South Sudan facing ‘new wave of repression’, Amnesty warns

South Sudan National Police Service officers sit in a pickup truck while they gather ahead of patrolling the streets of Juba, South Sudan, that is witnessing a "new wave of repression", global rights group Amnesty International warned Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2021
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South Sudan facing ‘new wave of repression’, Amnesty warns

  • The world's newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011
  • The clampdown followed a declaration last month by the People's Coalition for Civil Action calling for a peaceful public uprising

NAIROBI: South Sudan is witnessing a “new wave of repression,” global rights group Amnesty International warned Friday, with many activists now in hiding after a string of arrests in the conflict-wracked country.
The world’s newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, with a coalition of civil society groups urging the government to step down, saying they have “had enough.”
The authorities have taken a tough line against such demands in recent weeks, arresting eight activists as well as detaining three journalists and two employees of a pro-democracy non-profit, according to rights groups.
“We are witnessing a new wave of repression emerging in South Sudan targeting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa.
The clampdown followed a declaration last month by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) calling for a peaceful public uprising.
The PCCA had urged the public to join its protest on Monday in the capital Juba but the city fell silent as the authorities branded the demonstration “illegal” and deployed heavily-armed security forces to monitor the streets for any sign of opposition.
“Peaceful protests must be facilitated rather than cracked down upon or prevented with arrests, harassment, heavy security deployment or any other punitive measures,” Muchena said in a statement.
The rights group noted that many activists had faced harassment since the aborted demonstration, “with some suspecting they were being surveilled by security forces.”
The authorities have also shut down a radio station and a think tank in connection with the protests.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, on Friday condemned the closure of the radio station and called for “an immediate end to the harassment of South Sudanese reporters.”
“The undisguised hostility of the authorities toward the media highlights how difficult it is for journalists to cover politics in South Sudan, where at least ten have been killed since 2014,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.
South Sudan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
In a statement released on Friday, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Norway urged the South Sudan government to protect “the rights of citizens... to express their views in a peaceful manner, without fear of arrest.”
Since achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, the young nation has been in the throes of a chronic economic and political crisis, and is struggling to recover from the aftermath of a five-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
Although a 2018 cease-fire and power-sharing deal between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar still largely holds, it is being sorely tested, with little progress made in fulfilling the terms of the peace process.
The PCCA — a broad-based coalition of activists, academics, lawyers and former government officials — has described the current regime as “a bankrupt political system that has become so dangerous and has subjected our people to immense suffering.”


Kashmiri students arrested for celebrating India's Cricket World Cup defeat get bail

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Kashmiri students arrested for celebrating India's Cricket World Cup defeat get bail

  • Police dropped the charges and an Indian court granted bail to the students on Saturday, according to their lawyer
  • In granting bail, the court imposed a condition the students should be available when needed for the investigation

SRINAGAR: An Indian court has granted bail to seven Kashmiri students who were arrested under anti-terror laws for allegedly celebrating Australia's victory over India in the men's Cricket World Cup final last month, a lawyer said on Sunday. 

The students from an agriculture university were detained in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after one student filed a complaint accusing them of using anti-India slogans and cheering for Pakistan along with Australia after the match. 

Claimed in full but ruled in part by India and Pakistan, Muslim-majority Kashmir has seen a bloody insurrection against New Delhi for decades. Muslims in the region have in the past cheered for the competing side in India cricket matches as a way of protesting Indian rule. 

Local political leaders opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's rule over J&K had said the arrests were a way to intimidate locals using the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The act deals with inciting any unlawful activity and is punishable with seven years' imprisonment. 

Police dropped the UAPA charges and an Indian court granted bail to the students on Saturday, according to the lawyer of students, Shafiq Bhat, and a court order seen by Reuters. 

In granting bail, the local court imposed a condition that the students should be available when needed for the investigation and "shall not indulge in any anti national activity," the order stated. 

The students still face allegations under other Indian laws that related to making statements inducing public mischief. 

Australia had entered the World Cup match as clear underdogs against an all-conquering India side, who had won 10 matches in a row to storm into the final. But India was defeated in the final match on Nov. 19. 

India blames Pakistan for supporting the Muslim insurgents. Pakistan denies this and accuses India of violating the rights of Kashmir's Muslim people, a charge India rejects. 


A suspected bomb blast kills at least 4 Christian worshippers during Mass in southern Philippines

Members of police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) stand guard along a popular market street in Manila on June 1, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2023
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A suspected bomb blast kills at least 4 Christian worshippers during Mass in southern Philippines

  • 'Foreign terrorists’ behind deadly Philippine bombing — officials
  • Bombing follows military operations against Islamists

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr condemned a deadly bombing on Sunday, blaming “foreign terrorists,” as police and the military strengthened security in the country’s south and around the capital Manila.
At least four people were killed and at least 50 injured after a bomb exploded during a morning Catholic Mass in a university gymnasium in Marawi, a city in the south of the country besieged by Islamist militants for five months in 2017.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists,” Marcos said in a statement. “Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society.”
Law enforcement operations to bring to justice the perpetrators of the “terrorist activity” will “continue unabated,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a press conference.
There were “strong indications of a foreign element” in the bombing, Teodoro said, refusing to elaborate so as not to compromise ongoing investigation.
Fragments of a 16-mm mortar were recovered at the scene, senior police official Emmanuel Peralta told the press conference.

HIGH ALERT
The blast in Marawi, capital of Lanao del Sur province, followed a series of military operations against local pro-Daesh groups in the southern Philippines, the military chief said, including one on Sunday in Lanao del Sur that led to the killing of a leader of the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group.
“It is possible that what happened this morning was a retaliatory attack,” Armed Forces Chief Romeo Brawner told the press conference.
The Islamic State-linked Maute seized Marawi on May 2017, seeking to make it a Southeast Asian “wilayat” – or governorate — for Islamic State. In the ensuing five-month battle, Islamist fighters and Philippine forces killed more than a thousand people, including civilians.
Military officials surveyed the gym at the Mindanao State University, which appeared intact except for burn marks in the center where the explosion occurred, according to images shared by the Lanao del Sur government on Facebook. White plastic chairs were strewn about.
Videos posted by DZBB radio on X showed rescuers carrying injured people out of the gym on plastic chairs.
Police offices in Mindanao and the capital region were placed on high alert and police checkpoints tightened “to prevent possible follow-up incidents,” police official Peralta said.
The coast guard directed its districts to intensify pre-departure inspection at ports.
Mindanao State University is “deeply saddened and appalled by the act of violence that occurred during a religious gathering,” the school posted on Facebook. “We unequivocally condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless and horrific act.”
The university said it was said it was suspending classes until further notice. 


Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

Updated 03 December 2023
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Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

  • Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: A small western Pennsylvania water authority was just one of multiple organizations breached in the United States by Iran-affiliated hackers who targeted a specific industrial control device because it is Israeli-made, US and Israeli authorities say.
“The victims span multiple US states,” the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, as well as Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said in an advisory emailed to The Associated Press late Friday.
They did not say how many organizations were hacked or otherwise describe them.
Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said Thursday that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
Cybersecurity experts say that while there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Oct. 7 attack into Israel by Hamas that triggered the war in Gaza they expected state-backed Iranian hackers and pro-Palestinian hacktivists to step up cyberattacks on Israeli and its allies in its aftermath. And indeed that has happened.
The multiagency advisory explained what CISA had not when it confirmed the Pennsylvania hack on Wednesday — that other industries outside water and water-treatment facilities use the same equipment — Vision Series programmable logic controllers made by Unitronics — and were also potentially vulnerable.
Those industries include “energy, food and beverage manufacturing and health care,” the advisory says. The devices regulate processes including pressure, temperature and fluid flow.
The Aliquippa hack promoted workers to temporarily halt pumping in a remote station that regulates water pressure for two nearby towns, leading crews to switch to manual operation. The hackers left a digital calling card on the compromised device saying all Israeli-made equipment is “a legal target.”
The multiagency advisory said it was not known if the hackers had tried to penetrate deeper into breached networks. The access they did get enabled “more profound cyber physical effects on processes and equipment,” it said.
The advisory says the hackers, who call themselves “Cyber Av3ngers,” are affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the US designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. The group targeted the Unitronics devices at least since Nov. 22, it said.
An online search Saturday with the Shodan service identified more than 200 such Internet-connected devices in the US and more than 1,700 globally.
The advisory notes that Unitronics devices ship with a default password, a practice experts discourage as it makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Best practices call for devices to require a unique password to be created out of the box. It says the hackers likely accessed affected devices by “exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the Internet.”
Experts say many water utilities have paid insufficient attention to cybersecurity.
In response to the Aliquippa hack, three Pennsylvania congressmen asked the US Justice Department in a letter to investigate. Americans must know their drinking water and other basic infrastructure is safe from “nation-state adversaries and terrorist organizations,” US Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey and US Rep. Chris Deluzio said. Cyber Av3ngers claimed in an Oct. 30 social media post to have hacked 10 water treatment stations in Israel, though it is not clear if they shut down any equipment.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich. Iran and Israel were engaged in low-level cyberconflict prior to the Oct. 7. Unitronics has not responded to the AP queries about the hacks.
The attack came less than a month after a federal appeals court decision prompted the EPA to rescind a rule that would have obliged USpublic water systems to include cybersecurity testing in their regular federally mandated audits. The rollback was triggered by a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa, and joined by a water utility trade group.
The Biden administration has been trying to shore up cybersecurity of critical infrastructure — more than 80 percent of which is privately owned — and has imposed regulations on sectors including electric utilities, gas pipelines and nuclear facilities. But many experts complain that too many vital industries are permitted to self-regulate.

