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Filmmaker in India’s Lakshadweep charged over ‘bioweapon’ remark | Environment News

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Police in India’s Lakshadweep islands have charged a local filmmaker with sedition after she called the federal territory’s administrator a “bioweapon” being used by the government against the islands’ residents.

The case against Aisha Sultana was registered at a police station in Lakshadweep’s main island and capital, Kavaratti, following a complaint by a local politician belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian media reports said on Friday.

The BJP complaint cited a Malayalam TV channel show on controversial government plans in Lakshadweep, during which Sultana reportedly said Modi’s government was using the islands’ administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, as a “bioweapon”.

Patel, 63, is the first non-bureaucrat administrator of the Lakshadweep islands and once served as home minister of Modi’s home state, Gujarat, when the Indian prime minister was its chief minister for more than a decade.

The Lakshadweep islands – popular with tourists – are run by an administrator appointed by the Indian president.

Since taking over the Lakshadweep administration in December last year, Patel has pushed through a slew of new laws and proposals – without consulting locally elected representatives – in India’s only Muslim-majority territory apart from Indian-administered Kashmir.

Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands – 10 of them inhabited – spread over a 32-square-kilometre area in the sea, about 200km (124 miles) off the southwestern coast of the Indian Peninsula.

It is the smallest among India’s eight “Union Territories” (UTs), with a population of 65,000 people – 97 percent of them Muslims – who now fear losing their land, livelihoods and other rights as the government backs plans to develop the remote archipelago as a tourist hub.

Proposed new town planning laws to make way for tourism, luxury housing and deep-sea mining projects, would give Patel the power to remove or relocate islanders from areas earmarked for development by declaring land as “planning” areas.

Other controversial proposals range from a ban on cow slaughter and allowing more liquor licences, which are seen as offending local Islamic religious sentiment. Currently, the sale and consumption of alcohol is largely banned on the islands.

Other proposals include disqualifying people with more than two children from village council elections. The administration could also imprison any person without trial for up to a year, under Patel’s proposals.

Sultana is among thousands of islanders taking to social media as COVID-19 curbs keep them from taking to the streets to protest.

COVID crisis on the islands

In a Facebook post, Sultana defended her outburst against Patel in the TV show.

“I had used the word bio-weapon in the TV channel debate. I have felt Patel as well as his policies [have acted] as a bio-weapon,” she wrote.

“It was through Patel and his entourage that COVID-19 spread in Lakshadweep. I have compared Patel as a bio-weapon, not the government or the country …. You should understand. What else should I call him?…”

Lakshadweep had remained coronavirus-free throughout 2020 because of the strict protocol necessitated by its poor health infrastructure with just three hospitals for the 10 inhabited islands.

Patel is accused of exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis in Lakshadweep by changing quarantine protocol in January and allowing anyone entry into the islands with a negative RT-PCR report obtained 48 hours before their travel.

A week after the rules were changed, the territory reported its first coronavirus case on January 17. Until Thursday, the island had recorded over 9,000 cases and more than 40 deaths, according to Maktoob news website.

#SaveLakshadweep

A Twitter campaign started by students has gained traction on the Indian mainland, with #SaveLakshadweep being backed by prominent politicians including the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.

This week, residents’ group, the Save Lakshadweep Forum, staged a one-day hunger strike to protest against the new land acquisition plans that have stirred eviction fears among the islands’ roughly 65,000 people.

“For generations, we have lived quiet lives, rarely protesting policies created in the mainland… But if they take away my land and home, where will we all go?” fisherman Sakariya, who uses one name, said by phone.

Like many local fishermen, his only asset is the family home his grandfather built on a roughly 1,000-square-foot (93-square-metre) plot of land near the beach, in the island capital of Kavaratti.

“This is not a big city where people can be relocated nearby. For us, it will probably mean having to move to the mainland. How can we allow anyone to take our homes away?” he said.

Protesters also fear the plans could strain the islands’ already limited public services which include a lack of clean drinking water, healthcare and access to the mainland.

Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Patel did not respond to a request for comment, but another senior official – Collector S Akser Ali – told reporters recently the goal was to develop the islands “holistically” with residents’ welfare in mind.

But mistrust and anger towards the Hindu nationalist government in the Muslim-majority territory is widespread.

The authorities’ recent demolition of fishermen’s beach shacks has only fuelled mistrust, said K Nizamuddin, who belongs to the self-governing body in Kavaratti, which is being reimagined in the development plans as a “smart city”.

Nizamuddin said part of the problem was that residents had not been properly informed of the plans.

“We haven’t been consulted and most islanders are clueless about what the future will bring. If drastic changes are coming, they should be told about it,” he said.

“In a smart city, there has to be space for local fishermen and for traditional livelihoods like animal rearing to continue. Instead, authorities have broken fishermen’s sheds on the beach saying it violates norms. So there is mistrust.”

Under the draft regulations pushed by Patel, residents would also have to get planning permission before making even minor changes to their homes, said lawyer R Rohith.

“In other regions, it may seem normal for the government to acquire land for projects, like building a road, but in the islands, it is just not done,” Rohith said, referring to laws that aim to protect islanders’ rights and the fragile ecosystem.

Last month, the legislative assembly in Kerala, the nearest mainland state, adopted a motion demanding the removal of Patel and protection for people’s livelihoods.

“We have lived in this small strip of land for decades. We know the impact of disturbing this ecology better than anyone. Officials should listen to us,” said fisherman Sakariya.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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