Category Archives: Asia

Air pollution kills thousands in megacities despite COVID lockdowns

FILE PHOTO: A rickshaw puller waits for customers on a smoggy morning in the old quarters of Delhi, India, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

KUALA LUMPUR, – Air pollution caused tens of thousands of deaths in the world’s five most populous cities last year despite coronavirus lockdowns, researchers said on Thursday, urging governments to ditch fossil fuels and invest in a green recovery.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace Southeast Asia and air quality technology company IQAir measured pollution levels across 28 cities – chosen according to where data was available and with a geographical spread.

In the five most-populated cities – Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo – air pollution caused about 160,000 deaths and economic losses totalling about $85 billion.

“A few months of lockdown hasn’t really dented that long-term average of air pollution that people have been exposed to,” said Aidan Farrow, an air pollution scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Britain’s University of Exeter.

“It is a little shocking to see how much upheaval there has been – and we still have work to do to improve air pollution,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Air pollution is the single largest environmental risk to human health globally, and kills an estimated 7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO says nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, which is linked to strokes, lung cancer and heart disease – and now equals the effects of smoking tobacco, health experts say.

The problem affects more cities in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Major causes include vehicle emissions, coal power plants, construction, festival fireworks, forest clearing, and burning of crops, firewood and waste.

Delhi had the highest death toll among the five biggest cities, with some 54,000 deaths – or one per 500 people – due to high levels of tiny pollution particles, known as PM2.5, which can cause lung and heart diseases, the study said.

Japan’s capital Tokyo suffered the highest financial cost with approximately 40,000 deaths and economic losses of $43 billion, it added.

Lockdowns to stem the spread of the new coronavirus in major cities have forced millions to work from home, while slowing economies have slashed carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have seen changes in road traffic, aviation as well … but the major (air pollution) sources have continued to operate largely as before,” Farrow said,

“The problem is vast and needs a big, multi-industry effort to address it,” he added, calling for more investment in cleaner technologies, renewable energy and electrified public transport.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210218005828-guujp/

Report: Catholic nuns join protests against Burma’s military coup

Credit: Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition Myanmar Facebook page
Credit: Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition Myanmar Facebook page

Washington D.C., – Catholic nuns in Burma have joined widespread protests against the recent military coup, Asian Catholic websites have reported. 

According to UCA News, Catholic nuns from a variety of communities in Burma have marched the streets, praying for the protestors and offering them food. Amid protests in the city of Myitkyina, the capital of the state of Kachin, nuns hung signs saying “No to dictatorship” and “Listen to the voices of people” outside of their convent. 

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a country in Southeast Asia with a population of 54 million people. Both the democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and president Win Myint were detained by members of the military in the early hours of Feb. 1, after the military disputed the results of the 2020 election. The army general Min Aung Hlaing now leads the country.

Protests in Burma have been ongoing since the coup. Catholic priests and nuns have joined the protests in the majority-Buddhist country, where Christians make up only around 6% of the population. 

On February 11, Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition Myanmar went to pray and protest outside of the Chinese embassy in Mandalay. Pictures posted to the order’s Facebook page showed sisters displaying the “three-finger salute” and praying outside of the Chinese embassy in Yangon. 

The hand gesture displayed by the nuns is a symbol of resistance and has been used by various pro-democracy movements. 

Besides the visible presence of nuns and priests on the streets of Burma, other Catholic figures have issued statements of support for the protests and against the military rule. 

In a Feb. 3 statement, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon asked the military to release “the voice of our people” Aung San Suu Kyi, and called the coup “shocking.”

Cardinal Bo is a longtime supporter of democratic rule in Burma. In his statement, he urged the country’s military to avoid the use of violence against civilians. 

“Sadly, the elected representatives of our people belonging to NLD are under arrest. So are many writers, activists and youth,” he said. The NLD is Burma’s political party National League for Democracy, which outperformed the military-backed party in November’s elections.

“I urge you, respect their rights and release them at the earliest,” Cardinal Bo urged the military. “They are not prisoners of war; they are prisoners of a democratic process. You promise democracy; start with releasing them.”

The Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN Human Rights Council, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, said on Friday that the Vatican was praying for the people of Burma.

