Tag Archives: Basic Rights / Civil Liberties

An Australian coronavirus outbreak raises concerns over online child sex abuse | Instant News


KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Australian police on Tuesday warned of “bad” online predators targeting new child victims after a surge in corona virus infection that put the country’s second largest city under partial locking.

The Australian health authority said it would take weeks to tame the COVID-19 outbreak after hundreds of new cases were reported in the state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne was partially locked.

The steps encourage Australian federal police to urge parents to ensure their children are not victims of “dangerous online predators”, after cases of abuse surged during national lockdown in March.

Traffic to websites containing online child sexual abuse content skyrocketed during previous lockouts and such material posted on the dark web doubled, police said.

“We suspect that the perpetrators will use the second wave of COVID-19 as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, because young people spend more time online with limited adult supervision,” said police commander Jamie Strauss.

“Our message to online criminals has not changed – if you obtain, access and send child abuse material, you will be found, arrested and prosecuted,” he added in a statement.

From Europe to Asia, cases of child sexual abuse online have surged during coronavirus locking because children spend more time online, making them more vulnerable to abusers.

In Australia, child exploitation has increased in recent years. Nearly 22,000 cases were reported between July 2019 and June 2020, up nearly 50% from last year, official figures show.

“Sex offenders are always online, that’s their playground,” said Karen Flanagan, head of Australian child protection at the charity Save the Children.

“But COVID-19 might give them access to new groups of children who previously did not spend much time online,” he said last week, urging more parental supervision.

State authorities in Victoria reported on Tuesday 374 new COVID-19 cases, up from 275 on Monday, reducing hopes of slowing infection two weeks after nearly 5 million people were told to stay at home except for important reasons.

Australia has recorded around 12,000 cases of the corona virus and more than 125 deaths.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson Reuters charity branch, which covers the lives of people throughout the world who are struggling to live free or just. Visit http://news.trust.org

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Germany warns Turkey about drilling Mediterranean | Instant News


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks at a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, July 21, 2020. REUTERS / Alkis Constantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) – Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in eastern Mediterranean waters if there is progress in EU-Turkish relations, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that Turkey would begin seismic research and drilling operations in contested waters covered by an agreement between Ankara and the internationally recognized Libyan government.

“Regarding Turkish drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, we have a very clear position – international law must be respected so that progress in EU-Turkish relations is only possible if Ankara stops provocation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Maas said during a visit to Athens.

Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Michelle Martin, editing by Thomas Escritt

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TikTok is under strict supervision in Australia over security, concerning data | Instant News


SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia is researching the popular Chinese TikTok social media platform for any risks it might pose to users from around potential foreign interference and data privacy issues, government sources told Reuters.

PHOTO FILE: The printed 3-D image is seen in front of the Tik Tok logo shown in the illustration of the picture taken November 7, 2019. The picture was taken November 7, 2019. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File Photo

Owned by Bytedance, TikTok opened an office in Australia in the last few weeks. Both the Office of Internal Affairs and the Attorney General are discussing TikTok operations, the source said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government “had a good view” in TikTok, which also fell under US supervision for “national security risks”.

“If we think there is a need to take further action than we are taking now, then I can tell you that we will not be ashamed,” Morrison told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday.

Separately, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, chair of parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference through social media, has identified TikTok as needing further supervision, noting 1.6 million young Australians are using the application.

“Some of these approaches to moderate content may not be consistent with Australian values,” he told ABC radio.

“For example, removing material about Tiananmen Square, or prioritizing material about Hong Kong protests,” he added, referring to student protests in Beijing in 1989 and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong for the past year.

Two of the three new TikTok Australia operations directors are senior executives of Chinese parent company ByteDance, company records seen by Reuters show.

TikTok Australia’s general manager Lee Hunter, who was recruited from Google in June, has written letters to Australian politicians saying TikTok is “used as political football”.

“It is very important that you understand that we are independent and not in harmony with any government, political party or ideology,” the letter said, adding that Australian TikTok data is stored safely in Singapore and the United States.

Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared with a copycat in a video posted on a very popular social media application.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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With Bolsonaro Brazil attacking the Supreme Court, are gay rights at risk? | Instant News


RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY, July 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A gay man who grew up in Brazil, Afif Sarhan was banned from donating blood for most of his life.

“I thought, ‘Why is my blood lower than others?'” Sarhan, a 41-year-old civil servant from the southwestern state of Goias, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It is my right as a human being to help people and stay who I am.”

That all changed in May when the Brazilian high court overturned the ban on gay men who gave blood – the latest in more than half a dozen decisions made in support of LGBT + rights.

