Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

‘They Fear Pens, Not Guns’: Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

Demonstrators on World Press Freedom Day in Turkey, 2013. Image by Amnesty International Turkey.

After spending just over a year behind bars without charge, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from a Turkish jail on February 16. Just hours later, six other journalists in the country were issued a life sentence for “or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.

With 155 journalists serving jail time because of their work, these days of highs and lows are beginning to feel routine for Turkey’s embattled independent media community.

BBC described Deniz Yucel’s imprisonment as a long-standing “irritant” in the relations between the two countries. His release came shortly after Turkish PM’s visit to Germany this week.

Deniz Yucel was arrested exactly 367 days ago on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization”.

Soon after his release was announced, crowd gathered outside the jail, where Yucel joined his wife who was waiting for him:

But the ordeal is not yet over. Yucel was charged and indicted upon his release, with the prosecution demanding that he be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Same court that ordered ‘s release has apparently accepted an indictment calling for up to 18 years imprisonment.

Not quite clear what is going on, but a key issue is whether he is being allowed to travel abroad.

In ordering Deniz Yücel’s release, the court also accepted his newly issued indictment. He faces 4 to 18 years in prison. https://twitter.com/cyberrights/status/964462592331796480 

While colleagues and friends celebrated the news of Yucel’s release, another court decision came down, this time affecting the fate of a different group of journalists.

A Turkish court has jailed for life journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak & Fevzi Yazici & one other defendant for seeking to “overthrow the constitutional order” in alleged coup plot http://www.haberturk.com/nazli-ilicak-ve-altan-kardeslerin-yargilandigi-davada-karar-bekleniyor-1840173 

Esas hakkındaki savunmalar tamamlandı

Haberin detayları için tıklayın

haberturk.com

Awful news coming in from Silivri jus now. & faced a trial in which no credible evidence was presented beyond their words. This verdict does not pass the test of international human rights law. https://twitter.com/rsf_eeca/status/964478858996146177 

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilica, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül were handed a lifetime prison sentence after being convicted of involvement with Turkey’s 2016 coup, despite a lack of direct evidence.

Five of the six defendants are journalists and intellectuals all had strong ties with opposition news outlets in the past. Ahmet Altan is the former editor-in-chief of Taraf newspaper and his brother, Mehmet Altan is an academic and journalist who once wrote for Hurriyet. Nazli Ilıcak has written for Hurriyet, in addition to other newspapers, and briefly served as an MP for the Virtue party.

Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı worked with Zaman newspaper, which was one of Turkey’s largest independent daily newspapers until 2016, when the government seized its operations, alleging that the outlet had ties to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Anadolu Agency reported that six people were convicted for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and of having communicated with associates of Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup.

In addition to facing legal threats, all of these journalists have been subject to extralegal harassment. One year ago, President Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist in one of his televised speeches.

Bu konuşmayı tam 1 yıl önce çekmiştim. Deniz sonunda özgür. Darısı Alman vatandaşı olmayan gazeteci arkadaşlarımızın başına.

I filmed this speech one year ago. Deniz is finally free. I wish the same for the rest non-German citizen journalists friends of mine.


Video clip translation:
 They are hiding this German terrorist, this spy at the embassy. They hid him for a month. And German Chancellor asked him from me. She said to release him. I told her we have an independent judiciary. Just like your judiciary is independent so is mine. It is [the judiciary] objective. That is why I am sorry to say, you won’t take them from us. Finally, he was brought to court. He was arrested. Why? Because he is spy terrorist. Who cares he is a German citizen. It doesn’t matter whose citizen you are, if you are spreading terror in Turkey, if they are secretly spies, they will pay the price.

Supporters in Turkey and around the world tweeted their shock at the decision:

Today’s verdict & sentences of life without parole for , & mark an apex of the disintegration of the in . Judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.

As Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are given “aggravated life sentences”, it is worth remembering what that sentence is.

It is life without parole, with up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Forever and ever, amen.

On February 12, both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were thrown out of the courthouse, for demanding to read the constitutional court decision which ruled for their releasein January. The two brothers demanded that the decision which was overturned within 24 hours by the ruling of the 27th High Court is put on the record.

The next day, on February 13, speaking from high-security prison via video link, Ahmet Altan in his defense said the following:

Those in political power no longer fear generals. But they do fear writers. They fear pens, not guns. Because pens can reach where guns cannot: into the conscience of a society.

When the verdict was handed to Altan brothers today, one observer said cries and screams filled the courtroom.

