Welcome to Wednesday, where Myanmar's military hires a PR company, U.S. state of Arkansas bans abortions and a hologram is projected of the giant Buddha destroyed 20 years ago by the Taliban. We've also translated a Jeune Afrique article that follows the fight of a Moroccan collective trying to repeal a bill which criminalizes sexual relations outside marriage.
• 1 in 3 women victims of violence: A landmark WHO report reveals that one in three women globally have been victims of violence or sexual assault at least once in their lives, a number that has not decreased in the past two decades. The World Health Organisation study is the largest ever to track the prevalence of violence in 161 countries aimed at women and girls age 15 and up was collected between 2000 and 2018 — so does not account for the pandemic.
• Brazil hospitals overrun: Brazil again breaks its daily COVID-19 death toll record, as its health institute warns that hospitals are close to collapse.
• Myanmar junta hires PR firm: Myanmar's generals hire Canadian lobbying firm Dickens & Madson for $2 milion to work on their behalf as the military appears to be taking a more deadly stand in quelling pro-democracy protests.
• Russia to slow Twitter: Russia has announced that it will throttle Twitter speeds, effectively preventing the viewing of photos and videos, citing "illegal content" on the platform.
• Arkansas bans abortions: The U.S. state of Arkansas has passed the strictest abortion ban in the country, part of a conservative effort to bring the issue to the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
• China and Russia to build space station: The two countries have agreed to jointly construct a lunar space station that will be open to research and visits from "all countries."
• Thai PM douses reporters: In an effort to dodge reporters' questions on a possible cabinet reshuffle, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha misted the audience multiple times with hand sanitizer spray.
Brazilian daily Estado de Minas devotes its front page to the "critical situation" Brazil is experiencing, as the pandemic overwhelms hospitals and the country breaks its record in new daily deaths with nearly 2,000 fatalities.
Sexual freedom: Moroccan politicians urged to take a stand
In Morocco, a "revenge porn" case revived the debate on article 490, which criminalizes sexual relations outside marriage. A few months before the legislative elections, the Moroccan Outlaws collective is considering its possible repeal, reports Nina Kozlowski in weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique.
On Feb. 22, the social movement "Moroccan Outlaws", led by renowned Moroccan-born, Paris-based author Leila Slimani and director Sonia Terrab, launched a direct appeal to political parties to finally take a stand either for or against the repeal of article 490 of the Penal Code. This fight emerged in 2019 during the case of Hajar Raïssouni, a journalist sentenced to prison for having an "illegal abortion" and "sexual relations outside marriage," before being pardoned by King Mohammed VI. In that year, according to figures from the General Prosecutor's Office, 15,192 persons were prosecuted under this article.
The digital campaign called "Stop 490" includes a letter sent to each political party, with two questions: "Is your party for or against the repeal of article 490 of the Penal Code" and "If you answered ‘for" to the previous question, do you plan to include this point in your electoral platform?" This seemingly straightforward question is in fact a formidable headache. It is all summed up in the words of an unnamed parliamentarian: "It is difficult to answer this question with a yes or no, because on one side there is religion and on the other side there are individual freedoms."
So far, no one has spoken out categorically against the repeal of article 490, but many of the specific conditions involved in its repeal are opposed by politicians while others are drowned out by the noise. Ibtissame Azzaoui of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) says that "the laws that regulate society must not be out of step with the values of society." However, society is changing and people often refuse at first to accept change before asking "the political parties to open the debate on the current values of Moroccan society."
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In Ottawa, this neighborhood bully is a house cat
According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Glebe area of the Canadian capital has been terrorized by a relentless pet feline aggressor who swipes at peoples' faces and bullies 100-pound dogs. Despite its collar and name tag, the assailant's identity remains unknown, as the cat is allegedly too violent to approach.
One concerned citizen decided to take matters into her own hands, trying to reach the cat's legal guardian by posting flyers around the neighborhood. "Do you own a stocky grey cat with a blue tag and a shit attitude?" it reads. "Maybe your cat was born an asshole or maybe it's a sign of a condition like toxoplasmosis, hyperthyroidism epilepsy, abscesses, arthritis, dental disease, rabies, trauma, sensory decline or cognitive dysfunction. So please take your animal to the vet and keep it inside."
Forrest Hartman, the flyer's author, told the Canadian daily that "Angry Cat" hasn't turned up since the flyers' presence, perhaps a sign that the pen is mightier than the claw.
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Just Eat Takeaway.com's 2020 revenues jumped 54% to $2.85 billion in 2020 as demand for food-delivery services boomed last year. The online food-ordering company is expecting further growth in 2021, with already a 88% surge in January and February.
We do not want people to forget what a horrific crime was committed here.
— Zahra Hussaini, one of the organisers of the A Night With Buddha event, organized 20 years after the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan's famed giant Buddha statue. The event featured a 3D hologram projection of the 55-metre (180-foot) high statue.
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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