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Julian Assange to Fight U.S. Extradition

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  • Julian Assange pledged to fight extradition to the U.S. during a hearing Thursday, a move that will likely cause a lengthy legal battle to ensue.
  • Assange has been accused of conspiring to hack Pentagon computers to leak confidential documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010, for which he faces up to five years of prison.
  • On Wednesday, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in a British prison for jumping bail in 2012 by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid separate extradition charges to Sweden for allegations of rape.

Extradition Hearing

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he will fight extradition to the United States in a hearing Thursday, opening up the possibility of a complicated legal process that experts believe could take years.

“I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many, many people,” Assange told the Westminster Magistrates Court through VideoLink from prison.

During the short hearing, Judge Michael Snow told Assange he could consent to being extradited, but he refused. If he were to consent, Assange would lose his right to appeal. However, according to Snow, surrendering to extradition would speed up the proceedings and could result in an early resolution of his case.

Snow scheduled additional hearings for May 30 and June 12, telling Assange that his lawyers would receive the relevant paperwork from the U.S. after the extradition request is served. Snow also said he believed that the case will take “many months.”

The Case Against Assange

Ben Brandon, the lawyer for the U.S. government, outlined the charges against Assange related to what the U.S. Department of Justice has called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

The U.S. has charged Assange with conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of confidential documents and communications on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those documents were then published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011. Assange faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for his involvement in the leak.

Manning has already served time in prison for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses related to giving classified Pentagon materials to WikiLeaks.

Other Charges

The U.S. indictment is not the only charge that Assange is dealing with.

Just one day prior, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for jumping bail in London in 2012. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden for rape allegations, which he has denied. Assange worried that if he were extradited to Sweden, they would then extradite him to the U.S.

Assange remained at the Ecuadorian embassy until his asylum was revoked and he was arrested by British authorities in early April. He appeared in court and was found guilty of skipping bail the same day.

During his bail hearing Wednesday, Assange claimed that he was functionally imprisoned in the embassy, and thus should not be required to serve time in prison. Judge Deborah Taylor, who oversaw the case, did not buy this argument.

“It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense,” Judge Taylor said, according to reports. “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the U.K.”

To make matters even more complicated, Swedish prosecutors are considering the possibility of resuming the investigation into the allegations against Assange. This move could require British officials to deal with two competing extradition requests.

Support for Assange

Throughout this whole ordeal, supporters of Assange have remained fervent in their actions.

A small group of his supports congregated outside the courtroom on Thursday to protest his extradition to the U.S. and demand his release. WikiLeaks’ editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has also condemned the extradition charges against Assange.

“What is at stake there could be a question of life or death for Mr. Assange,” Hrafnsson told reporters. “It is also a question of life and death for a major journalistic principle.”

Hrafnsson also criticized the state of Assange’s living conditions in Belmarsh Prison where he is being held.

“For the last weeks since he was arrested, he has spent 23 out of 24 hours a day in his cell most of the time,” Hrafnsson claimed. “That is what we call in general terms solitary confinement. That applies to most of the prisoners in that appalling facility. It is unacceptable that a publisher is spending time in that prison.”

This sentiment was echoed by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). In a statement made Friday, WGAD said that they are “deeply concerned” about “disproportionate sentence” given to Assange.

The group argued that Assange’s human rights were being violated by his imprisonment in “a high-security prison, as if he were convicted for a serious criminal offense,” and concluded that the British government should release Assange and dismiss the charges against him.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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India Lifts Ban on Hydroxychloroquine to the U.S. as Confusion Mounts Around Trump’s Investment in a Major HCQ Company

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  • India will now partially lift a hydroxychloroquine ban after it said Saturday that it would enact that ban to keep domestic stores from depleting.
  • The ban reportedly cut off nearly half of the United States’ supply of hydroxychloroquine, and Monday night, President Donald Trump threatened to retaliate.
  • Also regarding hydroxychloroquine, #Sanofi trended on Twitter Tuesday after the New York Times reported that Trump had a “small” investment in the company, which makes the drug.
  • Despite many online believing this to be a major cash grab by the president, those holdings are likely less than $1,000.

