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US Sharpens Focus on Russia Sanctions Evasion, Warning Turkish Banks, Businesses

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 19:20
The Biden administration is working on making sanctions targeting Russia more effective by explicitly warning Russian trading partners that they run legal risks doing business with banned entities. Brian Nelson, U.S. Undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, recently met with government officials and banking sector representatives in Turkey to discuss how U.S. sanctions on Russia affect Turkish businesses as part of a regional tour that also included the United Arab Emirates. Trade experts told VOA that the U.S. is focusing on depriving Russia's military of advanced equipment by threatening to enact secondary sanctions on businesses that still trade with Russia. "In engaging with sanctioned Russian entities, Turkish businesses and banks could put themselves at risk of sanctions and a potential loss of access to G7 markets," Nelson told the Bank Association of Turkey, in remarks that were also published online afterward. 'Dual-use technology' Pointing to the rise in Turkey's exports to Russia last year, Nelson urged companies to take extra precautions, especially when it comes to dual-use technology transfers that could be used by the Russian military-industrial complex. The dual-use term refers to items or know-how that could potentially be used for both civilian and military purposes, such as semiconductors. The warning came a week after the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as OFAC, targeted Russian private military company Wagner Group as well as other entities seen as supporting the Russian military complex. Last week's designation included Aviacon Zitotrans, a Russian cargo airline company, which, according to the Treasury, sought to use a Turkish company and Turkish diplomats to facilitate the sale of Russian defense equipment abroad. Experts point out that Turkey doubled its exports to Russia in 2022. According to Marshall Billingslea, former assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, the exported materials include things such as semiconductors. "Turkey has gone from virtually no exports of semiconductors to Russia in 2021 to now being the fourth-largest supplier," he told VOA. Focus on Russian trade partners Brian O'Toole worked as a senior adviser to the director of OFAC during previous administrations and played a central role in designing the sanctions regime in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine. He said Treasury appears to be clearly signaling that it is focused now on banned exports to Russia, in particular semiconductor exports. But he said Treasury likely has other interests in Turkey. "Military is top priority and, two, is Russian oligarchs and elites using Turkey as a safe haven for assets when they've been sanctioned elsewhere. The third is the backfill component. Turkey shouldn't be taking advantage of the West pulling out." NATO member Turkey, which has maintained good relations with Kyiv and Moscow, has opposed blanket Western sanctions on Russia, saying it must pursue its own policy in order to protect its interests. Ankara, which previously condemned Russia's invasion, saying it fully supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, has said in the past it would not allow international sanctions to be circumvented. But U.S. Treasury official Nelson told Turkish bankers that Russian oligarchs have continued to buy property and yachts in Turkey. He urged enhancing due diligence beyond checking the U.S. sanctions list. "The screening should also capture companies and proxies that sanctioned Russian and Belarusian actors use as fronts," he warned. Russian sanctions evasion Studies of Russia's economy this year indicate that while sanctions have driven up prices and made some high-tech equipment harder to find, importers have found new ways of getting banned equipment into the country through third countries. An investigative report by the Wall Street Journal based on trade data shows more than a dozen Turkish companies exported plastics, rubber products, transport vehicles and generators last year and that those items were purchased by 10 Russian companies on the U.S. sanctions list. The Turkish Embassy in Washington did not reply to a request for comment on the alleged sanctions violations before publishing.

EU Invites Ukraine's Zelenskyy to Brussels Summit

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 19:17
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been invited to take part in a summit of European Union leaders, the EU said Monday, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council of the EU's national leaders, invited Zelenskyy "to participate in person in a future summit," a spokesman for Michel tweeted. The spokesman, Barend Leyts, did not say when Zelenskyy might take up the invitation and specified that no further information would be provided "for security reasons." The next EU summit takes place Thursday and Friday of this week in Brussels. Earlier in the day, multiple media outlets reported that Zelenskyy could attend the summit and may also address a session of the European Parliament. EU officials had declined to comment on those reports. Some noted that if news of such a visit leaked in advance, it could pose a greater security risk for Ukraine's wartime leader and lessen the chances of him going ahead with the trip. Zelenskyy's office did not respond to a request for comment on the reports. If Zelenskyy does visit Brussels this week, it would be only the second foreign trip he has taken since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last Feb. 24. In December, Zelenskyy visited Washington to meet President Joe Biden and address the U.S. Congress.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 19:00
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Rushdie Says 'Very Difficult' to Write After Stabbing

