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London Police Break Up Vigil for Sarah Everard

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  • Police in London made good on threats to break up Saturday’s planned vigil for Sarah Everard, who was allegedly abducted and murdered by a police officer earlier this month.
  • Authorities claim the event violated coronavirus restrictions against mass gatherings and posed a safety risk for those involved.
  • Their actions were widely criticized as heavy-handed, causing London’s Mayor as well as the Minister of the U.K. Home Office to call for an investigation into the matter.
  • Cressida Dick, head of London’s Metropolitan Police, has refused calls to resign amid allegations of police misconduct in handling the Everard investigation and subsequent events.

Sarah Everard Did Everything Right

London’s Metropolitan Police is facing public scrutiny after breaking up a vigil on Saturday for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing exec who was allegedly abducted and murdered by Metro Police officer Wayne Couzens.

Everard was last seen alive on March 3 after leaving a friend’s house at night. Shortly thereafter, she was reported as missing and about a week later her body was found near a park in Chapam, South London. London’s Metropolitan Police, known as ‘The Met,’ found itself in an awkward situation when it had to arrest Officer Couzens over the abduction and murder of Everard.

Before Couzens’ arrest and in response to Everard’s death, police went door-to-door in the neighborhood where Everard went missing, telling women to stay inside for their own safety. That decision led to major backlash online as women laid out the constant precautions they must take when walking or traveling alone, including walking in well-lit routes, sending check-in texts, and wearing brightly colored clothes as wells as shoes that are easy to run in.

As many pointed out, Everard did all of that to no avail. Instead, many feel police efforts would be better spent addressing the issue of men instigating violence against women.

“Women in my area have been advised “not to go out alone” while Sarah Everard’s disappearance is investigated. How about we urge men not to go out instead? Say a curfew at nightfall?” one Twitter user wrote.

Vigil Turned Protest

Everard’s death and the police’s comments led a group calling itself Reclaim These Streets to announce that it would hold a vigil this past Saturday. However, police warned that it would be forced to come out and clear the crowd because of coronavirus restrictions, forcing the group to cancel.

One of the organizers, Mary Morgan, told The New York Times the group made the decision because any fines the police would have given out are the same ones that help pay for the police; the idea of which “…makes [her] stomach rot.”

Despite the formal gathering’s cancellation, hundreds of women still showed up to a spot near where Everard was last seen alive to place flowers and hold a candlelight vigil. The Met arrived shortly after and was met with a chant of, “The police are trying to silence us, the police are trying to repress us. This is a sickening response.”

Eventually, police told the crowd to disperse and many did. A sizeable amount, however, stayed behind, which then prompted The Met to forcibly disperse the women and arrest four.

The Met’s actions criticized as heavy-handed, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan has demanded that The Met give him a report of what happened and why. A similar request was made by the U.K. Home Office minister. The Met has tried to defend themselves, saying in a statement on Sunday that “officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision.”

Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19,” it explained. “We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”

On Sunday, a large protest was held outside Parliament Square over how the police dealt with Saturday’s vigil.

Making matters worse, amid the backdrop of Everard’s death and subsequent protests, there is an investigation over the possibility that Couzens could have been off the streets or more closely watched if it weren’t for a botched investigation into him over a separate incident. Just days before he allegedly took Everard, he was held on suspicion of indecent exposure in a Mcdonald’s.

The head of The Met, Cressida Dick, has faced calls to resign from people across the political spectrum, though she has refused.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (The New York Times) (BBC)

International

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

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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)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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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)

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

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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)

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