He asked those in power to serve “the common good of fundamental human and civil rights, of promoting social justice and national stability, for a harmonious, democratic and peaceful coexistence.”

In his Nov., 2017 visit to Burma, Pope Francis stressed the importance of the country’s religions in bringing about reconciliation and unity. He praised the work of those building “a just, reconciled and inclusive social order” in Burma, in a speech to Aung San Suu Kyi, civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/report-catholic-nuns-join-protests-against-burmas-military-coup-18622

Catholic groups aid recovery after Beirut explosion

Damage in downtown Beirut following an explosion at the city’s port, Aug. 6, 2020. Credit: Erich Karnberger/Shutterstock.

Following an explosion that killed more than 150 people in Beirut, international Catholic groups have responded by providing health services and necessities to the victims.

At least sixteen Catholic organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International, have responded to the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port.

As victims in Beirut face an urgent need for shelter, medication, hygiene kits, and mental health services, these organizations have dispatched medical teams and relief groups to assist with basic necessities. 

The explosion killed at least 154 people, and injured about 5,000 others. Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated that the explosion has caused as much as $10-15 billion in damages and as many as 300,000 people to be temporarily displaced from their homes, according to the BBC.

The fire started near the port’s large grain silos. It soon spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive.

Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

Despite damages to their own facilities, CRS has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.

“Our partners started working right away to make sure people were getting help, even though their own buildings were damaged in the explosion,” said CRS spokesperson Megan Gilbert.

“At CRS we’re privileged to contribute to the overwhelmingly generous volunteer response of the Lebanese people, despite all that they have been through over the past year,” she said Aug. 6.

Gilbert added, “many people in Lebanon were struggling to get by even before this explosion. Now because of the destruction, people are staying in severely damaged homes, or even out in the streets. They are going to need long-term support to get through this.”

Lebanese president Michel Aoun promised a transparent investigation into the explosion.

“We are determined to go ahead with an investigation and unveil the circumstances surrounding what happened as soon as possible and hold those responsible and those who were negligent accountable and serve them the most severe punishment,” he said Aug. 5.

However, many Lebanese have blamed the government for corruption and negligence. They see the investigation as an attempt by political officials to avoid blame.

The ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port since 2014.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-groups-aid-recovery-after-beirut-explosion-77785

IS UNDERGROUND FARMING THE FUTURE OF FOOD?

A subterranean farm deep inside a South Korean subway station may unlock the secret to food sustainability.

More than seven million passengers ride Seoul’s metro system every day. But since September 2019, those who descend underground at the city’s Sangdo Station and push through the ticket gate are met with an unusual site: behind a glass-panelled facade, leafy shoots, sprouts and microgreens have sprung up from under bright LED lights as part of a subterranean, organic farm.

The concept, known as Metro Farm, uses hydroponic growing trays and an automated tech network to control the underground ecosystem’s temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. The result is a highly productive “vertical” farm that produces some 30kg of vegetables per day at a rate that is 40 times more efficient than traditional farming. In the adjacent cafe, as many as 1,000 customers a day now purchase salads, smoothies and edible flowers grown next door in a full seed-to-table operation.

According to Farm8, the tech startup behind the underground venture, Sangdo Station is just the first of many sustainable urban farming ventures that the company hopes to introduce across South Korea. The company believes that by developing these high-tech ventures in high-density areas, consumers will spend less on food transportation costs, C02 emissions associated with food delivery will drop and people will have a sustainable, year-round alternative to crops increasingly affected by pollution and climate change.

Farm8 is hoping to expand its flagship farm to three more Seoul metro stations later this year. If successful, the innovative venture may not only offer a more sustainable solution to urban farming, but also has the potential to be rolled out in environments where traditional farming isn’t feasible, such as deserts and Arctic climates.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20200723-is-underground-farming-the-future-of-food?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2F

The South Asian women trafficked to Kenya’s Bollywood-style bars

DanceLatest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Nepali beautician Sheela* did not think twice about ditching her salon job when she received a call offering seven times her salary to work as a cultural dancer at a nightclub in Kenya.

It did not matter that the 23-year-old woman from a village in the Himalayan foothills had never heard of the East African nation.

