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Vietnamese Real Estate Tycoon Facing Trial in Embezzlement Case 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 22:37
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM — Vietnamese real estate tycoon Truong My Lan is set to go on trial next month, along with 85 alleged accomplices, on charges of embezzling about $12.5 billion from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank. Lan faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. VOA was unable to contact Lan or her lawyers. The corruption case is the largest instance of alleged financial fraud in the Southeast Asian nation’s history, and experts say it reveals weaknesses in Vietnam's banking sector that threaten the Communist Party's legitimacy. "If we look at the big picture, it is about both fighting corruption and trying to improve transparency and the resilience of the banking system," Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told VOA by Zoom on January 23. "[Hanoi doesn't] want banks to collapse and people to lose money, because that will create a lot of social instability that may threaten the stability of the regime itself," he added. Authorities say about 42,000 people have been caught up in the scheme, with many filing police reports and struggling to recover their money. The scheme has cost some their life savings. Major General Nguyen Van Thanh, who heads an investigative unit within the police department, was quoted last month by Viet Nam News as saying that money recovered in the case would be considered evidence and given back to its rightful owners on orders by the court. The case against Lan fits under the umbrella of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong's key initiative – his “Blazing Furnace" anti-corruption campaign, which began in 2016. "The anti-corruption campaign is his highest priority because I think he wanted to rescue the Communist Party from decay," Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, told VOA. "He saw that cleaning up the party from corruption is one of the best ways, the most important ways, to rescue the party." In 2011, Lan acquired three private banks and merged them into Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank, or SCB. She is accused of using SCB to finance her property developing firm, Van Thinh Phat, and taking out bad loans for the more than 1,000 "shadow businesses” affiliated with VTP. Lan was arrested October 8, 2022, on charges of bribery, banking regulation violations and embezzlement. Hiep, at ISEAS, said more information regarding Lan’s political connections could be revealed during the trial. “The problem is why it took [authorities] so long to crack this case even though it was quite well-known in the industry,” Hiep said. “If she got political protection from someone, that could have helped her avoid scrutiny or evade justice.” Weak banking system An indictment alleges that Lan owned 91.5% of SCB, despite not holding an official position at the bank. The indictment alleges that she had de facto control of the bank and used it to raise capital for the property development firm and its approximately 1,000 subsidiaries. Lan was alleged to have siphoned money from SCB for more than a decade through her connections at the State Bank of Vietnam, the country’s central bank, according to local media reports based on Ministry of Public Security statements. The reports said the ministry alleged Lan bribed all 24 central bank officials who were assigned to inspect SCB. The officials who allegedly accepted illicit payments to falsify records regarding VTP's bad debt include Do Thi Nhan, the former head of the State Bank, according to the reports. The ministry has recommended filing charges against Nhan, who allegedly accepted $5.2 million in bribes. Court Chief Pham Ngoc Duy of the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City told local news outlet VnExpress that security cameras and fire safety equipment have been installed at the courthouse to safeguard 2,500 files weighing in at approximately six tons. Tran Anh Quan, a Ho Chi Minh City-based social activist, told VOA that the scandal has led to the public's "loss of confidence in the financial system and political system." "After Ms. Lan was arrested, almost every week and every month, there were protests in front of SCB bank to demand the return of deposits. But it seems hopeless," Quan wrote in Vietnamese over the messaging app Telegram on January 19. "Previously, Vietnamese people had the opinion that 'depositing money in the bank is the safest bet.' But now when I deposit money in the bank and lose it all, who dares to believe it anymore?" he added. Zachary Abuza, Southeast Asia expert and professor at the National War College in Washington, told VOA that the scale of the case is "truly exceptional" and points to the likelihood of widespread instances of financial crime and the struggle regulators face to keep up with the country's economic development.

