sunday, adding to a list of 864 firms released earlier this month. That is out of Shanghai’s roughly 1,700 financial firms.
The newspaper said on Saturday that the more than 10,000 bankers and traders who have been living and working in their offices since the start of lockdown were gradually returning home.
Shanghai has already allowed key manufacturers in the auto industry, life sciences, chemicals and semiconductors to resume production since late April.
In the capital Beijing, libraries, museums, theaters and gyms were allowed to reopen on Sunday, with limits on numbers of people, in districts that have seen no community COVID-19 cases for seven consecutive days.
The districts of Fangshan and Shunyi will end work-from-home rules, while public transport will largely resume in the two districts as well as in Chaoyang, the city’s largest. Still, restaurant dining remains banned city-wide.
Shanghai reported just over 100 daily COVID-19 cases on Sunday, while Beijing recorded 21, both mirroring a nationwide downtrend.

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts
Updated 7 min 11 sec ago

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts
  • Kim Jong Un and other Politburo members ‘made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country’
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials discussed revising stringent anti-epidemic restrictions during a meeting Sunday, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak is slowing.
The discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting suggests it will soon relax a set of draconian curbs imposed after its admission of the omicron outbreak this month out of concern about its food and economic situations.
Kim and other Politburo members “made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
They also “examined the issue of effectively and quickly coordinating and enforcing the anti-epidemic regulations and guidelines given the current stable anti-epidemic situation,” KCNA said.
On Sunday, North Korea reported 89,500 more patients with fever symptoms, taking the country’s total to 3.4 million. It didn’t say whether there were additional deaths. The country’s latest death toll reported Friday was 69, setting its mortality rate at 0.002 percent, an extremely low count that no other country, including advanced economies, has reported in the fight against COVID-19.
Many outside experts say North Korea is clearly understating its fatality rate to prevent any political damage to Kim at home. They say North Korea should have suffered many more deaths because its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated against COVID-19 and it lacks the capacity to treat patients with critical conditions. Others suspect North Korea might have exaggerated its earlier fever cases to try to strengthen its internal control of its population.
Since its May 12 admission of the omicron outbreak, North Korea has only been announcing the number of patients with feverish symptoms daily, but not those with COVID-19, apparently because of a shortage of test kits to confirm coronavirus cases in large numbers.
But many outside health experts view most of the reported fever cases as COVID-19, saying North Korean authorities would know how to distinguish the symptoms from fevers caused by other prevalent infectious diseases.
The outbreak has forced North Korea to impose a nationwide lockdown, isolate all work and residential units from one another and ban region-to-region movements. The country still allows key agricultural, construction and other industrial activities, but the toughened restrictions have triggered worries about its food insecurity and a fragile economy already hit hard by pandemic-caused border shutdowns.
Some observers say North Korea will likely soon declare victory over COVID-19 and credit it to Kim’s leadership.
Yang Un-chul, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North’s recently elevated restrictions must be dealing a serious blow to its coal, agricultural and other labor-intensive industrial sectors. But he said those difficulties won’t likely develop to a level that threatens Kim’s grip on power, as the COVID-19 outbreak and strengthened curbs have given him a chance to boost his control of his people.

Egyptian minister’s son faces murder charges over US double homicide

A San Francisco police officer steps out of the mobile command unit in Union Square on May 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California
A San Francisco police officer steps out of the mobile command unit in Union Square on May 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California
Updated 28 May 2022

Egyptian minister’s son faces murder charges over US double homicide

A San Francisco police officer steps out of the mobile command unit in Union Square on May 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California
  • Ramy Hani Mounir Fahim, 26, eligible for death penalty over alleged killing of two men, officials say
  • Egypt Immigration and Expatriate Affairs Minister Nabila Makram issues statement, saying that her family is in ‘severe distress’

CHICAGO: The 26-year-old son of Egypt’s Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs, Nabila Makram, is facing charges of premeditated murder over the killing of two men in California in April.

Ramy Hani Mounir Fahim, who lives in Irvine, California, has also been charged with two enhancements each of lying in wait and the personal use of a deadly weapon after a co-worker and his roommate were stabbed to death in their Anaheim apartment early last month.

The special circumstances of “lying in wait” and multiple murders make Fahim eligible for the death penalty, officials said.

Police allege that Fahim attacked and killed his co-worker, 23-year-old Griffin Cuomo, then killed Cuomo’s roommate, 23-year-old Jonathan Bahm, in their Anaheim apartment at about 6:30 a.m. on April 19, 2022.

Cuomo and Fahim worked together at an Orange County company, Pence Wealth Management. Fahim was a data engineer who had been employed as a research associate at the firm.

He is being held without bail at the Intake Release Center and was arraigned on May 6 at the North Justice Center in Fullerton, California.

According to investigators, a building security guard encountered Fahim on the apartment complex roof at midnight on April 18, just hours before the murders. Fahim was seen on the same floor of the victims’ apartment on the morning of the killings.

Fahim was still inside the victims’ apartment when Anaheim police responded to a 911 emergency call, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.

“These young men were just starting to live out their dreams and find their places in the world. But an intruder who stalked them and then slashed them to death in their own home interrupted those dreams,” Spitzer said.

