Tag Archives: Activist

Charges dropped against Buffalo, N.Y., officers seen on video shoving elderly activist to the ground

Criminal charges have been dropped against two police officers seen on video last spring shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground in Buffalo, N.Y., prosecutors said Thursday.

A grand jury declined to indict Buffalo Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski on felony assault charges, ending the matter, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said.

Messages seeking comment were left with lawyers representing the officers. A message was also left for the man who was pushed to the ground, longtime activist Martin Gugino.

John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News: “Obviously, we are ecstatic with their decision. These officers have been put through hell and I look forward to seeing them back on the job.”

Flynn, echoing earlier statements, said he didn’t necessarily feel that altercation rose to the level of a felony but that state law required prosecutors to bring such a charge when a victim is at least 65 and the suspected perpetrators are at least 10 years younger.

WATCH | Video of the June 2020 incident in Buffalo, N.Y.:

The man was at a protest that was nearing its end when he was pushed by police and hit his head on the sidewalk. Two police officers have been suspended.   0:35

‘This was not the J.F.K. assassination’

Addressing criticism that he slow-played or “sandbagged” the case, Flynn said prosecutors made a thorough presentation to the grand jury but, citing secrecy rules, said he couldn’t discuss what witnesses were called or what evidence was presented. The grand jury heard the case on a delayed basis because of coronavirus-related court closures, he said.

Flynn said throughout the investigation, video of the shove remained the primary evidence.

“This was not the J.F.K. assassination,” Flynn said. “This was not that complex of a case. The video that was taken speaks for itself.”

A news crew covering protests in downtown Buffalo last June over the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd captured video of the officers shoving longtime activist Martin Gugino to the ground in front of city hall as they cleared demonstrators from the area for an 8 p.m. curfew.

Gugino, pushed backward, started bleeding after hitting his head on the pavement and spent about a month in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain injury.

McCabe and Torgalski were suspended without pay and subsequently arrested. They pleaded not guilty and were released without bail pending further developments in the case.

Flynn said at a news conference Thursday that national attention on the case had no influence on his decision to charge the officers right away.

“All I need is probable cause for an arrest,” Flynn said. “When I go to trial, though, I need beyond a reasonable doubt. At this point right now, it’s 50/50 in my mind as to whether or not it was intentional or reckless. If it’s 50/50, that’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. That analysis factors into my mind, but I can’t articulate to you what was going on in [grand jurors’] minds.”

In the wake of the officers’ suspensions, nearly 60 other members of the department’s crowd control unit said they would no longer serve on the unit, effectively shutting it down.

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Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison: state-linked media

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was sentenced on Monday to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly worded law aimed at combating terrorism, according to state-linked media.

Loujain Alhathloul’s case, and her imprisonment for the past two and a half years, have drawn international criticism from rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and European Union lawmakers. Alhathloul, whose family members in Canada have been advocating for her release, is a graduate of the University of British Columbia who lived in Canada for five years.

State-linked Saudi news outlet Sabq reported that Alhathloul, 31, was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

She has 30 days to appeal the verdict. 

Activism and imprisonment

Alhathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women’s freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

She was arrested for the first time in 2014 while attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates — where she had a valid driver’s licence — to Saudi Arabia. She spent 73 days in a women’s detention facility, an experience she later said helped shape her campaigning against the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

In 2016, a year after she became one of the first women to stand for municipal election in Saudi Arabia, she was among 14,000 signatories on a petition to King Salman calling for an end to the guardianship system.

In March 2018 Hathloul was arrested in the UAE, where she was studying, and forcibly flown to Riyadh, where she was held under house arrest before being moved to prison in May, rights groups say. She was among at least a dozen other women’s rights activists arrested.

UN calls sentence ‘deeply troubling’

In a statement, the UN human rights office said the conviction and sentence handed to Hathloul, “already arbitrarily detained for 2½ years, is also deeply troubling.” The office urged her “early release” as a matter of urgency.

Her family has called on the Canadian government to be more aggressive in holding Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations to account. Alhathloul has told her family she has been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, flogging, and sexual assault.

A rights group called Prisoners of Conscience, which focuses on Saudi political detainees, said that Alhathloul could be released as early as the end of March 2021 based on time served. She has been imprisoned since May 2018 and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

The judge ordered her to serve five years and eight months in prison for violating anti-terrorism laws, according to Sabq, which said its reporter was allowed inside the courtroom during Monday’s session.

