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Seoul to Improve Semi-Basement Apartments After ‘Parasite’ Shines Light on Issues

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  • The Seoul city government said it will financially support 1,500 households living in semi-basement apartments like the one depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”
  • With the help of the Korea Energy Foundation, the local government will offer up to 3.2 million won (about 2,630 USD) per household for enhancements like new floors, air conditioners, fire alarms, ventilators, and more. 
  • While many have noted that this new initiative won’t lift semi-basement dwellers completely out of trouble, they still feel that’s a step in the right direction that could help prevent thousands from sinking into worse conditions. 

Film Draws Attention to Poor Living Conditions 

After making history at the 92nd Academy Awards, the South Korean film “Parasite” has now inspired the Seoul Metropolitan Government to address poor living conditions in the city. 

The dark comedy thriller, directed by Bong Joon-ho, took home four Oscars at this year’s ceremony and became the first non-English language film to earn the Best Picture trophy. 

But aside from the historic win, the film also shined a light on the realities of living in semi-basement apartments also known as “Banjiha,” the Korean word for cramped basement flat. 

In the film, the scheming Kim family lives in a semi-basement apartment that is prominently portrayed as a dark, smell, and small space. But while the movie is a work of fiction, its portrayal of these apartments is apparently not.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there were over 360,000 semi-basement apartments in South Korea as of 2015, with the majority located in the greater Seoul metropolitan area. Many of the units were originally built as emergency bunkers in the 1970s—an era of intense military tension between North and South Korea. 

Some of these spaces were later converted into cheap rental units and though it was initially illegal to rent them out, the government walked back on their restrictions during the housing crisis in the 1980s, when living spaces began running short in the capital. 

Government Plans to Take Action 

As depicted in the film, Banjiha spaces actually are dark, poorly ventilated, damp, and often far too compact to support the number of residents living inside. But for many low-income people, these are some of their best options for affordable housing. 

The Korea Herald cited city statistics that said 78% of Seoul’s semi-basement dwellers are in the bottom 30% income bracket. So to address the housing issues that became highly discussed since the movie’s release and subsequent success, the Seoul Metropolitan Government vowed to support 1,500 families living in these homes.

According to The Korea Herald, the local government is partnering with the Korea Energy Foundation to offer “up to 3.2 million won [about 2,630 USD] per household to enhance heating systems, replace floors, and install air conditioners, dehumidifiers, ventilators, windows, and fire alarms.”

Residents who live in semi-basement apartments and earn less than 60% of the country’s median income will be able to submit applications to the government to be selected for renovation. The government also said it plans to expand the range of recipients each year. 

While many have noted that this new initiative won’t lift semi-basement dwellers completely out of trouble, they still feel that it’s a step in the right direction that could help prevent thousands from sinking into worse conditions. 

See what others are saying: (IndieWire) (BBC) (The Korean Herald) 

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Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off

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The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.


Voting App Removed From App Stores

Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.

Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.

For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.

People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.

Response and Backlash

Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.

“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”

Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”

Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.

“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.

Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies

The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.

In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.

In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies. 

The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.

Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Denmark Moves To Bar Life Prisoners From Starting New Romantic Relationships After Peter Madsen Controversy

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While behind bars, the convicted murderer pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl and a 39-year-old Russian artist who he married in 2020.


Legislation Proposed

Denmark’s government proposed a draft law this week aimed at preventing prison inmates serving life sentences from forming new romantic relationships behind bars. 

If passed, the proposed bill would specifically limit correspondence and visitation rights during the first 10 years of detention to people the prisoner knew before incarceration. It would also ban prisoners from sharing details about their criminal activities on social media or on podcasts. 

Demands for such legislation stemmed from public frustration over Danish inventor Peter Madsen, a 49-year-old who was convicted in 2018 for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. According to prosecutors, Madsen sexually assaulted Wall while she was on board his submarine for an interview. He then dismembered her body before the submarine sank in what police said might have been an attempt to destroy evidence.

While incarcerated, Madsen reportedly pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl named Cammilla Kürstein. Kürstein has admitted that she fell in love with Madsen after exchanging letters and talking on the phone with him over the course of two years.

However, she became jealous in 2020 when he ultimately married 39-year-old Jenny Curpen, a Russian artist living in self-imposed exile in Finland. Curpen has said her communication and visits with Madsen also began in 2018.

What Comes Next?

While Madsen has earned particular heat for pursuing new romance behind bars, he is far from the only incarcerated person to do so.

“We have seen distasteful examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed vile crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention,” Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup said when speaking of the bill.

“This must obviously be stopped,” he continued, arguing that jail should not serve as “dating centres or media platforms to brag about crimes.”

Denmark’s right-wing opposition in parliament has already signaled support for the bill, which was sent to the committee stage on Wednesday. If approved, it is expected to go into effect in January of next year.

Still, human rights experts said they expect challenges to the law. For example, Elo Rytter, of the University of Copenhagen, told the BT newspaper that it would “interfere with prisoners’ right to a private life.” She also said outlawing public statements might “raise questions about censorship.”

See what others are saying:(The Guardian)(The Washington Post)(BBC)

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World Anti-Doping Agency Will Review Cannabis Ban Following Sha’Carri Richardson’s Suspension

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Any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until 2023.


Cannabis Ban for Athletes Under Review

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will review whether cannabis should stay on its list of prohibited substances.

The move comes three months after the agency’s policies notably prevented U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

In July, Richardson was given a 30 days suspension and stripped of her 100-meter win at the U.S. Olympics Trials when THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in her system. At the time, Richardson admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where it is legal, after learning that her biological mother had died.

The runner was ultimately met with an outpouring of support from people who argued that the drug is not a performance enhancer and is legal or decriminalized in multiple U.S. states, as well as in countries around the world.

The anti-doping agency did not specifically mention Richardson in its announcement, but it did say the plan is a response to “requests from a number of stakeholders” in international athletics.

It also said that cannabis will remain banned in 2022, and any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until the following year.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(CBS)(The Hill)

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