Fatima Al-Banawi’s directorial debut ‘Basma’ to premiere on Netflix in 2024

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Updated 29 November 2023

Fatima Al-Banawi’s directorial debut ‘Basma’ to premiere on Netflix in 2024

  • Actress plays title character in film that deals with issue of mental illness

LONDON: Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi is set to make her directorial debut with the film “Basma,” which premieres on Netflix next year.

Best known for her role in “Barakah Meets Barakah,” Al-Banawi plays the title character in the movie, a young Saudi woman who returns to her hometown of Jeddah after completing her studies in the US.

She is soon faced with the reality of a father suffering from a mental illness, broken family relationships, and struggles to recapture the home life she once knew.

“There are 7 billion versions of normal on this planet. I hope I managed to deliver one of them,” said Al-Banawi, who also wrote and directed the film.

“After we finished filming ‘Basma,’ I wondered whether there would be anything better than dreams coming true, and I realized the only thing better than that is to be able to dream.”

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Updated 25 sec ago

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

Updated 20 April 2024

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Updated 19 April 2024

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

Updated 19 April 2024

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

  • Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian was under investigation after questioning Hamas atrocities, criticizing Israel
  • Insufficient justification for arrest, says court
  • Detention part of a broader campaign, says lawyer

LONDON: The prominent Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, was released on Friday after a court order rejected police findings.

The criminologist and law professor was arrested the previous day on suspicion of incitement. She had been under investigation for remarks regarding the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and for saying Israelis were committing “genocidal crimes” in the Gaza Strip and should fear the consequences.

On Friday, the court dismissed a police request to extend her remand, citing insufficient justification for the arrest, according to Hebrew media reports.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse to demonstrate against Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest.

Israeli Channel 12, which first reported the news, did not specify where Shalhoub was arrested but her lawyer later confirmed she was apprehended at her home in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.

“She’s not been in good health recently and was arrested in her home,” Alaa Mahajna said. “Police searched the house and seized her computer and cellphone, [Palestinian] poetry books and work-related papers.”

Mahajna described Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest as part of a broader campaign against her, which has included numerous threats to her life and of violence. 

The professor was suspended by her university last month after calling for the abolition of Zionism and suggesting that accounts of sexual assault during the Hamas-led attacks on Israel were fabricated.

The suspension was initially criticized by the university community as a blow to academic freedom in Israel. However, the decision was later reversed following an apology from Shalhoub-Kevorkian and an admission that sexual assaults took place.

Since hostilities began last year, numerous dissenting voices in Israel have faced arrest for expressing solidarity with victims of the bombardment in Gaza.

In October, well-known ultra-Orthodox Israeli journalist Israel Frey was forced into hiding following a violent attack on his home.

Bayan Khateeb, a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, was arrested last year for incitement after posting an Instagram story showing the preparation of a popular spicy egg dish with the caption: “We will soon be eating the victory shakshuka.”

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

Updated 19 April 2024

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

  • Paramount is already in an exclusive deal with Skydance Media over possible merger

LONDON: Sony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global Management are discussing making a joint bid for Paramount Global, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The companies have yet to approach Paramount, which is in exclusive deal talks with Skydance Media, an independent studio led by David Ellison, though some investors have urged Paramount to explore other options.
The competing bid, which is still being structured, would offer cash for all outstanding Paramount shares and take the company private, the source said.
Sony would hold a majority stake in the joint venture and operate the media company, and its library of films, including such classics as “Star Trek,” “Mission:Impossible” and “Indiana Jones,” and television characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, according to the source.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra, a veteran media executive with deep experience in film and television, would likely run the studio and take advantage of Sony’s marketing and distribution.
Apollo would likely assume control of the CBS broadcast network and its local television stations, because of restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcast stations, the source said. Sony’s parent corporation is headquartered in Tokyo.
The New York Times first reported the Sony-Apollo discussions. Paramount and Sony declined comment. Apollo could not be reached for comment.
The private equity firm previously made a $26 billion offer to buy Paramount Global, whose enterprise value at the end of 2023 was about $22.5 billion.
A special committee of Paramount’s board elected to continue with its advanced deal talks with Skydance, rather than chase a deal “that might not actually come to fruition,” said two people with knowledge of the board’s action.
The board committee is evaluating the possible acquisition of the smaller independent studio in a stock deal worth $4 billion to $5 billion.
Skydance is negotiating separately to acquire National Amusements, a company that holds the Redstone family’s controlling interest in Paramount, according to a person familiar with the deal terms. That transaction is contingent upon a Skydance-Paramount merger.