Greek trial of Egyptians over Pylos shipwreck may be unfair: Rights groups

Human rights groups have raised concerns that the upcoming trial in Greece of nine Egyptians who survived the Pylos shipwreck in 2023 may not be fair. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 17 May 2024
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Greek trial of Egyptians over Pylos shipwreck may be unfair: Rights groups

  • Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch: Defendants disadvantaged by Coast Guard investigation, withheld evidence
  • Groups say evidence altered by Coast Guard, which was accused by survivors of causing disaster that killed over 600 people

LONDON: Human rights groups have raised concerns that the upcoming trial in Greece of nine Egyptians who survived the Pylos shipwreck in 2023 may not be fair.
The nine are charged with “smuggling, aggravated by the deaths of passengers, causing a shipwreck, irregular entry, and forming and membership of a criminal organization,” with the possibility of multiple life sentences if convicted.
However, while the trial is set to commence on May 21, an investigation into the culpability of Greek authorities over the disaster, which killed at least 600 of the 750 passengers aboard, is only at its preliminary stage.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warned the mismatched timing of the process jeopardized the chance of a fair trial.
Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said: “There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence given that the official investigation into the role of the Coast Guard has not yet been completed.”
She added: “Credible and meaningful accountability for one of the worst shipwrecks in the Mediterranean needs to include a determination of any liabilities of Greek authorities.”
The overcrowded vessel sank in Greek waters on June 14 last year, carrying people mainly from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan.
Both HRW and Amnesty subsequently accused the Hellenic Coast Guard of culpability, and there have been numerous allegations that a patrol boat caused the disaster after it tried to tow the stricken migrant vessel.
So far, 53 survivors have come forward as part of a case brought against the Hellenic Coast Guard in front of the country’s Naval Court, which began in June last year but has made little progress.
However, the “Pylos 9” have been accused of being smugglers in charge of the vessel that sank and therefore culpable for the disaster.
They were arrested on June 15 following testimony by nine other survivors of the disaster blaming them, which was compiled and submitted by Coast Guard investigators. They deny the charges.
In a statement, HRW and Amnesty said: “There are real concerns regarding the respect of fair trial standards based on questions about the integrity of the investigation and evidence.
“The speed at which the investigation against survivors was concluded, and the Pylos 9 defense lawyers’ lack of access to the Naval Court case file compound these concerns.”
Investigations by Lighthouse Reports and Solomon also found eyewitness testimony compiled by the Coast Guard contained identical accounts of the accident, which omitted details about the patrol boat later submitted to a public prosecutor in Kalamata.
Another witness told HRW and Amnesty their testimony had been altered by the Coast Guard to omit the claim that the patrol boat caused the disaster.
The defense team for the nine Egyptians has also claimed requests for evidence for the criminal trial, including data from survivors’ mobile phones confiscated by Greek authorities, have been denied over questions into the jurisdiction of the Naval Court investigation.
“The defendants’ lawyers have been unable to gain access to the investigation file before the Naval Court despite its clear relevance to preparing the defense,” Amnesty and HRW said.
“The judge also rejected motions by defense lawyers to take testimony from additional survivors, and to acquire the communications between the Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex and the Greek Joint Rescue Coordination Center, and aerial photos of the boat prior to the shipwreck.
“The Kalamata court should guarantee that the Pylos 9 receive a fair and impartial trial, and that their full due process rights are upheld and respected. The Naval Court should advance investigations promptly, effectively and impartially and ensure the safe and effective participation of the largest possible number of survivors and relatives of victims and full collection of evidence,” they added.
The groups also highlighted the tendency for Greek authorities to blame people from ethnic minorities for smuggling and people trafficking, citing a study that said that as of February 2023, 90 percent of the 2,154 people detained in Greece on smuggling charges were “third country” nationals.
“Time and again, in Greece and in other countries, racialized people who are seeking to travel to Europe end up being the only ones facing accountability in the context of migration movements,” said Adriana Tidona, migration researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Pylos investigations and trials must serve as a turning point for this dangerous trajectory.”


Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

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Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine has said is dispatching reinforcements to an embattled strategic hilltop town in the eastern Donetsk region, a vital flashpoint whose capture could accelerate Russian advances deeper in the industrial territory.
Donetsk has borne the brunt of fighting since Russian forces invaded in February 2022, and Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line there against better-resourced Russian forces.
“Units of the 24th Mechanized Brigade have been redeployed to strengthen the defense of the Chasiv Yar sector,” the grouping said in a statement late Thursday.
“The situation in and around the town is extremely difficult. The enemy is constantly organizing massive frontal assaults, and also trying to bypass the settlement from the north and south,” it added.
The unit had been deployed near the town of Toretsk, another frontline region where Russian forces have gained ground after a lull in fighting there, according to military bloggers.
Chasiv Yar, which had a pre-war population of around 12,000 people, sits above nearby civilian hubs of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka.
The Ukrainian military says it has been persistently targeted by Russian air strikes, and recently released drone footage from the town shows rows of bombed-out and smoldering Soviet-era housing blocs.
The Kremlin said in late 2022 that it had annexed Donetsk, which has been partially controlled by Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists for around a decade.

S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

Updated 21 June 2024
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S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

  • South Korea fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed border on Thursday

SEOUL: South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the new treaty between Russia and North Korea as a serious threat to regional peace and stability, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The two in a phone call on Thursday also discussed ways to respond to the pact, and agreed to closely monitor the situation, the foreign ministry said.
Blinken said the United States supports South Korea’s responses to the agreement, in which Moscow and Pyongyang said each country would provide immediate military assistance if either faces armed aggression.
Cho said any cooperation to help strengthen North Korea’s military capabilities is a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, according to the statement.
The United States will consider various ways to respond to the threat to international peace and stability from Russia and North Korea, Blinken was quoted as saying by the ministry.
South Korean National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said on Thursday that Seoul will review the possibility of supplying weapons to Ukraine in response to the landmark pact.

Relations between the Korean neighbors had been tense again lately, with the North repeatedly dumping trash into South Korean territory via cheap balloons.

On Thursday morning, South Korea’s military fired warning shots after several North Korean soldiers crossed the border, the Yonhap news agency reported on Friday citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The soldiers retreated immediately after the warning shots were fired, the report said.
They had breached the Military Demarcation Line running through the middle of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), where they were working around 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday, South Korea said.
It is at least the third such incident this month. South Korea’s military fired warning shots on Tuesday after dozens of North Korean soldiers breached the demarcation line.
The incident came after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for the first time in 24 years earlier this week.

 

 


US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

Updated 21 June 2024
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US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

  • White House says it can do this by redirecting orders made by other allies for air defense systems
  • Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes

WASHINGTON: The White House announced Thursday that it will rush delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine by redirecting planned shipments to other allied nations, as Washington scrambles to counter increased Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
National security spokesman John Kirby said the US had taken the “difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize near-term planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries,” though he wouldn’t say which nations would be affected or how many.
“Right now, we know that Ukraine urgently needs these additional capabilities,” Kirby said on a call with reporters, adding, “Obviously more is needed, and it’s needed now.”
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden, during last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Italy, suggested such action might be necessary, saying, “We’ve let it be known for those countries that are expecting, from us, air defense systems in the future, that they’re going to have to wait.”
“Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met,” Biden said. “And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.”
The US was already sending Ukraine a consistent stream of interceptors for its air defense systems, including for the Patriot missile batteries and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS. But Kirby said that more was urgently needed as Russia’s military has accelerated missile and drone attacks against cities and infrastructure centers “trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of this winter.”