Over the years, the court has been a major driver of LGBT + achievement in Brazil, with little action from Congress in a very religious country where the Catholic Church and popular evangelical Christian movements often criticize gay rights.

With President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain famous for making homophobic statements and praising the 1964-1985 state dictatorship, becoming increasingly critical of the judiciary, some fear that the progress of LGBT + could now be at risk.

The conservative leader said last month that the Supreme Court “committed an offense” and it was time to put “everything in its proper place” after the court passed an investigation into the claims Bolsonaro made with the police for personal motives.

The court, commonly known as the STF, also investigated demonstrations supported by Bolsonaro who called for military intervention in politics and the closure of the Supreme Court and Congress, triggering concerns for young Brazilian democracy.

In one protest last month, Bolsonaro supporters threw fireworks toward the Supreme Court building. A protest leader, who threatened violence against several Supreme Court judges, was later arrested.

“Bolsonaro’s attack on the STF is a direct and frontal attack on one of the pillars of democracy,” said David Miranda, a gay congressman with the left opposition Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL).

“With some subtle decisions and constitutional changes, we can lose the rights we have conquered.”

A Bolsonaro government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

VICTORIES

The LGBT + problem remains divisive in Brazil, which has the largest Catholic community in the world and a growing evangelical population among the urban poor, which shifts politics to the right.

The country is also one of the most dangerous in the world for gays and trans, with 297 LGBT + murders last year, according to watchdog group Grupo Gay da Bahia.

Because of widespread conservatism in Brazilian politics and society, most activists turn to the courts instead of Congress to secure LGBT + rights.

“The Brazilian legislature is occupied by conservative forces and has a very large religious fundamentalist bench,” said Renan Quinalha, a law professor at the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

“(So) LGBT groups have begun through the Supreme Court, carrying out strategic litigation and advocacy to achieve victory in justice.”

The strategy worked.

This year, the Supreme Court allowed the Netflix streaming platform to continue showing films that portray Jesus as gay, despite national protests, and also imposed local laws prohibiting teaching about gender and sexual orientation in schools.

He also chose to criminalize homophobia and transphobia last year, and in 2018 decided that the government could not ask trans people to undergo operations to legally change their gender.

When Congress tried hard to pass a gay marriage law, the judiciary took the lead to legalize it in 2013.

APPLICATION

Despite Bolsonaro’s war of words, legal experts say it is not possible to interfere directly with the court. “It looks like I’m not (the Supreme Court) at risk,” Quinalha said.

“I think the STF succeeded in positioning itself very well before the government … investigating threats and calls for violence against the minister and the court itself.”

But activists fear that LGBT + rights will be canceled ahead of the 2022 election because Bolsonaro will appoint two new judges to the 11-member Supreme Court.

In Brazil, Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 75, with the president filling in the blanks. In 2020, Celso de Mello, the longest serving judge in retirement, will retire, followed in 2021 by Marco Aurelio Mello.

If Bolsonaro is re-elected, he will be able to make two more promises in 2023 because two more judges will reach retirement age.

“If you have a different majority in the Supreme Court, you can change the previous decision,” Quinalha said.

And it’s not just a matter of having a conservative majority in court. In Brazil, a single Supreme Court judge can withstand an unlimited ruling by saying they need more time to review the case before they vote.

In urgent cases, judges can also make unilateral decisions, such as issuing orders, that apply until all courts have time to vote, which can take years.

PUBLIC OPINION

While the legal strategies of LGBT + activists have provided a historic victory, observers are concerned that they are not deeply rooted like the laws chosen in Congress, which attract more public debate, lobbying and media coverage.

Popular opinions about LGBT + rights are still deeply divided in Brazil, unlike neighboring Argentina, where gay marriage passed through Congress in 2010 and sparked heated public discussion.

“In places where there are social debates around the rights of LGBT people, the process of discussion and debate makes it easier for people to adjust to new realities,” said Leandro Ramos, Brazilian director for LGBT + All Out rights groups.

“The fact that this debate has never taken place in Congress (Brazil) has made these rights more vulnerable.”

Brazilian lawmakers and the constituencies they represent rarely have to debate LGBT + issues, potentially making the victory fought for more vulnerable under a conservative court.

“The law is more consolidated because it also expresses debate in public opinion … so it’s more difficult to modify,” Quinalha said.

For now, LGBT + Brazil enjoys the newly discovered rights granted to them by the country’s highest court.

Sarhan, a civil servant in Goias, returned to give blood last month, six years after being rejected – this time, his sexual choices never arose.

“It’s very nice to contribute, and I don’t have any questions about sexual orientation,” he said.

