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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)

International

Amnesty International Condemns LGBTI Discrimination in South Korea Military

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  • A report by Amnesty International outlines the discrimination and abuse that gay men serving in South Korea’s military experience. 
  • Article 92-6 in South Korea’s Military Criminal Act criminalizes sex between two men in the military. 
  • Amnesty International says that this law opens the door for gay soldiers to be mistreated, which has included verbal taunting and sexual assault. 
  • Soldiers who spoke to Amnesty International said their experiences have been humiliating, have taken a toll on their mental health, and have even led to some attempting suicide. 

Amnesty International Releases Report

Amnesty International is calling on South Korea to appeal its law that bans same-sex relationships between men in the military after their report shows that soldiers experience abuse, assault, and humiliation as a result of it. 

In a report published Thursday titled “Serving in Silence: LGBTI People in South Korea’s Military,” Amnesty International speaks to several soldiers from South Korea’s military who detail personal experiences with discrimination. 

According to Article 92-6 of the South Korea Military Criminal Act, sexual relations between two men in the military, either on or off duty, fall under the “indecent acts” clause. This can be punishable by up to two years in prison.  

While it is still illegal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt in South Korea, homosexuality is not criminalized for all citizens. This article only applies to those serving in the military. 

Amnesty International says that by having this law, South Korea is opening the door to discrimination.

“Criminalization creates an environment where discrimination is tolerated, and even encouraged,” the report says.

“Homophobic and transphobic individuals can view this law as tacit permission to target LGBTI people inside and outside the military,” it continues. 

The report also said that the first step to ending this discrimination is removing the article.

Decriminalization does not solve the entire issue, but it is a crucial first step towards respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of LGBTI people,” the report states. 

Charges Made Under Article 92-6

People have been charged under this article in the past. In 2017, authorities actively looked to identify soldiers who they believed were engaging in sexual acts with other men. They ended up charging over 20 soldiers as a result. 

One man who was charged in this, who the report identifies as “Yeo-jun Kim” told Amnesty International that investigators asked him personal questions throughout the process. 

“The investigators barraged me with outrageous questions, questions about what sex positions I used and where did I ejaculate,” he said. 

He also said that they looked through his phone and asked him to identify other LGBTI people. 

“The authorities came to me like peeping Toms,” he added. “They should have maintained confidentiality. I have lost faith and trust in people.”

Soldiers Face Abuse

In addition charges, gay soldiers are often subject to physical and verbal abuse.

The report outlines the story of one soldier they identify as “U” who served around a decade ago. 

“One night, I saw a soldier being sexually abused,” U told Amnesty International. “When he got angry, the person abusing him who was his senior started to beat him fiercely and forced him to drink from the toilet bowl. A few days later, the abused soldier made up his mind to report the incident and approached me for my help.”

When the superior learned about the possible report, he threatened to beat U. 

“I was then subjected to physical violence and humiliation for three hours,” U continued. “Which included being forced to have oral and anal sex with the original victim while the senior soldier made taunting remarks, such as: ‘Don’t you want to have sex with a woman-like man?’”

U added that this assault and humiliation drove him, and three others who experienced similar situations, to attempt suicide, which resulted in them being taken to a psychiatric hospital. Three of them were dishonorably discharged, while U was taken back to his squad and labeled as a “soldier of interest.”

Toll on Mental Health

Many soldiers say that the harassment and assault they are subject to takes a mental toll on them, resulting in many going to military health facilities. The report says that the facilities often have poor conditions, cramped spaces, and soldiers often question the qualifications of those working there. 

One soldier, identified as “Jeram” was regularly groped and assaulted. He was labeled as a soldier of interest when his unit learned he was gay. He told Amnesty International that he ended up in one of these facilities.  

The hospital deemed him “rebellious” after he did not comply with some of their requests, resulting in him losing the right to make phone calls or walk out in fresh air once a week. 

“The hospital tried to diagnose me as ‘unfit for service’ with staff members even instructing me how to act mentally incompetent so that I could get discharged,” Jeram said. “I refused to be labelled in this way. I felt I had lived my life well prior to the military and knew that I was not the source of the problem. This whole experience led me to attempt suicide because I lost the will to live.”

He then said that one panelist, who he did not think was a licensed medical professional, told him during one of his reviews, “You are so disobedient. Even if I shoot you here, it will simply get covered up as a suspicious death and that will be it. Then, the compensation your family would receive will be even lower than for a military dog.”

Amnesty International’s report is the latest in international organizations fighting for rights for gay soldiers in South Korea. In March, Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief urging the country to repeal Article 92-6.