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 18:47
British author Salman Rushdie said he finds it "very difficult" to write after being stabbed last year, in an interview published Monday ahead of the release of his new novel Victory City. Rushdie, whose "epic tale" of a 14th-century woman who defies a patriarchal world to rule a city hits U.S. shelves Tuesday, said the attack had scarred him mentally. "There is such a thing as PTSD you know," the 75-year-old told the New Yorker magazine in his first interview since the August 12 stabbing at a conference in Chautauqua in upstate New York. "I've found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it's a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I'm not out of that forest yet, really," he added. The award-winning novelist, a naturalized American citizen who has lived in New York for 20 years, lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand, his agent said in October. Rushdie told journalist David Remnick that "big injuries are healed" but he was not able to type very well because of a lack of feeling in some fingertips. "I've been better. But, considering what happened, I'm not so bad," said the Indian-born author, describing himself as "lucky." Rushdie lived in hiding for years after Iran's first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of The Satanic Verses, published in 1988. The attack shocked the West but was welcomed by extremists in Muslim countries such as Iran and Pakistan. Words 'the only victors' Rushdie was asked whether he thought it had been a mistake to let his guard down in recent decades. "I'm asking myself that question, and I don't know the answer to it," he said. "Three-quarters of my life as a writer has happened since the fatwa. In a way, you can't regret your life." Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, was arrested immediately after the attack and pleaded not guilty to assault charges. "I blame him," said Rushdie, simply. Victory City purports to be a translation of a historical epic originally written in Sanskrit. It's his 15th novel and was penned before the attack. The much-anticipated work tells the tale of young orphan girl Pampa Kampana who is endowed by a goddess with magical powers and founds the city, in modern-day India, of Bisnaga, which translates as Victory City. While not personally promoting the book, Rushdie has begun to communicate via social media on Twitter, most often to share press reviews of his new novel. An icon of free speech since he was subjected to the fatwa that forced him into hiding, Rushdie is still an outspoken defender of the power of words. His new work follows a heroine on a mission to "give women equal agency in a patriarchal world," according to publisher Penguin Random House's summary. The book tells the tale of Pampa Kampana's creation of a city and of its downfall. A triumph "Over the next 250 years, Pampa Kampana's life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga's, from its literal sowing from a bag of magic seeds to its tragic ruination in the most human of ways: the hubris of those in power," it added. The novel concludes with the statement: "Words are the only victors." U.S. author Colum McCann wrote in The New York Times that his friend Rushdie was saying "something quite profound" in his new novel. "In the face of danger, even in the face of death, he manages to say that storytelling is one currency we all have," said McCann. The Atlantic magazine called it a "triumph — not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting." Born in Mumbai in 1947, Rushdie published his first novel Grimus in 1975, and gained worldwide fame six years later with Midnight's Children, which won him the Booker Prize. Victory City will be released in Britain Thursday.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 18:00
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Georgian Court Rejects Appeal to Release Saakashvili on Health Grounds

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 17:34
A Georgian court Monday rejected an appeal to release former President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on health grounds, a decision the ex-leader said was akin to a "death sentence." Saakashvili, who led the former Soviet republic as a pro-Western reformer from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge he and his supporters say was politically motivated. In a statement shared by Saakashvili's team, the ex-leader said the court hearing was a "joke," staged by his political opponents to deny him adequate health care. "The government's experts did not even bother to see me once, but the court believed them, and not the international team that included a Nobel Prize winner, that said if I stay in prison I will die," he said. "Now I've basically got a death sentence." Saakashvili has staged multiple hunger strikes while in prison and alleges he has been poisoned. His health has drastically deteriorated, and he has lost over 40% of his body weight since October 2021, according to health records shared by his political ally and family spokesman Giorgi Chaladze. Georgian officials say the ex-president is simulating the seriousness of his condition in order to gain early release and that they have provided adequate health care in a clinic in Tbilisi where he has been held for months. He was originally tried and sentenced in absentia for abuse of power on cases related to presidential pardons issued while he was in office and for allegedly ordering the beating of a political opponent. He has denied the charges and says the cases are politically motivated. During the hearing that concluded Monday, Saakashvili's team were seeking permission for him to be released or allowed to be transferred abroad for medical treatment. Controversial reformer A small group of supporters gathered Monday at the court in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, chanting Saakashvili's name in protest of the ruling. Saakashvili lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze said his team plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, while another member of Saakashvili's team told Reuters it was planning a new campaign to exert "diplomatic" pressure on the Georgian government over his fate. The United States and European Union have both publicly highlighted the plight of Saakashvili during the two-month court hearing, saying the Georgian authorities were responsible for the former leader's health. Saakashvili, 55, swept to power at the start of 2004 after Georgia's pro-democracy Rose Revolution ousted the previous president in late 2003. He ushered in sweeping anti-corruption reforms in a bid to haul the country out of its ex-Soviet legacy, but his outspoken nature frequently upset his opponents. Under his leadership Georgia fought a short war with Russia over the status of pro-Moscow breakaway republics in 2008 and he eventually appeared to lose popular support for his reform program. He stood down for election in 2013 — in accordance with Georgia's two-term limit — in a vote that saw his political rivals in the Georgian Dream party emerge victorious. Before returning to Georgia in 2021, Saakashvili worked in Ukraine as an adviser to various administrations, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's, and as governor of the Odesa region.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 17:00
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US Military Gets Access to 4 More Philippine Bases