“The callous way that two young lives were ended cannot be ignored and we will do everything we can to ensure justice is served.”

Egypt’s Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs, Nabila Makram, issued a statement on Facebook on Saturday, saying that she and her family are going through “a severe ordeal.”

In the statement, the minister’s first since Fahim was arrested on April 22, Makram called for prayers for her son and the two victims, and said that she will continue her duties as minister.

“My family and I are under severe distress following my son being charged with murder in the US. This charge is in front of a US court and a sentence has not yet been issued,” she said.

“Doing my duties as a minister in the Egyptian government does not conflict at all with me being a believing mother who bravely faces the plight of her son. Whatever the consequences, as a minister, I take full responsibility for my position and the requirements of working with it, and I clearly differentiate between what is personal and what is public.”

Fahim will remain in custody until a bail review hearing scheduled for June 17.


Philippines grants license to Elon Musk’s satellite services

Philippines grants license to Elon Musk’s satellite services
Updated 28 May 2022

Philippines grants license to Elon Musk’s satellite services

Philippines grants license to Elon Musk’s satellite services
  • It set to be first Southeast Asian country to offer Starlink services
  • Authorities say Starlink will enable high data activities that ‘historically have not been possible’

MANILA: The Philippines’ telecoms regulator has granted a license to billionaire Elon Musk’s high-speed satellite Internet venture Starlink, which is expected to improve connectivity in a country grappling with slow Internet speeds.

The National Telecommunications Commission said the approval of Starlink’s registration as a value-added service provider means the company can directly access satellite systems and operate broadband facilities to offer Internet services across the Philippines.

Starlink, the satellite Internet division of Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, is expected to start offering their services in the archipelago nation in the coming months, NTC said in a statement.

“The NTC is steadfast in helping ensure roll-out of Starlink’s Internet access services will be done expeditiously and professionally,” NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said.

NTC said the Philippines will be the first country in Southeast Asia to offer Starlink services, which authorities expect will cover at a cost-effective rate areas that remain unserved or underserved with Internet access.

“Using advanced satellites in a low orbit, Starlink will enable video calls, online gaming, streaming and other high data activities that historically have not been possible with satellite Internet,” the commission said.

Starlink services are currently available in about 30 countries, mainly in North America and Europe. The company has so far deployed over 2,000 satellites, with plans to launch thousands more.

“One Starlink can provide Internet for an entire school of hundreds of students … Great potential to lift people out of poverty. Providing Internet is teaching people to fish,” Musk said in a couple of tweets on Saturday, which followed his announcement of Starlink’s approval in the Philippines.

The Philippines lags behind most countries in Southeast Asia in mobile and fixed broadband Internet speed, ranking 95th and 59th respectively in the world as of April 2022, according to the Speedtest Global Index.

Stephen Cutler, Manila cybersecurity expert and tech entrepreneur, said Starlink is going to provide a good alternative network for information in the Philippines.

“I’m very, very excited about the opportunity for a company like Starlink who will be able to provide some relatively high-speed data transfer at a competitive cost,” Cutler told Arab News, adding that services provided by telcos operating in the Philippines are still relatively costly.


UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
Updated 28 May 2022

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit

UN rights envoy defends controversial China visit
  • Michelle Bachelet's long-planned trip this week has taken her to the far-western region
  • Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China's rights record

BEIJING: The UN rights envoy on Saturday said her contentious visit to China was “not an investigation,” and insisted she had unsupervised access during meetings in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Michelle Bachelet’s long-planned trip this week has taken her to the far-western region, where Beijing is accused of the detention of over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, forced sterilization of women and coerced labor.
The United States has labelled China’s actions in Xinjiang a “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” allegations vehemently denied by Beijing which says its security crackdown was a necessary response to extremism.
Bachelet has come under fire from rights groups and Uyghurs overseas, who say she has stumbled into a six-day Communist Party propaganda tour, including a meeting with President Xi Jinping in which state media suggested she supported China’s vision of human rights.
Her office later clarified that her remarks did not contain a direct endorsement of China’s rights record.
Speaking at the end of her trip while still inside China, Bachelet framed her visit as a chance for her to speak with “candour” to Chinese authorities as well as civil society groups and academics.
“This visit was not an investigation,” she told reporters, later insisting she had “unsupervised” access to sources the UN had arranged to meet in Xinjiang.
It is the first trip to China by the UN’s top rights envoy in 17 years and comes after painstaking negotiations over the conditions of her visit, which the UN says is neither a fact-finding mission nor a probe.
Bachelet this week visited the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, according to her office, but no photos or further details of her itinerary have dribbled out.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier this week that Bachelet’s activities were “arranged according to her will and on the basis of thorough consultations of the two sides.”
She planned to meet “civil society organizations, business representatives, academics,” her office said, but state media has only covered meetings with Xi and foreign minister Wang Yi, during which he gave her a book of Xi quotes on human rights.
Her trip has taken place under a “closed loop,” ostensibly due to Covid-19 risks.
The United States has reiterated its view that Bachelet’s visit was a mistake after the release of thousands of leaked documents and photographs from inside the system of mass incarceration this week, while the UK and Germany have voiced their concerns at the visit.