Floods from ‘Pineapple Express’ Ravage Southern California

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 22:35
An atmospheric river has brought nonstop rain to the Los Angeles basin in the U.S. State of California devastating the normally dry terrain. Wildfires tearing through Chile have killed more than 120 people. And, NASA, the US-space agency, will launch its next climate and Earth monitoring satellite.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 22:00
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Protests Erupt Across Haiti as Demonstrators Demand That Prime Minister Resign

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 21:51
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Protests shut down major cities in Haiti on Monday as demonstrators clashed with police and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Banks, schools and government agencies closed in Haiti's northern and southern regions while protesters blocked main routes with blazing tires and paralyzed public transportation, according to local media reports. In Hinche, a city in Haiti's central region, protesters celebrated the arrival of heavily armed state environmental agents and their commander, Joseph Jean Baptiste, who demanded that Henry resign. "I want Ariel to stand in front of my bullets, so they go through him," the commander said as someone filmed him while the crowd cheered. "We're the ones who have the support of the population," he said. The agents, who belong to the Security Brigade for Protected Areas, have come under government scrutiny following recent clashes with police in northern Haiti. Smaller demonstrations took place in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where dozens of protesters gathered in front of Henry's office before police fired tear gas, dispersing the crowd. Among the protesters was presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who was seen in a video wiping his face as supporters yelled, "We are not stopping!" At least three days of protests culminating on Wednesday are expected across Haiti, with Feb. 7 considered the supposed deadline for Henry to resign. The date is significant in Haiti: Feb. 7, 1986, marked the day that former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled for France, and Feb. 7, 1991, marked the day that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, was sworn in.

Exclusive: UN Rights Commissioner Meets Officials in Iran, Despite Activists Warning Her of Propaganda Risk

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 21:34
WASHINGTON — The U.N. human rights office has issued its first statement about a U.N. rights official’s controversial visit to Iran, telling VOA it is aware of rights groups’ concerns that Tehran will exploit the visit for propaganda but is confident the world body’s work will not be undermined.  In the statement emailed to VOA on Monday, U.N. rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani confirmed that Nada Al-Nashif, deputy high commissioner for human rights, arrived in Iran on Friday and was due to depart later Monday. She said the visit entailed “meeting with relevant state interlocutors, including judicial officials, and U.N. partners.”  Iranian state media had published a preview of Al-Nashif’s visit but did not report anything about her meetings while she was in the country.  Rights activists inside and outside Iran had urged Al-Nashif to use her three-day visit to inspect the conditions of dissidents languishing in Iranian prisons and to meet with political prisoners, injured protesters and other Iranians deprived of basic rights, while ensuring such meetings are held in safe environments free of intimidation from authorities. It was not clear from the U.N. human rights office’s statement whether Al-Nashif engaged in any such meetings.  Relatives of victims of Iran’s Jan. 8, 2020, downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane shortly after it took off from Tehran on a flight to Kyiv gathered outside the U.N.’s Tehran office on Saturday holding signs urging Al-Nashif to meet them and demanding justice for the killing of their loved ones. But video sent to VOA Persian by the participants showed Iranian security agents dispersing them with verbal threats. There was no word on whether Al-Nashif met with the protesters.  A coalition of 25 international rights groups had published an open letter to Al-Nashif on Jan. 29 urging her to reconsider the visit, citing uncertainty about whether she would have access to independent civil society actors. The groups also warned that Iran could use its engagement with Al-Nashif to try to convince a U.N. Human Rights Council session beginning later this month that there is no need for it keep authorizing mechanisms to monitor and investigate Tehran for violations of its rights obligations.  “We are aware of concerns expressed,” Shamdasani wrote. “Rest assured that the visit will not undermine our approach in terms of reporting and advocacy.”  Shamdasani said Al-Nashif’s “direct high-level engagement with [Iranian] officials and institutions is a very important tool” for following up with them on recommendations from U.N.-authorized independent rights experts known as special rapporteurs and from the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, launched in November 2022.  Iran has not permitted any visits by special rapporteurs or the fact-finding mission, dismissing their mandates as politicized.  U.S.-based group United for Iran, which signed the Jan. 29 open letter to Al-Nashif, reacted skeptically to Shamdasani’s statement.  In a Monday interview with VOA, the group’s managing director, Kevin Schumacher, said, “I cannot imagine that the Iranian government all of a sudden is willing to open a new chapter and use this opportunity [of Al-Nashif’s visit] in order to start a dialogue on its human rights record.”  He said it would have been “wonderful” if a political visit to Iran by a U.N. official engaged in high-level dialogue would be followed by a U.N. fact-finding visit to the country.  “The problem is, Iran is not willing to accept both. And under the circumstances, we prefer to have fact-finding missions rather than political dialogue,” Schumacher said. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 21:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 20:00
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Killings of 3 Somali Women, Allegedly by Their Husbands, Stir Outrage

