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Thousands Protest Indonesian Bills That Limit Rights and Ban Extramarital Sex

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  • Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Indonesia for the last few weeks over a number of proposed and existing laws.
  • One of the proposed laws is a massive penal code overhaul that, among other things, would outlaw sex outside of marriage and limit freedom of speech. 
  • Another law that has already been passed rolls back powers given to the country’s main anti-corruption body.
  • Demonstrators all over the country have clashed violently with police who have fired tear gas and water cannons at them, resulting in hundreds of injuries, arrests, and at least three civilian deaths.

Indonesian Protests Over Legislation

Thousands demonstrated outside the Indonesian Parliament Monday to protest against legislation that would undermine anti-corruption efforts and personal freedoms, among other measures.

Student-led protests have continued over the past few weeks, with Indonesians holding massive demonstrations all throughout the country.

Some of the activist’s main concerns center around two controversial pieces of legislation in particular.

The first bill, which has already been passed by Parliament, is intended to limit the power of the country’s main anti-corruption body, the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Protestors have called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to reverse parliament’s decision, but he has largely balked at the idea.

The second bill, which has not yet been passed, is the more significant of the two. That bill would put in place an entirely new penal code, which, among other things, would criminalize both gay and premarital sex, as well significantly limit freedom of speech.

That new penal code received so much public outcry that Widodo announced last week that he would be delaying the bill until a new parliament was sworn in. Parliament on Monday agreed to push the vote on the penal code until their next session.

That decision is not at all a significant win for the protestors, because the new parliament is going to be sworn-in on Tuesday, meaning the lawmakers just pushed the bill to the next day.

However, because the penal code has not yet been passed, the protestors are calling for the bill to be withdrawn entirely.

Ongoing Protests

Last week, it was reported that tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets all over the country.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, demonstrators reportedly pulled down fencing, blocked traffic, and torched a police outpost. Police forces responded by firing tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators.

According to reports, hundreds of people were arrested and hundreds more were injured. A total of three deaths have been reported since the protests started.

Two of those killed were student protestors on one island, one who died after being shot, and the other after suffering severe head injuries.

Amid a new wave of protests Monday, more than 20,000 police and military personnel were deployed to maintain the protestors just in Jakarta.

Local police claimed that crowds refused to disperse and threw rocks, bottles, and fireworks at officers, who in turn responded by again firing tear gas at protestors.

Some experts have described the recent protests as the largest demonstrations in Indonesia in more than 20 years.

The last time the country saw demonstrations of this size was in 1998 when mass protests calling for the establishment of a democratic society caused an Indonesian dictator who had ruled for 32 years to step down.

Protestors Expand Demands

With the new parliament expected to be sworn in tomorrow, it’s safe to assume that these protests will continue.

Especially as the new parliament, which has a similar political composition to the last one, will likely take up the debate on the penal code, as well as other controversial bills.

The new penal code has been supported by conservative Islamic groups and lawmakers hoping to increase the number of sharia-like laws and legal systems in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Opponents of the law, however, have said the new penal code represents part of a dangerous shift towards deeper religiosity and conservative Islamic policies in a country that has long had the reputation as a democracy with relatively moderate Muslims and Islamic legal systems.

Outside the proposed penal code, protestors have recently expanded their list of demands to include a number of other things, such as ending the man-made forest fires in Indonesia’s rainforest, which have reportedly created respiratory problems for nearly a million people.

The protestors also want the corporations who have started the fires to clear land for planting lucrative palm oil plantations to be held accountable.

Similarly, they are calling for lawmakers to withdraw proposed legislation that would give corporations greater power over natural resources.

Notably, the protestors are additionally calling for the government to stop military action in the province of Papua, where at least 32 people were killed last week in anti-government protests.

The demonstrators have also broadly called for wider democratic reforms, such as the freeing of political prisoners.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (Voice of America)

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New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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