Holy See issues statement on conviction, appeal of Cardinal Pell

CNA photoCardinal George Pell outside Rome’s Hotel Quirinale, March 3, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA
Vatican City, (CNA). The Vatican press office has issued a statement on the recently announced conviction of Cardinal George Pell on charges of the sexual abuse of minors.

The decision of the County Court of Victoria was reached on December 11, 2018, but not widely reported until this week, following the imposition of a sweeping gag order by the court in June of last year. Pell was convicted on five counts of child sexual abuse against two former choristers in Melbourne Cathedral in 1996.

The statement from the Holy See press office, issued Feb. 26, acknowledges the “painful” news which has “shocked many people.”

“As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities,” the statement said.

“Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.”

The statement confirms that Pell has been barred from public ministry and from contact with minors during the course of the legal process, and will remain so during his appeal.

“In order to ensure the course of justice, the Holy Father has confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia. That is, while awaiting the definitive assessment of the facts, as is the norm, Cardinal George Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

The lifting of the court imposed gag order followed the decision by local prosecutors to drop further charges related to Pell’s time as a priest in the 1970s. With the proposed second trial cancelled, Chief Judge Peter Kidd lifted the reporting restrictions.

Pell is expected to be sentenced on Wednesday and is appealing the conviction.

The Vatican statement followed a similar release by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Melbourne, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference.

“The bishops [of Australia] agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged. Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served,” Coleridge wrote.

“In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/holy-see-issues-statement-on-conviction-appeal-of-cardinal-pell-46914

Abuse, ‘survival sex’ a stark reality for child migrants: Report

Abuse photoChildren traveling with a caravan of migrants from Central America stand on the beach and near the border fence between Mexico and the US, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the US in Tijuana, Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

by Faras Ghani

Unaccompanied child migrants face dangerous journeys during transit, including abuse and detention, rights organisations have warned, highlighting significant failings in safeguarding unaccompanied minors.

A recent report by UNHCR revealed that nearly 140,000 people arrived in Greece, Italy and Spain in search of safety in 2018. Almost 11,000 of the new arrivals were unaccompanied children.

Additionally, according to the Red Cross, more than 300,000 unaccompanied child migrants are currently at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence during transit.

The perilous journey undertaken by these young migrants without an accompanying adult makes them vulnerable to being assaulted, sexually abused, raped, trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced into “survival sex”, according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report Alone and Unsafe, which shows that the number of unaccompanied child migrants has grown five-fold in five years.

Europe accounted for more than half of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2017, with more than 158,000 reaching the continent in the first three quarters of the year.

Currently, almost 30 percent of all asylum seekers across that continent are children, half of whom are from just three countries: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

A joint UNICEF-IOM report also revealed that children from sub-Saharan Africa are targeted more than any other group, highlighting discrimination and racism along transit routes.

The reason for their departure ranges from abuse at home and peer pressure to violence, says IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who called on UN member countries to address the root causes.

“In Cox’s Bazar, for example, we saw many children with their neighbours because their parents were killed,” Rocca told Al Jazeera.

“In Niger, we see young girls from Nigeria who sold themselves for sex for as low as $3. In Central America, there’s violence that drives them out. It creates a very, very difficult environment for them to live in.”

More support needed
More than 40 percent of all child asylum seekers are girls. A poll by UNICEF late last year revealed that almost half of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants aged 14 to 24 were forced to leave their countries, 44 percent of them left alone.

Some 38 percent said they did not receive any help from anyone, including family, friends or relatives, while almost half the respondents reported that they had been unable to see a doctor when needed.

“While politicians are squabbling over migration, 4,000 uprooted children and young people are telling us they need more support,” said Laurence Chandy, Director of Data, Research and Policy for UNICEF.

“Uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them. Migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be.”

The risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, do not abate once these child migrants arrive in a country of destination, according to the IFRC.

A study, based on interviews with unaccompanied children from Horn of Africa countries who migrated to the United Kingdom, revealed that 72 percent of the respondents experienced more than one incident of sexual violence upon arrival – most of these incidents happened in the first 12 months after their arrival in the UK.

This shows that their safety is not guaranteed, even after reaching the desired destination country, added Rocca.

“If there isn’t enough protection in the country of destination, there is a very high risk of being exploited and exposed to the violence. These vulnerable people can also be forced to the labour market.”

 

 

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/abuse-survival-sex-stark-reality-child-migrants-report-190204113958830.html

Bangladesh blocks 20,000 websites in anti-porn ‘war’

Pornography photoPopular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo have also been blocked [File: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Bangladeshi authorities have blocked almost 20,000 websites as part of an anti-pornography “war”, a minister said on Tuesday.

Internet providers in the conservative Muslim-majority nation took down pornography and gambling websites in the past week under orders from the telecommunications regulator.

“I want to create a safe and secure internet for all Bangladeshis, including children. And this is my war against pornography. And this will be a continuous war,” Mustafa Jabbar, the posts and telecommunications minister, told the AFP news agency.

Popular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo – which authorities believe are misused – have also been blocked in the South Asian nation, Jabbar said.

Most of the blocked sites are foreign, but a few local websites and social media platforms have also faced action under the crackdown, he added.

The crackdown was launched after Bangladesh’s High Court in November asked the government to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic forms for six months.

The court acted after a civil society organisation filed a petition stating that a large number of adult websites contain uncensored and obscene content.

Regular monitoring
On Sunday, police reprimanded a rising actress and told her to remove provocative images from her Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages.

“We are monitoring the local Facebook profiles, YouTube channels and websites, also,” Jabbar said.

“A few of them were taken down for having obscene content. We advised a few others not to post anything that goes against our social norms.”

