Hong Kong Activist Says He Was “Stapled” Over Lionel Messi Photo
Haroon Siddique, THE GUARDIAN
A Hong Kong pro-democracy activist says he was beaten and had his legs stapled by Chinese agents because he was planning to send a signed photo of Lionel Messi to a dissident’s widow. Howard Lam, a member of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, said he was snatched on the street on Thursday, forced into a car and made to smell something that caused him to lose consciousness. When he came to after being hit with a hard object, he was wearing only his underwear and a blindfold, Lam told reporters on Friday. He said he was interrogated about his intention to send a picture of the Barcelona footballer Messi to Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. “A man asked if I knew Liu Xia, and why I was doing all these things,” Lam said, according to the South China Post. “The man also said: ‘Are you a Christian? Do you know how to love the country and the religion? … I’ll give you some crosses,’ he said, and then he stapled my legs.” Lam showed reporters cross marks he said had been made by the staples. He said his abductors spoke Mandarin, China’s national language but rare in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong.
Andrew Gilholm, FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress, which is held every five years, was once considered a dull affair, recalling images of old men dozing through long speeches. That changed in 2012, when an intense intra-party competition before the 18th National Congress led to a diplomatic incident at a US consulate. It involved a Chinese official who sought asylum for having confronted Bo Xilai, a rising-star Politburo member whose wife was later implicated in the murder of a British businessman. That was followed by a Ferrari crash in Beijing that killed a senior official’s son and rumors of a coup attempt. The prelude to this fall’s 19th National Congress seems unlikely to be so dramatic. But with the July dismissal of Chongqing’s party chief Sun Zhengcai, who is under investigation by the party’s disciplinary watchdog, the atmosphere is tense. As one of only two next-generation leaders on the party’s Politburo, Sun was at least tentatively earmarked to succeed Communist Party leader Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang at the 20th National Congress in 2022.
“Released” Rights Lawyer Still Held In Northern China Cave Under Police Guard
RADIO FREE ASIA
Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who remains under house arrest since his release from prison in August 2014, is unlikely to regain any measure of freedom before the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s 19th congress later this year, his friends told RFA. Gao, once a well-known human rights lawyer, now lives in a cave home in a remote village in the northern province of Shaanxi, and has been repeatedly denied permission by the Chinese police to see a dentist for treatment after losing several teeth to torture and neglect during his incarceration. Gao, 53, has published a book detailing the torture he endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, and has described being repeatedly tortured when he was secretly jailed at a “military site” during one of many disappearances. “It’s not going to happen, particularly not before the 19th Party Congress,” a Xi’an-based friend of Gao’s told RFA. “He will be put under very close surveillance, and there is no likelihood of his leaving that village.” “We will have to see whether an opportunity will arise after the Party Congress is over.” He said Gao’s friends are extremely concerned about his safety and well-being. “We are all very worried because the surveillance is so strict,” the friend said. “I don’t expect him to be allowed to leave.”
Canadian Diplomat In Cuba Also Suffered Hearing Loss
Matthew Lee, Rob Gillies, and Michael Weissenstein, WASHINGTON POST
The Canadian government said Thursday that at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that US officials believe were caused by an advanced sonic device. Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said Canadian officials “are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana. The government is actively working—including with US and Cuban authorities—to ascertain the cause.” Maxwell added that officials don’t have any reason to believe Canadian tourists and other visitors could be affected. Canada helped broker talks between Cuba and the United States that led to restored diplomatic relations. In the fall of 2016, a series of US diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Ailments In Cuba Could Be Result Of Intel Operation Gone Wrong, Expert Says
It began last year—in Havana. More than a dozen staffers at the US Embassy experienced unexplained ailments that included symptoms like headaches and sleeplessness. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert addressed the report in a Thursday press briefing. “We don’t know exactly where this came from,” Nauert said. “We cant blame any one individual or a country at this point yet.” But so far, the investigation has shown that the culprit is likely a high-tech sonic device that can’t be heard by humans, but clearly can be harmful. Officials believe it was operating in or around the homes of Embassy workers. The question is: Who put it there and why? “It’s audio but it’s beyond the range of our ears,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence historian and curator at the International Spy Museum. He says Cuba, or even the Russians, could have been carrying out an intelligence operation that went south. But Houghton and other intelligence experts say it could also have been a routine intimidation campaign taken to another level.