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 19:54
mogadishu, somalia — Three women were killed in Somalia last week in what police say were marriage disputes. The country’s parliament called for urgent investigations and the arrest of the perpetrators as citizens expressed outrage. The killings occurred in Mogadishu, the Lower Shabelle region and the Qoryooley district. One woman was stabbed, a second shot and a third set afire, all allegedly at the hands of their husbands. Police Chief Moalim Mahdi, chief of the Banadir region that covers Mogadishu, pledged action against the offenders.   Various forms of gender-based violence remain prevalent in Somalia. The situation is worsened by the absence of strong legal frameworks to deter attacks.   In 2020, parliament debated a controversial bill to address gender-based violence but was forced to hold it back following local and international pressure over clauses that allowed for child and forced marriage and other violations of women’s rights.   Amina Haji Elmi, director of the Mogadishu-based advocacy group Save Somali Women and Children, said that Somali women, "alongside others, have been living in [a] war-ravaged country. They were victimized by both natural disasters and man-caused problems. Currently, women are facing many challenges ... among them are lack of support, poverty. They do not get protection and support after incidents.” Elmi called on security agencies to deliver justice to the families of those killed.  “We strongly condemn the heinous acts against these innocent women," Elmi said. "It is sad to hear that a mother is being killed in front of her children. We call upon the security agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice. We extend condolences to the families of these victims.” Members of parliament decried the killings during a debate Saturday and called for the offenders to be prosecuted.   Despite the condemnations, Somali lawmakers have yet to pass the U.N.-backed Sexual Offenses Bill that the Council of Ministers approved in 2018. Female MP Gobsan Muhumed was among those who spoke during the session. "It is heartbreaking for paternal orphans to witness their mother being burned by their stepfather, who was laughing at the time of the incident," she said. On Sunday in the southwestern town of Afgooye, another man was arrested in possession of gasoline and a matchbox amid allegations he intended to set his wife and children on fire. Prosecutors in Somalia rely on provisions of the 1970s penal code to charge perpetrators of sexual and other gender-related offenses. Critics say this law is not tough enough and have called for the government to adopt harsher penalties.

Zimbabwe's Ruling Party Gets Two-Thirds Majority in Parliament

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 19:26
Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's ruling party has achieved a two-thirds majority in Parliament according to by-election results released by the country's elections commission over the weekend. That paves the way for the ZANU-PF party to amend the constitution as it wishes — including removal of the two-term limit for the presidency — but creates dread for opposition parties. ZANU-PF now holds 190 out of 280 seats in the National Assembly after winning six seats over the weekend, according to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission figures. Farai Muroiwa Marapira, the ZANU-PF spokesperson, attributed his party’s victory to policies of President Emmerson Mnangagwa since he took power in 2017 from the late Robert Mugabe. “With this two-thirds majority, we will look to ensure that we process our legislation faster for the betterment of our country,” Marapira said. “ZANU-PF is the only party that has – from its inception – been focused only on ensuring that people of Zimbabwe are served and to the best of the requirements and ability.” Maripara added that people’s trust in the party was not misplaced. “[We] assure them that they are safe in their trust of ZANU-PF, and they will not regret this decision of trusting in policies of President Mnangagwa,” he said. Hwange Central legislator Daniel Molokele, who is with the country’s main opposition party — the Citizens Coalition for Change or CCC — expressed worry. "It is indeed a very dark day in the history of Zimbabwe,” he said. “The gain that had been done to stop the two-thirds majority has been reversed, but we know that parliament is no longer relevant in deciding the future of Zimbabwe. It is heavily compromised; it is now a toothless bulldog.” The same sentiment came from Linda Masarira, leader of the Labour, Economists and African Democrats, or LEAD, party. She said the two-thirds majority just means every decision will be made on behalf of ZANU-PF and not others in the country. “I think it is a travesty of multiparty democracy, which is actually enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe, and I don't think we're going [anywhere] very fast if we're going to be having one party making the decisions, all the decisions for all Zimbabweans.” Gibson Nyikadzino, a Harare-based political analyst, said the election victories should keep ZANU-PF in the driver’s seat of Zimbabwe politics for years to come. “It also means that it will be easy for ZANU-PF to discuss proposed legislative agendas or the agendas,” Nyikadzino said. “And also at a broader national scale, it means that ZANU-PF remain a dominant party because the opposition [has] proven it lacks the capability to ideologically organize and mobilize its people or its structures.” Zimbabwe’s next general election is slated for 2028. That’s when Mnangagwa’s second and final term will end – unless ZANU-PF changes the constitution.