Meanwhile, there are at least four other German Turkish citizens behind bars in Turkey, while the total number of imprisoned journalists and writers since the coup has now surpassed 150.

Mozambique rubbish dump collapse ‘kills at least 17’ people

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BBC)

 

Mozambique rubbish dump collapse ‘kills at least 17’ people

People search for survivors and belongings under collapsed piles of rubbish in Maputo, Mozambique, 19 February 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAuthorities have warned that a number of residents remain unaccounted for

At least 17 people have been killed in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and many more injured after a huge mound of rubbish collapsed, officials say.

The pile of waste, some 15m (49ft) high, gave way in heavy rains at 03:00 local time (01:00 GMT) on Monday.

The dump is known to be home to some of the city’s poorest residents, who build makeshift camps amid the rubbish.

Five homes on the edge were also crushed in the disaster. Rescue workers are continuing to search for survivors.

A spokesman for the emergency services, Leonilde Pelembe, warned it was likely there were more victims under the waste.

“The information we received from local authorities is that the number of people living in those houses exceeds the number of deaths recorded,” Mr Pelembe said.

The Hulene district of Maputo is one of the most deprived parts of the capital. Many, including children, have little choice but to make their homes either on or next to the dump.

The dump not only provides them with food, but also goods to sell, our correspondent Jose Tembe explains.

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An accident waiting to happen

Analysis by Jose Tembe, BBC Africa, Maputo

The dump was here when I began living in the area in the 1980s. I saw the buildings being erected around it.

The municipal authorities have tried to clear it. Each time the rainy season comes, they remove people and give them plots of land.

People watch rescuers search for bodies of victims buried under collapsed piles of rubbish in Maputo, Mozambique, 19 February 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Rescue workers clear rubbish as they continue to search for survivors

But when there is no rain, people move back to the rubbish dump. It is where they can be close to the city and collect things that have been dumped – things like outdated food to either eat or sell.

The government keeps on promising and promising to close the dump for good, but they never do it.

They never close it, and so people continue to pile garbage in the same area.

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The authorities said they had previously asked residents in the area to leave because their homes were constructed illegally, Reuters news agency reports.

However one local resident whose son was injured in the landslide, Maria Huo, said: “I live in this neighbourhood because I have nowhere to go. Had the government told me to go to another place to live, I would have left here.”

The city of Maputo has experienced heavy rainfall since Sunday, which has damaged homes and flooded roads.

In the poorer suburbs of cities such as Maputo, people sometimes live on land they do not own in the hope of finding work. The dwellings can be built on land that is unsafe.

Related Topics

Cyril Ramaphosa succeeds Zuma as South African president

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Cyril Ramaphosa succeeds Zuma as South African president

Media captionCheers and song as Ramaphosa elected South Africa president

Cyril Ramaphosa has become South Africa’s president a day after embattled leader Jacob Zuma resigned.

He was the only candidate nominated in parliament on Thursday so no vote was needed to make him president. MPs from the ruling African National Congress broke into song at the announcement.

In a speech to parliament Mr Ramaphosa, 65, said that corruption was on his radar.

The ANC had told Mr Zuma to step down or face a vote of no-confidence.

In a televised statement he said he was quitting with immediate effect but said he disagreed with his party’s decision.

Mr Zuma faces numerous corruption allegations but denies any wrongdoing.

One opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, walked out of the parliamentary debate. It wants new elections, rather than the ANC deciding on the identity of the new president.

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Dream finally realised

Analysis: Lebo Diseko, BBC News, Johannesburg

It is often said that Mr Ramaphosa has had his eye on the position of president since the ANC came to power in 1994.

The story goes that he was so upset at not having been chosen by Nelson Mandela as his successor that he left politics and went into business.

But Mr Ramaphosa has now finally realised that dream.

He has said his priority is reviving South Africa’s battered economy. But it won’t be easy: Unemployment is currently at almost 30%, a rate which rises to nearly 40% for young people.

Low growth rates and dwindling investor confidence were compounded by two credit agencies downgrading the economy to junk status.

One of the first steps in improving that investor confidence is addressing the persistent claims of corruption at the heart of government.

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There is a renewed sense of hope as Mr Ramaphosa is taking over the reins of Africa’s most industrialised economy.

The markets appeared to welcome Mr Zuma’s resignation. The South African currency, the rand, reaching its strongest levels in three years – at 11.6570 rand for $1 in early trading.

Some will miss him though, pointing to achievements like announcing the abolition of fees for higher education, says the BBC’s Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg.