Or that she had no experience as a dancer, had never met the owner of the club and was not shown an employment contract.

With elderly parents to care for and medical bills to clear after her brother suffered a motorcycle accident, the offer of a monthly salary of $600, with food, housing and transport costs all covered, was a no-brainer for Sheela.

“[But] it was not what I expected,” said Sheela, who was rescued with 11 other Nepali women from a nightclub in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa in April where she danced on stage from 9pm to 4am getting tips from male clients.

“I was told that being escorted everywhere by the driver, not leaving the flat except for work, and not having my passport or phone, was for my safety,” added Sheela, who did not want to give her real name, at a safe house in Mombasa’s Shanzu suburb.

An increasing number of women and girls are leaving South Asian nations such as Nepal, India and Pakistan to work in Bollywood-style dance bars in Kenya’s adult entertainment industry – many illegally – according to anti-trafficking activists and police.

There is no official data on the numbers but the results of police raids, combined with figures on the repatriation of rescued women, suggest scores of women and underage girls are victims of organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya.

Latest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania in 2016-2017.

Spotlight on rising trend

The owner of the Mombasa club, Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha, was charged with three counts of human trafficking, accused of harbouring victims for the purpose of deception, using premises to promote trafficking and confiscation of passports.

The Canadian-British national denied the charges in court, pleading not guilty, saying the women were in Kenya of their own consent and legally employed as cultural dancers at a business with no erotic dancing or sexual exploitation.

He is currently on bail awaiting the next court hearing.

The so-called mujra dance bars are common in India. Here, young women dance to Bollywood music for money from male patrons. These bars have mushroomed in cities including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, where there are countless Kenyans of South Asian descent.

Police and anti-trafficking groups have repeatedly voiced concerns that some of these private clubs are used as a front to ensnare women and girls, some in sex slavery, with women forced to pay off loans by erotic dancing or having sex with clients.

Sheela and the other women rescued from the Mombasa club told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they were not forced to have sex with customers.

In Kenya, many local women and girls are promised good jobs only to be enslaved in domestic servitude or forced into prostitution – often in the sex tourism industry.

Kenya is home to about 328,000 modern-day slaves – about one in 143 of its population – according to the Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based rights group.

Police raids

In recent years, police raids on mujra bars uncovered organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya, a trend highlighted by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

“The raids have helped us understand the modus operandi of traffickers in Kenya who have agents overseas to recruit women for them,” an official from Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said on condition of anonymity.

“They are offered jobs as cultural dancers and given around one month’s salary in advance. But when they arrive, their movements are restricted and they have to do erotic and sexually explicit dancing – and often have to have sex with clients.”

Such victims enter Kenya either on a three-month tourist visa on arrival for South Asians or on a special temporary work permit for cultural performers, according to the DCI official.

Sheela and the other 11 women rescued in Mombasa said they came to Kenya separately over the past nine months on flights through India and Ethiopia arranged by the club owner.

In court testimonies, the women, aged 16 to 34, said they were told to carry hand luggage only and tell immigration officials they were visiting friends or family in Kenya.

The women worked every night, were given stage names, and were expected to earn about $4,000 each a month in tips.

“We didn’t get the tips as they were for the boss,” said Meena*, 20, who did not want to give her real name.

“But the top performing girls would get bonuses of 20,000 shillings [$200], 30,000 [$300], and 50,000 [$500] if they met their targets.”

The women told the court their passports were taken and they did not know the location of the club or their accommodation. They were repatriated to Nepal in July.

“This whole thing has been terrible,” said Sonia*, 24, who did not want to give her real name, the day before she left. “I should never have come – it was a mistake. All I want to do is go home. I never come to Kenya again.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/south-asian-women-trafficked-kenya-bollywood-style-bars-190808085054217.html

 

Scores killed, millions displaced as monsoon batters South Asia

DE3D858D-E046-4624-AECA-3A889492CC7ERescuers look for survivors after a building collapsed in monsoon rains near the town of Solan in India [The Associated Press]

More than 100 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes across Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as rain-triggered floods and landslides left a trail of destruction in parts of South Asia.