Reported by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib and Fabio Teixeira; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity branch of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people throughout the world who are struggling to live free or just. Visit http://news.trust.org

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The Baloch family sought answers from Pakistan because more disappeared in the midst of the uprising | Instant News


KARACHI / QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – For more than 11 years relatives of people who disappeared in the fray of separatist rebellion in southwestern Pakistan have gathered outside the Press Club of Quetta to find out who took their father, husband and son.

Daily sit-down protests in the provincial capital of Balochistan began on June 28, 2009 after a doctor, Deen Muhammad, was kidnapped by “unknown persons”.

Relatives suspect Muhammad, like many other missing Balochs, was kidnapped by Pakistani security forces who hunted down separatists, who for decades have campaigned for greater autonomy or independence.

Sometimes fewer than a dozen join daily protests, other days more, but Muhammad’s two daughters have been among regular visitors since they were eight and ten years old.

“Our little hand held a picture of our father at the time; now we are adults and we still don’t have a clue whether he’s alive, “Sammi Baloch, now 21, told Reuters by telephone from Quetta.

Even when the weather was too extreme in Quetta to hold protests, a sit-in was observed by Balochs in front of a press club in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and a melting pot for various ethnic groups.

Uprisings in Balochistan, a sparsely populated, mountainous desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, sometimes shrink and sometimes increase over the years.

But for all the endurance of Baloch’s struggle, conflict rarely attracts international attention. But that made headlines, at the end of June when a group of young Baloch militants launched an attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi.

On Tuesday, three soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in an area known for the attacks of Baloch fighters. But in addition to giving heavy casualties, the veil of secrecy over the conflict has rarely been lifted, and foreign journalists are often discouraged to visit Balochistan.

Several phone calls, text messages and e-mails to the Pakistani human rights ministry, the military and the provincial government of Balochistan, asking for comments to be answered.

The military did issue a statement last year sympathizing with the missing Baloch family, saying that some might have joined militant groups and “not everyone missing is caused by the state.”

Pakistan has repeatedly blamed India for fanning militancy in Balochistan, an accusation consistently denied by New Delhi.

MORE MISSING

Last month, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) resigned from the parliamentary bloc of Prime Minister Imran Khan, frustrated by unfulfilled promises to tackle Baloch’s complaints including problems that were rife about missing people.

When he led the BNP into an alliance with the Khan coalition two years ago, Akhtar Mengal gave the government a list of 5,128 missing.

Since then more than 450 people on the list have been found or returned to their families, but during the same period Mengal said 1,800 others were reported to have disappeared.

“If you can’t recover people, at least stop disappearing more people,” Mengal said.

Another Baloch party – formed in the months before the 2018 election with support from the military, according to political analysts – is in a coalition with Prime Minister Khan’s party at the federal and provincial levels.

Awami Party Senator Balochistan Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar told Reuters that the number of missing people was “excessive”.

But Mama Qadeer, who heads a group called Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, still counts.

“In the past six months, the number of missing people from Baloch has increased,” he told Reuters by telephone. His son disappeared a decade ago.

In February last year, the Qadeer group submitted a list of 500 missing to provincial officials. Since then nearly 300 have been returned to their homes, but another 87 disappeared in the first half of the year, according to the group.

CHINA IMPROVE INTEREST

The federal commission formed nine years ago registered 6,506 cases of enforced disappearance nationally at the end of 2019. Most came from the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Only 472 are registered from Balochistan. Advocacy groups say the number of Balochistan is much higher, showing difficulties in accepting cases received by the commission.

“There are hardly any homes in Balochistan that don’t have relatives or loved ones,” Mohammad Ali Talpur, an elderly activist who had fought with Baloch rebels in the 1970s, told Reuters.

The conflict has a long and complex history, but since then the stakes have increased when the wealth of copper, gold, gas, and coal in Balochistan attracted Chinese attention.

The prospect of Pakistan’s most reliable allies flushing money has made successive governments excited, while igniting Baloch’s hatred of how little will happen.

Separatist militants often target Chinese development in Gwadar, a port on the coast of Balochistan, near the strategically important entrance to the Gulf.

And in 2018, the Balochistan Liberation Army launched an attack on the Chinese consulate in the southern port city of Karachi, killing four policemen and Pakistani civilians.

It was the group’s most famous attack until June 29 this year, when its fighters attacked the stock market, again killing four people.

The attack came a day after hundreds of missing Baloch relatives gathered in Quetta to mark the fourth day of their protest since the disappearance of Dr. Muhammad.

Reported by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Gul Yousafzai in Quetta, Pakistan; Writing and reporting by Umar Farooq in Istanbul, Turkey; Editing by Gibran Peshimam & Simon Cameron-Moore

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