Myanmar: Wives of Reuters journalists devastated by verdict

reuters photoPan Ei Mon (L) and Chit Su Win wives of jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after their appeal was rejected [Ann Wang/Reuters]

by Joshua Carroll

Yangon, Myanmar – The families of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after uncovering a massacre in Rakhine state were once again left devastated on Friday when a court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn their seven-year prison sentences.

After the judge rattled through his ruling in a crowded courtroom in downtown Yangon, the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo wept as senior foreign diplomats offered their commiserations.

While little has gone in the reporters’ favour since their arrests in December 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, was still clinging to hope before today’s decision.

“We were even hoping to go to the jail to welcome them if they were released today, but it’s not happening,” she told a scrum of reporters outside the gates of Yangon’s regional High Court.

Neither of the men attended Friday’s ruling. They have both been unable to see their children for the past month. Wa Lone’s detention forced him to miss the birth of his baby daughter in August last year, while Kyaw Soe Oo has only been able to see his three-year-old daughter at court hearings and prison visits.

A message to journalists

The two journalists were sentenced in September under the country’s Official Secrets Act after being accused of holding classified documents.

Their nine-month trial was roundly condemned as a sham aimed at stifling independent reporting on the military’s large-scale killings of Rohingya.

“Journalists have got the message that they should avoid these kinds of issues,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, told Al Jazeera.

The military is adamant its actions in late 2017 were legitimate counterinsurgency operations, but the UN has called for senior officials to be prosecuted for genocide.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he would talk to the reporters about whether or not to take an appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court. “We are very disappointed about today’s judgement,” he said.

In their September appeal, the defence pointed to testimony by a police captain who said his colleagues entrapped the reporters in a sting by handing them documents and then promptly arresting them.

But Judge Aung Naing hewed closely to the original ruling today before observers in a high-ceilinged courtroom dotted with cobwebs, and described the pair’s prison terms as a “suitable punishment”.

Besides a Supreme Court ruling, the reporter’s best hope of being released soon is a pardon from President Win Myint, who would take orders from the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on previous cases of journalists being jailed in the country, said Myint Kyaw, there is a chance the pair will receive a pardon, “but it will take time”.

‘A day in prison is an injustice’

Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We are confident that the President of Myanmar will promptly address this injustice and ensure, together with the government, that the press can fulfil its function as an essential pillar of democracy.”

Many are losing hope that former icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi will intervene on the pair’s behalf.

Bill Richardson, a senior US diplomat and former confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, alleged last year that she referred to the two journalists as “traitors” during a heated exchange.

Richardson resigned from his position on an international advisory body on Rakhine soon after the confrontation.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting from Rakhine’s Inn Din village last year revealed how soldiers and villagers hacked and shot 10 Rohingya men and boys to death before burying them in a mass grave.

They were among almost 7,000 Rohingya who died within the first month of the military’s crackdown, which began in late August 2017, according to estimates from Doctors Without Borders.

The reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks following their arrests. Wa Lone later testified that he was hooded and deprived of sleep during days of interrogation.

“One day in prison was already an injustice,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response. “This appalling farce must end now.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/myanmar-wives-reuters-journalists-voice-despair-verdict-190111102521706.html

India’s lower house passes citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

Legislators approve bill that will grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants amid protests in northeastern Assam.

indian photoProtesters set fire to effigies of the prime minister and vandalised two BJP offices [Biju Boro/ AFP]

India’s lower house of parliament has approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests that brought the country’s populous northeast to a near standstill.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house, seeks to grant rights to Hindus, Jains, Parsis and several other non-Muslim religious groups who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“They have no place to go except India,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament on Tuesday. “The beneficiaries of the bill can reside in any state of the country.”

Critics have called the proposal, contained in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The bill sparked a second day of protests in the northeastern state of Assam, where nearly 4 million people, accused of being foreigners, were effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

Protesters there are angry not because the bill excludes Muslims, but because it would grant citizenship to undocumented Hindus who failed to prove their citizenship and hence were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last July.

The final NRC list is due to be published on June 30.

suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group, said the citizenship bill was “absolutely unconstitutional as it targets specific groups”.

The bill is unlikely to pass the upper house of parliament, he told Al Jazeera, because the chamber is not controlled by the ruling party.

“This is going to backfire on the BJP,” he said, pointing to the anger in Assam.

Protests in Assam

In Tuesday’s protest, demonstrators set up blockades with burning tyres and vandalised two BJP offices, disrupting traffic and business from early in the morning to late afternoon.

They also burned effigies of the prime minister.

Mukesh Agarwal, Assam police spokesperson, said more than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Samujjal Bhattacharya, leader of the All Assam Students Union, said that providing residency and citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, with which Assam state shares a long border, would threaten indigenous communities.