Mr Zuma, a former member of the ANC’s military wing in the days of apartheid, rose through the ranks of the party to become president. He led the country for more than a third of its time after apartheid.

But he leaves office with several scandals hanging over him, and with South Africa’s economy in dire straits.

Cyril Ramaphosa, left, with Jacob ZumaImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionCyril Ramaphosa, left, was the deputy president to Jacob Zuma

On Wednesday, police swooped on the Johannesburg home of the powerful and wealthy Gupta family.

Eight suspects appeared in court on Thursday on fraud and money laundering charges, local media report. But they did not include any of the best-known Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh.

Among the eight in court was Varun Gupta, who was Chief Operating Officer of the Gupta-owned mining firm Oakbay Resources and Energy. He is yet to make a plea in court.

The Guptas have been accused of using their close friendship with the president to wield enormous political influence. They deny all allegations of wrongdoing.

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Cyril Ramaphosa at a glance:

Media captionWho is Cyril Ramaphosa?
  • Detained in 1974 and 1976 for anti-apartheid activities
  • Chairman of committee which prepared for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990
  • Had hoped to succeed Mandela as president but Thabo Mbeki chosen instead
  • Moved full-time into business in 1997, becoming one of South Africa’s richest businessmen
  • On Lonmin board during 2012 Marikana massacre
  • Elected ANC leader in 2017
  • Becomes president of South Africa on 15 February 2018
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Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR AND THE BBC)

 

Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media prior to a scheduled court hearing in Kiev last month.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian authorities have deported Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who has emerged as a vocal antagonist of the government in Kiev. Ukraine’s border agency confirmed his deportation to Poland on Monday, while videos on social media purported to show Saakashvili getting seized by masked men.

“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally,” the agency said in a statement released Monday, “and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from which he arrived.”

Representatives of Saakashvili are describing the incident in starkly different terms.

Earlier Monday the populist politician’s Facebook account released a plea for help, saying “unknown people in masks kidnapped [him] and drove him in an unknown direction.” At the same time, the account uploaded several videos appearing to show his “abduction” in a restaurant at the hands of several shouting men.

Hours later, he called reporters from Warsaw with his account of the confrontation: “They broke into the cafe,” he said. “They tried to close my eyes, tie my hands.”

Within hours he had been placed on a plane to Poland.

Saakashvili and his supporters have cast the move as an attempt to remove a prominent threat to President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and even appointed him governor several years ago — only to strip him of that citizenship after Saakashvili quit amid a flurry of accusations that Poroshenko was blocking his attempts at reform.

Saakashvili — a populist politician who also faces a three-year prison sentence in Georgia for embezzlement and abuse of authority during his presidency there — lost his rights as a Ukrainian last summer while he was in the U.S. He returned, though, gathering supporters on the Poland-Ukraine border for a climactic push back into the country in September. Since then he has drawn a considerable following in Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials have condemned him as a provocateur backed by a pro-Russian criminal group.

Earlier this month Saakashvili lost his appeal for protection against the possibility of getting extradited to Georgia to stand charges.

“The Georgian authorities never asked for my extradition when I was in America or in Europe,” the 50-year-old opposition leader told The Guardian last week, when he was still living and working in central Kiev. “They only did it when I returned to Ukraine because Poroshenko asked them to.”

Now, after grappling with Saakashvili for months, Kiev has managed to eject him. Time will tell whether he will stay out of Ukraine or whether, as he did last year, he will somehow manage to return. In the meantime, Saakashvili might be out of the country — but he is not exactly out of earshot.

“This is not a president and not a man,” he said of Poroshenko in a statement after the deportation Monday, according to Reuters. “This is a lowlife crook who wants to wreck Ukraine. All this shows how weak they are. We will of necessity defeat them.”

Read All About It: Breaking News

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

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First human eggs grown in laboratory

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

First human eggs grown in laboratory

Media caption‘It could be of huge benefit to children having cancer treatment’

Human eggs have been grown in the laboratory for the first time, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The team say the technique could lead to new ways of preserving the fertility of children having cancer treatment.

It is also an opportunity to explore how human eggs develop, much of which remains a mystery to science.

Experts said it was an exciting breakthrough, but more work was needed before it could be used clinically.

Women are born with immature eggs in their ovaries that can develop fully only after puberty.

It has taken decades of work, but scientists can now grow eggs to maturity outside of the ovary.

It requires carefully controlling laboratory conditions including oxygen levels, hormones, proteins that simulate growth and the medium in which the eggs are cultured.