“Article 92-6 violates the rights of LGBT persons in two distinct ways,” the brief said. “First, it violates the substance of fundamental rights. Second, it discriminates against service members based on their sexual orientation. The criminalization per se of consensual adult same-sex conduct is a violation of the right to privacy under international law.”

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

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Sudan Military and Opposition Reach Power-Sharing Deal

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  • Sudanese opposition and military leaders agreed Friday to set up a joint military-civilian council that will rotate power between the two groups until elections are held in three years.
  • The agreement comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between a coalition of opposition groups and the Transitional Military Council that came to power after President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by a military coup in April.
  • Mediators stepped up negotiation efforts earlier this week after tens of thousands of demonstrators staged the largest protest since the violence on June 3.
  • Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the agreement as leaders on both sides expressed optimism, but others called for continued protests over concerns that the military will not hold up its end of the deal.

Agreement Reached

Sudan’s military and opposition leaders reached an agreement to share power until elections can be held, mediators announced Friday.

The deal comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between civilian opposition leaders and the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took power after Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup in April.

Al-Bashir’s removal followed months of protests dating back to December 2018. Those protests continued after the TMC installed itself, with demonstrators demanding that the military rulers hand over power to a civilian-led government.

The new power-sharing deal will establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that will govern Sudan until elections are held in three years. 

Military and civilian leaders will rotate control of the council, with the military leading the council for the first 21 months, and the civilians leading the council for the remaining 18 months.

The council will be composed of five members of the military, five civilians, and an 11th seat that will be agreed on by both sides. The agreement also stipulates the appointment of a cabinet of ministers and the formation of a legislative council.

Leaders on both sides expressed optimism about the agreement. 

“This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority,” said Omar al-Degair, a leader of the opposition coalition who negotiated with the military. “And we hope that this is the beginning of a new era.”

“This agreement is comprehensive and does not exclude anyone,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the TMC.

Protests

Opposition leaders and the TMC also agreed to launch an independent investigation into the violence that began in early June, after a military crackdown on protesters left mass casualties.

On June 3, paramilitary forces attacked a long-standing protest camp outside military headquarters that had been the site of ongoing demonstrations against military rule since al-Bashir was toppled. 

Opposition medics said that more than 100 people were killed in the violence, while the government has said the death toll was 62.

General Dagalo, known as Hemeti, leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that protest leaders have accused of perpetrating the crackdown.

Following the attack, the TMC said they would no longer negotiate with the protestors, and called for snap elections. They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.

They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.

However, the African Union and leaders in neighboring Ethiopia stepped in to lead mediation between the two. 

Those efforts ramped up earlier this week, after tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Sudanese cities, marking the biggest protests since the June 3 crackdown. Seven more were killed in Sunday’s protests, and more than 100 were injured.

Skeptical Hope for the Future

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum to celebrate the agreement. 

However, many protestors called for continued demonstrations to put pressure on the military to follow through with the deal. 

“We would like to see many more guarantees from the TMC because they’ve made many promises on handing over power only to backtrack later on,” a protester named Mohamed Ismail told Al Jazeera.

Another protester named Lena al-Sheikh told BBC that the demonstrators “definitely wanted much more” from the deal, and added that many are a “little bit” skeptical regarding the details.

“The military council has shown that […] there was brutality against protesters,” she said. “People died, people were hurt and we were thinking maybe this is never going to happen, maybe we are never going to reach an agreement.”

Other experts say the deal falls short of opposition demands for a fully-civilian led council. Sudan-based journalist Yousra Elbagir pointed out in a tweet that many people in Sudan do not know the details of the deal, because of the ongoing internet blackout in the country. 

The internet has been shut off for a month now in Sudan, as military leaders have attempted to suppress communications and public gatherings.

Others, however, expressed excitement and optimism for the future.

“We have won a victory against injustice,” a protestor named Shihab Salah told Reuters. “Our goal is to achieve freedom and justice and to find jobs for young people. Civilian rule and democracy are the future of Sudan.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Roma in America: Why Europe’s Most Discriminated Group Is Coming To The US…

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There is a thriving international community of women who claim to have supernatural abilities. Abilities like possessing the power to see the future, cast spells, and lift curses. One of the largest witch communities in the world exists in Romania. There, these women are commonly referred to as “vrajitoare,” or witches. Most of these witches belong to an ethnic minority known as Roma, or Romani.

For centuries, Roma people have been stigmatized, discriminated against, and in some cases, even feared. But while this may be the case abroad, in the United States, their mysticism and craft appear to be welcomed. This is one of the reasons why the most well known among the vrajitoare, Mihaela Minca, recently brought her business overseas to California.

Watch the video for the full story. 

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