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 16:48
The Philippines is forging closer military ties with the United States, granting U.S. forces access to an additional four military sites. As VOA’s Chris Casquejo explains, the enhanced partnership comes amid rising concerns over an increasingly aggressive China. Produced by Chris Casquejo

French-Afghan Photojournalist Detained by Taliban

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 16:11
Concerns are mounting for an award-winning photojournalist detained in Kabul by the Taliban for nearly a month. Mortaza Behboudi, who has dual Afghan and French citizenship, arrived in Kabul on January 5 for a reporting assignment. But he was arrested by the Taliban on accusations of spying after he applied for press accreditation, media rights organizations say. A joint statement by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and journalists at several leading French news outlets on Monday called on the Taliban to “end this senseless situation.” “We remained silent for 30 days about the detention of Mortaza Behboudi,” the statement read. “Today, we are letting the world know that he was arrested in Kabul one month ago, on 7 January, in the hope that he will be released as quickly as possible and will be able to return to France.” RSF reported that its assistance helpline received a call from Behboudi’s phone on January 15, but no message was left. VOA contacted the Taliban for comment. A spokesperson said the Taliban would respond but as of publication, VOA had not received a response. Behboudi’s journalism primarily focuses on refugees, including camps in Greece. He has twice been forced into exile, first as a child when his family moved to Iran to escape Taliban rule, and later in 2015 when he requested asylum in France after being threatened for his journalism. At that time, Behboudi had been living and working in Afghanistan, where he had returned in 2012 to attend university. His coverage of the opium trade made him a target for the Taliban, according to the Paris Institute for Critical Thinking. Since seeking asylum in France, Behboudi has established himself as a renowned international journalist. He helped co-found Guiti News in 2018 — a media venture run by French and refugee journalists, and he freelanced for news outlets including Radio France, Liberation, and La Croix.  Behboudi’s contribution to media coverage of Afghanistan, including under Taliban rule, has been recognized with two Bayeux Prizes and the Varenne award for national daily press. Since taking power in August 2021, the Taliban have briefly detained a handful of foreign journalists, including Foreign Policy magazine columnist Lynne O’Donnell and the American filmmaker Ivor Shearer. Arrests of local journalists have also increased, with Afghanistan featuring for the first time in 12 years on the annual census of jailed reporters, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 16:00
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US, South Korean Nuclear Envoys Discuss Seoul’s Nuclear Intent

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 15:36
Kim Gunn, South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs (left), and Sung Kim, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea (center) appear on Washington Talk, a show hosted by Eunjung Cho of VOA's Korean Service.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 15:00
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Singer Shervin Hajipour's Grammy Win Thrills Iranian Social Media Users