US Strikes Stoking Tensions with Iraq 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 19:22
pentagon — The latest wave of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, aimed at pounding targets associated with almost 170 attacks by Iranian-backed militias on U.S. forces in the region, appears to be expanding the fissure between Washington and Baghdad.  Friday’s airstrikes targeted three locations in Iraq, as well as another four in Syria, and destroyed more than 80 individual targets, ranging from command-and-control centers and intelligence hubs to missile and drone storage facilities, according to the latest U.S. assessments. The Pentagon said Monday that an unspecified number of militia members were also likely killed or wounded, though it ruled out the deaths of any Iranian officials or operatives. But while U.S. officials defended the strikes as necessary following a drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers at a base in Jordan last month, Iraqi officials have voiced increased anger, summoning the U.S. charge d'affaires in Baghdad to protest the U.S. strikes after alleging some of the targets were part of the government’s own security forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani declared an official period of mourning for those killed in the bombings and raised the prospect of repercussions in advance of a meeting with a member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in Baghdad on Monday. Iraqi officials expressed additional anger, arguing that contrary to initial U.S. statements, Baghdad was not alerted to the strikes ahead of time.  The U.S. State Department admitted Monday that Iraq was not given any warning but added the U.S. strikes should not have come as a surprise. "Every country in the region understood that there would be a response after the deaths of our soldiers,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters Monday. “As for this specific response on Friday, there was not a pre-notification,” he said. “We informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred.” The Pentagon on Monday also pushed back against some of the Iraqi assertions. “As we conduct these strikes, we are very focused on Iranian-backed proxy groups,” said Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder. “That is our focus. It's not on striking ISF, or Iraqi Security Forces, or personnel that are part of the legitimate Iraqi Security forces. We're striking terrorist groups that are supported by the IRGC [Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].” Ryder added, however, that as of now, the U.S. has no plans for a long-term military campaign against the militias in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has about 2,500 troops in Iraq tasked with advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces as they pursue the remnants of the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or Daesh.  And while talks between the U.S. and Iraq are underway to eventually reduce the U.S. military footprint and transition from the counter-IS mission to what officials describe as a more traditional military-to-military relationship with Baghdad, the process has been complicated by the attacks. U.S. military officials told VOA there have been at least three additional attacks by the Iranian-backed militias active in both Iraq and Syria, following the U.S. airstrikes Friday. The most recent attack came early Monday, officials said, when a single rocket was lobbed at U.S. and coalition forces at the Mission Support Site Euphrates base in eastern Syria but failed to cause any damage. An earlier attack, however, targeting the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Sunday, did hit its mark. Officials said a one-way attack drone hit the base at the Omar Oil Field, near Deir el-Zour, causing multiple SDF casualties.  SDF spokesperson Farhad Shami said on social media that the drone attack killed six SDF fighters. The SDF base is located near the U.S. position known as Green Village. The U.S. also confirmed an attack by Iran-backed militias on Friday, when multiple rockets targeted Mission Support Site Euphrates base. No injuries or damage were reported. The three latest attacks were the first since the U.S. unleashed a series of airstrikes that hit 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria late Friday, dropping more than 125 precision munitions in about a half-hour. Iranian officials have condemned the U.S. strikes, calling them a violation of Syrian and Iraqi sovereignty. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani further described the U.S. strikes as "a serious strategic mistake." Syrian opposition activists say at least 29 fighters were killed in Syria, while Iraqi officials said at least 16 militia members were killed with another 36 wounded. The renewed attacks by Iran-backed militias in Syria come as Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to threaten international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, despite a new wave of airstrikes Saturday by an international coalition led by the U.S. and Britain. The U.S. military said it carried out a “self-defense” strike late Sunday against cruise missiles in an area of Yemen controlled by Houthi militants.  U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. forces in the region, said the strike hit four anti-ship missiles that were being readied to launch at ships in the Red Sea.  CENTCOM said it also carried out self-defense strikes against a Houthi land attack cruise missile in a separate incident Sunday. Sunday’s preemptive strikes came after the U.S. and Britain hit at least 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday.   The Houthis, though, said they would not be backing down. “Military operations against Israel will continue until the crimes of genocide in Gaza are stopped and the siege on its residents is lifted, no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi official, wrote on X. “American-British aggression against Yemen will not go unanswered, and we will meet escalation with escalation.” Russia seized on the U.S. retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria to call for an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council on Monday to press for international condemnation of Washington. “We decisively condemn this new brazen act of aggression of the U.S. against a sovereign state, creating further risks and increasing the level of instability in a region that is already on fire,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council. Several council members expressed concern at both the attacks on U.S. personnel and the retaliatory strikes, urging maximum restraint to avoid further escalation. Syria’s envoy rejected what he said were Washington’s “flimsy claims” to justify its strikes, while Iran’s ambassador appeared to try to distance Tehran, saying “resistance groups” in the region are independent and make their own decisions. Iraq’s representative criticized the U.S. strikes, saying his government would not allow its territory to be used for score settling. State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching and U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse.

