Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says

Poland’s justice minister must not compare film director Agnieszka Holland or her work to authoritarian regimes, a Warsaw court said on Tuesday. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 26 September 2023
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Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says

  • The black-and-white film shows a family from Syria and a woman from Afghanistan thrown backwards and forward across the border by brutal guards indifferent to their suffering
  • The movie drew a furious response from conservatives in Poland even before its release in Polish cinemas on Friday

WARSAW: Poland’s justice minister must not compare film director Agnieszka Holland or her work to authoritarian regimes, a Warsaw court said on Tuesday, after the minister likened Holland’s film depicting the Belarus border migrant crisis to Nazi propaganda.
With migration a key issue ahead of Oct. 15 elections, the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) have pushed Holland’s award-winning film ‘Green Border’ to center stage in the campaign, condemning its portrayal of the treatment of migrants at the border and accusing Holland of insulting people who were protecting their country.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro compared the film to Nazi German propaganda, spurring Holland to demand an apology and threatening court action in the absence of one.
In his post on social media network X, Ziobro said: “In the Third Reich, the Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today they have Agnieszka Holland for that.”
The black-and-white film shows a family from Syria and a woman from Afghanistan thrown backwards and forward across the border by brutal guards indifferent to their suffering, as activists struggled to try to bring them to safety.
After the court’s ruling on Tuesday, Holland’s lawyers Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram and Michal Wawrykiewicz wrote on X: “As Agnieszka Holland’s representatives, we would like to inform you that the District Court in Warsaw has issued an order prohibiting Zbigniew Ziobro from speaking about Ms. Holland and her works, comparing them to criminal authoritarian regimes.”
The movie drew a furious response from conservatives in Poland even before its release in Polish cinemas on Friday.
Holland hit back at the criticism in an interview with private broadcaster TVN24 on Monday, labelling the government “a disgrace to Poland” and their actions against her work “unprecedented.”
Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said Holland and her legal team were in effect blocking Ziobro’s right to free speech.
“Minister Ziobro and every citizen has a right to present their views and opinions,” he told Reuters. “Ms Holland wants to refuse him this right.”
Migrants, largely from North African and the Middle East, started flocking to the border in 2021 after Belarus, a Russian ally, opened travel agencies in the Middle East offering an unofficial route into Europe, a move Brussels said was designed to create a crisis. Poland has refused to let them cross.


Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

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Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

  • Saudi Arabia ‘open’ to cooperation, Riyadh’s envoy tells Bangladesh’s new FM
  • They also discuss preparations for the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage season

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia is open to engaging Bangladeshi workers in its green initiatives, Riyadh’s envoy has said following talks with Dhaka’s new top diplomat.

Nearly 3 million Bangladeshis live and work in Saudi Arabia. They are the largest expat group in the Kingdom and also the biggest Bangladeshi community outside Bangladesh.

Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, even more of them are likely to find employment in Saudi Arabia, especially if they are skilled professionals or their jobs are related to the vision’s projects.

Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka Essa Al-Duhailan discussed the possibilities during his first meeting with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, who recently assumed office following last month’s general election.

The foreign minister is a renowned ecologist and academic specializing in environmental sciences.

“We talked about the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative to have some farmers and experts from Bangladesh participate … in planting more than 50 billion trees in the region,” Al-Duhailan told Arab News after the meeting on Thursday.

He said the Saudi side was “open to any suggestion and cooperation.”

The green initiatives launched by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2021 are focused on combating climate change and safeguarding the environment for future generations in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East through emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection.

The planting of 50 billion trees across the Middle East is the equivalent of restoring 200 million hectares of degraded land. A fifth of the trees will be planted within the Kingdom’s borders, with the remaining 40 billion set to be planted across the broader region in the coming decades.

The Saudi ambassador said he also discussed with the foreign minister the Kingdom’s plans to streamline the employment of Bangladeshis in order to “ease the procedures for the workers,” as well as preparations for the upcoming Hajj season.

“We will, inshallah, implement the Makkah Route initiative this year, for the fourth (time),” he added.

The Makkah Route initiative is a flagship program launched by Saudi Arabia in 2019, allowing pilgrims to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter Saudi Arabia without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.


