Iran begins trial of Swedish EU employee detained in 2022

Iran begins trial of Swedish EU employee detained in 2022
Johan Floderus is seen in this family handout of a videograb taken during a video call from Evin prison in Tehran, Aug. 7, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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Iran begins trial of Swedish EU employee detained in 2022

Iran begins trial of Swedish EU employee detained in 2022
  • The Swedish charge d’affaires was at the court but was refused the right to participate in the trial

STOCKHOLM: An Iranian court has begun the trial of a Swedish national employed by the European Union who was detained last year, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
“I have been informed that the trial of Johan Floderus has begun in Tehran,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Swedish news agency TT.
“The Swedish charge d’affaires was at the court but was refused the right to participate in the trial. Sweden has ... requested the right to be present when the trial resumes.”
Floderus was detained in April 2022 while on holiday in Iran for what his family said was alleged spying. Billstrom did not specify what Floderus had been charged with.
Floderus’ family has said he was detained “without any justifiable cause or due process.”
Rights groups and Western governments have accused the Islamic Republic of trying to extract political concessions from other countries through arrests on security charges that may have been trumped up. Tehran says such arrests are based on its criminal code and denies holding people for political reasons.
Relations between Sweden and Iran have been tense since 2019 when Sweden arrested a former Iranian official for his part in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in the 1980s. Hamid Noury was sentenced to life in prison last year, prompting Iran to recall its envoy to Sweden in protest.
In May, Iran executed a Swedish-Iranian dissident convicted of leading an Arab separatist group Tehran blames for a number of attacks including one on a military parade in 2018 that killed 25 people.


Ukrainian soldiers expect more assaults after Russian forces capture eastern town

Ukrainian soldiers expect more assaults after Russian forces capture eastern town
Updated 6 sec ago
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Ukrainian soldiers expect more assaults after Russian forces capture eastern town

Ukrainian soldiers expect more assaults after Russian forces capture eastern town
  • The capture of Avdiivka, after months of little change in the front lines, indicated a change of momentum as the second anniversary of the Russian invasion nears

NEAR AVDIIVKA, Ukraine: Ukrainian soldiers dug in around new positions outside of Avdiivka say Russian forces who captured the eastern Ukrainian town last week are pressing on toward nearby towns and villages.
“It doesn’t end with them taking Avdiivka. They continue assaulting (our positions),” said Andriy, a Ukrainian drone pilot of the 47th Mechanized Brigade, sitting quietly in a darkened area.
“After Avdiivka, the villages nearby are next. And then, Myrnohrad and Pokrovsk, the nearest larger towns.”
Russian forces secured Avdiivka after months of bombardment reduced the town to rubble. It was Russia’s biggest battlefield victory since its forces captured Bakhmut in May 2023.
The capture of Avdiivka, after months of little change in the front lines, indicated a change of momentum as the second anniversary of the Russian invasion nears. President Vladimir Putin says Russian troops will push further into Ukraine.
Russian forces, Andriy said, have “a lot of manpower. There is lots of shelling. And KABs (guided aerial bombs) still bomb us as they used to. Well, perhaps there is a little less, but still a lot.”
A member of the unit launches an FPV (First Point View) drone from a wooded area and, wearing goggles, controls its trajectory on a monitor.
The whine of the drone eventually turns into a slight thud, indicating that an explosion has occurred. The drone flies headlong into a dugout.
Andriy and his fellow unit member, identifying himself as Huk, follow the progress of drones.
Footage shows the vast coke and chemical plant on the edge of Avdiivka, once one of Europe’s largest, and the area around it. Two blurred figures, Russian soldiers, are seen walking through an open area.
Maksym Zhorin, Deputy Commander of Ukraine’s Third Assault Brigade, wrote on Telegram on Wednesday: “The situation on the Avdiivka front is quite clear. The Russians will advance as far as their strength allows, depending on who among them survives.”
Andriy and Huk harbor no illusions of what lies ahead.
“It seems like things are calmer, but they are continuing their attempts to capture Lastochkyne. They are moving toward it,” Huk says, referring to a village to the northwest.
“I think they are now taking a small break to gather their forces so as to continue attacking us.”
Neither is demoralized by the decision to move out of the town, once home to 32,000 people. But some relief would be welcome.
“What will happen further? I don’t know. I just live day by day, or at least I try to,” Andriy said.
“We will keep working. That it our duty. And first of all, we are waiting to be replaced. We would like at least part of our ranks to rotate out. We don’t just want our ranks to be replenished.”