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Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka named AP Female Athlete of Year

With tennis, like so much of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka found herself with time to read and think.

And while she won the U.S. Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality.

As noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year in results revealed Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

 WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake [to name just a few] in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

Osaka collected 18 of 35 first-place votes and a total of 71 points.

WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next with nine first-place votes and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player who kicked for the school’s football team, with one first-place vote and 24 points.

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Activist Nathan Law arrives in Britain after fleeing Hong Kong

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law said he has arrived in London after fleeing the former British colony where China has imposed a security law.

“With my backpack and small luggage in hand, I boarded my night flight. I had no idea what future awaited me. Only one thing seemed certain. My destination: London,” Law said on Twitter.

“There’s always one message I have: Hong Kongers will never give up. We aren’t fractured. On the contrary, we’re well-equipped to face the next difficult battle.”

Law spoke to CBC News from an undisclosed location in a Front Burner episode that aired last week. He said the decision to leave family and friends was difficult, but with the risk of prison under the new legal framework for protesting, he believed his advocacy would be more effective elsewhere.

“For me, leaving Hong Kong is actually more than a personal choice. It’s a strategic move for the movement,” he said.

Law, 26, and fellow activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow announced on June 29 they were disbanding their Demosisto group just hours after Beijing passed the national security bill. They were among the student leaders of the so-called Umbrella Movement of widespread protest in 2014 in response to planned changes to Hong Kong electoral laws.

Law then was elected as Hong Kong’s youngest-ever legislator at age 23, but was among a small number disqualified from serving after offering words of protest during their swearing-in ceremony.

“You can chain me. You can torture me. You can even destroy this body but you will never imprison my mind,” Law said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, instead of the traditional oath.

He also participated as protests roiled Hong Kong last year in response to a bill that would have expanded extradition to China for those charged with offences in Hong Kong.

The new legislative package grants mainland China more powers to insert itself in the affairs of Hong Kong, and includes penalties of up to life in prison for offences deemed to consist of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces. 

Critics have said those four areas are so ill-defined that it could lead to overreach and a stifling of all dissent.

“You never know when you will break the law, you never know where is the red line,” Law told CBC News.

“That is the power of the politics of fear. It will lead you to self-censorship to a degree that you can never express what you genuinely mean.”

EU still determining specific response

Law told Reuters earlier this month that the rest of the world should stand up to Chinese President Xi Jinping and start to put human rights above financial gain.

So far, there has been international condemnation over the legislation as breaching the “one country, two systems” framework agreed to when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but little in the way yet of specific reprisals.

The European Union said Monday it is preparing countermeasures on China in response to Beijing’s new security law, but envoys stressed the likely steps will not amount to economic sanctions.

Diplomats said there was broad support among EU member states for some action, but tough measures were not being discussed in detail because of resistance from China’s closest trade partners in Europe, such as Hungary and Greece.

The broad and ambiguous offences under China’s new national security law have Hong Kongers censoring themselves, fearing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Pro-democracy protesters are holding up blank sheets. Cafes are stripping their messages of support. One of Hong Kong’s most prominent and outspoken activists, too, has left the territory altogether. Today on Front Burner, pro-democracy activist Nathan Law joins us from an undisclosed location. He’ll take us through the years of unrest leading up to China’s crackdown, and how these measures threaten the unique freedoms that came with living in Hong Kong. 22:30

While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month warned of “very negative consequences” for Beijing, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell detailed lighter measures after a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

“We have agreed today to develop a co-ordinated European Union response to show support for Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil society,” Borrell told a news conference after the meeting.

“This will comprise measures both at the European Union level and also measures falling on the member states’ national competencies in a co-ordinated approach.”

He said nothing specific had been decided, but that EU foreign ministers had discussed extending the EU’s export ban on “sensitive technology” to Hong Kong.

Borrell was referring to any equipment or software that could be used for suppressing protests aimed at preserving Hong Kong’s autonomy granted under terms of its handover back to China by Britain in 1997.

EU governments could also review their extradition agreements with Hong Kong authorities, review travel advice, increase scholarships for Hong Kong students and offer more visas to Hong Kongers, Borrell said.

Borrell said EU governments could announce national steps separately, but the 27-nation bloc viewed its response as a package to be defined and made reality “in the coming days.”

