Welcome to Friday, where a mass shooting in Indianapolis leaves eight dead, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is sentenced and a Danish photographer's image from Brazil wins World Press Photo of the Year. Independent media Kayhan-London also exposes how the suspected sabotage at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran has done more than physical harm for the regime.
• Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai sentenced: Two of Hong Kong's best-known activists were sentenced today for their participation in unauthorized assemblies during the 2019 mass pro-democracy protests. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 12 months in prison, as democratic activist Martin Lee avoided prison because of his advanced age, and was given a suspended sentence of 11 months.
• China's economy grows by a record 18.3%: China's economy grew 18.3% in a post-COVID comeback, setting a record in gross domestic product (GDP) since China started keeping quarterly records in 1992.
• Eight shot dead in Indianapolis: At least eight people were killed in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis Thursday night, with multiple injuries reported, before the gunman killed himself. Last week, six people were killed in another mass shooting, in South Carolina.
• Brazil's Supreme Court clears path for Lula to take on Bolsonaro: The Brazilian Supreme Court has confirmed its decision to annul convictions against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was accused of corruption. This sets up a likely head-to-head with conservative President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections.
• Argentina closes schools as COVID-19 surges: Argentina's government has announced new pandemic restrictions to curb the spread of the virus in and around capital city Buenos Aires, including shutting down schools and a night-time curfew.
• "Sexual slavery" in Tigray: New revelations of rape and a declaration by a top Ethiopia health official has pointed to widespread sexual abuse in the conflict in the northern region of Tigray. Both sides are said to have committed war crimes, including sexual violence. Hundreds other women have reported rape.
• Mystery animal turns out to be a croissant: Multiple residents in a neighborhood in Krakow, Poland called animal welfare workers after having spotted an unusual animal sitting in a tree for several days, fearing attack. An investigation revealed that the creature in the tree was actually a croissant.
Danish daily Politiken features the photograph of Copenhagen-based Mads Nissen, which was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year. The image shows an 85-year-old Brazilian woman getting her first embrace in five months from a nurse in Sao Paulo in August 2020.
Natanz nuclear site attack sparks political fallout in Iran
Besides partially destroying a key nuclear installation, the suspected sabotage at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility is also exacerbating tensions within Iran's leadership ranks. Was that part of the purpose? asks independent media Kayhan-London.
Iranian authorities suspect sabotage, and have called the explosion and subsequent blackout at the site a case of "nuclear terrorism," presumed to have been carried out by Israeli agents. While damage from the explosion is clearly considerable, it is not impossible for officials of the Islamic Republic to have exaggerated and lied about the real harm done to the centrifuges, as a distraction from the country's nuclear activities. Indeed, they may be giving false information hoping to obtain concessions from the West as an injured party — now that talking tough has not proven as useful ahead of talks.
In recent years, talks on Iran's program have been ongoing, sometimes in secret, and either in direct or indirect form through third parties. These conversations have yielded concessions on both sides, and even produced agreements. But at times where diplomacy proved fruitless or when Iran is considered to have crossed the world's security lines, Israel and the Western powers, either separately or in tacit cooperation, have acted against Iran's nuclear threat. The West's "undiplomatic" interventions include collaborations in 2007 between Dutch, U.S. and Israeli spy services to launch a cyber-attack on the Natanz plant.
These blows have done more than physical harm. In each case, they have an impact as well on the regime's standing, often making a mockery of its political calculations and fanning discord among its nomenklatura, as the latest Natanz explosion is doing. Social platform users have latched onto recent pictures of a bedridden spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, Behruz Kamalvandi — who said he had fallen into a ventilation shaft — saying his pained face symbolized the state of the entire regime.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
As of this writing, that's the dollar equivalent of the highest cryptocurrency bid on the first NFT from exiled American-born, digital whistleblower Edward Snowden. Dubbed Stay Free, the signed work combines images of the court ruling that the National Security Agency's mass surveillance violated the law, with a portrait of Snowden by renowned photographer Platon. Still based in Russia, the former National Security Agency consultant is capitalizing on the boom in NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to push his cause for online transparency through the blockchain-backed market for unique digital files. Part of the proceeds of the auction will go to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
The third wave of the pandemic has our country firmly in its grip.
— German chancellor Angela Merkel said during a speech in parliament, as she urged lawmakers to approve new powers to enforce lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates, even if regional leaders resist them.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet & Emma Flacard
The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.
Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.
Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."
Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.
Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.
Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.
Oppressive home situations
As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.
Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.
Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.
Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.
"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."
Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."
Lack of spaces
Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.
"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.
The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out
Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.
Lockdowns force coming out
According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.
"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.
Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.
"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.
The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling
In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.
"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."
Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.
Medical care is dismal
Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.
Isolation triggered my depression
"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.
What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.
During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.
As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."
Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.
- In Northern Colombia, LGBT Rights Meet Indigenous Prejudice ... ›
- LGBTQ+ In Morocco: A New Video Series To Open Minds ... ›
- Why Italy Is So Slow In Protecting LGBTQ From Violence ... ›