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Extradition Bill Sparks Massive Protests in Hong Kong

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  • Protestors in Hong Kong held a massive demonstration Sunday to oppose a bill that would allow the city to extradite people accused of certain crimes to mainland China.
  • Police say 240,000 people attended, while organizers claim that more than one million turned out.
  • Critics argue that the bill will be used to stifle dissent against the mainland, which has been exerting authority over Hong Kong and meddling in their internal affairs.
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who proposed the bill has said she will still try to pass it despite the massive backlash.

Protests in Hong Kong

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed bill that would allow the government to extradite people to mainland China.

According to reports, protestors from all walks of life essentially took over the streets of downtown Hong Kong. The protest stretched for more than a mile and it was so crowded that people were reportedly stuck in the subway stations waiting to join the protests.

The Protestors wore white, symbolizing “light” and “justice.” Some of them carried umbrellas, which were a symbol of the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2014.

Many demonstrators could be seen holding various signs and posters, some of which called for the resignation of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who proposed and has pushed for the extradition bill.

The protests were largely peaceful during the day, but a little after midnight, riot police began to clash with protestors in front of Hong Kong’s legislature. Police starting using pepper spray and hitting protestors with batons to get them to free up the area, and eventually, the protestors largely dispersed.

Currently, it is unclear how many people took part in the protests. Police officials have said that 240,000 people were in attendance, while the protest organizers say it was actually more than one million.

If the organizers’ numbers are correct, that would mean almost 1 out of every 7 Hong Kong residents participated. It would also make it the biggest protest in Hong Kong since the British gave China control of the colony in 1997.

History and Context

Hong Kong is an autonomous city-state in southeast China that used to be a British colony, but it was given back to China in 1997 under a policy called “one country, two systems.”

Under that system, Hong Kong was designated as a special administrative region (SAR) and allowed its own constitution which is known as Basic Law.

While Hong Kong technically part of China, it is given such a high degree of autonomy that it basically operates as its own country. The city has entirely separate political and economic systems, as well as a free press and open internet, which makes it very different from mainland China.

For the people of Hong Kong, independence from China is not only a point of pride but also a defining characteristic.

The proposed extradition bill has sparked a huge backlash among the residents of Hong Kong who are worried they could end up in the hands of mainland China’s legal system, where people are frequently prosecuted for political reasons. Residents generally perceive the bill as a threat to their freedom and civil liberties.

What is the Extradition Bill?

The bill would amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws to allow them to detain people suspected of certain crimes and turn them over to countries and territories with which Hong Kong does not have formal extradition agreements. Notably, this would include China.

Lam proposed the bill in March, in order to resolve a case where a man from Hong Kong named Chan Tong-kai was accused of killing his girlfriend while on vacation in Taiwan last year.

Chan is now back in Hong Kong, and even though he is accused of murder charges in Taiwan, he cannot be sent there to stand trial, because Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have a formal extradition agreement.

Lam argued the extradition bill is necessary to prosecute Chan. She also argues that it will help the rule of law in Hong Kong and “plug a loophole” in the city’s legal system.

Reportedly, the extradition bill would apply to 37 crimes and it would only pertain to people accused of crimes that have penalties of seven years or more in prison. Government officials have also said that anyone facing the death penalty would not be extradited.

Officials have also said that extradition cases will need to be approved by independent local judges, then they will be passed on to get approval from Hong Kong’s chief executive, which is currently Lam.

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After those two approvals, then suspects can be extradited. However, because Hong Kong is technically subordinate to mainland China, critics of the bill worry that it would be really difficult for the chief executive to reject an extradition request from her superiors.

Due to the fact that the chief executive proposed the bill herself, it seems unlikely that she would deny an extradition request at all.

Critics are also concerned the bill would basically allow anyone in to be picked up in Hong Kong and detained in mainland China, which means that the mainland could use the law to target political activists and dissidents, functionally legalizing abductions by mainland officials in Hong Kong that have been going on for a little while now.

Mainland officials are usually not allowed to operate in Hong Kong, but they have been known to illegally abduct people who work in bookstores that sell books that are critical of the mainland, as well as other critics of the Chinese government.

While the bill technically does not include extradition for political crimes, many people still worry that the legislation will just allow mainland Chinese authorities to further encroach on their independent territory.

Growing Chinese Influence

That concern is a valid one too. Over the last few years, mainland China has been steadily trying to exert more authority over Hong Kong by meddling in their internal affairs.

These efforts have risen significantly since Chinese President Xi took office in 2012. Since taking power, Xi has tightened control of his people and used all sorts of methods to stifle his critics, and because Hong Kong has a large community of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, it is a clear target.

However, Hong Kong’s constitution specifically prohibits mainland authorities from restraining dissent in the city. Experts say that because of that protection, mainland China has been forced to slowly chip away at Hong Kong’s independence and institutions in other ways.

Already, mainland-aligned government officials in Hong Kong have ousted opposition lawmakers and denied civilian demands for free elections.

Lam’s decision to press ahead with the extradition bill is also an example of a mainland-affiliated lawmaker pushing ahead with a policy that appears to be largely opposed by the people.

The opposition to the bill also extends beyond the residents of Hong Kong. Business people worry the bill could hurt foreign interest in investment in Hong Kong because some companies may even be forced to leave.

A group of bipartisan legislators in the U.S. sent a letter last month to Lam, calling for the legislation to be immediately withdrawn, and saying they were concerned the law would “negatively impact the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong.”

Even Taiwan, which would have a trial for the man that Lam claims prompted the extradition bill in the first place, has stated it will comply with an extradition agreement because it’s politically motivated.

Taiwanese officials have also said that the authorities in Hong Kong have ignored three separate requests from Taiwan for governments to figure out an arrangement to deal with the murder case, which would bypass the need for the bill at all.

Regardless, Lam announced following the protest that she will still move forward with the legislation. Lawmakers will resume debating the bill this week, and a vote is expected on June 27. Due to the fact that pro-Beijing lawmakers have 43 of 70 seats in the legislature, it appears that bill will likely pass.

Protest organizers have scheduled another round of protests for Wednesday.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (Hong Kong Free Press)

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Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric

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  • Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.  
  • Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
  • Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life. 
  • After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.

Controversial Address

Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks. 

Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.

“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”  

Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.

“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”  

The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.

Reactions to Alvim’s Speech  

It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination. 

Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.” 

But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.

President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.” 

The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role

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  • Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. 
  • Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations. 
  • While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled. 

Appointment of Di Giovanni

Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.

Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.  

“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media

“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.

Milestone for Women in Catholic Church

Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant. 

Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.

On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind. 

“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”

Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.

“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”  

See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)

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Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane

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  • Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
  • Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
  • Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable. 
  • There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.

Backlash from the Plane Strike

Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board. 

Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.

During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.

According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.

In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran. 

After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.

The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion. 

“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”  

A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.

“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.

Escalating Protests

Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.

They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.

“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.

Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration. 

Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press. 

Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.

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

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