Honduran drug lord cuts deal with US

He also laundered millions of dollars, and, once imprisoned in America, started spilling the beans – and terrifying powerful people back home in his native Honduras.

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From 2003 to 2013, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga and his brother Javier, along with their parents and other siblings, led a violent drug cartel called Los Cachiros, in Tocoa on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.

But the brothers feared getting killed when the US Treasury Department put the names of their whole family on a black list in 2013 and the government of Honduras began seizing assets from them.

Anti-narcotics and Military Police officers prepare everything for the incineration of more than 200 kilos of cocaine seized in southern Honduras. (AFP)AFP

So Leonel Rivera started secretly recording conversations with accomplices such as Fabio Lobo, son of former president Porfirio Lobo, who served from 2010 to 2014.

He did this first on his own and later in cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration starting in 2013. 

Leonel Rivera, who turned 40 on Tuesday, is a man of short stature with a thin moustache and arched eyebrows that make him look angry all the time.

Along with his brother he cut a deal with the US prosecutors in New York under which the pair landed in prison more than two years ago – but the rest of their family did not.

His mother, father, sister and a second brother live in the United States, presumably under a new identity and under the protection of the US government.

‘A little window’

US authorities said this week that Leonel Rivera will be sentenced by Judge John Koeltl on April 14.

Thanks to his revelations, the authorities in Honduras learned that the Cachiros gang had at least 22 contracts with the Lobo government, prosecutors in Honduras said Wednesday.

They also said they would investigate the government officials named by Leonel Rivera.

“This is what makes the Cachiros case so interesting, because it’s a little window into the way organized crime and elites intersect in places like Honduras,” said Steven Dudley, co-director of Insight Crime, a think tank that studies organized crime in the Americas.

“This is important because it sends the message that impunity is not total, that there is some accountability somewhere, there exists some system that is willing to hold even the highest powers accountable,” said Dudley.

“But does that transfer into real change? I am not sure yet.”

22 meetings

From December 5, 2013 to September 21, 2015, Leonel Rivera met with US prosecutors 22 times to give them information and negotiate the terms of his plea bargain, according to court documents seen by AFP.

The two brothers surrendered to the DEA in January 2015, Leonel in the Bahamas and Javier in Miami.

In April 2016, they each pleaded guilty to charges including murder, leading a drug trafficking gang and conspiring to ship illegal drugs into the US.

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The Cachiros gang took delivery of drugs from Colombia, which arrived either in planes or speedboats, and took it overland to Guatemala. From there it would move on to Mexico and then the US, Leonel Rivera said in his first testimony against Fabio Lobo on March 6.

He said that in exchange for bribes the cartel was protected by the former president, his son, his brother Ramon “Moncho” Lobo, the current Security Minister Julian Pacheco, by the legislator Antonio Hernandez, brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and by dirty cops and military people.

All of these people deny the charges, except for Fabio Lobo, who was arrested by the DEA in Haiti in 2015. He has pleaded guilty to charges of drug trafficking and will be sentenced on May 30. 

‘Deal with the devil’

If convicted Leonel Rivera could face life in prison but his fate depends on judge Koeltl.

His plea bargain, signed April 14 of last year, calls for the charges against him to be dropped if he tells the truth, does not commit more crimes and testifies when the government asks him to.

The US government could also grant him a so-called “5K1” card that calls for a reduced sentence and perhaps entry into a witness protection program.

“It’s the deal with the devil,” said a lawyer close to the case. “This guy has admitted to 78 murders” but the judge has complete discretion when it comes to deciding on his sentence.

In theory, “he could walk out of his sentence” meaning walk out of court and start life anew with an assumed identity, the lawyer said. 

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More than 250 dead in massive Colombia mudslides

The surge has left 206 people dead and 202 injured, while 220 remain missing, Cesar Uruena, a Red Cross official, told AFP.

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The violent weather that hit the southwestern town of Mocoa on Friday night “totally destroyed” 25 homes, he added.

They were the latest victims of floods that have struck the Pacific side of South America over recent months, also killing scores of people in Peru and Ecuador.

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In the southwestern Colombian town of Mocoa, the surge swept away houses, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber and brown mud, army images from the area showed.

The mudslides struck late Friday after days of torrential rain.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo department, on Saturday to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily forested region.

He declared a state of “public calamity” in a Twitter message, declaring measures to speed up rescue and aid operations. He expressed his condolences to victims’ families.

“The latest death toll is 154. It is a truly terrible figure,” Santos told reporters.

The Red Cross aid group said 400 people were injured and 220 were missing.

The Red Cross had initially put the death toll at 16 but warned it would rise because hundreds of people were missing.

“The number is rising enormously and at considerable speed,” