Amnesty calls for action on rights in China’s Xinjiang

The Amnesty International logo is seen in their office in Hong Kong. (AFP/File)
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Updated 31 August 2023
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Amnesty calls for action on rights in China’s Xinjiang

  • The rights group singled out UN rights chief Volker Turk for failing to “clearly emphasize the urgent need for accountability for (China’s) alarming violations”

GENEVA: Amnesty International decried Thursday the “woefully inadequate” international response after the UN released a bombshell report last year detailing a litany of abuses in China’s Xinjiang province.
On the first anniversary of the report, Amnesty lamented that the international community, including parts of the United Nations, had “shied away from the kind of resolute steps needed to advance justice, truth and reparation for victims.”
The rights group singled out UN rights chief Volker Turk for failing to “clearly emphasize the urgent need for accountability for (China’s) alarming violations.”
His predecessor Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed report on the situation in Xinjiang on August 31, 2022, just minutes before her term ended, after facing significant pressure from Beijing to withhold the document.
It detailed a string of violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, urging the world to pay “urgent attention” to the human rights situation in the far-western region.
The report — harshly criticized by Beijing — highlighted “credible” allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights.
And it brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations that Beijing had detained of detaining more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims and forcibly sterilized women, with possible crimes against humanity.
But UN Human Rights Council member states last October narrowly voted to reject even holding a debate on its contents.
Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has vowed to “personally continue engaging with the (Chinese) authorities” about the rights violations detailed in the report.
But Amnesty complained that his public follow-up had so far been lacking.
“We need national and international officials, including human rights officials such as the high commissioner, to use all levers at their disposal ... to seek meaningful change in China’s repressive policies,” said Sarah Brooks, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for China.
They should, she said, be “engaging in frank, evidence-based dialogue with the authorities about their human rights violations.”
Brooks highlighted that the anniversary of the report’s release came the same week as Chinese President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi, where he called for more curbs on “illegal religious activities.”
“The one-year anniversary of the (UN) report must be a call to action,” she said, stressing the urgent need for an independent international investigation into violations in Xinjiang.
“Families of those who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or mistreated want and deserve answers and accountability, not delays and compromises.”


Spaceship Odysseus lying sideways after dramatic moon touchdown

Updated 7 sec ago
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Spaceship Odysseus lying sideways after dramatic moon touchdown

  • Shares of stocks of Intuitive Machines, maker of the lunar lander, descend fast after CEO's revelation
  • Odysseus is still considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers

WASHINGTON: The first American spaceship to the Moon since the Apollo era is probably lying sideways following its dramatic landing, the company that built it said Friday, even as ground controllers work to download data and surface photos from the uncrewed robot.
The Odysseus spacecraft landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time (2323 GMT), after a nail-biting final descent when ground teams had to switch to a backup guidance system and took several minutes to establish radio contact after the lander came to rest.
Intuitive Machines, the company behind this first-ever lunar landing by a private company, initially posted on social media that its hexagonal spaceship was upright, but CEO Steve Altemus told reporters on Friday that statement was based on misinterpreted data.
Instead, it appears that it caught a foot on the surface and tipped over, coming to rest horizontally with its top perched on a small rock — taking some shine off an accomplishment widely hailed as a historic achievement.

The revelation by Altemus caused shares of Intuitive Machines to tumble 30 percent in extended trade, wiping out a Friday rally after the dramatic touchdown.

On Feb. 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander captured a wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the Moon approximately 200 km uprange from the intended landing site. (X: @Int_Machines)

The stock of the first private company to successfully land on the moon nearly doubled from $4.98 before the Feb. 15 launch to $9.59 as of Friday’s close. Friday’s late-day sell-off left it below $7.
Still, the company said the spacecraft is “alive and well” and engineers were sending commands to the vehicle, and NASA officials at a news conference praised the effort.
The first touchdown on the lunar surface by a US spacecraft in more than half a century enthused investors of fellow space startups, sending up shares of companies such as Astra Space and Satellogic. They slipped between 0.5 percent and 2.8 percent in after-hours trading.
Stephen Altemus, CEO of Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which built and flew the lander, said the vehicle is believed to have caught one of its six landing feet on the lunar surface during its final descent and tipped over, coming to rest on its side propped up on a rock.

The Texas-based company’s lunar lander touched down at the Malapert A crater, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the moon’s south pole on February 22.
It was sent to the moon on Feb. 15 using a Falcon 9 rocket launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The company, co-founded in 2013 by serial space industry investor Kam Ghaffarian and NASA veterans Altemus and Tim Crain, is awaiting first images from the lunar surface.
The landing could open the doors to investments and government contracts, helping space companies ride out what has been a tough period of funding due to an uncertain economy.

A NASA probe called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter should be able to photograph Odysseus over the weekend, helping pinpoint its exact location.
Altemus said that while solar arrays were on the top-facing side, the team’s ability to download data from the science experiments on board was being hampered because of antennas facing downward that “are unusable for transmission back to Earth — and so that really is a limiter in our ability to communicate and get the right data down so we get everything we need for the mission.”
Because of complications associated with the landing, a decision was taken not to shoot out an external camera to capture the descent as it happened, according to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which built the “EagleCam” device.
But the team will still attempt to deploy it from the ground to try to obtain an outside image of Odysseus.

Odysseus is still considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers designed to carry out science experiments that will pave the way for the return of American astronauts to the Moon later this decade, under the Artemis program.
A moonshot by another American company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate that private industry has what it takes to repeat a feat last achieved by US space agency NASA during its manned Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Underlining the technical challenges, Intuitive Machines’ own navigation technology failed and ground engineers were forced to jury-rig a solution, hastily writing a software patch to switch to an experimental NASA laser guidance system that was intended to run only as a technology demonstration.
Altemus later revealed Odysseus’ own laser system failed to turn on because someone had forgotten to flip a safety switch before takeoff, which he described as “an oversight on our part.”
Confirmation of landing was supposed to come seconds after the milestone, but instead around 15 minutes passed before a faint signal was detected, enough to declare the spaceship was in one piece and had met its goal.

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative which delegates cargo services to the private sector in a bid to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.
Odysseus also carries cargo for private customers, including a reflective heat wrapping developed by Columbia Sportswear and used to protect the spaceship’s cryogenic propulsion tank.
The United States, along with international partners, want to develop long-term habitats on the south pole, harvesting ice there for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.
The first crewed landing under NASA’s Artemis program is set to take place no sooner than 2026. China, meanwhile, plans to put its first crew on the Moon in 2030, opening a new era of space competition.
The mission was the fourth attempt at soft lunar touchdown by the private sector. Intuitive Machines joins the national space agencies of the Soviet Union, United States, China, India and Japan in an exclusive club of landing on the Moon.

 


Indian court seeks renaming of ‘interfaith’ lion pair

A man walks past the idols of Hindu deities Ram and Sita at a temple in Varanasi on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 8 sec ago
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Indian court seeks renaming of ‘interfaith’ lion pair

  • Critics say religious intolerance toward India’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority has grown since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in 2014

NEW DELHI: An Indian court has asked authorities to find new monikers for two lions named after a Hindu goddess and a Muslim emperor, following a religious group’s petition to stop them from sharing an enclosure.
Sita and Akbar were shipped to Siliguri zoo in West Bengal this month as part of an animal exchange program from a neighboring state.
That irked the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prominent right-wing Hindu organization that has campaigned against interfaith relationships.
The group took the matter to court saying the lion pair’s cohabitation was an act of “blasphemy” that hurt Hindu religious sentiments.
Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya of the Calcutta High Court asked government counsel to rename the pair on Thursday.
“These names should be avoided and discontinued to avoid unnecessary controversy,” he said from the bench, according to the Hindustan Times newspaper.
Government counsel Joyjit Choudhury told the judge that the state was “already thinking of renaming” the pair.
Sita is one of the main characters of the Hindu epic Ramayana and the wife of Ram, one of the Hindu faith’s most revered deities.
Akbar was a 16th-century Mughal emperor who extended Islamic rule over much of the Indian subcontinent — a time Hindu nationalist groups say was a period that their religion was oppressed.
The VHP also claimed that Akbar the lion had originally been named after Ram before the pair arrived in Siliguri.
Critics say religious intolerance toward India’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority has grown since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in 2014.
The VHP, a group loosely affiliated with Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has campaigned against interfaith marriages and supported efforts by state governments to make them more difficult.
It has also promulgated a “Love Jihad” conspiracy theory that alleges India’s Muslim minority hoodwink Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam.
 

 


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 24 February 2024
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Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.