 


Ex-president barred from leaving Ukraine amid alleged plan to meet with Hungary’s Viktor Orban

Updated 03 December 2023
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Ex-president barred from leaving Ukraine amid alleged plan to meet with Hungary’s Viktor Orban

  • Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been monitoring safety at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is one of the world’s 10 biggest nuclear power stations

KYIV, Ukraine: Former President Petro Poroshenko was denied permission to leave Ukraine for a planned meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Ukraine’s security service said Saturday.
Poroshenko announced Friday that he had been turned away at the border despite previously receiving permission from Parliament to leave the country. Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 years of age are not allowed to leave the country without special approval.
The 58-year-old, who lost his re-election bid in 2019 to current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, said that he had planned to meet with US House Speaker Mike Johnson, and the Polish parliament during his trip.
But security officials said that Poroshenko had also agreed to meet Orban, who has previously praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and refused to support Kyiv’s bid for EU accession. In a statement on social media, they said such talks would make Poroshenko a “tool in the hands of the Russian special services.”
Poroshenko, who called his experience at the border an “attack on unity”, is yet to comment on the allegation that he planned to meet Orban.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was left on “the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident” Saturday after it was unable to draw power from two of the lines connecting it to the local energy grid, the country’s nuclear energy operator said.
It said that the plant switched to diesel generators to stop the plant from overheating before off-site power was restored by Kyiv.
Russia occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early stages of the war. Over the past year, the station has become a focal point of concern for international observers, with both Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of shelling the plant.
In a statement on social media, Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator, accused Moscow of “incorrect, erroneous, and often deliberately risky operation of the equipment” at the site.
The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the claims.
Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been monitoring safety at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is one of the world’s 10 biggest nuclear power stations.
Although the plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia launched 11 Iranian-made Shahed drones and one guided cruise missile overnight Saturday, military officials said. The missile and all but one of the drones were reportedly destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said that it had shot down two Ukrainian C-200 rockets over the Sea of Azov.

 


Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters stage events across Britain

Updated 15 min 18 sec ago
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Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters stage events across Britain

LONDON: Tens of thousands of people across the UK held protests on Saturday as part of a “Day of Action” against the resumption of Israel’s renewed attack on Gaza following a seven-day pause in fighting, organizers said.

“Israel’s decision to resume its bombardment of Gaza flies in the face of international law, which prohibits collective punishment and attacks on civilians,” said Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign — one of the organizers of the nationwide call.

“Every humanitarian agency on the ground has indicated that the scale of destruction already wrought by Israel has pushed Gaza to the brink of catastrophe, where deaths from disease and lack of medical services could outstrip the current casualty figures,” he said.

“In that context not only is it unconscionable that Israel would renew its attacks, (but) it is also shameful and unacceptable that UK political leaders would give their support, tacitly or explicitly.”

At least 193 Palestinians have been killed since the ceasefire ended on Friday, according to Gazan health officials, adding to the more than 15,000 Palestinians killed since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas following a surprise attack on Oct. 7 in southern Israel.

“Ordinary people across the UK will come out again to show the vast majority of them support a permanent ceasefire, they will show their solidarity with Palestinians who are experiencing unbearable suffering, (and) they will also demand the root causes are not forgotten — Israel’s decades-long military occupation of Palestinian territories and its system of apartheid against Palestinians,” Jamal said.

“We demand justice for the Palestinian people — their right to self-determination and to live in freedom, dignity and with equality.”

PSC has organized weekly national marches in London since the war began, some of which organizers said drew about 800,000 people and were among the nations biggest demonstrations in history. The next scheduled national march is set to be held on Dec. 9.

Various events were held around the country as part of the call, including ceasefire rallies and vigils in places such as Brighton, Hull in the north of England, Coventry in the center, Canterbury in the southeast, and the Welsh capital Cardiff.