- In leaked audio at a private luncheon, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would step down if she could, criticizing herself for allowing the extradition bill protests to begin under her leadership.
- Lam later confirmed the validity of the audio but called the comment an example of the “easy choice,” saying she has not tendered a letter of resignation and will see the situation through to the end.
- After another weekend of violent protests that included demonstrators hurling firebombs, Hong Kong’s secretary of security said the protests show “elements of terror.”
Lam Leaked Audio
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that she has not tendered her resignation nor is she considering doing so after leaked audio emerged of her saying she would quit if she could.
“I have never tendered a resignation to the central People’s government,” Lam said. “I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation with the central People’s government. The choice of not resigning is my own choice.”
Reuters published the audio Monday, citing three people in the room with Lam at the time confirming she made the statement. Because the meeting was held under Chatham House rules, a spokesperson for Lam declined to comment on the leak.
Chatham House rules state any information said at such a meeting can be openly discussed, but the comments must remain anonymous.
“But for a Chief Executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam says in the leak. “It’s just unforgivable. If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”
Lam later confirmed her comment in her Tuesday press conference, calling the leak “quite unacceptable.”
She then continued, clarifying her statement by saying she was giving an example of what would be an easy way out, then saying she would not take that route and that she has repeatedly told herself she needs to remain chief executive to help Hong Kong.
Also in the leaked audio, Lam said Cina does not plan to deploy its army into Hong Kong. For the past few weeks, the People’s Liberation Army has been stationed at the border between China and Hong Kong, where it was seen practicing regular military exercises.
Lam also said neither she nor mainland China have any deadline to end the protests. She said she still expects them to continue into October 1, which will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
She also noted that her power is very limited as the mainland fights a trade war with the United States.
“Elements of Terror”
Violence escalated over the weekend as protesters hurled fire bombs, resulting in Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee saying the protest showed “elements of terror.”
“The extent of violence, danger, and destruction have reached very serious conditions,” Lee said. “Radical people have escalated their violent and illegal acts, showing elements of terror.”
Thursday, protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at the Hong Kong police station. The violence continued Saturday as protesters lobbed more items like rocks and bricks at the government headquarters. Media later reported fires as protesters continued by throwing Molotov cocktails.
Police then met those protesters with pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons. The water cannons included a blue dye meant to stain protesters and make them easier to identify.
Clashes in the subway systems caused a massive shut down over large areas of the city. Three subway stations were still closed for most of the next day.
Protesters also demonstrated outside the airport on Sunday, stifling traffic to the extent that some travelers resorted to walking to the airport.
In all, 159 people were arrested between Friday and Sunday, including a 13-year-old boy who was arrested for having two gas bombs.
Monday, riot police patrolled in full uniform, a rare occurrence because they were not responding to active protests at the time; however, thousands of students did skip their first day of classes to participate in more peaceful demonstrations.
Why the Protests Are Happening
As Hong Kong reels from its third month of protests, citizens are still calling for a full withdrawal to a bill that would allow people from Hong Kong to be brought to mainland China for trial.
The extradition bill was proposed in February, following an alleged murder by a Hong Kong resident in Taiwan. Because the resident had already returned to Hong Kong, he could not face trial in Taiwan as there is no agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong to transfer suspected criminals. Outrage sparked when the bill to remedy the extradition problem also included extradition to mainland China.
Hong Kong residents fear the bill could give mainland China more influence over the region to the point that they lose some of the freedoms the mainland lacks, such as free speech and free press.
On July 9, Lam said “the bill is dead” after suspending it, but she did not formally withdraw it. Pro-democracy protesters have demanded the bill be withdrawn as part of their demands, along with Lam’s resignation and amnesty for pro-democracy protesters.
Though the protests began peacefully, Hong Kong has seen a steady increase in violence. Protesters previously stormed the city’s Legislative Council Building, smashing glass doors and windows, defacing portraits, and spray painting the walls. This prompted police to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Protesters have blocked roads and demonstrated in airports and subways, canceling flights and trains.
Another group in white shirts attacked antigovernment protesters with bats and metal bars in July, leading to the injuries of 45 people.
Mainland China has also said it won’t rule out declaring a state of emergency if the protests continue. Currently, it’s considering banning protesters from wearing masks and punishing teachers who encourage students to protest.
See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (Wall Street Journal) (South China Morning Post)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.