‘Very exciting’

But while the scientists have shown it is possible, the approach published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction still needs refinement.

It is very inefficient with only 10% of eggs completing their journey to maturity.

And the eggs have not been fertilised, so it is uncertain how viable they are.

Prof Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, told the BBC: “It’s very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it’s possible to reach this stage in human tissue.

“But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs].

“But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.”

UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

First monkey clones created in the lab

First three-parent baby born to infertile couple

Human EggImage copyrightUNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
Image captionA lab-grown, human egg made by scientists at the University of Edinburgh

The process is very tightly controlled and timed in the human body – some eggs will mature during the teenage years, others more than two decades later.

An egg needs to lose half its genetic material during development, otherwise there would be too much DNA when it was fertilised by a sperm.

This excess is cast off into a miniature cell called a polar body, but in the study the polar bodies were abnormally large.

“This is a concern,” said Prof Telfer. But it is one she thinks can be addressed by improving the technology.

Work on mouse eggs, which was nailed 20 years ago, showed the technology could be used to produce live animals.

Matching this achievement in human tissue could eventually be used to help children having cancer treatment.

Cancer option

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy risks making you sterile.

Women can freeze matured eggs, or even embryos if they are fertilised with a partner’s sperm, before starting treatment – but this is not possible for girls with childhood cancers.

At the moment they can have ovarian tissue frozen before treatment, which is then put back in to mature years later if the patient wants children of their own.

But if there are any abnormalities in the frozen sample then doctors will think it is too risky.

Being able to make eggs in the lab would be a safer option for those patients.

Mr Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said: “This work represents a genuine step forward in our understanding.

“Although still in small numbers and requiring optimisation, this preliminary work offers hope for patients.”

It would be legal to fertilise one of the lab-made eggs to create an embryo for research purposes in the UK.

But the team in Edinburgh do not have a licence to carry out the experiment. They are discussing whether to apply to the embryo authority for one, or collaborate with a centre that already has one.

Prof Azim Surani, the director of germline research at University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, said: “Molecular characterisation and chromosomal analysis is needed to show how these egg cells compare with normal eggs.

“It might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs in culture to blastocyst stage, by attempting IVF.”

Follow James on Twitter.

Chinese police spot suspects with surveillance (Face Recognition) sunglasses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Chinese police spot suspects with surveillance sunglasses

Image shows a police officer wearing a pair of sunglasses with a facial recognition system at Zhengzhou East Railway Station in Zhengzhou in China's central Henan province.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe modified sunglasses are connected to an internal database of suspects

Police in China have begun using sunglasses equipped with facial recognition technology to identify suspected criminals.

The glasses are connected to an internal database of suspects, meaning officers can quickly scan crowds while looking for fugitives.

But critics fear the technology will give even more power to the government.

The sunglasses have already helped police capture seven suspects, according to Chinese state media.

Police used the new equipment at a busy train station in the central city of Zhengzhou to identify the suspects.

The seven people who were apprehended are accused of crimes ranging from hit-and-runs to human trafficking.

Police also identified 26 people who were using fake IDs, the ruling communist party’s People’s Daily newspaper reported.

Media captionIn your face: China’s all-seeing surveillance system

The technology allows police officers to take a photograph of a suspicious individual and then compare it to pictures stored in an internal database. If there is a match, information such as the person’s name and address will then be sent to the officer.

But there are fears that China’s authoritarian leaders will use the sunglasses to track political dissidents or profile ethnic minorities.

China is a world leader in facial recognition technology and regularly reminds its citizens that such equipment will make it almost impossible to evade the authorities.

The country has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”.

An estimated 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and some 400 million new ones are expected be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras use artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

Related Topics

Racer Snakes – The Demons Of Planet Earth II

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WEBSITE ‘THE CONVERSATION’)

(I WAS WATCHING A PROGRAM ON NETFLIX THIS EVENING CALLED PLANET EARTH II, THIS IS WHAT MADE ME LOOK THIS SNAKE UP AND TO PASS THIS INFORMATION ON TO YOU.)

 

In defence of racer snakes – the demons of Planet Earth II (they’re only after a meal)

BBC

It’s the stuff of nightmares: a rockface that comes alive with a writhing mass of snapping serpents seemingly hellbent on working together to capture and consume a defenceless young marine iguana. This jaw-dropping scene aired as part of the new series of the BBC’s flagship natural history programme, Planet Earth II, and seems to have captured the imagination of millions.

