BBC

The Latest: Japan PM Stays On, UK Delays Reopening, Record Roller Coaster

A volunteer firefighter helps put out the massive fire that broke out yesterday at a chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois. Residents within a one-mile radius of the site have been evacuated, as authorities warn that the blaze could last for days.
A volunteer firefighter helps put out the massive fire that broke out yesterday at a chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois. Residents within a one-mile radius of the site have been evacuated, as authorities warn that the blaze could last for days.

Welcome to Tuesday, where Japan's Prime Minister survives a vote of no confidence one month before the Olympic Games, the UK delays its reopening for fears of the Delta variant spreading and a devilishly high roller coaster opens in New Jersey. New Delhi-based news website The Wire also looks at the need for comprehensive development planning for post-pandemic India, both in cities and the countryside.

• China snaps back at NATO: In a communique signed by NATO leaders at the behest of U.S. President Joe Biden, the security alliance recognized the "systemic challenges' China poses to the "rules-based international order." In response, Beijing has called the statement slanderous, urging NATO to stop "hyping up in any form the so-called ‘China threat.""

• Japan PM survives no-confidence vote: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his majority party survived a vote of no confidence. Opposition parties have criticized the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the full-steam-ahead approach to the Olympic Games.

• Russian mercenaries accused of atrocities in Central African Republic: A CNN investigation has uncovered evidence that Russian mercenaries indiscriminately fired upon civilians while hunting the rebel group, Seleka, in Bambari, Central African Republic in February, which may amount to war crimes.

• Duterte refuses to cooperate with ICC probe: The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it is seeking authorization to investigate the Philippines' violent war on drugs, citing possible crimes against humanity. President Rodrigo Duterte has stated he will not cooperate with the investigation, noting that he had revoked the country's ICC membership in 2018,.

• Delta variant delays UK reopening: The United Kingdom has delayed its full reopening by four weeks over concerns regarding the spreading Delta variant, after being slated to lift the majority of remaining restrictions on June 21. Meanwhile, Brazilian President Bolsanro has asked Pfizer to speed up its vaccine delivery.

• IKEA France found guilty of spying on staff: After being found guilty of illegally collecting private information on staff from 2009-2012, IKEA France has been ordered to pay a fine of €1 million In addition to this penalty, the former IKEA France CEO was sentenced to two years in jail and a €50,000 individual fine.

• Police arrest fast food workers for not giving them free burgers: All 19 staff members at the fast food chain Johnny & Jugnu in Lahore, Pakistan were arrested and held overnight after refusing to give free burgers to a group of police officers. The officers involved have been suspended.


"There is no problem that cannot be solved," titles Turkish daily Milliyet, quoting president Recep Tayyip Recep Erdogan who held a first bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden after the NATO summit. Both leaders said the talks were "productive" and "sincere."

COVID-19 reveals the ugly truth of India's urban-rural divide

India's second wave of the pandemic has hit the poorer sections of society hard and forced many to return to their homes in villages. To ensure that the same mistakes of crowded development in urban areas are not repeated in the rural areas, comprehensive planning is needed in both areas, writes architect and urban designer Ranjit Sabikhi in Indian news website The Wire.

First and foremost is the issue relating to the provision of space on an equitable basis for all sections of society. To minimize the spread of infection, minimum distance has to be maintained between individuals in all areas whether at work or home and also in public areas and streets. This is an issue that is related to equitable access to land, both in the urban and rural areas. It is necessary to ensure that future development — even with small sized residences in urban and rural areas — has substantial open space both within and around it.

For proper planning, the GIS survey of every village in the country, along with a record of all existing structures, access roads, trees, forests as well as all individual farm holdings is essential. It should be the responsibility of each state to get such accurately updated records. All new developments can then be properly considered and planned on a comprehensive basis. The process of regional planning also calls for the active participation of professionals like economists, sociologists, demographers, engineers, architects, etc. to produce long-term plans to bring about meaningful change.

And yet, as of March 2021, surveys have been completed in only 31,000 villages, and property cards have been distributed to around 230,000 property holders in 2,626 villages. As in many of the current government schemes, shortcomings including their slow progress have not been corrected, and the process of implementation is long drawn out. Similarly issues of property ownership such as multiple owners, and the recognition of an individual or joint women's ownership rights, and their correct record on property cards, have not been resolved.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


130 ft

The "Jersey Devil," hailed as "the world's tallest, fastest and longest single rail coaster" has opened at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. Its first drop is 130-ft (40m) high, 87 degrees steep, and takes riders on a 60 mph plunge.