India Agrees to Export Limited HCQ

Hours after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation, India lifted its recent ban on all hydroxychloroquine exports as demand for the drug surges.

Late last month, India implemented a partial ban on hydroxychloroquine exports; however, it said it would still honor existing contracts and certain shipments on humanitarian grounds on a case-by-case basis. On Saturday, India took that measure one step further by implementing a total ban on hydroxychloroquine exports. 

The move was reportedly an attempt to protect domestic stocks, especially as hydroxychloroquine gains attention all over the world. 

“Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people,” a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

India is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical producers and is a major manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine.

As of Tuesday, it has recorded just over 5,100 cases of COVID-19, according to John Hopkins University. That’s compared to India’s massive population of 1.3 billion. While the number of infected people is likely already much higher than what’s being reported, India is also bracing for a potential surge.

The Trump Administration has heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine despite reservations from doctors wanting to make sure it’s safe and effective first. Still, the U.S. has been preparing by stockpiling the drug. Part of that has included buying it from India; however, that ban reportedly cut off half of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine.

On Saturday, the same day as that total ban, Trump said he had spoken with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had appealed for the release of shipments the US has already ordered. Trump also noted that India was giving the request “serious consideration.”

By Monday night, Trump ramped up that pressure, saying, “I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said we’d appreciate your allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” 

Hours later, India announced that it had enough hydroxychloroquine pills for a domestic supply and that it would partially lift the drug’s export ban.

“Given the enormity of the COVID19 pandemic, India has always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation,” the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities.”

“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” he added, though he didn’t refer to Trump or the U.S. specifically. “We would therefore discourage any speculation in this regard or any attempts to politicise the matter.”

Trump’s “Small” Stake in Sanofi 

Hydroxychloroquine also made headlines Tuesday after a report from The New York Times led to confusion about Trump’s investment in a company that makes the drug.

“If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president,” the article about Trump’s aggressive advocacyfor the drug mentioned several paragraphs down.

“Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.” 

“As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi,” the article read several more paragraphs lower. 

#Sanofi then began trending on Twitter, with many people believing that Trump stood to gain serious cash from his investments in Sanofi. 

“1. Trump is relentlessly pushing hydroxychloroquine for #COVID19,” one person tweeted. “2. Sanofi manufactures the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. 3. Just guess what comes next…”

Others were angry at the New York Times because these investments weren’t the focus of the article. Because of that, they accused the New York Times of burying the lede.

However, it seems The New York Times might have put that mention so low for a reason. According to Business Insider headline on the situation, “Trump has a distant financial link to a pharma giant that makes the drug he’s been pushing to fight COVID-19 — but it’s probably worth less than $1,000.”

Business Insider then goes on to explain that each of Trump’s three family funds are valued between $1,000 and $15,000. Those funds are managed by JP Morgan, with Trump not providing any input.

According to data from December, those funds have Sanofi holdings at 2.9%. Using that information, Business Insider then calculates that at most, Trump has an investment of $1,305, and at minimum, his investment is $87. 

Even though The New York Times calls it a “small” investment, such a number is probably a lot less than most people would imagine. Without seeing any extra context, however, those lines from The New York Times likely led many to believe that Trump has been touting hydroxychloroquine as a business move. 

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian) (Business Insider)

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Countries Consider Loosening Coronavirus Lockdowns as Japan Moves to Declare State of Emergency

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  • Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to loosen lockdown restrictions, with smaller businesses allowed to open their doors on April 14.
  • They are not the only European country with hopeful news regarding the virus. Both Spain and Italy have seen cases grow at a slower rate.
  • In China some restrictions have already been lifted, leading to massive crowds in national parks and tourist spots. Some fear this will cause a second outbreak.
  • Meanwhile, Japan, which is just now seeing cases surge, is set to announce a state of emergency starting on Tuesday.