Government-Controlled News In Cuba Offers Disinformation On Venezuela
Nora Gamez Torres, THE MIAMI HERALD
For Cubans, the recent vote for a Constituent Assembly in Venezuela was “an exemplary victory” for President Nicolás Maduro, and the balloting took place “normally and with a great turnout.” Street protests against Maduro are “acts of violence” organized by the US government, and the protesters are not Venezuelans but “terrorists backed by right-wing elements.” Those “alternative facts” are what Cubans get every day from their government-controlled mass media, which generate disinformation through a mix of censorship, propaganda and limited access to the internet. Cubanet, an independent news outlet based in Miami, asked several Cubans on the island what they knew about the crisis in Venezuela after the mass protests started in May. Not surprisingly, they knew little.
EU Slaps Sanctions On Additional North Korean Nationals
The European Union says it has slapped sanctions on nine North Koreans and four entities including the state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, in addition to those already on its sanctions list. In a statement Thursday, it says the asset freezes and travel bans were added to the EU’s North Korea sanction list to bring the bloc into line with a new UN Security Council Resolution. The resolution was adopted last week in response to North Korea’s on-going development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile activities. The EU move means that 62 people and 50 entities, like companies, organizations or banks, are now under sanctions in line with the UN list. The EU has autonomously slapped restrictive measures on a further 41 people and 7 entities.
Meet Kim Jong-un, A Moody Young Man With A Nuclear Arsenal
Choe Sang-hun, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In China, the man threatening to fire missiles at the United States is often derided as a chubby brat. In the United States, a senator recently referred to him as “this crazy fat kid.” President Trump once called him “a total nut job.” But the target of all that scorn, Kim Jong-un, the 33-year-old leader of North Korea, has long been underestimated. Mr. Kim was the youngest of three sons yet leapfrogged his brothers to succeed his father, Kim Jong-il. Many analysts dismissed him as an inexperienced figurehead when he took power at 27; some predicted he would never last. But almost six years later, there is little doubt he is firmly in control. Now, against long odds, Mr. Kim is on the verge of making his isolated, impoverished nation one of very few in the world that can hit the United States with a nuclear missile—defying not only the Trump administration but also international sanctions and North Korea’s traditional allies in Beijing.
In New Threat, Trump Demands North Korea “Get Their Act Together”
Issuing a new threat to North Korea, President Donald Trump demanded that North Korea “get their act together” or face extraordinary trouble. He said his previous warning of “fire and fury” if Pyongyang threatened the US again might have been too soft. “Maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said on Thursday. Trump, speaking to reporters from the New Jersey golf resort where he’s vacationing, said North Korea had been “getting away with a tragedy that can’t be allowed.” Still, he declined to say whether the US was considering a pre-emptive military strike, arguing that his administration never discusses such deliberations publicly. Trump’s comments were his first since North Korea reacted to his “fire and fury” threat by announcing a detailed plan to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles toward the US Pacific territory of Guam, a major military hub and home to US bombers. Trump said it was time that somebody stood up to the pariah nation. “North Korea better get their act together or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble,” Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence. “It may very well be tougher than I said.” Trump said the US “of course” would always consider negotiations with North Korea, but added that negotiations with the North have failed for the last 25 years. He accused his predecessors of failing to effectively address the North Korea problem.