A 69-year-old Belgian forced to prove to Google that he's not underage

Guy, a 69-year-old Belgian, was simply trying to enjoy a YouTube video when Google threatened to lock him out of all of his affiliated accounts … because according to their software, he was under 15 years old.

Everything seemed fine as the senior, hailing from the Spa area in eastern Belgium, leisurely fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video. As he went to click the next one, he received a strange notification from YouTube: "You are too young to have an unsupervised Google account." Google's software had become convinced that the 69-year-old was a tween, and therefore not permitted to watch the following video. The notification also warned the graybeard that if he did not prove he was at least 16 years old, he would be locked out of all of his accounts.

"Google threatened to paralyze my access under the pretext that I was underage," Guy told radio channel and news outlet RTL. "But I am a grandfather."

Guy originally thought that perhaps the notification was a scam, as the alert asked for a valid ID or credit card to prove his identity. He even contacted the Computer Crime Unit to be sure, only to be redirected back to Google. But the Belgian senior is not the only adult that Google's software has mistaken for a child — several blog sites and Reddit pages are filled with other older people complaining about being locked out of their accounts after being assumed to be underage.

Like television series and movies, YouTube videos are also rated for age-appropriateness, with some videos being fully restricted to underage audiences. In order to ensure that minors are not watching inappropriate videos, the algorithm uses machine learning to establish that the viewer is above 18 years old. The website even plans to introduce a new filter for teens and tweens that have outgrown "YouTube Kids'" but are still too young to explore the rest of the website unsupervised.

Google has only begun monitoring users' ages in the last few years, notably after several scandals forced the tech-giant to revisit how its algorithm verifies age and suggests videos. The company came under fire in 2017 for "Elsagate," where it was forced to delete numerous inappropriate videos that had slipped past their "YouTube Kids' filters. The tech giant's "recommendation" algorithm has also been implicated in allegations of "brainwashing" and "radicalizing," particularly after it was shown that several far-right YouTube channels had inspired the Christchurch Shooter.

But despite YouTube's renewed attempts to get age right, 69-year-old Guy was still left having to send Google his credit card information to prove that he was not actually under 15 years old. Now, the young-at-heart Belgian grandfather is finally old enough to surf YouTube.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


This is a provocation of our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites.

— Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned of a planned march Tuesday evening by Israeli nationalists through contested areas of Jerusalem. Authorities fear a new breakout of violence a month after the latest brief but deadly war erupted in Gaza following clashes in the holy city.

✍️ Newsletter by Dan Wu, Genevieve Mansfield, Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger & Anne-Sophie Goninet

Badge
AL JAZEERA
Al Jazeera is a state-funded broadcaster in Doha, Qatar, owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current-affairs satellite TV channel, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty television channels in multiple languages.
Badge
REUTERS
Reuters is an international news agency headquartered in London, UK. It was founded in 1851 and is now a division of Thomson Reuters. It transmits news in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Urdu, and Chinese.
Badge
CNN
CNN (Cable News Network) is a multinational news organization and TV channel. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, it is part of the Warner Media group and was founded in 1980 by Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld.
Badge
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The New York Times (sometimes abbreviated to NYT) is an American daily newspaper, founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. It has won 117 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization. Its daily circulation is estimated to 1,380,000.
Badge
THE WIRE
The Wire is a news website available in English and Hindi, was founded in 2015 in New Delhi. It is published by the Foundation for Independent Journalism (FIJ), a non-profit Indian company.
Badge
MILLIYET
Milliyet ("The Nation") is a major Turkish language daily published in Istanbul. It was founded in 1950. It is owned by the Demirören Holding conglomerate, and its political alignment is considered center-left.
Badge
BBC
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
Badge
THE GUARDIAN
Founded as a local Manchester newspaper in 1821, The Guardian has gone on to become one of the most influential dailies in Britain. The left-leaning newspaper is most recently known for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks.
Badge
WORLDCRUNCH
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Harder Time: How Egypt Cuts Prisoner Communication With Loved Ones

Letters from inmates provide a crucial link with the outside world, and yet the process of sending and receiving them in Egyptian prisons is both arduous and arbitrary as an extra means of control.

Relatives speak with defendants during a trial in a Cairo court.

Nada Arafat

CAIRO – Abdelrahman ElGendy says letters were a crucial lifeline for him during the time he spent locked up in five different prisons between 2013 and 2020. "Letters were not only important, they literally saved my life," he says. "I was only living because I was looking forward to them from one visit to the next, and I would read them over until the paper became worn and torn."

Last month, the family of imprisoned software engineer and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah — who had been held in remand detention for over two years until his referral to emergency trial last week — announced it would take legal steps to ensure that Abd El Fattah is able to send letters to them following a period when prison authorities refused to allow him any correspondence.