“Already, we have a whole lot of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh who entered Assam illegally over the years. Now, the government is trying to make a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh. We want all illegal migrants to be detected and deported, irrespective of their religion,” Bhattacharya said.

The issue of immigration from Bangladesh has spurred periodic public uprisings in Assam since the Indian government granted rights to Bangladeshis who entered the country before 1971 – the year Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan.

BJP’s alliance partner in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad or Assam People’s Party, quit the coalition government on Tuesday in protest against the new bill.

“We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh,” AGP president Atul Bora said.

“We, therefore, cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government.”
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/india-house-passes-citizenship-bill-excludes-muslims-190108145755215.html

The Adolescent Girl Holds the Key to Kenya’s Economic Transformation and Prosperity

Kenya photo
Dr Natalia Kanem, Chief of UNFPA, “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”. Credit: UNFPA Tanzania

By Siddharth Chatterjee

NAIROBI, Kenya, Teenage pregnancy in Kenya is a crisis of hope, education and opportunity.

The New Year has begun. Can 2019 be a year of affirmative action to ensure hope and opportunity for Kenya’s adolescent girl?

Consider this. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that when a young adolescent girl is not married during her childhood, is not forced to leave school nor exposed to pregnancies, when she is not high risk of illness and death nor suffering maternal morbidities, when she is not exposed to informal work, insecurity and displacement; and is not drawn into an insecure old age-she becomes an asset for a country’s potential to seize the demographic dividend.

So what is the demographic dividend?

It means when a household has fewer children that they need to take care of, and a larger number of people have decent jobs, the household can save and invest more money. Better nutrition, education and opportunities and more disposable income at the household level. When this happens on a large scale, economies can benefit from a boost of economic growth.

One of the goals of development policies is to create an environment for rapid economic growth. The economic successes of the “Asian Tigers” during the 1960s and 1970s have led to a comprehensive way of thinking about how different sectors can work together to make this growth a reality. This helps explain the experience of some countries in Asia, and later successes in Latin America, and optimism for improving the economic well-being of countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent by investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

With over 70% of Kenya’s population less than 30 years of age, the country’s favorable demographic ratios could unlock a potential source of demand and growth, Kenya is currently in a “sweet spot”. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that its working age population will grow to 73 per cent by 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment.

The key to harnessing the demographic dividend is enabling young people and adolescent girls in particular, to enjoy their human rights and achieve their full human potential. Every girl must be empowered, educated and given opportunities for employment, and above all is able to plan her future family, this is the very essence of reaping a demographic dividend.

Each extra year a girl stays in high school, for example, delivers an 11.6 per cent increase in her average annual wage for the rest of her life.

The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem has said: “We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls”.

So what can be done?

First, end all practices that harm girls. This means, for example, enforcing laws that end female genital mutilations and child marriage.

Second, enable girls to stay in school, at least through high school. Studies have shown the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to become pregnant as an adolescent and the more likely to grow up healthy and join the paid labour force.

Third, reach the marginalized and impoverished girls who have traditionally been left behind.

Forth, make sure girls, before they reach puberty, have access to information about their bodies. Later in adolescence, they need information and services to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Finally, take steps to protect girls’ – and everyone’s – rights.

As we countdown to 2019, let us prioritize the development of every girl’s full human potential. Our collective future depends on it. We must do everything in our power to ignite that potential-for her sake and for the sake of human development and humanity.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/adolescent-girl-holds-key-kenyas-economic-transformation-prosperity/

‘Give them freedom’ – PNG bishops denounce six-year refugee detention

freedom photoPapua New Guinea flag flies ahead of the Nov. 17-18 APEC
summit. Credit: James D. Morgan / Getty Images News.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops
of Papua New Guinea have issued a renewed plea on behalf of
the nearly 500 refugees and asylum seekers being held in
indefinite detention in deteriorating conditions.

“These people have been away from their families for the sixth
Christmas… it was just another night of detention on Manus
Island,” said Fr. Ambrose Pereira, communication secretary for
the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the
Solomon Islands.

Facing conditions of trauma, overcrowding, and lack of food,
he said, “most of them survive thanks to medicines, mostly
anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotics,” and many face
serious side effects from taking the medications long-term
without a prescription.

In a statement to Fides News Agency on Thursday, Pereira
called the refugees’ situation “abuse and neglect,” and said
it causes the Papua New Guinea bishops “great suffering.”

“This is not the way to treat human beings,” he said.

Australia has had a system of “third country processing” since
2012 for asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat without
a valid visa. The system transfers the asylum seekers to other
countries, where they are processed based on that country’s
laws.

Many of those seeking asylum in Australia come from
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Iran, traveling by boat from
Indonesia. They are typically intercepted by the Australian
navy before reaching land, and are then sent to detention
camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a small Micronesian
nation.

The government of Australia made an agreement with the
government of Papua New Guinea in 2013, providing that
migrants sent to Papua New Guinea from Australia would be
settled there if they are found to be refugees. Otherwise they
would be sent back to their country of origin or another
country where they have legal residence.