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 14:58
Iran-based singer Shervin Hajipour's Grammy Award for a song he produced last year in honor of Iran's peaceful protest movement against Islamist rule has prompted an outpouring of positive reactions from Iranian social media users.  U.S. first lady Jill Biden announced Hajipour's win of the U.S. Recording Academy's first-ever Song for Social Change Special Merit Award at Sunday's annual ceremony in Los Angeles. Hajipour produced the award-winning song "Baraye" in September with lyrics drawn from social media posts in which other Iranians stated what they were protesting "for" and "because of." The song, which he posted on his Instagram account, became an instant hit and a protest anthem, garnering 40 million views in its first 48 hours. But it also led to his arrest by Iranian security forces on September 29. He was released on bail on October 4 but still faces charges of spreading anti-government "propaganda" and "instigating violence." He also has been barred from leaving the country, according to Iran's Human Rights Activist News Agency.  Social media reactions to Hajipour's Grammy were overwhelmingly positive, as observed by VOA Persian.  The singer was seen reacting to his win early Monday morning Iran time in an Instagram video posted by his friend Amirparsa Neshat. The video showed Hajipour with several other people in the living room of a home inside Iran, watching a TV screen showing the U.S. first lady announcing his award. The people in the room erupted in cheers and embraced the singer, who appeared to wipe away tears.  Neshat also posted a video of himself hours later saying, "Wow, I cannot believe it. We didn't sleep from last night. It was worth it. It was a great feeling. I hope when you are waking in the morning, you get the good news instead of [execution] news!"  Hajipour's own response to the award was a simple "We won" message posted to his Instagram account along with a black-and-white photo of himself.   

February 6, 2023

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 14:22
A look at the best news photos from around the world.

Republicans Launch Investigations Into Biden Administration

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 14:22
For the first time in his presidency Tuesday night, U.S. President Joe Biden will address a Congress under divided party rule. Republicans who hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives have already issued the first subpoenas in one of many investigations just getting under way based on accusations the White House has abused its power. “I do not think any American believes that justice should not be equal to all,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “We found from this administration, what happened before every single election, whatever comes out, that they utilize to try to falsify... they try to have different standards for their own beliefs. That doesn't work in America.” Republicans argue the Biden administration has abused its power in several ways and plans to conduct investigatory hearings. The House Judiciary Committee, headed by Representative Jim Jordan, launched hearings into the Biden administration’s border security last week. “Month after month after month, we have set records for migrants coming into the country. And frankly, I think it's intentional,” Jordan said. “I don't know how anyone with common sense or logic can reach any other conclusion. It seems deliberate. It seems premeditated.” One of the Republican-majority House’s first acts was to establish a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The subcommittee – along an entirely party-line vote – has a mandate to investigate the use of information on U.S. citizens by executive branch agencies. Republicans will investigate their allegations that U.S. government agencies targeted conservative supporters of former President Donald Trump. “The goal, the principle is that the president, like every other American citizen, is not above the law. And congressional hearings are one way to ensure that the president does not put himself above the law,” Ken Hughes, a historian with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, told VOA. Hughes said that in the past, Congress has been able to conduct productive investigations even in eras of divided party rule. “Even in a polarized era, congressional investigation can do some good, but in order for you to have ... a truly beneficial impact, both parties have to cooperate.” With Democrats maintaining their control of the Senate, the prospect of any legislative solutions coming out of the House investigations is highly unlikely. “Nobody really expects that were the House Republican majority to come up with a rule about how DOJ could do investigations, to pass a law, it's dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sarah Binder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA. “There's a broad realm here for lawmakers to use the subpoena power to force people to come to speak to them, even though no one expects a real lesson of change to occur because of those investigations.” Democrats have already said Republican investigations unfairly target Biden and distract Congress from important work of legislating. “It’s very unfortunate that we’ve seen this extreme MAGA Republican agenda which is apparently anchored in impeachment and investigations focused on witch hunts, not on working families,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters last month. MAGA stands for Make America Great Again, a phrase associated with former President Donald Trump, who has announced his intention to run for the White House in 2024. Chief among Democrats’ concerns are investigations into Biden’s family, including his son, Hunter Biden, who is alleged to have unfairly benefited from his father’s political position. Republicans have also already launched investigations into the use of congressionally appropriated funds combating the COVID-19 crisis and other issues of government waste. At a House Oversight Committee hearing last week, Republican Rep. James Comer said the oversight was long overdue. “We're going to be returning this committee to its core mission. And that is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being mismanaged, abused or wasted, to shine a light in the darkness of the federal bureaucracy to prevent corruption and self-dealing to make sure our federal government is working efficiently for the American people.” The discovery of classified documents at Biden’s Delaware residence dating back to his time as vice president in the Obama administration will also come under investigation in the U.S. House. With just a year to go until the first 2024 presidential election primaries, Republicans will be seeking to keep the focus on Biden. But Hughes, who specializes in studying abuses of presidential power, told VOA the classified documents issue now clearly impacts both parties. “For the last decade or so we've seen a lot of political rhetoric about the danger of mishandling classified information, and almost no actual damage to national security as a result," Hughes said. "It doesn't mean that it's OK for officials and former officials to mishandle classified information, but I think we need perspective on it. And it does no harm. If the information in the classified documents doesn't fall into the hands of foreign powers, particularly the hostile powers, then we're talking about an interaction rather than a crime.” Investigations can be a way of bringing down presidential approval ratings, but the opposite party has to be careful about appearing too partisan, Binder told VOA. “Congressional investigations we can show historically do dampen presidential approval, right? They can really tarnish what the public thinks about the president,” she said. “The question is whether the public sees through that. Democrats won't be convinced. And the question then is Republicans – do they care about the work of Hunter Biden? We’ll see, depending how far that investigation goes.”