In 1997, China promised to maintain Hong Kong’s democratic system and civil liberties for 50 years. But many believe a new security law imposed upon Hong Kong by Beijing effectively means the end of democracy there. Diana Fu — a China expert at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy — discusses the potential fallout over the law and the decisions Hong Kongers have to make now about whether to stay and whether to keep pushing for democracy or censor themselves. 20:31

Finland said it supported the idea of suspending extradition treaties with Hong Kong since the new security law meant detainees could be transferred to mainland China — where courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

In Geneva, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression said on Monday that it will be important to see whether authorities use their discretion in interpreting the new law to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.

“I am extremely concerned about the future of Hong Kong particularly with the adoption of the national security law,” David Kaye told the news briefing.

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Teen activist Autumn Peltier appears at World Economic Forum with criticism for federal politicians

Teenage Indigenous water activist Autumn Peltier says she doesn’t feel the Canada’s federal politicians are focused enough on climate change, even after years of her campaigning for them to take action.

The 15-year old, who hails from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, shared her dismay at their lack of attention toward the issue while on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday.

Peltier has spent her last eight years putting pressure on politicians to take climate change more seriously, while advocating for clean drinking water in Indigenous communities and serving as the chief water commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, a political advocacy group for 40 First Nations across Ontario.

She has urged the United Nations General Assembly to “warrior up” and take a stand for our planet and confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his “broken promises” at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.

While sharing the stage in Davos with fellow teen activists Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Natasha Mwansa from Zambia and Salvador Gomez-Colon of Puerto Rico, she heaped more pressure on politicians back home.

“It is almost like they don’t believe climate change is real,” she said. “Climate change is a real thing and they are not realizing that.”

Her remarks come amid warnings that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and as youth like Peltier are increasingly calling for the globe to band together and address climate change.

Autumn Peltier of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont., talks about politicians’ priorities at the World Economic Forum. 1:05

Peltier said she has received some support from Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha and Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, but has found that many of their counterparts are putting their attention elsewhere.

“They are all focused on just money and we need to be more focused on the actual things going on,” she said.

She also revealed that her age plays a role in how seriously she’s being taken.

“I personally don’t feel that heard from politicians….When it comes to federal government it is really hard to get their attention and be heard by them,” she said.

“I just feel being a youth we are not as heard as we can be.”

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Congressman, civil rights activist John Lewis has pancreatic cancer

As a civil rights activist at 25, John Lewis was beaten so badly his skull was fractured and the TV images from an Alabama bridge in the 1960s forced a nation’s awakening to racial discrimination. As a congressman today at 79, Lewis is facing a foe like none before: advanced pancreatic cancer.

The veteran Democrat congressman from Georgia has fought many struggles in his lifetime. Yet, he said, “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” announcing Sunday in Washington that the cancer was detected earlier this month and confirmed in a diagnosis.

Lewis has had many battles, and this he views as one more dawning. He was arrested at least 40 times in the civil rights era, several more times as a congressman since being elected in 1986 and only recently he has been rallying to help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.

The youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis made clear that he has no plans to step aside from power while he undergoes treatment.

Will continue to work

He said being elected to Congress “has been the honour of a lifetime” and that he will continue working for his constituents from Capitol Hill.

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life​​​​. I have a fighting chance.– John Lewis, congressman and civil rights activist

Added Lewis: “I have a fighting chance.”

He declined to say where he would receive cancer treatment or what that would entail. But he said he may not always be around the halls of Congress in the coming weeks.

“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” he said in asking for prayers.

Lewis also said he was “clear-eyed about the prognosis” even as doctors have told him that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases. He added that “treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were.”

The American Cancer Society estimates three per cent of patients with stage 4 pancreatic cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed.

‘Conscience of the Congress’

Sometimes called the “conscience of the Congress,” Lewis led hundreds of protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was at the head of the march when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. The nationally televised images forced the country’s attention on the racial inequalities being fought by King and so many others.

Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council.

Awards and other artifacts are displayed at the ‘John Lewis-Good Trouble’ art exhibit in the atrium of the domestic terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Monday, April 8. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/The Associated Press)

In 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who had marched with Lewis hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those who sent her best wishes to Lewis after the announcement of his illness.

“We are all praying for you following this diagnosis. John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight.” She said in a statement. “We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well.”

Well wishes poured in for Lewis on Twitter, with prominent Americans including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton sharing encouraging words.