With spears and shields, India’s Nihang Sikh warriors join farmers’ protest

Updated 23 February 2024
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With spears and shields, India’s Nihang Sikh warriors join farmers’ protest

  • Nihang Sikhs is a warrior sect dating back to 1600s distinguished by ink-blue robes and ancient weapons 
  • As farmers waited to march Friday, Nihang honed skills by practicing fencing, horseback riding and meditating

SHAMBHU, India: Thousands of protesting Indian farmers facing off with security forces have come under the protection of the Nihang Sikhs, a warrior sect dating back to the 1600s distinguished by their ink-blue robes and ancient weapons such as swords and spears.
The farmers, who are also mainly Sikhs and who hail from the northern state of Punjab, are demanding higher prices for their crops, and began marching to the capital Delhi earlier this month to press their demands to the government.
Police, however, have stopped the march about 200 km (125 miles) from the capital, using water cannons and tear gas to disrupt the demonstration.
On Wednesday, the farmers said they would stop their protest for two days after one of the demonstrators died. Police officers confirmed the man died at a protest site but added the cause of his death would only be determined by an autopsy.
As they waited for the march to resume, the Nihang warriors honed their skills by practicing fencing, horseback riding and meditating.
Easily distinguishable by their flowing robes and matching turbans, several Nihangs say they joined the march to “protect” the farmers.
“Guru Gobind Singh has preached that Sikhs must always be ready to fight injustice and oppression,” said Sher Singh, one of the Nihangs referring to the spiritual leader of the Sikhs.
“We have to be prepared if these protesters face any trouble even in the middle of the night.”
India’s minority Sikh community makes for more than half of Punjab’s 30 million population, and the Nihangs took part in a similar, year-long farmers’ protest in 2021.
“Farmers are being oppressed...The government must not think that they can scare the farmers away...this is Punjab and we are standing in solidarity with the farmers,” said Raja Ram Singh, another Nihang.
During the 2021 march, three Nihangs were arrested in connection with the murder of a Sikh man at one of the protest sites who they accused of desecrating Sikh holy texts, according to local media reports.
The Nihangs did not deny the allegations, maintaining that the man had committed sacrilege by attacking their holy book, the media reports added.


Vice Media says ‘several hundred’ staff members will be laid off, Vice.com news site shuttered

Updated 23 February 2024
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Vice Media says ‘several hundred’ staff members will be laid off, Vice.com news site shuttered

  • Vice filed for bankruptcy last year before being sold for $350 million to consortium led by Fortress Investment Group
  • Vice was once a swashbuckling media company geared to younger audience with immersive storytelling style

NEW YORK: Vice Media plans to lay off several hundred employees and no longer publish material on its Vice.com website, the company’s CEO said in a memo to staff Thursday.

Vice, which filed for bankruptcy last year before being sold for $350 million to a consortium led by the Fortress Investment Group, is also looking to sell its Refinery 29 publishing business, CEO Bruce Dixon said in his memo to staff.

It’s the latest sign of financial problems buffeting the media industry. Digital sites the Messenger, BuzzFeed News and Jezebel have all shut down in the past year, and legacy media outlets like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have also seen job cuts.

Once a swashbuckling media company geared to a younger audience with an immersive storytelling style that encompassed digital, television and film outlets, New York-based Vice was valued at $5.7 billion in 2017.

Dixon offered no specifics about the layoffs, other than saying hundreds of people will be affected and will be notified early next week. The New York Times reported that the company currently has about 900 people on staff.

“I know that saying goodbye to our valued colleagues is difficult and feels overwhelming, but this is the best path forward for Vice as we position the company for long-term creative and financial success,” Dixon said.

He said it was no longer cost-effective for Vice to distribute its digital content, including news, the way it has been. He said Vice would put more emphasis on its social channels and look for different ways to distribute its content.

As part of its strategic shift, Dixon said Vice would follow a studio model.

Before filing for bankruptcy protection last year, Vice canceled its “Vice News Tonight” television program as part of a round of layoffs then.


Former ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum loses UK citizenship appeal

Updated 54 min 5 sec ago
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Former ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum loses UK citizenship appeal

  • Shamima Begum was 15 years old when she left her east London home for Syria with two school friends in 2015
  • Her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp

LONDON: A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Daesh lost her latest appeal on Friday over the removal of her British citizenship.