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 14:00
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Seeing Wrongdoing and Injustice, Ugandan Journalist Uses Reporting for Change

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 13:53
When asked how she made her breakthrough in investigative journalism, Cecilia Okoth says it came down to having a curious mind. Assigned to cover a media briefing at a cancer treatment center in Uganda's capital, Kampala, the reporter was intrigued by the patients waiting on the building's veranda. Many had traveled from across Uganda for treatment that is supposed to be free. But when Okoth spoke with the patients, she heard stories of irregularities in the care, with some patients saying doctors had asked them for bribes. Because of her inquisitive nature, Okoth said, that "debut story became my main sort of breakthrough." Okoth went undercover to look into the allegations raised by patients. When her story was finally published by Uganda's New Vision media group in August 2018, it made waves. "Parliament acknowledged the article, and many people were able to share their experiences on social media about how they had been harassed by the same medical doctors that I caught on camera," she told VOA. "That alone gives me the satisfaction that I was able to do something different for society." In more recent years, Okoth has reported on issues affecting children and young people — a focus that led her in 2023 to join the communications team at the charity ChildFund in Uganda. She cites another of her investigative pieces as a turning point. It was 2019, and Okoth was in the Kenyan capital for a conference on child protection. "We took a break to go and see what Nairobi was like. And then I noticed young girls from a particular ethnic tribe," she said. "I was so curious." The reporter found that girls from Napak district in northern Uganda, some as young as 10, were being taken to Nairobi on the promise of school or work. "But it was child trafficking. And most of these girls ended up being sexually abused," she said. As well as reporting on the case, Okoth was able to help rescue nearly 300 girls. "[They] were brought back and taken to facilities for sort of rehabilitation … trying to get them to do things and learn skills," she said. For Okoth, "[It's] not just about exposing the wrongdoing but being a story that will even wake up the government to say, 'We didn't know this is where our girls were ending up.' "We must do a lot about looking at government solutions, and then journalists — the fourth estate and the voice for the voiceless — can change the narrative," she said. Fellow Ugandan journalist Solomon Serwanjja shares a similar view. In an interview with VOA last month, he said reporters can help bring change. "Everyone talks about changing the world. But changing the world requires that we do something," he said. Doctors save lives, lawyers defend the weak, politicians pass good laws, said Serwanjja. "And fighting for freedoms is changing the world as an investigative journalist," he said. As journalists, "when we see something is going wrong, we have the platforms, we have the audience, we have the equipment, we have the knowledge, we have the skills to do something about it," Serwanjja said. But looking into corruption and wrongdoing can bring risks in Uganda. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report published in January, noted that authorities in Kampala often fail to hold security forces accountable for human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The report found that journalists are also "routinely harassed and intimidated." Media rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, have also cited challenges for media, including attacks, kidnappings, and threats for those who report on influential figures. But when asked about the risks she and others in Uganda face, Okoth said, "Tell me any profession that has no risks. If there's something wrong, there must be someone to start that talk," she said. And the reward from bringing important issues to light keeps Okoth going. "My journey in investigative journalism has paid off because I have been focusing on issues with children. The injustices and providing proper and workable solutions," she said. It is that interest that led Okoth to take a position at ChildFund. She sees the work as a continuation of her reporting career, saying, "I wouldn't have gotten there if I didn't do these stories that expose the wrongdoings … it has enabled me to embark on a career that will help me continue my passion for children." Okoth would like to see more newsrooms encouraging female reporters to take on complex stories. When she started in journalism, she didn't think she would be qualified for investigative reporting. "I often looked at it as something that was [reserved] for the seniors in the newsroom, and being a female was even worse because we know that investigative journalism is usually a bit complicated in safeguarding yourself," Okoth said. "The newsroom, like some organizations, is primarily male-dominated," she said. "It is high time for editors to deliberately encourage their [female reporters] to go for these stories." This article originated in VOA's English to Africa service.