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Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong charged in crackdown on Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong authorities on Friday charged pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong with organizing an illegal protest as they tighten a clampdown on unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into its biggest political crisis in more than two decades.

Wong, who led pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago that foreshadowed the latest turbulence, is the most prominent activist to be arrested since protests escalated in mid-June over fears China is exerting greater control over the city.

Police arrested several other activists and blocked plans for a mass demonstration on Saturday, in a show of force a day before the fifth anniversary of China’s decision to rule out universal suffrage in the former British colony.

Hong Kong-based English broadcaster RTHK reports other activists arrested Friday include:  

  • Legislator Au Nok-hin, for allegedly assaulting and obstructing police during a protest on July 8.  
  • Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, who said he was detained, but did not mention any specific charges laid against him.
  • Civic Passion legislator Cheng Chung-tai, arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage during a protest on July 1.

The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led Umbrella Movement, as the 2014 pro-democracy protests were called, has not been a prominent figure in the latest protests, which have no identifiable leaders.

He was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court.

Wong and fellow activist Agnes Chow were charged with unlawfully organizing a public meeting outside police headquarters on June 21. They were released on bail and the case was adjourned until Nov. 8.

“Two months ago I served all of my jail sentence and left prison. Unfortunately, under the chilling effects generated by Beijing and Hong Kong governments, we are strongly aware how they arrest activists no matter whether they behave progressively or moderately,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong said he will not surrender even after he was arrested, charged with organizing an illegal protest and later released on bail. 0:44

“All we ask for is just to urge Beijing and Hong Kong governments to withdraw the bill, stop police brutality and respond to our calls for a free election.”

Thousands of demonstrators blockaded police headquarters on June 21. They were protesting against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.

More than three months of unrest have evolved into calls for greater democracy under the one-country, two-systems formula, by which Hong Kong has been ruled since 1997, guaranteeing freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

Chinese military personnel maintain trucks and armoured personnel vehicles parked outside the Shenzhen Bay stadium on Aug. 16 in Shenzhen, China. (Getty Images)

Protesters are riled by perceived interference by China that undermines that formula.

China denies the accusation. It has denounced the protests and warned of the damage to Hong Kong’s economy.

It has also accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the demonstrations, and warned against foreign interference.

‘Attempt to scapegoat individuals’

Andy Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was arrested at Hong Kong airport on Thursday on suspicion of participating in riots and attacking police, police said.

Wong’s pro-democracy group, Demosisto, said the arrests were an attempt to scapegoat individuals in a movement that has built momentum without public figureheads.

“The arrests were apparently a political operation,” Demosisto said on its Facebook page. “It will only make the government misjudge the public, leading to a deadly situation that is more difficult to resolve.”

Police officers point their guns towards anti-extradition bill protesters after a clash, at Tsuen Wan, in Hong Kong, China on Aug. 25. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of previous protests, cancelled a mass demonstration planned for Saturday after the police refused permission.

Reuters exclusively reported on Friday that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously requested Beijing’s approval for a plan to ease tension, evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Nearly 900 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began with frequent clashes between protesters and police, who have at times fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

With protesters and authorities locked in an impasse, as Hong Kong faces its first recession in a decade, speculation has grown the city government may impose emergency law, giving it extra powers over detentions, censorship and curfews.

Hong Kong’s July retail sales sank the most since February 2016, government data showed on Friday.

The government would consider using “all laws” to prevent violence, Hong Kong leader Lam, who has become a lightning rod for protesters’ anger, said this week.

Hong Kong was a long way from having to make use of emergency powers, a senior official of China’s parliament told Reuters on Friday.

China brought fresh troops into Hong Kong on Thursday in what it said was a routine rotation of its garrison.

China rejects plan to appease protesters 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam submitted a report to Beijing that found withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis. The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Earlier this summer, Lam submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory.

The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.

Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.”

Lam’s report on the tumult was made before an Aug. 7 meeting in Shenzhen about the Hong Kong crisis, led by senior Chinese officials. The report examined the feasibility of the protesters’ five demands, and analyzed how conceding to some of them might quieten things down, the individuals with direct knowledge said.

Thousands of people streamed into a park in central Hong Kong on Sunday for what organizers hope will be a peaceful demonstration for democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the other demands analyzed in the report were:

  • An independent inquiry into the protests.
  • Fully democratic elections.
  • Dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests.
  • Dropping charges against those arrested so far.

The withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry were seen to be the most feasible politically, according to a senior government official in the Hong Kong administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the move was envisioned as helping pacify some of the more moderate protesters who have been angered by Lam’s silence.

The extradition bill is one of the key issues that has helped drive the protests, which have drawn millions of people into the streets of Hong Kong. Lam has said the bill is “dead,” but has refused to say explicitly that it has been “withdrawn.”

Beijing told Lam not to withdraw the bill, or to launch an inquiry into the tumult, including allegations of excessive police force, according to the senior government official.

Another of the three individuals, who has close ties with senior officials in Hong Kong and also declined to be identified, confirmed the Hong Kong government had submitted the report.

“They said no” to all five demands, said the source. “The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.”

The third individual, a senior Chinese official, said the Hong Kong government had submitted the report to the Central Co-ordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, a high-level group led by Politburo standing committee member Han Zheng, and President Xi Jinping was aware of it.

The official confirmed Beijing had rejected giving in to any of the protesters’ demands and wanted Lam’s administration to take more initiative.

In a statement responding to Reuters, Lam’s office said her government had made efforts to address protesters’ concerns, but did not comment directly on whether it had made such a proposal to Beijing, or received instructions.

Written questions to China’s Foreign Ministry were referred to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), a high-level bureau under China’s State Council. HKMAO did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

Reuters has not seen the report. The news agency also was unable to establish the precise timing of the rejection.

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David Koch, billionaire conservative activist and donor, dead at 79

Billionaire industrialist David H. Koch, who with his older brother Charles transformed American politics by pouring their riches into conservative causes, has died at age 79.

“It is with a heavy heart that I now must inform you of David’s death,” Charles Koch announced Friday.

David Koch, who lived in New York City, was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He was a generous donor to conservative political causes, as well as educational, medical and cultural groups.

The brothers were best known for a vast political network they built that became popularly known as the Kochtopus for its far-reaching tentacles in support of conservative causes. The two founded the anti-tax, small government group Americans for Prosperity.

“I was taught from a young age that involvement in the public discourse is a civic duty,” David Koch wrote in a 2012 op-ed in the New York Post. “Each of us has a right — indeed, a responsibility, at times — to make his or her views known to the larger community in order to better form it as a whole. While we may not always get what we want, the exchange of ideas betters the nation in the process.”

While dealing with prostate cancer for 20 years, he told a reporter following the 2012 Republican convention that he was thinking about what he will someday leave behind.

“I like to engage where my part makes a difference,” he told The Weekly Standard. “I have a point of view. When I pass on, I want people to say he did a lot of good things, he made a real difference, he saved a lot of lives in cancer research.”

Koch donated $ 100 million in 2007 to create the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also gave millions to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the M.D. Anderson Cancer in Houston, and other institutions.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History named in his honour a wing dedicated to the story of human evolution over six million years. Koch donated $ 15 million to fund the 15,000-square-foot hall.

“The program has the power to influence the way we view our identity as humans, not only today, but for generations to come,” he said in a statement at the time.

Koch, an engineer trained at MIT, joined Koch Industries in 1970, and served on its board. He also served as chief executive officer of Koch Chemical Technology Group, LLC, a Koch subsidiary. He retired from the company in 2018.

The Koch brothers, each with an estimated net worth of $ 50.5 billion, tied in fourth place in 2012 on Forbes 500 list of the nation’s richest men.

Two other Koch brothers, Frederick and Bill, sued the other two, claiming in a 1998 trial that they were cheated out of more than $ 1 billion when they sold their stake in Koch Industries back in 1983. David and Bill Koch are twins.

The dispute stemmed from a falling out three years earlier when Bill Koch criticized Charles’s management of the company, and with Frederick’s support tried to gain control of the company’s board of directors. After the takeover move failed, the board fired Bill as an executive.

Bill and Frederick Koch and other dissident stockholders sold their interests, and the two later sued, claiming the company withheld crucial information that would have led to a higher sale price.

Bill and Frederick lost their case, but the lengthy public trial offered a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the Koch family.

The Kochs’ father, Fred Koch, guessed early — before two of his boys were out of diapers and before two were even born — that wealth might split his family apart.

“It will be yours to do with what you will,” the father wrote in a 1936 letter to his two oldest sons. “It may be either a blessing or a curse.”