According to the family, besides prison visits once a month, Abd El Fattah's letters are the only way they can gain assurance of his condition, and when his letters are denied, that in itself is an indicator that his treatment in detention is worsening. The numerous legal requests and official complaints by the family have been met only with silence by authorities.

While letters provide a crucial link between prisoners and the outside world, the process of sending and receiving them in Egyptian prisons is an arduous one as a result of arbitrary restrictions put in place by authorities.


Mada Masr spoke with a number of former prisoners about their relationship to letters during their incarceration and the way prison administrators constrained their right to send and receive correspondence.

Two letters per month

The law regulating Egypt's prisons and the Interior Ministry's prison bylaws stipulate that prisoners have a right to send out two letters per month and that prison administrators may allow more than two at their discretion. Prisoners are also legally entitled to receive letters.

Those sentenced to hard labor — a type of sentence that in practice usually entitles prisoners to fewer visits — are allowed to send one letter a week, and prisoners in remand detention technically have the right to exchange letters with family and friends at any time. However, in all cases, prison bylaws grant prison authorities the right to monitor, censor and refuse any correspondence sent and received , a power the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights deems a "violation to the personal freedom of prisoners, as it intrudes on their privacy."

A form of punishment

Prison authorities often restrict prisoner letters as a form of punishment, a measure that came under the spotlight when correspondence from Abd El Fattah to his family was arbitrarily cut off for an extended period last month.

Mohamed Fathy, a lawyer, says that Abd El Fattah's family pursued all possible legal procedures to push for allowing the exchange of letters with him, the last of which was a report submitted by the family to the Maadi District Court. This was preceded by an official notice through a court bailiff to the head of the Prisons Authority and telegraphs to the interior minister, Prisons Authority director and the superintendent of Maximum Security Wing 2 of Tora Prison Complex. Abd El Fattah's mother, Laila Soueif, also sent official requests to the superintendent on a daily basis.

Outside the gates of Tora Prison

Aside from the legal procedures, Soueif spent over a week waiting at the gates of Tora Prison Complex in the hope of receiving a letter from her son, a circumstance that gained particular urgency after Abd El Fattah signaled he was contemplating suicide during a detention renewal session in September.

This marked the second time that Abd El Fattah's family has embarked on a legal campaign in order to be granted their right to exchange letters with him. As the coronavirus pandemic first gripped the world in early 2020, the family went through a similar struggle after authorities halted all prison visitations as part of its COVID-19 restrictions.

During this period, letters became the principal form of communication between prisoners and the outside world. The Interior Ministry halted all prison visits from March until it reinstated them again in August 2020, though they were restricted to once a month.

Gendy, who was released from prison in January 2020, one month before the outbreak of the coronavirus in Egypt was officially announced, says that even in ordinary circumstances, letters were of vital importance since only direct family members are allowed visitation rights.

He says he used to give his family around 10 letters during every visit, addressed both to family and friends. "I used to keep an open letter to write to my mother about everything that was happening because the visitation time did not allow me to tell her all the details," he says.

Arbitrary restrictions

Even though the right to correspondence for prisoners is enshrined in the law, in reality, the process is an arduous one for both prisoners and their families due to the conditions of Egyptian prisons and arbitrary restrictions put in place by authorities, according to the accounts of several former prisoners.

It typically begins when the prison warden announces the visitation schedule for the following day. Prisoners hurry to pen letters before lights out, though some continue to write in the darkness. A prisoner who has a scheduled visit then gathers all the letters from his cellmates and hands them over to his visiting family members, who in turn give them to the rest of the prisoners' families outside, either in person or via WhatsApp if the family lives in another governorate.

In parallel, the families of prisoners who share a cell often create a WhatApp group to inform each other about visitation times. "Some families in nearby governorates send physical letters inside with the families that have scheduled visits. But those who live in remote governorates and who cannot afford to travel to the prison simply write letters and send pictures of them to the WhatsApp group," says Amgad Samir*, who was imprisoned for two years in Tora Prison Complex and was the facilitator for letter exchanges in his cell.

Marked in red

According to Samir, families would print out the letters sent via WhatsApp to deliver them to the prisoners, but the prison administration would sometimes not allow the entry of printed letters, so some families would volunteer to rewrite them by hand. "The sister of one of the detainees in Alexandria would rewrite dozens of letters in one day and would ask the children of some of the families to help her," Samir says. "Some families would send their letters with more than one person to make sure that at least one version made it inside."