Ahead of the Nov. 17-18 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit in Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinea government sent
dozens of men who had been receiving specialized medical
attention back to Manus Island, citing security needs. These
men joined hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers being
held on the island.

In November, a report from Amnesty International and the
Refugee Council of Australia documented serious declines in
mental and physical health among the refugees in detention on
Manus Island.

Three men had committed suicide, and many others had attempted
suicide, the report said.

It decried the “brutal and illegal policy of offshore
detention.” It pointed to a decrease in mental health
resources and professionals available to the refugees and
asylum seekers, as well as incidents of assault and robbery
against them.

“The obvious answer to almost all health problems is to give
them freedom and to reduce the damage caused by stress,
trauma, overcrowding and malnutrition during their detention,
as highlighted by numerous reports,” said Fr. Pereira in his
statement.

“Refugees are waiting for the day they are released, and we
hope that 2019 will bring good news for them.”

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/give-them-freedom—
png-bishops-denounce-six-year-refugee-detention-30434

Congo’s bishops call for release of election results

election congo photoKinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: StreetVJ / Shutterstock

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, (CNA).- The bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for the release of the result of the country’s presidential election. The Church sent thousands of election monitors to assist at polling stations across the central African country during the vote, which was the subject of numerous delays, with many reporting irregularities.

The vote to determine a successor for President Joseph Kabila was rescheduled for December 30 after numerous delays. The election was originally slated for November 2016. The result is expected to produce the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC since independence in 1960.

The results are expected to be released on Sunday, but Corneille Nangaa, head of the country’s national electoral commission, has said the final announcement could be delayed. Nangaa said that officials were still waiting for final vote counts from 80% of local polling stations.

Some communities in the North Kivu and Mai-Ndombe regions will not be able to vote until March, after the vote there was delayed over security concerns and Ebola outbreaks.

Nevertheless, while calling for the winner to be announced, the Congolese bishops said that the winner was clear according to results seen by them. The bishops’ conference did not say who they believed had won the election.

The DRC bishops’ conference was among several organizations to send election observers to polling stations across the country, commissioning more than 40,000 observers to report on the election process.

In an earlier statement on Dec. 31, the conference highlighted concerns about voters being turned away from the polls and monitors being removed by police from voting stations in different parts of the country.

While not officially backing any one candidate in the election, the bishops were vocal in their opposition to Kabila’s remaining in power past his constitutionally imposed term limit.

Kabila was set to leave office in December 2016, following the election of his successor, but the vote was successively postponed by government authorities, resulting in widespread civil unrest.

Since that time, Kabila has remained in office.

The bishops of the country played a key role in mediating an agreement between the Congo’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders, culminating in a Dec. 31, 2016, agreement that allowed Kabila to remain in office beyond his mandate but said he must step down after an election in 2018.

Nearly two dozen candidates entered the race to replace Kabila, who has been in power for 17 years. He acceded to the presidency at the age of 29, following the assassination of the previous president, his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He was reelected in 2006 and 2011.

The front runners in the election have been former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Felix Tshisekedi, son of a prominent opposition party leader.

Shadary, a self-described “fervent Christian” and practicing Catholic, previously stated that he had “placed his campaign in God’s hands.” Shadary is also the preferred candidate and would-be successor of President Kabila.

President Kabila’s administration has come under sustained criticism both before and during the election campaign. Last year, 15 people were killed while attending peaceful, Church-organized rallies against the government.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/congos-bishops-call-for-release-of-election-results-23987

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

 

LPD Officer Sarah Williams Encourages Action, Empathy To Prevent Human Trafficking

Trafficking photo

Sarah Williams said she was shocked when she learned from author and journalist Benjamin Skinner that slavery is a modern day occurence. Inspired, Williams dug deeper into the subject to see how she could make a difference.

It was after further research that she learned that human trafficking is an epidemic she can prevent. Both realizations began Williams’ career in preventing human trafficking.

Williams works as a patrol officer on the Lincoln Police Department’s southwest team, and focuses on prostitution and human trafficking. She shared her police experiences preventing human trafficking at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Andersen Hall on Nov. 20 in an event hosted by the Nebraska University Students Against Modern Slavery.

She discussed factors that contribute to human trafficking, like family dysfunction and mental illness. She also shared stories of human trafficking that ranged from children forced into human trafficking to an attorney accused of soliciting prostitutes.

Williams said those factors and stories fit into a larger picture of human trafficking in Nebraska.According to the Omaha Women’s Fund, 900 people are sold in Nebraska each month — 200 of which are from Lincoln.

Williams discussed human trafficking victims’ reluctance to speak with the police, especially when the victims are not from the United States. She said their unwillingness presents a significant hurdle against prevention.

https://www.sistersagainsttrafficking.org/in-the-news/