David Koch had three children with his wife, Julia Flesher.

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‘She’s a phenomenon’: Climate activist Greta Thunberg sailing into stiff winds in U.S.

Greta Thunberg doesn’t look like a world-beater. A tiny figure with a waist-length braid and a broad, open face, she stood calmly facing a barrage of reporters this week in Plymouth, England. 

She’s headed to New York and a tour of the Americas as a headliner — one of the most sought-after personalities in the environmental movement, and she’s just 16, taking a gap year from high school. 

“I’m not that special,” she said, responding to a question on whether she could influence U.S. President Donald Trump on climate change.

“I can’t convince everyone and instead of speaking to me and to the school-striking children, [Trump’s team] should be talking to actual scientists and experts.” 

The climate activist from Sweden is both humble and keenly aware of the powerful pulpit she now occupies. In just one year, she’s inspired millions, particularly youth, to rally around a wounded climate. 

She’s met the Pope, addressed European parliaments, chastised CEOs at the World Economic Forum and secured a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

But the higher she flies as “brand Greta,” the more her critics attack her message and methods. Even at 16, becoming an activist has made her a target.

Malizia II, the elite racing yacht taking Thunberg to New York, has solar panels and underwater turbines for electricity. A mandatory combustion engine is secured on board for emergencies. Skippers Pierre Casiraghi and Boris Herrmann are experienced racers but Thunberg, her father and a documentary filmmaker are novice sailors. (Ashley Fraser/CBC)

She arrived in England by train, refusing to fly, eschewing the heavy carbon footprint of air travel. So to cross the Atlantic Ocean, she’s sailing on an 18-metre elite racing yacht, the Malizia II, with two professional skippers, her dad, and a documentary filmmaker.

“I’m not telling anyone what to do or what not to do,” she said when asked if she wants people to curtail or stop flying. 

“I am one of the very few people in the world who actually can do this, and I think I should take this chance.” 

But indirectly, she is telling people what she thinks of their choices. 

“Her decisions to be vegan and not to fly — there is moral virtue signalling in those actions,” says Mike Hulme, a professor of human geography at Cambridge University.

Thunberg began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018, a solitary figure with a sign and a worry that too few adults she knew were consumed by climate change.

“She had no idea of the consequences of what her strike would lead to,” says Hulme, who attributes part of her draw and charm to an “innocence.”

She appeared to “enter into this unilaterally, which is an interesting angle in someone’s political activism,” he says.

Thunberg also played into a new climate news cycle around the same time as the International Panel on Climate Change released a significant report warning of threats to the planet if it warmed above an additional 1.5 C.

A Greta supporter and demonstrator with Extinction Rebellion, a group inspired in part by Thunberg’s goal that governments declare a climate ’emergency,’ was on hand as she left from Plymouth on Wednesday. (Ashley Fraser/CBC)

“At the moment, everyone’s following Greta. She’s a phenomenon. But that doesn’t hold a magic key to unlock the deeply difficult politics of climate change,” says Hulme. 

“It’s way too early to be able to evaluate whether she’s made a difference to the hard-nosed politics that have prevented the world [from reducing its] carbon emissions over the last 30 years.” 

On Wednesday, as she sailed out of Plymouth harbour, a crowd gathered at Devil’s Point waved and cheered her on her way. 

“I think she’s Greta the Great,” said Mozza Brewer, a fan who came from nearby Devon to wish her well. Brewer, who is part Finnish and part British, took note of Thunberg on television at a huge climate rally in Helsinki last fall.

“Gosh, who is this girl from Sweden, who has thousands of Finns listening to her?” Brewer asked herself. 

“I want her to know there is so much love for her in the world; so many support what she’s doing in spite of the trolls and the negativity about what this young woman has achieved.”

Personal attacks

But the winds blowing against Thunberg are also gathering force. And attacks on her in social media are personal. 

In a blog post in Australia’s Herald Sun, headlined “The Disturbing Secret to the Cult of Greta Thunberg,” columnist Andrew Bolt wrote “no teenager is more freakishly influential than Greta Thunberg, the deeply disturbed messiah.”

Steve Milloy, a former member of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, tweeted, “She’s ignorant, maniacal and is being mercilessly manipulated.”

A member of the Welsh Assembly tweeted a photoshopped picture of her, with satanic symbols in her eyes, saying “It’s shaping up to be the hottest day of the year — please remember: No electric fans, definitely no air conditioning. Greta has spoken….” 