The death toll was the highest in Nepal, where torrential rains unleashed mudslides and caused rivers to overflow, killing at least 67 people, officials said on Monday.

The annual deluge, which hit the country on Thursday, has so far displaced at least 10,000 people there.

The downpours have eased but authorities still fear the death toll could rise, according to police spokesman Bishwaraj Pokharel, who gave the latest number of dead and missing from floods and landslides.

“There are the challenges of resettlement of the displaced as many houses … have been swept away. We are also cautious about the risk of epidemics due to polluted water,” Pokharel told AFP news agency.

Building collapse in India

The June to September monsoon causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.

In the latest monsoon-related tragedy in India, a four-storey building on a hillside in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh collapsed due to heavy downpours, trapping those who had gathered for a party inside.

At least 14 people were killed, including 13 soldiers, according to a statement from the chief minister’s office.

Rescue workers used heavy machinery to remove heaps of mangled steel and wires from the muddied debris, pulling 28 survivors from the rubble.

Floods have also devastated much of the northeastern state of Assam, where at least 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes. Four people died on Sunday after being swept away by sudden torrents.

The state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO-recognised reserve and home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, has also been seriously affected by the weather.

In the eastern state of Bihar, five rivers were flowing over the danger levels with more rain forecast for the next few days. Pratata Amrit, an Indian government official, said about 200,000 people have left their flooded village homes in Bihar, with 50,000 of them taking shelter in 152 state-run relief camps.

In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said at least 18 people were killed after heavy rain triggered flash floods and damaged more than 50 houses.

‘Miserable’

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 160 million people with more than 130 rivers, is prone to monsoon floods because of overflowing rivers and the heavy onrush of water from upstream India.

At least 29 people have died in the last week, including two Rohingya refugees, 18 people who were hit by lightning in different parts of the country and seven who drowned after their boat capsized in choppy waters in the Bay of Bengal.

Another 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Bangladesh’s southern Chittagong district after the flooding of some 200 villages.

In the overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district – home to nearly one million Rohingya who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar – nearly 5,000 tarpaulin and bamboo homes were destroyed after heavy rains triggered mudslides on the hill slopes, according to a spokeswoman for the International Organisation for Migration.

Nearly 6,000 Rohingya have been left without shelter because of heavy rains.

Displaced refugees said they were suffering as rain disrupted logistics and daily activity in the camps.

“It’s tough to go to food distribution centres by wading through a swamp of mud,” Nurun Jan, a Rohingya refugee, told AFP news agency. “Rains and gusty wind have made our life miserable.”

Refugees also described a shortage of drinking water and a looming health crisis due to flooded toilets, which foster disease outbreaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/scores-killed-millions-displaced-monsoon-batters-south-asia-190715112857902.html

Frightened and displaced, Papua children haunted by conflict

TeenageChildren sit on benches at a temporary school built for those feeling unrest in Nduga [Febriana Firdaus/Al Jazeera]

Wamena, Indonesia – Under the pine trees, a nine-year-old girl is sitting on a blue tarpaulin, rubbing her feet.

For the past six months, she’s been living in a church-run shelter after escaping the chaos that enveloped her village in Nduga, a remote highland region in the western part of the island of Papua.

“I was just sitting in my house and a ‘bomb’ dropped from the sky,” she said, recalling the bang of what could have been a grenade. “I fled with my family,” the young girl continued. “I saw houses were burning. We walked and slept like nomads in the jungle for three weeks.”

She is one of an estimated 35,000 civilians, many of them children, forced from their homes in the remote territory’s central highlands as the military attempted to root out Papuan independence fighters who attacked a road construction project in December last year, killing at least 17 people.

Major General Sisriadi, a spokesman for Indonesia’s armed forces, told Al Jazeera 600 troops had been sent to the area in what he described as a law enforcement operation to support the police.

“As mentioned in our constitution, we must defend our country’s land,” Sisriadi said. “We have to do anything to defend it.”

Indonesia took control of the vast and remote territory bordering Papua New Guinea in 1969 after a controversial referendum in which only 1,026 people were allowed to participate. The vote gave new momentum to the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army, which has continued the struggle for independence ever since.

