The World Today for April 13, 2016
April 13, 2016
NEED TO KNOW
Germans and a Thin-Skinned Dictator
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics say he has undermined Turkey’s democracy since he rose to power 13 years ago.
He has cracked down on civil society, especially on journalists, while allegedly maintaining corrupt ties between government and business. He’s encouraged his followers to create a cult of personality around him. He's persecuted Kurds.
But Erdogan’s self-regard reached new heights this week when Turkey requested that Germany prosecute German comedian Jan Boehmermann for reading a vulgar poem that insulted the Turkish president on television. Boehmermann said Erdogan enjoys sex with goats and sheep and loves to “repress minorities, kick Kurds and beat Christians while watching child porn.”
Germans thought the jokes were cleverer than they might at first appear to American readers. The joke might be on Boehmermann now, though.
Shockingly, Germany is reportedly considering acceding to Turkey’s request: Under German law, insulting a foreign head of state carries a sentence of as many as three years in prison
Now, Boehmermann is under police protection, a shameful situation that recalls when author Salman Rushdie went into hiding due to the death sentence levelled against him by the mullahs of Iran. These men aren’t activists. They’re writers.
A lot more than a comedian’s future is at stake. German and European Union leaders are now depending on Erdogan to uphold a new agreement to accept Syrian and other refugees who have been streaming into Europe through Turkey and Greece.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says she believes in free speech even as he added: she needs a few days to decide what to do. Really?
The Turks have no such wavering. Turkish prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014 after 11 years of service as prime minister. This comedian is just one more.
“This kind of attack, including insults and rude statements to a country's president and also targeting a society, has nothing to do with freedom of expression or with press freedom,” said Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman.
Contrary to what Kalin claims, however, the comedian’s comments were classic satire, well within the bounds of speech that’s commonly accepted as either political or journalistic.
Most Germans agree. A YouGov poll found that 54 percent of Germans opposed prosecuting Boehmermann, Reuters reported. Only 6 percent of respondents favored a prosecution.
Merkel grew up in communist East Germany. She knows what it’s like to live in an oppressive environment where speaking truth to power can get you into trouble.
Perhaps she’s giving lip service to Erdogan’s demand because she can’t jeopardize the refugee deal. But she must be holding her nose when she does it. Otherwise, there's a problem.
WANT TO KNOW
Panama Makes a Move
Panama's attorney general raided the offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm Tuesday, searching for evidence of illegal activities – specifically tax evasion and fraud.
The firm, at the center of the Panama Papers leak, has for decades created offshore companies that have allowed the world's rich to squirrel away their money from the tax man – including presidents and prime ministers.
The leak – of 11.5 million documents – has governments across the globe investigating tax evasion and fraud cases against their nationals.
Meanwhile, founding partner Ramon Fonseca has maintained the company had broken no laws. Unfortunately, he's probably right.
Kenya: Caught in Middle
It's nearly half a world away, but Kenya found itself in an unlikely and uncomfortable position this week: in the middle of the latest diplomatic spat between China and Taiwan.
Kenyan police fired tear gas and brandished weapons to force a group of 15 Taiwanese nationals to board a plane to China. The group had been tried last year in Nairobi on charges of cyber-crime, along with other Chinese and Taiwanese nationals.
After being acquitted and ordered to leave Kenya by the end of April, the Taiwanese were taken into custody and split up. Half of the group was flown to Guangzhou on Friday, the rest left after yesterday's incident.
“It was illegal for them to be deported – it's because of pressure from China,” says Steve Isinta, the lawyer for the group, according to Quartz. Other officials also say Chinese authorities pressured Kenyan police to deport the Taiwanese.
While Kenya has historically sided with China in its on-going dispute with Taiwan, Isinta says most Kenyans don't understand what's at stake here – nor do they really care.
Syria: Broken Truce
France and Iran have expressed concern over the increase in violence in Syria as UN peace talks are set to resume in Geneva and the Syrian government prepares to hold parliamentary elections.
Their warnings echo those of the US and Russia, who had earlier cautioned that fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces near Aleppo was endangering a fragile truce.
France and Iran are pinning the blame on different groups, however. While Iran is holding armed groups responsible for the violence, France maintains that the Syrian government's offensives are a threat to the US-Russian brokered “cessation of hostilities.”
The uptick in fighting only serves to damper the “already bleak outlook” for the Geneva talks, according to Reuters, amid reports from “government officials” who say the truce has already collapsed and that tension in Syria will increase over the next few months.
The Swarming Crabs
Scientists are baffled and astonished by a cloud of crabs swimming in the shadowy depths of the ocean floor off the coast of Panama – literally thousands of them.
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod made the discovery in 2015 during a deep-sea dive to figure out why underwater volcanoes attract such a diversity of marine life.
Instead they found the swarm – the first ever noted in the species.
“When we dove down in the submarine, we noticed the water became murkier as we got closer to the bottom,” said Jesus Pineda, a biologist at Woods Hole. “There was this turbid layer, and you couldn't see a thing — just this cloud…”
Besides its existence, the crab cloud was unusual because this species of crab usually swims further north, near California.
As scientists speculate on the unusual swarm and its location, they offered a plausible scenario: The crabs, who are usually busy going up and down the depths of the ocean, maybe just decided to settle down.
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Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti
Wed, 04/13/2016 – 06:09