- Massive protests have spread all over India after a controversial citizenship bill became law.
- The law gives citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from specific countries but does not include Muslims.
- On Sunday, a peaceful protest at a primarily Muslim university became violent when police forcefully entered the campus, beating students with wooden sticks and firing tear gas.
- Protests continued across India Monday, with large demonstrations being held in solidarity with university students who were attacked by police the day before.
Controversial Citizenship Bill Prompts Protests
Huge protests have continued to spread all over India after the country’s government approved a controversial citizenship bill last week.
The legislation, known as Citizenship Amendment Bill, provides a path to citizenship for religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The legislation names six religions that would be eligible for citizenship but does not include Muslims.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other supporters of the bill have said it will protect persecuted religious minorities who migrate to India from predominantly Muslim countries.
Opponents of the bill have said that it is just a very targeted plan by Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, to discriminate against the nearly 200 million Muslims in India who compose about 15% of the country’s population.
Many have argued that it would make it easier for the government to jail and deport Muslim residents in India.
This could include those whose families have lived in the country for years or even generations but might not have proof of citizenship, which in turn could leave millions of Muslims in India stateless.
Other critics of the legislation, including legal scholars, have said that it would violate India’s constitution because India is a secular country, and its constitution says that all religions must be treated equally.
Last Monday, India’s lower house of Parliament passed the bill, prompting a number of small, but largely peaceful, protests.
Those protests, however, have grown dramatically in the last week after the upper house of Parliament passed the bill Wednesday. The next day, India’s president approved the bill, officially making it a law.
Following the approval of the legislation, demonstrations erupted in several northeastern cities where the law could potentially have the biggest impact on immigration.
The Indian government responded by shutting down the internet and deploying troops in several areas in the region. Since then, the protests have continued, growing and spreading to major cities and other areas all over India.
At the same time, police significantly ratcheting up the use of violence against the protestors.
According to reports, police said Sunday that at least six people were killed and more than a hundred were injured in protests in the northeastern state of Assam.
Police Attack Student Protestors at Muslim-Majority University
Also on Sunday, hundreds were injured when a protest turned violent at Jamia Millia Islamia, a primarily Muslim university in New Delhi.
According to reports, students organized a large demonstration that many witnesses said started out peacefully.
The protest escalated when police stormed the campus after nearby busses and vehicles were set on fire. University authorities said the students did not burn the vehicles.
Videos circulated on social media showing officers beating students with wooden sticks and firing tear gas at them. Police also could be seen chasing students into the library and bathrooms, where they reportedly continued to beat them.
The police allegedly fired tear gas into the library and other enclosed areas like classrooms and reportedly attacked a mosque where some students were praying
One widely circulated video showed a man who tried to escape police by running into a women’s hostel being dragged out and beat by the police forces.
In the video, a group of female students can be seen trying to fight off the police who continue to hit the man and poke at the women with wooden poles, even after the man had been beaten to the ground.
Officials at nearby hospitals said that more than 100 people were brought in after the violence, and it has been reported that nearly 100 students were detained.
University officials condemned police, saying that they had entered the campus by force and without permission. The university’s vice-chancellor also told reporters that they would be filing a court case against the police.
But Delhi police have defended their actions, claiming they responded to violence started by the students.
Police also reportedly used similar tactics on Sunday at Aligarh Muslim University, another primarily Muslim college, where dozens of officers forcefully entered the campus and attacked students with batons and tear gas.
Despite the violence the day before, protests continued in India Monday, with large demonstrations being held in a number of major cities in solidarity with the university students who were attacked by the police.
As the protests continued, Modi took to Twitter to call for calm.
“Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing,” he wrote. “Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos.”
Modi also argued that the citizenship law “illustrates India’s centuries old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood,” and described the protestors as “vested interest groups” who were trying “to divide us and create disturbance.”
On the other side, Amnesty International India issued a statement urging the Indian government to “respect the right to dissent” by the students, and also investigate the allegations of police brutality.
“Students have the right to protest. Violence against peacefully protesting students cannot under any circumstance be justified,” the statement said. “Allegations that the police brutally beat up and sexually harassed students in Jamia Millia Islamia University must be investigated.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
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.