The region is Indonesia’s poorest, despite its wealth of natural resources. Access to the area for foreign journalists remains restricted and even those who get permission to visit can run into trouble with the authorities.

Nduga, a mountainous area that is one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests, has been at the centre of much of the instability.

The local communities are indigenous Melanesian people, who are mostly Christian and speak their own languages rather than Bahasa Indonesia. Subsistence farmers, they live on their ancestral lands, growing crops and raising pigs, and supplementing their diet with leaves gathered from the forest and the wild boar that forage among the trees.

An investigation by the local administration into the military’s operations in Nduga in December alleged the armed forces had destroyed homes and churches in their bid to flush out the rebels.

Sisriadi accused the independence movement of using local villagers as cover, but none of the displaced people Al Jazeera met said they had been threatened by the rebels.

Theo Hesegem, a human rights activist who helped research the local administration’s report, told Al Jazeera that eyewitnesses who preferred not to be named had also told him that bombs had been dropped from helicopters on both December 4 and December 5. The military denies the allegations.

Desperate to escape the fighting, many people trekked through the forest for weeks to find safety surviving on leaves and ferns.

Innah Gwejangge, the head of Nduga Health Department whose team has been providing medical services to the displaced villagers, said many of the children were suffering from illnesses, including respiratory infections and diarrhoea brought on by their ordeal.

“They told me there was no food,” Gwejangge said. “They ate anything they could find, such as roots from trees. Some of them were naked. I saw babies wearing nothing, their parents put them inside noken [traditional woven bag] and covered them with leaves,” she added.

Hundreds of displaced people have found refuge in the 23 shelters set up by a local Protestant Church in the town of Wamena, the largest settlement in the central highlands.

In one shelter, dozens of children and adults are living in a single house with only one bathroom and kitchen. Most shelters provide a temporary home for between two and 10 families.

“They are still scared,” Dolu Bruangge, a volunteer, said of the displaced. “They don’t trust outsiders.”

Many are desperate to return home so they can get back to their land and what is left of their crops. Church volunteers have given them clothing and other basic necessities.

They have also built a school, staffed with teachers from the local authority. Inside, the students sit on wooden benches beneath a tin roof, surrounded by walls fashioned out of tarpaulin, which billows and rips when the wind picks up.

Jennes Sampouw, the head of Nduga’s educational department, said 695 students from 32 districts had now joined the emergency schools. His goal was to make sure the students could take part in the national exams that took place in April.

But the displaced children still find it difficult to get medical services because hospitals can only treat people who are registered locally.

“These children have a right to be protected by the country as mentioned in our children protection law,” Retno Listyarti of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), an independent agency, told Al Jazeera, stressing that trauma counselling was also crucial.

Fighting between the military and the separatists continues. On May 13, local media reported an officer had been killed after the rebels attacked an airfield in Nduga.

The continuing unrest means the children are unlikely to return home any time soon. But even when they do go back to their villages, the spectre of violence will continue to haunt them.

“I am afraid the soldiers will come back again,” said the nine-year-old girl.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/frightened-displaced-papua-children-haunted-conflict-190531060054648.html

Teenage girl kills herself ‘after Instagram poll’ in Malaysia

social mediaThe death in Malaysia prompted a lawyer to suggest people who voted on Instagram for her to kill herself could be prosecuted. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

A 16 year-old girl has reportedly killed herself in Malaysia, after posting a poll on her Instagram account asking followers if she should die or not, and 69% of responders voting that she should.

Police in the east Malaysia state Sarawak said the girl, who has not been named, posted the poll on the photo sharing app with the message: “Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L”. After most responders voted for “death”, she killed herself.

Her death prompted a lawyer to suggest that those who voted for her to die could be guilty of abetting suicide.

Malaysia’s youth and sports minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, said the tragedy highlighted the need for national-level discussions about mental health in the country. “I am genuinely worried about the state of our youth’s mental health,” he said. “It’s a national issue which must be taken seriously.”

In February Instagram announced that it will launch “sensitivity screens” to block images of self-harm. The move followed the death of British teenager Molly Russell, whose parents believe saw images of suicide and self-harm on the app before she took her own life in 2017, aged 14.