Any letter being sent or received from prison is required to first be reviewed by the National Security Agency (NSA) officer stationed in the prison, who usually delegates a subordinate officer to read the letters before allowing them through or to "mark them in red," at which point the officer reads the letters himself to approve or deny them, according to Samir. After this screening phase is over, explains Samir, the officer hands over the letters to the mail facilitator, a designated prisoner, who then hands them out in the cell. "I would look at the faces of those who had letters sent to them, it was as if they had just been released," Samir says.

Khaled Dawoud, a journalist and the former head of the Dostour Party who was released from prison in April after nearly one and a half years behind bars, says that prison authorities tightly restrict prison correspondence. "Everything in prison is cracked down upon: food, clothes and even letters," Dawoud says.

According to Dawoud, the NSA officer in Tora Liman Prison, another maximum security facility in the complex, would sometimes force prisoners to rewrite their letters after redacting sections describing things like prison conditions, for example, to avoid them making it into the press or being circulated on social media.

Disseminating information about prison conditions can even lead to further prosecution, as was the case with imprisoned attorney Mohamed Ramadan in December 2020, when he was rotated into another case by the State Security Prosecution after he was ordered released on charges of "sending letters from prison with the intention of destabilization."

Photo of three women speaking with imprisoned defendants at a Cairo court

Relatives speaking with defendants at a Cairo court

Stringer/APA Images/ZUMA

Fear of being forgotten

Banning letters is a form of punishment and pressure that authorities deploy arbitrarily against prisoners, according to lawyer former detainee Mahienour al-Massry, who has spent time in prisons. She tells Mada Masr that following the reinstatement of prison visitations in August 2020, after they had been halted amid the coronavirus outbreak, the National Security officer in Qanater Women's Prison told her she had to choose between visitations and letter correspondence, but that she couldn't have both. Massry refused the ultimatum, and after negotiating with the officer, was eventually granted "exceptional" approval for both under the condition that she only send two letters a month.

"Even though letter correspondence from prison is a legal right that is non-negotiable, there were always negotiations and struggles about sending and receiving them, about how many letters were allowed, and about their content," she says. "Prisoners inside for criminal offenses were in a different situation from political prisoners. The latter had a chance to talk and negotiate, whereas the former did not."

Massry recalls a situation when the NSA officer in Qanater took back some letters that she had initially been allowed to receive. "He said, 'I don't have a reason. This was an order from the National Security Agency. You could try next time, maybe they will go through.' They are moody like that," Masry says. The letters were returned to the family, who then delivered them to Mahienour in a subsequent visit without any objections from the officer. Another time, a letter was confiscated because it had the term "son of a bitch," which the officer deemed "foul language."

Looking for something to say

During an earlier stint in prison in 2016 in Damanhour, Massry did not receive any letters for a month. When she went to the officer to inquire after them, she found that he had a pile of letters addressed to her on his desk. She says the officer simply told her: "Sorry, I didn't have time to go through them all."

After the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, letters to and from prison were banned for two months in Tora Prison Complex while visitations continued to be suspended until August. During this period the prison was overwhelmed with letters, as they were often the only form of communication with detainees. According to Dawoud, the National Security officer was unable to go through hundreds of letters a day, even with the help of another officer. After long negotiations, the officer finally approved the sending of letters to and from prison under the condition they did not exceed two passages.

Dawoud says that he used his letters to simply reassure his family with brief sentences. "Sometimes I couldn't find anything to say because on the one hand, I can't speak about prison conditions, otherwise the letter would be confiscated; and on the other hand I couldn't talk about personal issues," he says.

Despite that, the short letters were enough for Dawoud to check in on his father, who was battling cancer and eventually died. "One sentence was enough for me to know that he was okay. It was enough for me to be reassured," he says.

News about COVID-19

In certain cases, letters have taken on additional importance beyond allowing families and prisoners to check in on each other.

Samir says he was able to help out a foreign cellmate who was charged in a criminal case without the authorities ever informing his consulate or assigning him a lawyer. Samir was able to tell his wife about this prisoner in a letter, but he made sure to use coded language in order to evade surveillance.

Samir would also use coded language to pass on information about COVID-19 in prison that would otherwise be flagged and confiscated by the NSA officer. "We replaced the word 'corona' with 'mosquitoes.' I would write that someone had been bitten by mosquitoes yesterday, and my sister would understand what that meant," he says.

Using this simple code, Samir was able to communicate the prison's coronavirus situation to the outside world until the officer realized that someone was passing along information and pressured him to confess. "I had two choices: either lie and say that there was a mobile phone in the room, or tell him the truth. I told the truth," he says. As punishment, he was not permitted to exchange letters for a period before the officer finally allowed it again.

"The importance of letters does not just lie in their content," Gendy says. "They are also a testament that people outside still remember you, because the fear of being forgotten is every prisoner's worst nightmare."

*Pseudonym


Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