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U.S. journalist jailed for 11 years in army-ruled Myanmar

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November 12, 2021

(Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday jailed American journalist Danny Fenster for 11 years, his lawyer and his employer said, despite U.S. calls for his release from what it said was unjust detention.

Fenster, 37, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was found guilty of incitement and violations of immigration and unlawful associations laws, his magazine said, describing the sentences as “the harshest possible under the law”.

He is the first Western journalist sentenced to prison in recent years in Myanmar, where a Feb. 1 coup by the military against an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi ended a decade of tentative steps towards democracy and triggered nationwide protests.

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“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s top independent news outlets.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”

Fenster was arrested while trying to leave the country in May and has since been held in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison, where hundreds of opponents of the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, were jailed, many beaten and tortured, during decades of dictatorship.

He was charged with additional, and more serious, offences of sedition and violations of the terrorism act earlier this week, without an explanation by authorities. Those charges are punishable by a maximum 20 years in prison each.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Fenster’s jailing was also intended as warnings to the United States and the media.

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“The junta’s rationale for this outrageous, rights abusing sentence is first to shock and intimidate all remaining Burmese journalists inside Myanmar by punishing a foreign journalist this way,” he said.

“The second message is more strategic, focused on sending a message to the U.S. that the Tatmadaw’s generals don’t appreciate being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy,” he said.

‘PLAIN TO SEE’

Fenster’s family has repeatedly called for his release, saying they were heartbroken about his detention.

His trial had not been made public and a spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The United States has been pushing for Fenster’s release. The U.S. embassy in Myanmar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s verdict.

The State Department had earlier said his detention was “profoundly unjust” and “plain for the world to see”, urging the junta to release him immediately.

The American is among dozens of journalists who were detained in Myanmar after protests and strikes erupted following the coup, hampering the military’s efforts to consolidate power. Independent media has been accused by the junta of incitement.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in protests and thousands detained since the coup, according to activists cited by the United Nations.

Myanmar authorities overlooked Fenster in a recent amnesty for hundreds of people detained over anti-junta protests, which included some journalists.

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During nearly half a century of harsh rule by the military, news reporting was tightly controlled by the state but Myanmar’s media blossomed after the a quasi-civilian government introduced tentative reforms from 2011.

Since the February coup, however, the military has rescinded media licenses, curbed the internet and satellite broadcasts and arrested dozens of journalists, in what human rights groups have called an assault on the truth.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report in July that Myanmar’s rulers had effectively criminalised independent journalism.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, called the sentence a “reprehensible outcome” in a deeply flawed case.

“Danny should have never been arrested in the first place and to sentence him to a combined 11 years shows how far Myanmar authorities are willing to go to signal that they do not respect independent media,” she said.

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Frontier Myanmar’s publisher, Sonny Swe, who spent eight years in prison during the previous era of military rule, announced Fenster’s imprisonment on Twitter under the message: “A lot of things are going so wrong in this country.”

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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