Brazil condemns ‘paralysis’ on Gaza, Ukraine at tense G20 meeting

Brazil condemns ‘paralysis’ on Gaza, Ukraine at tense G20 meeting
Updated 22 February 2024
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Brazil condemns ‘paralysis’ on Gaza, Ukraine at tense G20 meeting

Brazil condemns ‘paralysis’ on Gaza, Ukraine at tense G20 meeting
  • “Multilateral institutions are not properly equipped to deal with the current challenges, as has been demonstrated by the Security Council’s unacceptable paralysis on the ongoing conflicts” in Gaza and Ukraine, Vieira says

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil criticized the “paralysis” of the UN Security Council on the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as it opened a G20 meeting Wednesday where the international community’s deep divisions were on display.
The outlook is bleak for progress on the thorny agenda of conflicts and crises gripping the planet as foreign ministers from the world’s biggest economies gather in Rio de Janeiro for the Group of 20’s first high-level meeting of the year.
Opening the two-day meeting, which featured US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Brazil’s top diplomat, Mauro Vieira, said the explosion of global conflicts shows international institutions like the United Nations are not working.
“Multilateral institutions are not properly equipped to deal with the current challenges, as has been demonstrated by the Security Council’s unacceptable paralysis on the ongoing conflicts” in Gaza and Ukraine, Vieira said, adding the situation was costing “innocent lives.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for his part warned multilateralism “is in crisis.”
The Security Council has failed to act on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, held in check by Russian veto power, and has struggled to find a response to the war in Gaza, with Israel’s ally the United States using its veto to block calls for a ceasefire, most recently Tuesday.
Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes the group could be a forum to make progress on such questions.
But that likely took a hit when Lula ignited a diplomatic firestorm Sunday by accusing Israel of “genocide,” comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.
The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him persona non grata, and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.
Blinken, who met Lula Wednesday in Brasilia before heading to the G20, “made clear we disagree with (his) comments,” a senior State Department official told journalists.
The secretary of state and Brazilian leader had a “frank exchange” in their more than 90-minute meeting at the presidential palace, the official said.
More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters’ unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.
The outlook is similarly grim on Russia’s war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided as the second anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion approaches.
Despite a push by Western countries to condemn the invasion, the G20’s last summit ended with a watered-down statement denouncing the use of force but not explicitly naming Russia, which maintains friendly ties with India and Brazil, among other members.
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he planned to use the Rio meeting to “call out Russia’s aggression” directly to Lavrov, as Britain announced sanctions on six Russian officials over opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in prison last week.
Lavrov — who will meet Lula in Brasilia Thursday, according to a Brazilian official — meanwhile lashed out at the West for “pumping Ukraine full of arms.”
“Neither Kiev nor the West have shown the political will to resolve the conflict,” he told Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
Blinken voiced pessimism on the current chances for diplomacy on Ukraine in his meeting with Lula. “We don’t see the conditions for it right now,” a US official said.
Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.
There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering — though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given soaring tensions.
The pair last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023.
Founded in 1999, the G20 brings together most of the world’s biggest economies.
Originally an economic forum, it has grown increasingly involved in international politics.
A Brazilian government source said that after recent G20 struggles for consensus, the hosts axed the requirement that every meeting produce a joint statement — with the exception of the annual leaders’ summit, scheduled for November in Rio.


