The World Today for August 14, 2020

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The Smell of Desperation

Boston Celtics basketball player Enes Kanter recently said that “goons” associated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been sending him death threats, including calls for his decapitation. The 28-year-old Turkish center is an outspoken critic of Erdogan’s alleged violations of human rights, the New York Post reported.

Turkish officials released Kanter’s father, a genetics professor, from a Turkish prison in June on terrorism charges linked to his associations with Fethullah Gulen, a scholar accused of helping organize a coup against Erdogan’s government in 2016, MassLive added. Kanter has an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Turkey on charges of comparing Erdogan to Adolf Hitler.

Insulting the president is a crime.

Kanter is one of the lucky ones. Human rights activists have been ringing alarm bells about human rights violations in Turkey under Erdogan, a strongman who has been either prime minister or president since 2002. Erdogan has arguably shaped Turkey more than any other Turkish leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ran the republic that arose out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire in the early 20th Century.

In early July, a Turkish court sentenced four human rights activists affiliated with Amnesty International to jail for as long as six years on terror charges also stemming from their supposed link to Gulen, the New York Times explained. Amnesty International released a statement saying the convictions, which will be appealed, were a “travesty of justice of spectacular proportions.”

One of the defendants, Idil Eser, released a statement saying the case was a clear attempt to silence critics of the government or anyone else who might speak the truth about Erdogan’s pseudo-autocratic regime.

Writing for the Patriot-News, a newspaper based in Central Pennsylvania, Hafza Girdap executive director of Advocates of Silenced Turkey, a US-based nonprofit, claimed that Erdogan has investigated more than half a million people and jailed hundreds of thousands, including pregnant women and mothers with babies, for their alleged links to Gulen.

Torture is also on the rise in the country, Al-Monitor reported.

Shining a light on those abuses is difficult, however. Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other nation and 90 percent of its traditional media is close to the government.

Even so, it’s never enough for Erdogan, critics say.

Case in Point: Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party are on track to enacting a new law that would require social media websites to accept censorship and give up information on users or face “advertisement bans, steep penalty fees, and, most troublingly, bandwidth reductions,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists said the new law would further compromise press freedom in the country. Meanwhile, the bandwidth restrictions would make the platforms such as Facebook virtually unusable.

The measure is no surprise, say critics, just the latest salvo on Erdogan’s war to stifle dissent.

“The aim is to silence,” Yaman Akdeniz of the Freedom of Expression Association wrote on Twitter, adding that “a new and dark period in Turkey is starting.”

Before the new bill was introduced, Turkey had already blocked access to more than 400,000 websites by the end of 2019, according to the association. And last year, the government took down 40,000 posts on Twitter, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 Facebook posts, the New York Times reported.

Activists say there isn’t much space for public discussion and debate in Turkey left – social media is the last remaining open forum, but probably not for long. And that’s the way desperate dictators like it.



The Real Deal

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic deal Thursday that will normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries and will take Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank off the table, Reuters reported.

The deal, to be known as the Abraham Accords, was sealed in a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and US President Donald Trump.

Under the agreement, Israel will suspend its plan to annex areas of the West Bank, a move initially supported by Washington but severely criticized by the international community as threatening stability in the region.

The three nations issued a joint statement saying the unprecedented deal “will advance peace in the Middle East region.” While hailed by some in the region, the move was condemned by Iran as “dangerous and illegitimate,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Israel and the UAE will meet in the next few weeks to sign bilateral agreements and exchange ambassadors. The agreement, meanwhile, is considered a foreign policy success for Trump as he seeks reelection in November.


Prodigal Daughter

Indians hailed the choice of Democratic Senator Kamala Harris as US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, expressing pride that one of their own would be chosen for the presidential ticket, NPR reported.

Harris, who has an Indian mother from Tamil Nadu, became the first person of South Asian descent to appear on a US presidential ticket, a move praised by Indian officials and citizens.

“It is a moment of pride for Indians and Tamil Nadu especially,” tweeted Thiru O. Panneerselvam, deputy chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Still, some were less than pleased over her nomination due to Harris’ stance on Kashmir. Last year, India removed the special autonomy for the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir putting the region under the central government’s direct control.

“[Kashmiris] are not alone. We are all watching,” Harris said as a presidential candidate during the Democratic primaries in September.

Nevertheless, her uncle Gopalan Balachandran – who lives in India – said that he hopes his niece would “do her best” to strengthen the US-India relationship after November’s elections, NBC News reported.


Keeping the Peace… Sort Of

Lebanese lawmakers approved a state of emergency Thursday that will give the army sweeping powers even as civil rights groups worry that the measure will lead to a crackdown on protesters who want the country’s elite swept away, Al Jazeera reported.

Thursday’s move will allow the army to curb free speech, free assembly and freedom of the press while also allowing it to detain anyone deemed a security threat. Activists fear the military will crack down on mass demonstrators who are trying to bring down the political class. While protests began late last year, they resumed in force after explosions at the port on Aug. 5 that killed 200 and injured more than 6,000.

In the past week, security forces have been caught using excessive force against protesters: More than 700 people have been injured during the anti-establishment rallies.

Karim Nammour of the Legal Agenda civil rights group argued that the state of emergency was imposed by the ruling elite out of fear of public reprisal.

“The ruling regime knows that it is weak and unpopular on the streets, and they are afraid because the fingers are pointed at them…,” he said.


The New Touch

Singaporean scientists have developed an electronic skin to recreate a sense of touch that is similar to a human’s natural ability, according to Reuters.

Known as Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin (ACES), the fake skin is made up of a network of sensors connected to a tiny chip. The novel device can distinguish 30 different textures. The artificial intelligence algorithm allows it to learn quickly.

Researcher Benjamin Tee said that the idea for the skin came after watching “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”: In the movie, the main character, Luke Skywalker, loses his hand in a lightsaber duel, which is then replaced by a robotic one that can experience the sense of touch.

Tee explained that the “smart skin” is actually better than biological hands and detects Braille letters with more than 90 percent accuracy.

“Humans need to slide to feel texture,” he said. “But in this case, with just a single touch, (it) is able to detect textures of different roughness.” Tee and his team hope that the skin can be used in future prosthetics to recreate a sense of touch that feels pain, temperature and texture.

“When you lose your sense of touch, you essentially become numb… and prosthetic users face that problem,” said Tee.

Click here to see the new touch.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 5,254,171 (+1.09%)
  2. Brazil: 3,224,876 (+1.90%)
  3. India: 2,461,190 (+2.69%)
  4. Russia: 905,762 (0.00%)**
  5. South Africa: 572,865 (+0.69%)
  6. Peru: 507,996 (+3.74%)
  7. Mexico: 505,751 (+1.48%)
  8. Colombia: 433,805 (+2.67%)
  9. Chile: 380,034 (+0.49%)
  10. Spain: 337,334 (+2.29%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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