Explainer: What Is in Hong Kong’s New National Security Law?

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 19:03
hong kong — Last week, Hong Kong’s government began the process of adopting a controversial new national security law that critics worry will further roll back civil liberties in the Asian financial hub. The government says the law is needed because the city is required by Article 23 of its mini constitution, the Basic Law, to establish its own national security legislation. The national security legislation will also build on the Hong Kong National Security Law, or NSL, that China enacted in 2020. Hong Kong authorities say that despite the current calm atmosphere, the city still faces lingering national security threats from the widespread and sometimes violent protests it saw in 2019. Rights advocates say Hong Kong’s once strong traditions of free speech, assembly and freedom of the press have already been muzzled since Beijing imposed the NSL in response to the 2019 pro-democracy protests. They say the new legislation will further tighten those controls. The new law will be an extension of the NSL, which criminalizes terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power and collusion with foreign forces. It would add treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets and espionage, sabotage endangering national security, and external interference as offenses. It would also expand the scope and penalties of crimes covered under existing laws. VOA reviewed the Hong Kong authorities’ 110-page Public Consultation Document on the new law and the government’s reasoning behind the new legislation, as well as heard concerns from some rights advocates. Below is a summary of the most controversial proposals, from the perspectives of the government and critics: Broader than NSL, transplants mainland China’s laws to Hong Kong Government: It’s necessary for the same set of national security standards to be applied throughout the country. The widespread destruction and “insurrection” that occurred during the 2019 protests, “threatened national security.” Protesters destroyed subway stations, stormed and damaged the legislative building, occupied the airport, highways and tunnels, and paralyzed traffic. Hong Kong must enact legislation as soon as possible to prevent a recurrence of the 2019 protests, so that it can focus on reinvigorating the economy. Critics: The proposed new law is broader than NSL and would transplant mainland China’s national security law in Hong Kong. For example, the definition and offenses of state secret and espionage will mirror those in the mainland. It will have a huge impact on Hong Kong, harming human rights. “Indeed, the government has made clear it intends to double down on repression of civic freedoms under Article 23 by introducing steeper penalties and expanding cases in which the legitimate exercise of rights would be criminalized in the name of national security,” the advocacy group Amnesty International said in a statement. Extends police power; restricts due process on national security cases Government: The time under which a suspect can be held without charge in national security cases should be extended. Currently, Hong Kong’s detention period of usually no more than 48 hours doesn’t allow police sufficient time to gather evidence, especially when many people are arrested as had happened during the 2019 protests. It’s also lower than that of other countries, such as the U.K., where police can apply to extend the detention period for national security cases and hold suspects for up to 14 days for other serious offenses. In the U.K., the suspect’s access to a lawyer of his/her choice is also restricted or delayed in cases involving sensitive matters. Critics: Current laws already allow police to detain suspects for more than 48 hours if the offense is serious and the risk of absconding, reoffending or impeding the investigation is high. Longer detentions overseas are controversial and subject to judicial oversight, so it’s not a carte blanche. If the government also restricts the suspect’s access to a lawyer, it will further harm due process rights. Police can already do searches without a warrant, and cases are tried by designated judges with no jury and often no bail. If the new law allows suspects to use only officially appointed lawyers, Hong Kong’s practice will be like mainland China’s, which goes against the international norm. New offense of ‘external interference’ Government: This new offense