In life or death, Navalny will influence history: exiled lawyer

In life or death, Navalny will influence history: exiled lawyer
Updated 22 February 2024
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In life or death, Navalny will influence history: exiled lawyer

In life or death, Navalny will influence history: exiled lawyer
  • Olga Mikhailova says Navalny had been tortured in prison for the past three years but was not broken
  • One of Navalny's most high-profile lawyers for 16 years, Mikhailova is now a target of a criminal probe herself
  • She left Russia last October and is applying for asylum in France. Three of her lawyer partners are in jail

PARIS: Alexei Navalny’s top lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said on Wednesday that in life or in death he would “influence history” as she paid an emotional tribute to the late Russian opposition leader.

Mikhailova, who is arguably the most high-profile member of Navalny’s defense team, had defended the opposition politician for 16 years.
She was often pictured by his side as President Vladimir Putin’s top critic sought to clear his name in a years-long legal tug-of-war with the Kremlin.
Now a target of a criminal probe herself, Mikhailova left Russia in October last year and is applying for asylum in France.

Olga Mikhailova, one of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s main lawyers, speaks during a conference by the Russian opposition in Paris on Feb. 21, 2024. (AFP)

“Alexei Navalny is an amazing, courageous, charismatic politician,” Mikhailova, who looked visibly upset, said at a Russian opposition event in Paris.
“The authorities claim that he is dead. Even if that is so and he was killed, I am sure that he will not only go down in history but will also influence the future course of history,” Mikhailova told several dozen people, her voice sometimes breaking.
She did not take questions and declined to speak to journalists.
Russian authorities said on Friday that Navalny, 47, suddenly died in his Arctic prison. The announcement plunged his supporters around the world into a state of shock.
Speaking at the event organized by the Russie-Libertés association, Mikhailova sometimes spoke of Navalny using the present tense.
“He’s not like regular people. He is an iron man,” she said.
Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Soviet-designed nerve agent, Novichok, in 2020. Following treatment in Germany, he returned to Russia in 2021 and was immediately arrested and subsequently jailed.
Mikhailova, 50, said she warned the opposition politician against coming back to Russia.
“In Berlin, I told him, ‘You’ll be jailed for 10 years,” Mikhailova said.
“And he replied with a smile: ‘You always say I’ll be jailed. Well, you’ll be defending me then.”

Tortured and starved
Upon return, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Last year a Russian court sentenced him to 19 years behind bars on extremism charges.
Mikhailova said he had been tortured in prison for the past three years but was not broken.

Raindrops cover Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's portrait placed between flowers in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 21, 2024. (AP)

“They abused and starved him,” she said.
“He spent about 300 days in a cold punishment cell where he could either stand or sit on a metal stool during the day,” Mikhailova said.
“Three times a day a mug of hot water was brought to him and it was the only hot meal he had.”
Last fall, the Russian authorities cracked down on Navalny’s defense team.
In October, three lawyers defending Navalny were detained and charged with taking part in an “extremist organization.”
Russian authorities have accused Navalny’s defense team of spreading his anti-Kremlin message from prison by posting his letters on social media.
The announcement of Navalny’s death came as Putin is gearing up to extend his two-decade hold on power in a presidential election in March.
Mikhailova, who says she was on holiday abroad when the three members of the defense team were arrested, decided against returning to Russia where she knew she too would be jailed.
Writing on Facebook in January, she said life abroad was difficult for her daughter and her. “We have no home and a lot of problems,” she added.
In mid-February, a Moscow court ordered Mikhailova’s arrest in absentia.


Chaos erupts in British Commons over Gaza motion

Chaos erupts in British Commons over Gaza motion
Updated 22 February 2024
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Chaos erupts in British Commons over Gaza motion

Chaos erupts in British Commons over Gaza motion
  • Disorder erupted when Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ignored a Gaza ceasefire motion by the SNP and allowed a vote instead for a Labor Party motion
  • Political passions are running high in Britain ahead of a general election due this year, with the Conservatives widely tipped to lose