This handout photograph taken on June 18, 2024 and released by the Press service of the 24th mechanized brigade shows Ukrainian servicemen repairing military equipment at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (AFP)

Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes, as each side seeks to hinder the other’s ability to continue fighting.
The number of interceptors to be sent isn’t clear but Kirby said it could involve “hundreds” of Patriot interceptor missiles.
Kirby said Ukraine will get prioritized shipments as soon as systems roll off assembly lines for the next about 16 months, and those will provide the country with “enough capability” during that period.
After that, he said, “Countries that have been asked to delay will start to get” deliveries of systems they had already ordered.
Kirby said the move means “a range of countries” will face delays in receiving missile systems that are being diverted to Ukraine but that the shift would not affect Taiwan or what it “continues to need and receive for self-defense” in the face of potential threats from China.
Asked to describe how other countries reacted to the shift, Kirby said they were “broadly understanding of it.”
“They know how serious the need is in Ukraine,” he said.


Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

Updated 21 June 2024
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Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

  • The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally is seen leading the race ahead of France’s parliamentary elections, three polls showed on Thursday, ahead of the leftwing Popular Front and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists.
Pollster IFOP in a survey for broadcasting group TF1 and Le Figaro said the National Rally (RN) would secure 34 percent of the vote, while the Popular Front would reach 29 percent and Macron’s Together bloc would get 22 percent.
Another poll by Harris Interactive — conducted for RTL radio, M6 TV and Challenges Magazine — put the RN at 33 percent, while the left was seen at 26 percent and Macron’s camp at 21 percent.
A third poll published on Thursday, by OpinionWay on behalf of CNews TV, Europe 1 radio and the Journal du Dimanche paper, also put the RN in the lead with 35 percent of the votes, ahead of the Popular Front which had 27 percent and Macron’s camp which had 20 percent.
The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district.
The Harris poll, however, made rough seat projections and forecast 235 to 280 seats for RN and its allies, which would fall short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority but make it by far the largest bloc.


New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

Updated 21 June 2024
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New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

  • The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed a bill that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts suggested by a platform’s algorithm, a move to limit feeds critics argue are addictive.
Under the legislation, feeds on apps like TikTok and Instagram would be limited for people under age 18 to posts from accounts they follow, rather than content suggested by an automated algorithm. It would also block platforms from sending minors notifications on suggested posts between midnight and 6 a.m.
Both provisions could be turned off if a minor gets what the bill defines as “verifiable parental consent.”
The law does not take effect immediately. State Attorney General Letitia James is now tasked with crafting rules to determine mechanisms for verifying a user’s age and parental consent. After the rules are finalized, social media companies will have 180 days to implement the regulations.
“We can protect our kids. We can tell the companies that you are not allowed to do this, you don’t have a right to do this, that parents should have say over their children’s lives and their health, not you,” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a bill signing ceremony in Manhattan.
The signing is the first step in what is expected to be a drawn out process of rule making, and a probable lawsuit from social media companies to block the law.
NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that includes X and Meta, has criticized the legislation as unconstitutional.
“This is an assault on free speech and the open Internet by the State of New York,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said in a statement. “New York has created a way for the government to track what sites people visit and their online activity by forcing websites to censor all content unless visitors provide an ID to verify their age.”
Most of the biggest social media platforms send users a steady stream of suggested videos, photographs and other content, using a computer to try and predict what will keep users entertained and engaged for as long as possible. The algorithms use a variety of factors to curate that content, including what a user has clicked on before and interests of other people with similar preferences.
The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced plans to work with the Legislature on a bill to restrict smartphone usage for students during the school day, though he didn’t provide exact details on what the proposal would include. Newsom in 2019 signed a bill allowing school districts to limit or ban smartphones while at school.
There hasn’t been broad legislation on the subject at the federal level but it is a common point of discussion in Washington. This week the US surgeon general called on Congress to put warning labels on social media platforms similar to those on cigarettes, citing mental health dangers for children using the sites.
Some tech companies, with pressure mounting, have decided to set up parental controls on their platforms. Last year, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, created tools that allowed parents to set time limits on the apps for children.
The New York legislation, debuted last October, had faced major pushback in the Legislature from the tech industry.
“Social media platforms manipulate what our children see online to keep them on the platforms as long as possible,” said James, a Democrat who pushed for the bill. “The more time young people spend on social media, the more they are at risk of developing serious mental health concerns.”