September 30, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

KYRGYZSTAN

Dying for Justice

Journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov was an ethnic Uzbek from southern Kyrgyzstan. He exposed injustices within the Kyrgyz police and prosecutor’s office. He revealed how they fabricated criminal cases against innocents, then abused those whom they imprisoned.

Askarov, 69, died on July 25. Officially, pneumonia claimed him. But many believe he died from the coronavirus. He arguably died because he had been wrongly imprisoned in a jail for 10 years, says Anders Pettersson and Muzaffar Suleymanov of Civil Rights Defenders, in EUObserver.

Activist groups have called on the international community to hold someone in the country’s security forces responsible. “Kyrgyz officials we met with became increasingly exasperated when we raised his (Askarov’s) case and pressed them to release him,” wrote Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Mihra Rittmann. “Then they just let him die.”

In Kyrgyzstan, the government and government-owned media depict “human rights” as a threat to Kyrgyz culture. Groups that receive international funds are viewed as agents of foreign influence that might destabilize the former Soviet republic. That doesn’t dissuade Kyrgyz activists from seeking to improve civil rights, however, the Open Society Foundations said in a blog post.

In fact, the Central Asian country’s 2005 parliamentary elections led to President Askar Akayev, who had run the country since 1990, losing power in the so-called Tulip Revolution.

That’s the context for a new round of elections slated to occur on Oct. 4, when 16 parties are vying for 120 seats in the country’s parliament. The number of candidates stands in stark contrast to the handful of parties now in parliament.

As the Diplomat wrote, many parties failed to reach the threshold to win seats in the last election in 2015. This year, a court also gave the green light to parties that election officials had rejected on technicalities, too, according to Radio Free Europe.

The repressive climate has helped create a pressure cooker in what is arguably Central Asia’s most liberal country. A huge brawl between the supporters of two of the biggest parties recently resulted in five smashed cars and 12 people hospitalized, Eurasianet reported. The news website described both parties as dedicated to perpetuating “the deeply corrupt cronyism that currently reigns supreme in Kyrgyzstan.”

The political campaigns have been dirty, too. The parliament speaker allegedly paid a woman $600 to name her newborn baby after him as part of a vote-buying scheme.

European Union representatives brought up Askarov at a recent talk with Kyrgyz officials. Mentioning his name didn’t solve any injustice but it put his name in the history books for the country’s future leaders to consider.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

Watchdogs and Witch-hunts

Amnesty International halted its operations in India Tuesday after accusing the government of conducting a continuous “witch-hunt” against the organization’s humanitarian work, NPR reported.

The human rights organization said it was forced to stop its work and lay off its staff after the Indian government froze its bank accounts.

The organization has been credited with exposing wrongdoing by India’s Hindu nationalist government: That includes human rights abuses in India’s Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and police brutality during the Delhi riots in February.

The government, however, countered that Amnesty International is responsible for illegally routing money to India through its UK branch for several years, a charge the organization denies.

The rights group has tangled with the Indian government before.

In 2016, the government charged Amnesty International with sedition for holding an event in the southern city of Bengaluru, in relation to Kashmir. Two years later, it raided the organization’s Delhi office and froze its bank accounts.

Other countries have tried to create trouble for Amnesty International: Russian authorities raided the organization’s Moscow office in 2016.

UNITED KINGDOM

Open Wound

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) upheld a decision to bring charges against only one British soldier for crimes committed during Bloody Sunday, one of the deadliest days in the region’s decades of violence, the BBC reported Tuesday.

The decision comes after the families of some of the victims requested a review of the cases of 15 British soldiers over their role in the death of 13 civil rights protesters and the wounding of 15 others in Londonderry on Jan. 30, 1972 or Bloody Sunday.

The PPS said that no new evidence has been found against the soldiers.

The victims’ families expressed disappointment at the verdict and their lawyers said that they will challenge the decision. Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said that the PPS’ decision will “bring back pain and loss” for the families of the victims.

So far, only one defendant, Soldier F, has been charged: He faces two counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

British soldiers committed more than 300 of the nearly 3,700 slayings during four decades of conflict in Northern Ireland but accountability for those killings has been rare, the Associated Press reported.

THAILAND

The Sword of Defamation

An American man could face prison in Thailand after posting negative online reviews of a hotel resort in the country, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Wesley Barnes has been accused of launching “a slanderous campaign” against the Sea View Resort in Koh Chang. He faces two years in prison under the country’s draconian defamation laws.

Barnes, who lives in Thailand, was arrested this month and later released on bail. He will return to court on Oct. 6.

Barnes uploaded the negative reviews online following a bad experience with the management and staff of the hotel. One of the reviews accused the resort of “modern-day slavery.” He said, however, that the “slavery” review didn’t go through.

The resort said in a statement they tried contacting Barnes to resolve the dispute but later took legal action because multiple reviews were posted across different platforms.

Under Thai law, defamation is a criminal offense with a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine topping $6,000. Rights groups have warned that the law has been used to silence activists and journalists.

DISCOVERIES

Tracking History

Scholars theorize that the ancient Arabian Peninsula was one of the first routes of the early modern human species – known as Homo sapiens.

Throughout the years, archaeologists have uncovered stone tools and one single human finger bone dating back 88,000 years in what was once a lush area filled with lakes.

Now, a research team has found fossilized human footprints on the shores of an ancient freshwater lakebed dating back 120,000 years to back that theory, Science magazine reported. An analysis of the footprints suggests that they were made by none other than H. sapiens, rather than Neanderthals.

During that period, “Neanderthals were absent from the Levant (Middle East),” said co-author Mathew Stewart. “Therefore, we argue that H. sapiens was likely responsible for the footprints.”

The tracks reveal that early humans traveled vast distances between Africa and Arabia, and had large foraging parties that journeyed into the heart of the peninsula.

Meanwhile, the team found nearly 400 tracks of animals, they reported in a new study. These along with the seven human tracks found provide a glimpse of the interaction between ancient humans and animals in prehistoric times: Scientists pointed out that it’s rare to see animal and human fossils in the same fossil bed.

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: 7,191,061 (+0.59%)
  2. India: 6,225,763 (+1.31%)
  3. Brazil: 4,777,522 (+0.68%)
  4. Russia: 1,162,428 (+0.70%)
  5. Colombia: 824,042 (+0.71%)
  6. Peru: 811,768 (+0.38%)
  7. Spain: 748,266 (+0.00%)**
  8. Mexico: 738,163 (+0.61%)
  9. Argentina: 736,609 (+1.86%)
  10. South Africa: 672,572 (+0.13%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country