LONDON: Britain’s House of Commons descended into chaos on Wednesday over a motion calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The chamber was due to debate and vote on a motion for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza by the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Instead, in an unusual move, speaker Lindsay Hoyle allowed a vote on a motion for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza by the Scottish National Party.
This sparked fury and shouts from the ruling Conservatives and the SNP.
SNP head in the Commons, Stephen Flynn, branded the move as “complete and utter contempt” of his party.
Faced with the outrage, Hoyle apologized, saying he had only intended to allow a wider debate on the issue.
The motion was not officially voted on, after the government said it would not participate in protest.
Political passions are running high in Britain ahead of a general election due this year.
The Conservatives, in power since 2010, are widely tipped by pollsters to lose.
Labour has been buoyed after having wrestled away several seats in by-elections from the Conservatives.


UK minister for veterans tells of ‘horrific’ testimony about SAS ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan

UK minister for veterans tells of ‘horrific’ testimony about SAS ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan
Updated 22 February 2024
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UK minister for veterans tells of ‘horrific’ testimony about SAS ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan

UK minister for veterans tells of ‘horrific’ testimony about SAS ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan
  • Mercer confirms to public inquiry he is talking about ‘allegations of straight murder’
  • Minister warned of legal consequences if he refuses to name British soldiers who spoke to him

LONDON: The British minister for veterans, John Mercer, spoke on Wednesday of “horrific” stories he heard from former members of the Afghan special forces about alleged executions of unarmed detainees, including children, carried out by members of the UK’s elite Special Air Service.

He was speaking during his second day of testimony at a public inquiry set up to investigate accusations made in media reports that SAS members killed civilians and unarmed prisoners during operations in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

In 2022, a BBC investigation alleged that an SAS squadron was involved in questionable killings of at least 54 people, including detainees and children, in a six-month period.

Mercer, himself a former army officer, told the inquiry that discussions he had with former members of Afghan special forces known as the Triples “confirmed my worst fears.”

When asked by the chair of the inquiry whether he was talking about “allegations of straight murder” by members of the SAS, he replied: “Yes.”

He said the accounts given to him included allegations that the SAS executed detainees, including children, who were restrained and posed no threat. There is “no reason why a person under control should lose their life,” he added.

Mercer said that the Triples units, concerned about injuries suffered by children in particular, eventually refused to accompany the British forces on missions. When “Tier 1 Afghan special forces are refusing to go out the door with you,” this should have raised concerns, he said.

If the allegations presented to him are true, the members of the SAS responsible for the actions they described are “criminals,” he said.

Mercer also expressed frustration with the Ministry of Defence for not adequately investigating the allegations, and accused ministry officials of misleading him about the availability of evidence, specifically full-motion video footage from the operations in question.

He said that when he challenged the head of UK Special Forces, Gen. Sir Roland Walker, about this apparent lack of footage, he simply leaned back in his chair and shrugged.

“I don’t disguise the fact that I am angry with these people,” Mercer said. “The fact that I’m sitting here today is because those people, with their rank and privileges, have not done their job.”

During his first day of testimony to the inquiry, on Tuesday, Mercer refused to reveal the names of SAS members who gave him first- and second-hand accounts of incidents in Afghanistan.

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, who is chairing the inquiry, on Wednesday described the minister’s refusal to reveal the identities as “completely unacceptable,” the BBC reported.

“You need to decide which side you are really on,” Mr. Mercer,” he said. “Is it assisting the inquiry fully, and the public interest and the national interest, in getting to the truth of these allegations quickly, for everyone’s sake? Or is it being part of what is in effect an ‘omerta,’ a wall of silence?”

He warned Mercer that continued refusal to comply with the inquiry’s requests would result in “potentially serious legal consequences that I may need to put in place.”

If Mercer continues to refuse to provide the names, the inquiry has the legal authority to compel him to do so.

In February, BBC current affairs program Panorama reported that UK Special Forces blocked members of Afghan special forces from relocating to the UK after the Taliban reclaimed power in the country in 2021.

Former members of the SAS told Panorama that this veto created a clear conflict of interest because Afghan personnel might be called as witnesses by the public inquiry.