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H’Kong’s first trial under national security hears closing arguments

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H’Kong’s first trial under national security hears closing arguments

HONG KONG TRIAL

The trial of the first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law is set to wrap up on Tuesday, with the defendant denied bail and a jury in a landmark case that critics say is a departure from common law.

Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, has pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, inciting secession as well as an alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm on July 1 last year, shortly after the law was enacted.

Hong Kong’s common law has traditionally allowed defendants to seek release unless prosecutors can show lawful grounds for their detention.

Under the new law, which some Western governments and rights groups say is being used to crush dissent in the global financial hub, the burden rests with the defendant to prove they will not break the law if released on bail.

The governments in Beijing and Hong Kong have said repeatedly the new law was necessary to bring stability to the former British colony after anti-government protests in 2019.

Tong’s trial is being presided over by three judges handpicked by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, to hear national security cases: Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan. There is no jury.

Hong Kong’s Judiciary describes trial by jury as one of the most important features of the city’s legal system, a common law tradition designed to offer defendants additional protection against authorities’ overreaching their power.

Article 46 of the security law – drafted by Beijing, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party and conviction rates are close to 100% – states three instances in which juries can be scrapped: protecting state secrets, cases involving foreign forces and protecting jurors’ safety.

Tong, the first of more than 120 people arrested under the security law, is accused of driving his motorbike into officers at a rally while carrying a flag with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times.”

The interpretation of the protest slogan is a key element of the trial. The government has said it suggests a call for independence, which would violate the security law. Defence lawyers argue it is a phrase with diverse meanings, including the desire for freedom and democracy.

Tong’s fate could signal how the courts will handle scores of other national security cases.

 

Olusola Akintonde/Reuters

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Ecuador revokes WikiLeaks founder Assange’s citizenship

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Ecuador revokes WikiLeaks founder Assange’s citizenship

Assange 1

A court has revoked WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange‘s Ecuadorian citizenship.

Ecuador’s justice system formally notified the Australian that his naturalisation had been nullified after Ecuadorian authorities said the supporting letter had multiple inconsistencies, different signatures, the possible alteration of documents and unpaid fees, among other issues.

Carlos Poveda, Assange’s lawyer, told The Associated Press news agency the decision was made without due process and Assange was not allowed to appear in the case.

“On the date [Assange] was cited, he was deprived of his liberty and with a health crisis inside the deprivation of liberty centre where he was being held,” Poveda said, adding he would file an appeal.

Assange remains imprisoned in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison as the United States seeks his extradition. A UK court ruled in January that Assange should not be extradited to the US, saying the move would be “oppressive”.

He has been accused of conspiring with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak a trove of classified material in 2010. His supporters and press freedom groups view him as an investigative reporter who has brought war crimes to light.

The secret documents relating to the military engagement of Allied forces in Afghanistan were released on WikiLeaks while Assange also collaborated with journalists at prominent news outlets.

A total of 18 charges relating to “Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States” have been lodged by Washington, laid out in a statement by the US Department of Justice. US officials argue Assange put the lives of US informants at risk.

If found guilty, Assange could be jailed in the US for 175 years.

Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition. He was granted asylum there and later gained citizenship.

At the time, Ecuador’s government planned to grant Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to safely leave the embassy.

However, tensions later flared between Quito and Assange.

The Ecuadorian government revoked his asylum status in 2019 and Assange was subsequently jailed by British police for violating bail conditions.

Aljazeera

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World

England scraps quarantine for fully vaccinated EU, US visitors

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COVID-19: Nigeria confirms 123 new cases 

COVID 19 Vaccine 1 1

England will allow fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and United States to arrive without quarantine from next week, the transport minister said on Wednesday, in a huge and long-awaited boost for airlines and travel companies.

Britain’s travel industry has heavily criticised the government for being too slow to open up, saying it has squandered its lead in the global vaccine rollout and given the EU a headstart in attracting tourists.

The government said in a statement that from Aug. 2, travellers with U.S. and EU-approved vaccines would not have to quarantine. That will cover Britain’s top nine biggest markets by visitor volumes pre-pandemic.

The opening up of England would likely be followed by the rest of the United Kingdom.

Travellers will, however, still have to take a COVID-19 test before departure and soon after arrival in England, transport minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.

The move will help airlines and travel companies drum up more business after 16 months of restrictions left many of them under severe financial strain.

Quarantine for fully vaccinated Britons returning to the UK from medium risk countries was scrapped on July 19, helping to kickstart a travel recovery, but frequent rule changes over the last two months mean travel is still plagued by uncertainty.

Moreover, the U.S. remains shut to British visitors so for the transatlantic carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic planes will primarily be carrying U.S. citizens to England.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on LBC Radio earlier on Wednesday that he wants U.S. citizens to come to England “freely” and is discussing a travel corridor with the United States, which would mean the restart of two-way traffic with the U.S.

Reuters

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Armenia

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan, ceasefire called

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Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan, ceasefire called

Armenia

Armenia said on Wednesday that three of its soldiers had been killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan and Interfax reported that both sides had later accepted a Russian ceasefire proposal to try to calm tensions.

Armenia’s defence ministry said in a statement that Azeri forces had attacked Armenian positions near the border between the two countries. Two Armenian servicemen had been injured in the same incident, it said, and “fighting continued”.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry accused Armenian forces of what it called “provocations” in the Kalbajar district and said its army would continue to retaliate, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Interfax later reported that Azerbaijan had however accepted a Russian proposal to enforce a ceasefire in the area. It then reported that Armenia’s defence ministry had also accepted the ceasefire.

The incident was one of the deadliest since a six-week war between ethnic Armenian forces and Baku over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas ended last year.

In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a ceasefire.

A simmering border dispute between the two has since flared up, with both sides accusing each other of separate incursions into each others’ territory in recent months, highlighting the fragility of the ceasefire.

Reuters

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Afghanistan

Russia ready to help Tajikistan amid Afghanistan crisis

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Russia ready to help Tajikistan amid Afghanistan crisis

US MILITARY

Russia is ready to provide its ally Tajikistan with any assistance needed amid a worsening conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan, the TASS news agency cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on Wednesday.

Shoigu said the additional supply of Russian arms to Tajikistan had already been arranged and that Russia was continuing to train Tajik military personnel, against the backdrop of a U.S.-led troop withdrawal after a 20-year intervention.

Reuters

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Antony Blinken

Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

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Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

rights

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Indian counterpart and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they seek to deepen their cooperation and iron out differences.

Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining US President Joe Biden’s administration, is expected to discuss supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India’s human rights record on Wednesday.

Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world”. “The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief … these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours,” he said.

Attendees included religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi’s Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.

In his New Delhi meetings, Blinken is expected to raise India’s human rights record as well as a recent religion-based citizenship law widely seen as discriminatory towards Muslims.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, India’s foreign ministry said the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with the top US diplomat.

Modi’s government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.

Blinken is scheduled to have talks with the Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar later on Wednesday to discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan and cooperation at the UN, the foreign ministry said.

Both sides will discuss the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is rapidly expanding the territory it controls in the wake of a US troop withdrawal.

Despite the Taliban’s stated aim of overthrowing the Afghan government, US President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will end its Afghanistan mission on August 31, after almost 20 years.

The New Delhi talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US – later this year, Indian media reported.

The grouping is seen as a regional bulwark against Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

After wrapping up his meetings in New Delhi, Blinken will travel to Kuwait late on Wednesday.

Aljazeera

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