The World Today for July 30, 2019

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Prosecutors in India recently ordered a local legal aid and human rights organization to shut down for six months as punishment for violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) as well as conspiracy and other alleged crimes.

Leaders of the Lawyer’s Collective, which sometimes represents and advocates for disadvantaged minorities, including LGBTQ people, allegedly took money from the US-based Ford Foundation and the George Soros-backed Open Society Foundations, reported the Press Trust of India, a major news agency in India. One of those leaders was simultaneously serving as an “additional solicitor general,” a powerful public legal office in the South Asian democracy.

“It is really surprising how a senior law officer such as an ASG can simultaneously, and for such a long period, be on the rolls of a private entity, being paid (out of foreign contribution) for undisclosed purposes in gross violation of rules,” said a statement from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, according to the Indian Express.

First enacted in 1976, the FCRA aims to prevent foreign governments from meddling in India’s internal politics. But the law has also been used by governments to clamp down on nongovernmental organizations that demand more accountability from elected leaders, argued Quartz.

The Lawyer’s Collective had the misfortune to accept international grants to pay salaries and keep the lights on in its offices, then embark on what the ministry called “lobbying with members of parliament and thereby influencing the political process and parliamentary institutions,” according to Human Rights Watch. The charges might be correct technically. But if they met with lawmakers, the activist-lawyers were likely only appealing for justice for the country’s most unfortunate.

The collective vowed to challenge the charges, saying they were in retaliation for representing clients in cases against the government and its allies, including leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In India, the crackdown on foreign-funded human rights groups comes as Modi has promoted the so-called “Hindu nationalism” that aims to make Hinduism the dominant cultural force in a technically secular and diverse country that includes around 200 million Muslims, National Public Radio reported.

Hindu nationalism has its critics. In a book review in the journal Nature, author Srinath Perur argued that Hindu nationalism has hurt science. It has also arguably fueled mob lynchings of non-Hindus accused of harming cows, which are sacred in Hinduism, Reuters wrote in a story about “cow vigilantes” killing three men.

Civil rights activists have accused other countries like Egypt, Russia and Singapore of suppressing human rights by banning foreign aid. American officials are dusting off the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 in light of contemporary events, Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

The trend might be called a backlash to globalization. But in some cases, it’s also a backlash to democracy and human rights.



Choosing Sides

Iran, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union agreed Sunday to redouble their efforts to salvage the 2015 pact designed to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Gathered in Vienna, diplomats from the principal world powers, excluding the United States, voiced their joint opposition to America’s sanctions on Iran and support for China’s efforts to maintain normal trade and oil relations with the country despite all, Fu Cong, the head of the Chinese delegation, told the Associated Press.

“The atmosphere was constructive, and the discussions were good,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi told reporters, adding that the countries that sent representatives are still “determined to save this deal.”

The meeting came as Iran has ratcheted up pressure on Europe to take measures to offset US sanctions by gradually restarting nuclear activities Tehran agreed to abandon under the pact, such as enriching uranium beyond the prescribed limit – a move that decreases the estimated one-year window Iran would need to build an atomic bomb.


Prison Wars

Fighting between rival gangs at the Altamira prison in northern Brazil left at least 52 prisoners dead on Monday – 16 of them decapitated.

The death toll could rise when authorities have searched all areas involved, state prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

The fighting began around 7 a.m. Monday between two criminal gangs, Comando Vermelho and Comando Classe A, when members of Comando Classe A set fire to the pavilion that houses the rival gang, prison authorities said.

The fire spread rapidly and prevented police from entering the building for about five hours, during which carnage reigned.

Such violence is not uncommon in Brazil’s prison system. A similar series of riots killed 55 inmates in several prisons in the neighboring state of Amazonas in May, for instance, and in 2017 more than 120 inmates died in prisons across several northern states when rival gangs clashed over control of drug-trafficking routes, according to the Associated Press.


Deadly Funeral

Nigeria is increasing pressure on militant group Boko Haram after a deadly attack over the weekend left more than 60 people dead during a funeral procession in northeast Nigeria.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said through a spokesperson that the military has launched an operation to pursue the attackers with air patrols and ground troops, NPR reported.

On Saturday, armed men believed to belong to Boko Haram attacked and “shot at everything they came across,” according to one survivor. The chairman of the local government council told Nigerian state media that the attack was likely a reprisal for a previous altercation in which the same community, Badu village, successfully fought back against the militants – killing 11 insurgents and recovering 10 AK-47 rifles.

The latest in an escalating series, the incident may be the deadliest attack against civilians in the region this year, NPR said. It also comes amid Nigerian claims to have defeated the militant group.

Fighting to establish an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram has spread its mayhem into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, as well, ABC News noted. And though Nigeria’s military has regained control of parts of the northeast in recent years, such attacks remain common.


A Gut Feeling

Therapeutic diets have been saving the lives of starving children in developing countries, but they rarely succeed in fighting the long-lasting effects of malnourishment, such as stunted growth.

Recently, scientists discovered that gut bacteria play a pivotal role in a child’s development and have created a new therapy to boost good bacteria in malnourished kids, Discover Magazine reported.

In a study, researcher Jeffrey Gordon and his team conducted several tests on mice and piglets to determine which food therapy increased the growth of these bacteria.

They found that among foods commonly eaten in Bangladesh, chickpeas, bananas and tilapia worked best to promote healthy strains of gut bacteria. However, fish isn’t affordable in poor communities, so the team replaced tilapia with soy and peanut flours.

Using different combinations of the key ingredients they developed several therapeutic pastes that can be eaten with a spoon, all of which had similar levels of proteins, fats and calories.

They later tested the diet on malnourished children and found that it improved bone growth, brain development, immune function and metabolism – and was more effective than standard treatments.

Gordon’s team plans to further test the long-term effects of the new therapy.

“There are precious microbial resources [in the gut], and we want to nurture them,” he said, “so that our children can … be as healthy as possible.

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