Austria to Lift Lockdown

As countries like Austria are poised to loosen lockdown measures, others are just starting to ramp up their efforts to combat coronavirus outbreaks.

Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to ease its lockdown measures. On Monday Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that smaller businesses will be allowed to open up on April 14, and that others can resume on May 1. This, however, is contingent on the fact that citizens continue to practice social distancing efforts. Kurz told Austrians to cancel their Easter plans and stay inside, or else the country could “gamble away what we have achieved in the past few weeks.”

Cases Slow in Spain and Italy

Austria is not the only country feeling an ounce of hope during this ongoing pandemic. In the past 24 hours, Spain has reported a slower increase in both deaths and fatalities. In one day, there were 674 new deaths in the country, which is the lowest increase in fatalities in nine days, according to Fox News. Over the course of the day, confirmed cases went up just five percent, the lowest increase since the outbreak began. 

Italy, which is home to one of the worst outbreaks in the world, has also seen cases slow down a bit. While the country might still be miles away from a return to normalcy, options as to how to get people back out are now being discussed. According to the New York Times, politicians are looking at the potential for people who have recovered from the virus to head back to work first. 

“Having the right antibodies to the virus in one’s blood — a potential marker of immunity — may soon determine who gets to work and who does not, who is locked down and who is free,” the Times explained. Many researchers are hesitant about this idea, but politicians seem eager to explore it as a potential strategy for when the time comes to resume normal life. 

China Sees Crowds After Lockdown Lift

Some places have already begun their lifts on lockdowns, including several areas of China. As cases have slowed in the pandemic’s first home, some places have opened back up and seen massive crowds. National parks and tourist attractions have been packed with people eager to get out after being trapped inside. 

According to CNN, on Saturday, one park was so populated that authorities announced that it reached its 20,000 person capacity before 8 a.m.

Major cities also saw crowded streets, despite health experts still warning to avoid crowds. In fact, many experts fear that these crowds could lead to a second wave of the virus in China. One county has already reinstated its lockdown after cases popped up again. 

U.S. Cases

Not everyone is ready to return to normalcy, even if there are signs of positive change. On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced its first daily dip in deaths. The state went from 630 new deaths on Saturday to 594 on Sunday. Still, Cuomo does not believe this is a guaranteed sign of progress. 

“We’re not really a hundred percent sure what the significance is, as we’re feeling our way through this,” Cuomo said before calling the dip a potential “blip.”

In fact, the whole of the United States has probably not seen the worst of the outbreak yet. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams spoke to Fox News on Sunday and said that this week is “going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” he added. Currently, the United States has over 357,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. 

Japan’s State of Emergency

While many countries are well into their mass responses to the coronavirus, the Prime Minister of Japan has just announced his intention to declare a state of emergency. Compared to many countries, Japan has had a smaller outbreak, with roughly 4,000 cases and 80 deaths. Cases are on the rise though, with capital city Tokyo reporting that infections doubled in just one week.

The state of emergency is set to go into effect on Tuesday and with be in effect at least until May 6. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for citizens to cooperate “to prevent an explosive surge.”

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (Al Jazeera) (CBS News)

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Coronavirus-Stricken Cruise Ships Will Dock in Florida

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  • The Zaandam, a cruise liner holding passengers sick with the coronavirus, has been stranded at sea for weeks waiting to dock. 
  • Of the 2,000 on the ship, over 200 have reported flu-like symptoms and nine have tested positive for COVID-19. At least four died onboard.
  • Officials say the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, its sister ship that was sent for support, will finally be able to disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after initial resistance from local authorities.
  • Disembarkation is expected to be completed by Friday evening.