Bangladesh, a country of 165 million people, has more than 90 million internet users. Porn stars regularly top the list of the most searched names.

Emdadul Hoque, general secretary of the internet service providers association, said they have complied with the order, but many users can still access online porn by using virtual private networks or mirror websites.

“This is a continuous process and it needs regular monitoring. These websites are very well aware of the regulations and they come up with thousands of mirror sites every week,” Hoque told AFP.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/bangladesh-blocks-20000-websites-anti-porn-war-190219155030486.html

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking

 

 

Russian parliament approves bill to isolate country’s internet

Russian photoThe bill passed its first reading by 334 votes to 47 in the Russian parliament [File: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]

Russian legislators have given tentative approval to a draft legislation that could cut off Russia from the global internet.

The bill, co-authored by Andrei Lugovoi – one of the main suspects in the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in the UK – passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday by 334 votes to 47.

A heated debate preceded the vote with many legislators from minority parties criticising it as too costly and argued that it was not written by experts.

Authors of the initiative say Russia must ensure the security of its networks after US President Donald Trump unveiled Washington’s new cybersecurity strategy last year, which threatened to respond to any cyber attack both offensively and defensively.

Russia’s new bill proposes creating a centre to “ensure and control the routing of internet traffic” and requires that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) install “technical measures to withstand threats”.

It also mandates regular “drills” to test whether Russia’s internet can function in an isolated mode.

Taking questions on the floor, the authors were unable to estimate the long-term costs, what threats it would repel or even how it would work. They, however, said expert opinions could be incorporated into the bill for its second hearing.

One of the authors dismissed all criticism, citing the scale of the potential threat from Washington.

“This isn’t kindergarten!” shouted Lugovoi. “All of the websites in Syria” have been turned off by the US before, he claimed.

Internet freedoms
Critics say the bill shows the authorities’ continued efforts to limit internet freedoms despite the huge public and private cost.

“This is very serious,” said Andrei Soldatov, who co-authored a book on the history of internet surveillance in Russia. “This is a path towards isolating Russia as a whole… from the internet.”

Russian internet providers have reportedly been tasked by April 1 to come up with a way that the country could reliably shield itself from cyberattacks.

The concept appears similar to China’s Great Firewall, which regulates internet operations in view of reinforcing national sovereignty.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/russian-parliament-approves-bill-isolate-country-internet-190212134228143.html

With Nigerian elections postponed, Catholic leaders stress peace

Catholic leaders photoCredit: Labrador Photo Video/Shutterstock

Lagos, Nigeria,(CNA/EWTN News) Catholic leaders have voiced disappointment at a last-minute delay in Nigerian elections, but called for Christians to remain peaceful and participate in the postponed vote next weekend.

Just before polls were set to open Feb. 16, election officials announced that the presidential and national assembly elections were being postponed until Feb. 23.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), said the decision was due to a delay in the delivery of ballots, and not a political move.

“Our decision was entirely taken by the commission. It has nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with availability of resources,” said Yakubu, according to Africa News.

Catholic Action Nigeria said the delay places a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote. The group asked Yakubu to consider resignation if the delay continues.

“INEC had four whole years to plan for this election. No matter the excuses being bandied now, the postponement makes us doubt the readiness, sincerity and capacity of INEC to give Nigerians a free and fair and credible election they truly deserve, even in the coming week,” the statement read, according to NAIJ.

At the same time, Catholic Action encouraged Nigerians to vote in the rescheduled election. The group said residents cannot quit working for a better nation.

Electors should “vote in a government that will put Nigeria and Nigerians first and uphold the values and dignity of human life as espoused through the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” the group said in its statement.

Catholics in the country also offered prayers for the future of their nation.

Father Ben Alozie challenged parishioners at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lagos to entrust the upcoming election to God’s providence.
“As a church, we are first Nigerians before being members of our congregation; therefore, we need to take that which is of concern to our country to God in the same way we take our individual needs to God for a solution,” he said Feb. 17, according to NAIJ.

“Saturday’s elections will determine to a large extent the fate of our dear country in the next four years; so, no amount of supplication is enough to God in order for us to have a peaceful country after the polls.”

Africa Independent Television reported that Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka asked Nigerians to take the rescheduling in good faith and not give up on INEC.

He disagreed with the call for Yakubu’s resignation, saying this would only lead to confusion at a time when the nation needs unity and a focus on a successful election.

The election in Nigeria comes as crashing oil prices leave the country facing economic uncertainty. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Over the weekend, 11 people were killed in an attack by the group south of Maiduguri, the BBC reported.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/with-nigerian-elections-postponed-catholic-leaders-stress-peace-54372

Venezuela moves to replace US executives on Citgo board

Citgo photoCitgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA [File: Reuters]

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is taking steps to remove at least two American executives from the board of directors of its United States’ refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, according to people close to the matter.

Citgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US government last week imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA designed to prevent oil revenue from going to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The US and dozens of other nations have refused to recognise Maduro, viewing his re-election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Venezuelan’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido is setting up bank accounts with US help that would take income accrued by Citgo, Venezuela’s top foreign asset, to finance an interim government.

Maduro has denounced Guaido as a US puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

The board of Houston-based Citgo includes at least two US citizens, Art Klein and Rick Esser, as well as Venezuelans Asdrubal Chavez, Frank Gygax, Nepmar Escalona, Simon Suarez and Alejandro Escarra, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Citgo also has an executive board that includes the refiner’s general managers, its corporate treasurer and the controller, and other vice presidents.

PDVSA and Citgo did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Esser and Klein did not immediately reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment on their status, the news agency said.

It was unclear if PDVSA’s board has already approved the changes at Citgo’s board and who would replace the American executives.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/venezuela-moves-replace-executives-citgo-board-190209175503677.html