The British government took away Shamima Begum’s citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

Begum, now 24, argued the decision was unlawful, in part because British officials failed to properly consider whether she was a victim of trafficking, an argument that was rejected by a lower court in February 2023.

The Court of Appeal in London rejected her appeal on Friday following an appeal in October.

Judge Sue Carr said: “It could be argued that the decision in Ms. Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of her own misfortune.

“But it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view. Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful.

“We have concluded it was not and the appeal is dismissed.”

The government welcomed the ruling.

“Our priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so,” a spokesperson for the interior ministry said.

HEATED DEBATE

Friday’s ruling is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle which has already reached the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court – and could do so again.

Begum’s case has been the subject of heated debate in Britain, between those who argue she willingly joined a terrorist group and others who say she was a child when she left, or should face justice for any alleged crimes in Britain.

She left London in 2015, aged 15, and traveled with two school friends to Syria, where she married a Daesh fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.

Begum has been in the Al-Roj camp since 2019, with thousands of other foreign women and children.

Begum’s lawyer, Samantha Knights, had told the Court of Appeal that Britain had a legal duty to consider whether she was a potential victim of trafficking, or if there had been any failures by the state before removing her British citizenship.

She also argued that Begum’s entry into Syria was “facilitated by a Canadian agent” working for Daesh – an allegation which first emerged in 2015.

However, lawyers representing the British government said the decision to revoke someone’s citizenship must be “focused on the risks posed by the individual, irrespective of how they might have come to be a risk.”


Taliban authorities execute two convicted murderers in football stadium

Updated 23 February 2024
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Taliban authorities execute two convicted murderers in football stadium

  • Both men were executed by multiple gunshots as thousands gathered to witness the executions 
  • Taliban scholars in Afghanistan have employed one of the most severe interpretations of Shariah law

GHAZNI, Afghanistan: Taliban authorities publicly executed two men convicted of murder in a football stadium in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

Both men were executed by multiple gunshots to the back in Ghazni city after Supreme Court official Atiqullah Darwish read aloud a death warrant signed by Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

“These two people were convicted of the crime of murder,” Darwish said. “After two years of trial in the courts of the country, the order has been signed.”

Thousands of people gathered in the stadium to witness the executions.

Families of the convicted men’s victims were present, including women and children, and were asked if they wanted to grant the condemned a last-minute reprieve, but they declined in both cases.

Relatives were also offered to carry out the execution themselves, in line with Taliban government implementation of Islamic law, but members of the security forces killed both men after they refused.

The executed were identified as Said Jamal and Gul Khan, both guilty of knife murders in September 2017 and January 2022 respectively, according to a Supreme Court statement.

The statement said Akhundzada had conducted an “extraordinary investigation” into their cases.

The Taliban administration in Kabul has not been officially recognized by any other government since it took power in 2021 and installed its strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Akhundzada ordered judges in 2022 to fully implement all aspects of Islamic law — including “eye for an eye” punishments known as “qisas.”

Islamic law, or sharia, acts as a code of living for Muslims worldwide, offering guidance on issues such as modesty, finance and crime.

However, interpretations vary according to local custom, culture and religious schools of thought.

Taliban scholars in Afghanistan have employed one of the most severe interpretations of the code, including capital and corporal punishments little used by most modern Muslim states.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent building a new judicial system under the last foreign-backed government, a combination of Islamic and secular law with qualified prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges.

However, many Afghans complained of corruption, bribery and the slow delivery of justice.

Public executions were common during the Taliban’s first rule from 1996 to 2001.

Thursday’s executions are believed to be the third and fourth death penalties meted out since the Taliban authorities returned to power.

The first two had also been convicted of murder.

There have been regular public floggings for other crimes, however, including theft, adultery and alcohol consumption.

The last reported execution was carried out in June 2023, when a convicted murderer was shot dead in the grounds of a mosque in Laghman province in front of some 2,000 people.

The UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, condemned the use of capital punishment in a post on social media later Thursday, urging the authorities “to establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty, as a step toward its abolition.”