Racer snakes are right bast

 

Filmed on Fernandina Island in the Galápagos, the Galápagos Racer (Philodryas biserialis) is a slim, fast-moving, mildly venomous snake that reaches lengths of up to 120cm. They were filmed during their best feeding opportunity of the year, as young iguanas are born and make a dash for the safety of the higher rocks above. Snake eyesight has evolved to quickly detect movement – and once they spot a target, their reactions can appear highly aggressive and relentless in pursuit.

It’s all too easy to demonise the snake, and for years that’s exactly what the media has encouraged. Reports involving snakes are commonly misrepresented or deliberately sensationalised. Snakes are often portrayed as slimy, cold, angry sticks with teeth rather than anything resembling a living, breathing creature. This of course does little to alleviate public ophidiophobia, an irrational fear of snakes.

In fact, my first break as a wildlife presenter came about following a phone call from the BBC Natural History department regarding snakes, having seen me deliver a talk for the British Association of Science at Cardiff University.

“We’d love to shoot a documentary about adders with you,” the voice on the other end of the phone exclaimed. “We especially want to see the fangs, and the venom … just how much venom can we see from milking an adder?”

Taking a deep breath, I clarified through gritted teeth that Britain’s only venomous snake was both shy and reclusive and not at all aggressive. It was a delicate snake that could easily be injured, and it would be unethical to undertake such an exercise just for the camera. A documentary of that calibre would present adders in a poor light, and it was not a project I would want to be part of.

“Okay,” the voice replied, seemingly without hearing a word I had just uttered. “Do you know anyone else that would be interested?”

One that got away. BBC NHU/© Elizabeth White

I remember thinking that that would be the last chance I’d ever have to work for the BBC, but also feeling that I’d made the right decision. A couple of days later, though, I received another call telling me that the documentary had been poorly thought out and that a decision had been made to cancel the production. As you can imagine, I was relieved. And rather than hinder my career, my stand attracted BBC producers with better judgement, and eventually led to me presenting my own primetime BBC One wildlife series, Rhys Jones’s Wildlife Patrol.

But while it worked out well for me in the end, the same cannot be said for the racer snake, which has already been roundly and colourfully attacked. Rather than capturing a coordinated attack from snakes hunting as a pack, the clip from Planet Earth II actually shows a number of snakes acting individually, on instinct. The time of year when these iguanas hatch is for these snakes the equivalent of Black Friday bargain hunting – it’s every snake for itself, because if they miss out here, they’ll go hungry. Collectively, the actions of these snakes can appear terrifying, but once a snake eats it loses its desire to hunt again.

Unlike mammals, snakes don’t chew their food and have no appendages with which to carve up a share of their quarry with their kin. Evolution has instead led them to consume their prey whole, digesting bones and all. As ectothermic – or cold-blooded – animals, reptiles only require around a tenth of the food intake of a similarly-sized mammal to survive. Once prey is consumed, the snake may not eat again for several weeks.

It is perhaps because snakes’ eating habits, appearance and movement is alien to us that we fear them. After all, we are most often afraid of the things we don’t understand and struggle to anticipate. Throughout history we’ve presented the snake as a symbol of evil and danger. No surprise then to witness the relief felt when the little iguana slipped through the snakes’ constricting coils and escaped to safety. But I suspect very few people gave a second thought to the plight of the snakes left hungry on the beach.

Lost history of African dinosaurs revealed

(THIS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Lost history of African dinosaurs revealed

Reconstruction of the new dinosaur on a coastline in what is now the Western Desert of EgyptImage copyrightANDREW MCAFEE, CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Image caption Reconstruction of the new dinosaur on a coastline in what is now the Western Desert of Egypt

A new species of dinosaur found in the Egyptian desert is shedding light on Africa’s missing history of dinosaurs.

Few fossils have been unearthed from the last days of the dinosaurs, between 100 and 66 million years ago, on the continent.

Scientists say the dinosaur, which lived about 80 million years ago, is an “incredible discovery”.

The giant plant-eater was the length of a school bus and weighed about the same as an elephant.

It had a long neck and bony plates embedded in its skin.

The dinosaur’s fossilised remains were unearthed during an expedition by palaeontologists from Mansoura University in Egypt.

Named Mansourasaurus shahinae, the new species is regarded as a critical discovery for science.

“It was thrilling for my students to uncover bone after bone, as each new element we recovered helped to reveal who this giant dinosaur was,” said Dr Hesham Sallam of Mansoura University, who led the research.

He said he expected the pace of discovery to accelerate in the years to come.