Ching Yee Wong, Head of Communications, Instagram APAC, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with this young woman’s family.”

“We have a deep responsibility to make sure people using Instagram feel safe and supported. As part of our own efforts, we urge everyone to use our reporting tools and to contact emergency services if they see any behaviour that puts people’s safety at risk.”

  • Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day. In the UK and Irish Republic, contact Samaritans on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/15/teenage-girl-kills-herself-after-instagram-poll-in-malaysia

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

Freed from jail, Cambodian surrogate mothers raise Chinese children

Surrogate photoSophea and her husband participate in a ceremony to rid her and her family of bad karma, in Oudong, Cambodia. December 7, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Matt Blomberg

by Matt Blomberg and and Yon Sineat | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money
OUDONG, Cambodia, Sophea was eight months pregnant when Cambodian police told her she would have to keep the baby that was never meant to be hers – and forfeit the $10,000 she was promised for acting as a surrogate for a Chinese couple.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy in 2016, and police in June raided two apartments where Sophea and 31 other surrogate mothers were being cared for in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

They were charged the following month with violating human trafficking laws, but authorities released them on bail last week, under the condition they raise the children themselves.

Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as poverty means many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money.

For some of the newly-freed women, keeping their baby is a burden as they struggle to get by. For others, it is a relief.

Despite the financial loss, 24-year-old Sophea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she was happy the authorities intervened, and that her family had welcomed her baby boy.

“If not for the crackdown and my arrest, I would have been left in deep regret,” said Sophea, who did not give her real name for fear of backlash from the authorities and members of her community.

“I would have given away my baby,” she said just two days after being released from police custody, settling back into village life at the end of a sandy track that winds through rice fields in Oudong, a 90 minute drive north of Phnom Penh.

Members of the other families said the babies are a mixed blessing. Instead of receiving $10,000, the women went home with another mouth to feed, in a country where the average annual income is $1,490, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“It is a very difficult situation. I worry that my income will not support the whole family,” said Pich, a motorcycle-taxi driver whose wife is carrying what will be their third child.

The 40-year-old, who also requested that his real name not be used, said he never supported his wife’s decision to be a surrogate and that he was ashamed she had gone through with it.

Another surrogate, a 24-year-old woman, went behind her husband’s back to take part in the scheme.

The $10,000 would have allowed the couple and their two children to move out of the shack they share with 12 members of their extended family, said the woman on condition of anonymity.

“I agreed to give birth at the provincial hospital and look after the baby, but I don’t know how we will get the money to support and raise another child,” she said.

Ros Sopheap, director of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said poverty will likely drive more women to engage in surrogacy – and that few know the practice is illegal.

“Very few people are aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s against the law,” she said.

“The reality is that these women do this because they are living in poverty. So as long as there is a demand for surrogate mothers, they will continue.”

Southeast Asia has long been a top destination for couples seeking surrogate mothers. Thailand banned the practice in 2015 after several high-profile cases, followed by Cambodia in 2016.

In 2017, an Australian nurse and two Cambodians were jailed for 18 months for operating an illegal surrogacy clinic.

In the country’s most recent surrogacy raid – just last month – 11 pregnant women and four facilitators were arrested.

Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said the 32 women were released on humanitarian grounds last week, but that the fate of the latest 11 surrogates is unclear.

Each case will be judged independently and “law enforcement will become stricter” in the future, according to the official.

It would be difficult, she added, for authorities to track down those who organised surrogacy rings, or the Chinese couples who paid for Cambodian women to bear their children.

“Even surrogate mothers did not know nor (have) contact with the one who wanted the babies,” said Chou Bun Eng.

Sophea said she preferred not to know who the biological parents were.

“I will not tell my son what happened in the past,” she said. “I won’t tell him about his actual Chinese parents.”

She said her priority upon returning home was to invite a Buddhist monk to conduct a cleansing ceremony – in order to rid the family of any bad karma incurred during the ordeal.

Her four-year-old daughter and extended family have also welcomed the baby, she said after the ceremony, which was attended by a dozen relatives and several village elders.

“The whole family loves him,” Sophea said. “My husband (a construction worker) told me: ‘Your son is my son’.”
http://news.trust.org/item/20181210101810-y6rbm/