would punish people for collaborating with outside forces that interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong and the country, such as by trying to influence the central and Hong Kong government’s formulation of policies, the city’s legislature and courts’ performance of duties, the outcome of local elections or by prejudicing Hong Kong’s or China’s relationship with foreign countries. This new offense would also prohibit overseas organizations and their local affiliates from operating in the city if they are considered national security threats. Legitimate international exchanges will not be affected. Critics: There’s no clear definition of what these external organizations are or what actions would be considered a danger to national security. Does this mean Hong Kongers can no longer associate with overseas rights groups or people, including self-exiled political dissidents, if the government thinks they threaten national security simply by criticizing its policies? “Such trivial and ambiguous offenses will only create a greater chill not just on the local people but also on many civil groups or international NGOs, religious groups, or even business groups,” said Eric Lai, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law. Theft of state secrets and espionage: broadens definition and scope Government: The definition of state secrets and espionage should cover a wider variety of confidential information and acts of spying. Current laws only cover a few types, including defense information. Hong Kong should follow the practice of countries such as the U.S. and broaden its definition to cover sensitive information on scientific, technological or economic matters, as well as on major policy decisions, foreign affairs, Hong Kong-mainland ties or national security itself, if their unauthorized disclosure may damage national security. Critics: The government doesn’t define what would be considered state secrets. For example, would journalists who obtain government information on controversial policies or consultancy firms that access data for risk assessments or due diligence be accused of breaking the law if the government considers the information they obtained to be state secrets? “It will basically shut down all whistleblowers. And even if someone is going to blow the whistle and tell the media about it, which media organizations will risk publishing the scoop?” asked Kevin Yam, a former Hong Kong-based commercial litigation lawyer, adding that business groups would find it hard to do risk assessments or due diligence work. There’s also no mention of a “public interest defense” and exemptions for journalists There are fears this law could target media seen as providing unflattering coverage. What happens next? The monthlong public consultation period — when people can email or fax their comments to the government about the proposed legislation — was launched on January 30 and will remain open until February 28. The draft bill is expected to be officially announced in March or April and passed by mid-year.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 19:00
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Santander, Lloyds Shares Fall on Report Iran Used Banks to Evade Sanctions

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 18:57
MADRID — Shares in Santander and Lloyds fell after the Financial Times reported that Iran used accounts from two of the U.K.'s biggest banks to covertly move money around the world as part of a vast sanctions-evasion scheme backed by Tehran's intelligence services.  According to documents seen by the Financial Times, Lloyds and Santander U.K. provided accounts to British front companies secretly owned by a sanctioned Iranian petrochemicals company based in London.  Shares in Madrid-based parent Santander fell as much as 3.6% and were down 2.9% at 0827 GMT, while shares in Lloyds declined 0.9% by 0842 GMT.  A Santander spokesperson said the bank declined to comment on specific client relationships.  "Santander abides by its legal and regulatory obligations, and we are highly focused on sanctions compliance," the person said.  "Where we identify sanctions risks, we will investigate and take appropriate action."  A Lloyds spokesperson said: "The Group's business activities are conducted to ensure compliance with applicable sanctions laws.  "We are committed to adhering to all legislative and regulatory requirements as they relate to economic crime. We are not permitted to comment on individual customers." 