Students carry rock from the digImage copyrightMANSOURA UNIVERSITY
Image captionStudents carry rock from the dig

The course of dinosaur evolution in Africa has remained much of a mystery for the last 30 million years or so of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Study co-researcher Dr Matt Lamanna of Carnegie Museum of Natural History said that his jaw “hit the floor” when he first saw pictures of the fossils.

“This was the Holy Grail,” he said. “A well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa that we palaeontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”

Dinosaur fossils in Africa are rare as much of the land is now covered in lush vegetation, rather than the exposed rock that has yielded dinosaur treasure troves elsewhere.

There is a huge gap in the fossil record during the Late Cretaceous, when the continents were coming towards the end of huge geological changes.

“Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” said Dr Eric Gorscak of The Field Museum, who worked on the research, published in the journal, Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa’s fossil record and palaeobiology – what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”

Geological upheaval

Throughout much of the Triassic and Jurassic periods, during the early years of the dinosaurs, the Earth’s continents were joined together as one large land mass, known as Pangaea.

During the Cretaceous Period, the continents began splitting apart and shifting towards the configuration that we see today.

It has not been clear how well connected Africa was to other Southern Hemisphere landmasses and Europe during this time and to what degree Africa’s animals may have been cut off from their neighbours to evolve along their own separate lines.

By analysing anatomical features of its bones, the researchers determined that Mansourasaurus was more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than to those found further south in Africa or in South America.

This, in turn, shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign.

“It shows Africa wasn’t this strange lost world of dinosaurs that lived nowhere else,” said Dr Lamanna. “That at least some African dinosaurs had other close relations in other continents at the time.”

The lower jaw bone of the new dinosaurImage copyrightHESHAM SALLAM, MANSOURA UNIVERSITY
Image captionThe lower jaw bone of the new dinosaur

Mansourasaurus belongs to the Titanosauria, a group of sauropods, or long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs, that were common during the Cretaceous. Titanosaurs are famous as some of the largest land animals on Earth.

Mansourasaurus, however, was relatively small for a titanosaur, and about the weight of an African bull elephant.

Its skeleton is important in being the most complete dinosaur specimen so far discovered from the end of the Cretaceous in Africa. Parts of the skull, the lower jaw, neck and back vertebrae, ribs, most of the shoulder and forelimb, part of the hind foot, and pieces of dermal plates are preserved.

Rather than being a piece of a jigsaw filling in the gaps in dinosaur history, it is more like “a corner piece”, said Dr Gorscak. “It’s like finding an edge piece that you use to help figure out what the picture is, that you can build from.”

Dr Veronica Diez Diaz, an expert in sauropod dinosaurs from the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, who is not connected with the study, said sauropod remains have previously been found in Tanzania and Madagascar.

“The important thing about this discovery is that we did not know any Late Cretaceous sauropod species from North Africa,” she said. “Most of the remains were teeth and isolated bones. Thanks to Mansourasaurus that is not the case anymore.”

Commenting on the study, Dr Philip Mannion of Imperial College, London, said, “This is just the tip of the iceberg – it points to the fact that Africa has the potential to reveal a much richer fossil record.”

And Dr Michael D’Emic, Adelphi University, added: “It’s just an incredible discovery. It’s special because of where it was found.”

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Akubra girl “Dolly” killed herself due to bullying

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS)

 

Akubra girl “Dolly” killed herself due to bullying, company says

The post said the girl, Amy Jayne Everett, died January 3, and that “we need to make sure that anyone in crisis knows there is always someone to talk to.” It also urged people to act to stop bullying — a plea her father made Sunday.

“This week has been an example of how social media should be used, it has also been an example of how it shouldn’t be,” Tick Everett said in a Facebook post. “If we can help other precious lives from being lost and the suffering of so many, then Doll’s life will not be wasted.”

“…lets stop the bullies no matter where, but especially in our kids, as the old saying goes. You will never know what have untill it’s gone,” he said.

He added: “if by some chance the people who thought this was a joke and made themselves feel superior by the constant bullying and harassment see this post, please come to our service and witness the complete devastation you have created.”

The BBC reports the girl starred in a well-known Akubra ad campaign when she was eight years old. It also reports the family released a statement to media outlets on Wednesday saying the girl was “the kindest, caring, beautiful soul”.

“She was always caring for animals, small children, other children at boarding school who were less fortunate than herself.”

Twenty percent of children in Australia say they were bullied over the past year, according to the BBC.

The wide-brimmed Akubra hat is one of Australia’s most recognizable brands, the BBC reports.