Global Airline Traffic Recovering to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 13:39
Global airline traffic rose to over half of pre-pandemic levels in 2022 according to data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Monday. Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines saw a sharp decline in travel in 2020 and 2021 and lost tens of billions of dollars. Profits started to return in 2022 as traffic picked up again. Global traffic grew to 68.5% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels in 2022, and 64.4% from 2021. In 2022, international traffic rose 152.7% in comparison to 2021, and 62.2% compared to 2019. As for domestic travel, it rose 10.9% compared to the previous year and 79.6% of pre-pandemic levels. China recently reopened its borders after three years on January 8. Analysts emphasize that full recovery to pre-pandemic levels depends on how quickly travel to and from China can return. Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, is hopeful that traffic will continue to rise in 2023. “The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year, despite some governments’ over-reactions to China’s reopening,” he said. “It is vital that governments learn the lesson that travel restrictions and border closures have little positive impact in terms of slowing the spread of infectious diseases in our globally inter-connected world.” Some information for this report came from Reuters.

Armenians Trapped by Hidden Siege of Nagorno-Karabakh

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 13:21
Some 120,000 ethnic Armenians in the mostly Azerbaijan-controlled region of Nagorno-Karabakh have been cut off from the rest of the world for over 50 days and are now facing a humanitarian crisis. Arus Hakobyan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

Proposed Sudan-Israel Peace Deal Triggers Protest in Khartoum

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 6, 2023 - 13:13
Scores of Sudanese protested in the capital Monday against diplomatic relations with Israel, after last week's surprise visit by the Israeli foreign minister.  Dozens of Sudanese protesters chanted “no normalization” with Israel, as they held banners blaming Sudanese military leader Abdul Fattah al-Burhan for committing a “betrayal.” Monday’s protest comes days after Sudanese and Israeli officials announced that the two countries are moving toward normalizing ties. The announcement was made Thursday after an official visit by the Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen, who met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum. Speaking to VOA during Monday’s protest, Mohammed Al Safi said, he rejects any form of normalization with Israel. Al Safi, who is a member of the self-described “popular campaign” against normalization with Israel, said al-Burhan's decision doesn’t reflect the will of the Sudanese people. “We are at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise our voice that Khartoum shall remain the town for ‘No to peace, no to normalization and no to recognition of Israel,” he said. That policy, known as the ‘Three Nos,’ was established at a 1967 Arab League summit in Khartoum, soon after the 1967 Mideast War when Israel took control of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Another protester, Tamadur Omer, said she took part in the protest to reject the “illegality” of the decision taken by the Sudanese military leaders. Speaking to VOA while wearing a Palestinian scarf around her neck, she said her religion doesn’t allow her to live in peace with the Israeli people. That is why the government’s decision doesn’t serve the interest of all Sudanese people. “As a Muslim, I reject the normalization in principle and value,” she said. “And as a Sudanese people, we will not sell our country to Zionists. Such a decision can only be the mandate of an elected and a legitimate government.” Another demonstrator, Al Fadil Abu Basher, said protesters will push to maintain the rejection of any ties with Israel. "This is an unconstitutional and illegal decision and they, the military, do not have the right to take such a decision,” he said. “We are ready to face the illegal step with all the rejection [it] means. All means are open for us. Abdulrahman Khaleel, the spokesperson of the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, downplayed the protest, saying people are free to demonstrate.  “It is normal that part of the Sudanese are against this. They have a right to express their opinion,” he said. In 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco all normalized relations with Israel as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. Sudan separately announced plans to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in a deal brokered by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.  In January 2021, Sudan’s government issued a declaration paving the way to normalizing ties with Israel, and later approved a bill abolishing a boycott of the country dating back to 1968.