Connect with us

International

Taiwanese President Pledges Support for Hong Kong After China Proposes National Security Law

Published

on

  • On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that it was proposing a new national security law aimed at Hong Kong.
  • The law is meant to criminalize any attempts at secession, subversion, or terrorism against mainland China in the autonomous city-state. 
  • Though protests had already been scheduled to oppose different measures being proposed in Hong Kong, they quickly shifted on Sunday to include opposition to the likely-to-be-passed national security law.
  • Also on Sunday, Twainese President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan “stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

China Proposes National Security Law

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on late Sunday that she “stands with the people of Hong Kong” as mainland China prepares to implement a sweeping new national security law that pro-democracy advocates argue could strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.

The law, proposed by the Chinese government on Thursday, is a direct response to the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong since last year following a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier for the mainland to target Hong Kongers critical of the Chinese government. 

Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the mainland lacks. That is because, for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony. Then, in 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China; however, under a unique agreement called Basic Law, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its freedoms of assembly and speech, with that agreement set to last 50 years. 

The proposed national security law is not the first time China has actively tried to exert more power over Hong Kong over the years, but it is the mainland’s most blatant attempt yet to crackdown on protests.

Notably, it would criminalize a number of acts in Hong Kong, including:

  • Secession, or the right to declare independence from the mainland;
  • Subversion, or undermining the power or authority of the mainland;
  • Terrorism, 
  • Any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. 

The law would also allow mainland China to implement its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” 

Large Scale Protests Ramp Up for the First Time Since Lockdown

A large scale protest was originally scheduled to be held on Sunday to oppose a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature that would criminalize disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. After China’s announcement of this new bill, the focus shifted.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters ignored social distancing orders as they marched through the streets. This was the first instance of a large scale protest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

While most of the protest was peaceful, in a scene now not uncommon for Hong Kong, several clashes between protesters and police occurred.

Police threw tear gas to disperse demonstrators, reportedly because the demonstrators had set up roadblocks and thrown objects at officers. Along with tear gas, police also fired other familiar projectiles at protesters, including a water cannon and rubber bullets. 

By the end of the protest, more than 180 people were arrested, four officers were injured, and six other people were hospitalized—including one woman in critical condition.

Alongside that protest, on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued to defend the proposed national security law, saying that it’s aimed only at a: “very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardise national security.”

He added that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”

“Instead of becoming unnecessarily worried, people should have more confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” he said.

Still, his comments have failed to assuage or persuade pro-democracy advocates. According to The Washington Post, this law could lead to secret police, surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and even propaganda in classrooms.

International Response to the Proposed Law

One of the big questions that remains is to what degree the United States might intervene—especially since the law would criminalize foreign forces interfering with Hong Kong. 

So far, the U.S. hasn’t promised any specific action, but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called security law a “death knell” and said he strongly urged Beijing to reconsider the “disastrous proposal.”

Late Sunday night, Taiwanese President Tsai said that if the law is implemented, then Hong Kong’s core values of freedom and judicial independence will be severely eroded.

Still, it likely will be implemented as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she’ll fully support the law, arguing that it will improve business confidence without eroding freedoms.

On Tuesday, Lam continued to call on citizens to support the legislation, saying, “We are a very free society, so for the time being people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

However, she also added that once the law passes, that could make demonstrations like we’ve seen over the past year illegal. 

Also Tuesday morning, reports indicated that Hong Kong demand for VPN’s surged more than 600% the day that China announced the draft law.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (South China Morning Post)

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

Published

on

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)

Continue Reading

International

Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

Published

on

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)

Continue Reading

International

40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

Published

on

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.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

Continue Reading