Cruise Turned Nightmare

Two cruise ships that have been stricken by the coronavirus and stuck at sea for weeks will finally disembark at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The decision was reached by multiple local and federal officials including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Homeland Security, the Broward County Commission, and the cruise line, Holland America. Healthy passengers will be allowed to go home while the sick will remain on board. 

“It was the right thing to do,” Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr told the Guardian. “We’ve been letting people in and out of this port for 100 years in good times and bad times. I’m proud we could do this.”

The deal comes after a suspenseful back-and-forth that has involved multiple parties and left over 2,000 passengers and crew members waiting onboard for weeks. More than 200 of these people have reported experiencing flu-like symptoms, and nine tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Holland America officials. Many guests are from countries other than the U.S. 

The Zaandam cruise liner embarked for a trip along the coast of South America on March 7. The journey was supposed to end in Chile on March 21, but the coronavirus quickly escalated and things went awry. 

After the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Holland America suspended its operations. The Zaandam continued to travel north after Chile closed its borders, but more countries denied the ship entry.

Then passengers on the boat started getting sick, exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Last week, Holland America deployed a second ship, the Rotterdam, to meet the Zaandam off of Panama. The Rotterdam was sent with medical supplies, more staff, and coronavirus tests. 

Asymptomatic guests were transferred to the Rotterdam as well. 

On Friday, Holland American announced that four elderly people on board had died. Carnival Corporation, Holland America’s parent company who owns the ship, said two of the dead had tested positive for COVID-19. 

The nightmare has carried on for nearly four weeks now, but an end is finally in sight in Fort Lauderdale. 

Back and Forth

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was initially resistant to the idea of allowing those on the ship to embark in his state. Cruise ships have shown to be a cesspool for the coronavirus and there are complications in the repatriation of people who are stranded at sea. 

DeSantis has expressed worries about further spread of the outbreak as well as excess strain on medical facilities in the state. 

“We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now,” DeSantis told Fox News.

But those aboard the ships have grown desperate. Family members of those onboard have pleaded for them to disembark. Holland America President Orlando Ashford wrote an open letter urging countries to show support in this “humanitarian crisis.”  

President Trump himself offered a compassionate stance on Wednesday night as the situation dragged on.

“They’re dying, so we have to do something, and the governor knows that, too,” Trump said of those stuck on the sister ships. “We have to help the people. They are in big trouble.”

In updates on their website, Holland America outlined a plan for the passengers on the pair of ships. They said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will clear passengers for entry into the country.

The nearly 1,200 guests fit for travel under CDC guidelines will be unloaded onto sanitized coaches. Person-to-person contact will be limited and masks will be worn, and these people will be taken straight from the ship to flights home, the majority on charter flights. Florida residents will return home immediately via private cars.

Holland America said the guests who still have symptoms and are unfit to travel will continue to isolate onboard until they recover.  There are currently less than twenty people in need of immediate critical care, and they will be taken to local hospitals for treatment. 

It wasn’t until these detailed disembarkation plans started to form that Florida officials softened their resistance against allowing the ship to dock on the state’s ground.

Mayor Trantalis, who was originally against the idea of allowing the ships into Florida, expressed more openness to it after hearing Holland America’s proposals. 

“Their tone has completely changed to address the concerns we had,” Trantalis told the Guardian on Wednesday. “I was concerned that they were just going to let these people off to mingle with the people of my city. That would have been a nightmare.”

“But based on the conversation I had with the [Holland America] president, we are much further along in resolving this situation,” Trantalis said. 

On Wednesday, DeSantis said the 52 Floridians onboard the ships would “clearly” be accepted and said he hoped a solution for the others was near. 

DeSantis showed more of a change of heart on Thursday when he told Fox News that transferring critically ill patients to hospitals was “the humanitarian thing to do.”

“There is no easy solution to this,” the Governor said. 

Yet it appears some kind of solution has finally arrived, and many aboard will return home very shortly. 

“I look forward to a safe operation that protects the well-being of all involved,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine tweeted on Thursday.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (CNN)

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