Germany Mulls Far-Right Party Ban as Secret Meeting Evokes Nazi Memories 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 18:27
london — Germany is debating a ban on the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party amid mass protests across the country against far-right extremism. The discussion follows revelations last month that senior AfD politicians attended a secret meeting where the forcible deportation of migrants, including German citizens, was discussed. Details of the meeting, published by the investigative organization Correctiv on January 15, evoked painful memories in Germany, a country especially sensitive to fears of far-right extremism given its 20th-century history. However, any action against the AfD would be highly controversial as the party is polling in second place ahead of crucial elections later this year. An estimated 150,000 protesters joined hands around the German parliament building in Berlin on Saturday to form what they called a symbolic “firewall” against right-wing extremism. Similar demonstrations were held in cities across Germany. Senior German politicians were among those attending the protests. “I want to make it very clear that the civil society is sending out a signal here, that the civil society is standing up, opening its mouth and making it clear that the AfD will never gain power in this country. We will all take a clear stand against it,” Saskia Esken, head of the ruling Social Democratic Party, told Reuters. Explosive revelations Nationwide protests have been held every weekend since mid-January, when the Correctiv article was published. The group’s managing director, Jeannette Gusko, described the revelations as “explosive.” “At the meeting, neo-Nazis, donors and AfD politicians spoke very specifically about the realization of the expulsion of millions of people from Germany. And this is a situation in which the AfD has a real option to gain power. We knew that the research was politically explosive,” Gusko told Reuters. “We knew that, but what is happening now is certainly unique in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz briefly joined a protest march in Potsdam, outside Berlin, and welcomed the show of anger at the AfD. “There are a lot of demonstrations planned against the right-wing extremist enemies of our democracy," Scholz said in a televised address on January 19. "I find that’s right and good. If there is something in Germany which must never ever find a place again, it is the national race ideology of the Nazis. The repulsive relocation plans by these extremists is just that.” AfD response AfD co-chairperson Alice Weidel has called the report a “left-wing campaign.” Among those attending the meeting was Roland Hartwig, who was Weidel’s senior aide in the AfD. Local media reported that Hartwig has not held that position since the Correctiv article was published. “It is scandalous when left-wing activists attack a private meeting with Stasi-like secret service and subversive methods in order to eavesdrop and spy on innocent citizens,” Weidel said. “The real enemies of the constitution are those who call for a ban on parties, for the deprivation of basic civil rights and the so-called protection of the constitution exploited as a political instrument, because they cannot accept the possibility of a democratic transfer of power to the opposition,” she said on January 16, one day after the Correctiv article was published. Germany’s painful history before and during World War II, under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, makes it acutely sensitive to fears of right-wing extremism. “Germany in particular has a history that they cannot afford, in any way, shape or form, to allow anything like this to happen,” said Matt Qvortrup, a professor of political science and international relations at Coventry University in England, and an author on Germany. Calls for ban There are growing calls for the AfD to be banned. Qvortrup said it’s vital that action is taken. “The forced transfer of people to other places sounds very familiar in a German context. And frankly, Germany cannot afford that. In this case, the Article 21 of the German constitution says anything that will undermine or challenge the German democratic order is unconstitutional,” he told VOA. “There is then a process whereby the Ministry of the Interior will refer a particular party to the Supreme Court.” That would be a highly controversial step against the AfD, a party that is polling in second place nationally, on around 20%. “People will say, ‘Well, they’re not that bad yet, they’re not that dangerous.’ But that’s what we’ve always said. … I think democracies have to fight back. Democracies can’t just think they will last forever,” Qvortrup added. Election campaigns are already underway in some parts of Europe ahead of EU parliamentary elections scheduled for June, where right-wing populist parties are expected to do well. Meanwhile, state elections are due in September in the east of Germany, traditionally a stronghold for the AfD party.

Germany Mulls Ban on Far-Right Party as Meeting Evokes Nazi Memories

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 5, 2024 - 18:12
Germans took to the streets again over the weekend to protest far-right extremism, after it was revealed that members of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party discussed the forcible transfer of migrants — including German citizens — at a secret meeting. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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