US Destroyer Challenges China’s Claims In South China Sea
Idrees Ali, REUTERS
A US Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, US officials told Reuters. The operation came as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals. China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the area. It was the third “freedom of navigation operation” or “FONOP” conducted during Trump’s presidency. Neither China’s defense ministry nor its foreign ministry immediately responded to a request for comment. The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and comes as Trump is seeking China’s cooperation to rein in North Korea.
North Korean Defector In NJ Speaks Out As Tensions With Kim Jong-un Mount
Jummy Olabanji, NBC
Youngae Ma, who has been living in New Jersey for the past decade, once worked as an intelligence agent for North Korea’s security department. Ma told a translator, “During my time in North Korea, I realized the government really messed up. Watching the government starve and kill innocent people is what drove me to escape.” Ma is now well known in her Palisades Park community for selling homemade traditional North Korean dishes and sausages at local markets. In 10 years, she has used her profits to help more than 1,000 people escape North Korea to China, Russia, or the US. like she did. She has also helped them find jobs in their new countries. Though she has assisted many, Ma has been unable to get her own family to the US. She believes her sister in North Korea was killed by the government for passing information to her in New Jersey. Ma believes the recent threats of nuclear war from her native country’s leader should be taken seriously.
Fifth Venezuela Opposition Mayor Sentenced Over Protests
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has removed the mayor of El Hatillo neighborhood in Caracas from office and sentenced him to 15 months in prison. The court found Mayor David Smolansky, of the opposition Popular Will party, guilty of failing to prevent anti-government protests. Four other opposition mayors have already been found guilty of similar charges. The sentence came as the US imposed sanctions on more government officials.
Cooking Gas Shortages Force Venezuelans To Turn To Firewood
Maria Ramirez and Deisy Buitrago, REUTERS
Venezuelan homemaker Carmen Rondon lives in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, but has spent weeks cooking with firewood due to a chronic shortage of home cooking gas—leaving her hoarse from breathing smoke. Finding domestic gas cylinders has become increasingly difficult, a problem that oil industry analysts attribute to slumping oil output in the OPEC nation—which is struggling under an unraveling socialist economy. State oil company PDVSA says the problem is due to difficulties in distributing tanks amid four months of anti-government protests in which its trucks have been attacked. “I’ve spent three weeks cooking with wood and sometimes the food does not even soften properly, I can’t stand it anymore,” said Rondon, as she lined up to buy a cylinder under the scorching sun in the city of San Felix in southern Venezuela. More than 100 people were ahead of her in line. Nine out of 10 Venezuelan homes rely on cylinders for home gas usage, with only 10 percent receiving it via pipelines, according to official figures. The government launched a plan 12 years ago to bring some 5 million households onto the natural gas network but was unable to follow through.
Russia Says International Sanctions On Venezuela “Not Constructive”
Dmitry Solovyov, REUTERS
New sanctions imposed on Venezuela are not constructive, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, hailing the creation of the Latin American’s nation’s constituent assembly as a basis for moving towards stability. Washington imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan officials on Wednesday for their role in creating an all-powerful legislative body loyal to President Nicolas Maduro. The new US sanctions targeted politicians and security figures but stopped short of actions against Venezuela’s vital oil industry. Energy sector sanctions, which could cripple Venezuela’s already ailing economy, are still being considered, US officials said.
Venezuelan “Dictator” Nicolás Maduro Says He Wants To Meet Trump
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro said he wants a meeting with President Donald Trump, the same man he ridicules as a crass imperial magnate, as the US weighs slapping crippling economic sanctions on his socialist administration. In a lengthy address Thursday to members of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, Maduro instructed Venezuela’s foreign minister to approach the United States about arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with Mr. Trump at next month’s United Nations General Assembly. “Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the socialist president said, adding that he wants as strong a relationship with the US as he has with Russia. The remarks came a day after the Trump administration slapped sanctions on eight close Maduro allies, accusing them of violating human rights and democratic norms, and debated whether to pile on with additional economic sanctions to further isolate the government.