On Wednesday night, just after Thunberg and her racing team sailed off, a prominent U.K. businessman sparked a particularly virulent Twitter storm after he quipped “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August…”

Arron Banks, a Brexit backer, was roundly slagged in a series of late-night tweets.

“Disgraceful,” wrote Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, “his tweet should be reported as a hate crime.”

“You’re wishing a potentially fatal accident onto a 16-year-old girl, why …?” tweeted actor Amanda Abbington. 

Banks later said he was “joking” and that “lefties have no sense of humour.”

Thunberg bats off her critics, seemingly impervious, at least in public. 

“I’m not concerned about reactions [from climate change doubters]. What I am concerned about is whether we will do something or not, whether the people in power will react and act with necessary force,” she said in Plymouth

Thunberg has a plain, direct way of speaking that cuts through political speak.

“There are always going to be people who don’t understand or don’t accept the united science, and I will just ignore them because, I mean, I’m only acting and communicating on the science, and if they don’t like that, then, I mean, what have I got to do about that?”

Boris Herrmann, co-skipper of Malizia II, says he wanted to show ‘that solidarity with Greta is not limited to ecoactivists.’ (Ashley Fraser/CBC)

Her slogan, “Unite Behind the Science,” is emblazoned on the mainsail of the yacht, now crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

But Hulme warns that approach is flawed. 

“If she is simply saying, ‘Well, listen to the scientists,’ at one level, that ends up being a vacuous message.

‘It doesn’t say what India or China or Indonesia should be doing about their carbon emissions. It doesn’t tell us whether we should be replacing our existing coal energy with new nuclear energy. It doesn’t get us through these troubling politics.” 

On Friday afternoon, the Malizia II was 4,800 kilometres from New York, travelling at 22 km/h (12 nautical miles per hour). It’s an elite vessel but designed for racing, not a pleasure cruise.

Herrmann and Thunberg answered questions from the global media at the Mayflower marina in Plymouth on Wednesday. The sailing vessel Mayflower departed from the same port for the New World nearly 400 years ago. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)


Greta and her dad will use a bucket for a toilet and sleep on bunks they can winch up tight against the hull in stormy weather.

Which might describe the kind of reception she could receive in the United States. 

While wildly popular, she will also be fresh prey for climate doubters anxious to blunt her message.

Her U.S. followers, though, are ready, preparing signs that say  “Make America Greta Again.”

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Women’s rights activist rejected Saudi release deal that included denial of prison torture, family says

Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody, her family said on Tuesday.

Hathloul, along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists, was arrested more than a year ago as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, which many of the detainees had long campaigned for. Local media tarred them as traitors.

Some of the women appeared in court earlier this year to face charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, but the trial has not convened in months.

The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the U.S. Congress following last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Rights groups say at least three of the women, including University of British Columbia graduate Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault.

Saudi officials have denied torture allegations and said the arrests were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.

A demonstrator from Amnesty International holds a placard outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris to protest on International Women’s Day in March, urging Saudi authorities to release jailed women’s rights activists. (Benoit Tessier/REUTERS)

The government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for reaction to the comments by Hathloul’s family on Tuesday about a release deal offer.

In March, she and some of the other women described in a closed court session the mistreatment they had experienced, sources familiar with the matter said at the time.

Hathloul’s siblings allege that Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who has also been implicated in Khashoggi’s murder — was present during some of the torture sessions and threatened to rape and kill her.

The Saudi public prosecutor has said his office investigated the allegations and concluded they were false.

Video not ‘a realistic demand’: brother

Hathloul, 30, initially agreed to sign a document denying she had been subjected to torture and harassment, her brother Walid tweeted. The family remained quiet recently in hopes the case could be resolved privately.

But in a recent encounter, Walid said, state security asked her to make the denial in a video a part of a release deal.

“Asking to appear on video and to deny the torture doesn’t sound like a realistic demand,” he added.

The family said she rejected that offer.

Some of the charges against the women on trial fall under the kingdom’s cybercrime law stipulating jail sentences of up to five years, according to rights groups.

Those against Hathloul include communicating with 15 to 20 foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia, attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations, and attending digital privacy training, her brother has said.

Scores of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in the past two years in an apparent bid to stamp out possible opposition, even as the crown prince pushes to open up Saudi society and end the economy’s dependence on oil.

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