- Germany’s parliament approved a new law Thursday that bans the practice and advertisement of so-called gay “conversion therapy” for minors.
- Parents or guardians who force children to undergo the practice through deception, coercion, or threats can also face punishments.
- Violators could be hit with a fine of up to 30,000 euros (about $33,000) or face imprisonment for up to one year.
- Though it has received much praise, some have criticized the bill, saying that it fails to protect young adults between the ages of 18 and 26.
Germany has become the latest country to ban gay “conversion therapy” for those below the age of 18.
In December of last year, Germany’s Cabinet backed a bill banning the widely discredited practice, which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The country’s parliament then voted Thursday to pass the legislation as well.
Along with a ban on the practice against minors, the legislation also prohibits advertisements for it. Parents and legal guardians can even be punished for making children take part through deception, coercion, or threats.
Violators could be hit with a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) or face imprisonment for up to one year.
Punishments for those who coerce minors into the practice are major. A 2019 survey by OutRight Action International, a global human rights organization, found that a third of people around the globe who have undergone conversion therapy chose to do it for themselves, while two-thirds were coerced.
Lawmakers Push for the Ban
Conversion therapy practices can sometimes include hypnosis and electric shocks, but experts say the word ‘therapy’ is misleading because there is no scientific basis for it. In fact, conversion therapy has been associated with suicidal ideation and attempts, as well as drug abuse and depression.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, the Christian Democrat party’s most prominent gay politician, said in a statement, “Homosexuality is not a disease. Therefore the name therapy alone is misleading,”
“This so-called therapy makes people sick and not better. The ban is also an important signal from society to all those who are unsure about their homosexuality: It is okay to be the way you are,” he added.
Criticism of Bill’s Age Restriction
While the bill has been widely applauded, some argue that it does no go far enough.
A few members of Germany’s left-wing opposition refused to support the measure because it included just minors under the age of 18. Instead, they hoped the bill would use the traditional societal category of “youth,” which extends to persons 26 or younger.
Gabriela Lünsmann of Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association (LSVD) is one who agreed that the age limit should be raised. She also objected to the inclusion of the phrase “treatment performed on humans,” which she and her organization said “has a positive connotation and suggests a promise of healing and an achievable treatment goal.”
But Spahn defended the ban ahead of the vote in the Bundestag, saying he wanted a law that could easily withstand legal challenges.
“I want a ban which will be robust, including if it’s brought before the courts,” he said.
He did not give other specifics about the reason for these age limits, but under German law, it’s easier to protect minors. Legal justifications became more tricky for adults when freedom of speech and conscience laws are taken into account.
“Young people are being forced into conversion therapies,” Spahn explained, “and so it is very important that they should find support in the existence of this law: a clear signal that the state does not want this to happen.”
Germany is now the fifth nation to pass such a ban, following decisions from Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, and Taiwan, according to OutRight Action International. In the U.S. about 20 states and several cities have banned the practice for minors. Some members of Congress have even pushed for the ban to be established on a federal level.
“So-called conversion therapy efforts are based on the belief that cis-gender heterosexuality is the norm, and transgender identities and same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force,” the group’s executive director Jessica Stern said in a statement.
“The German Bundestag took an incredibly important step today – by banning ‘conversion therapy’ it sent a powerful message that LGBTIQ people are not in need of change or cure.”
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.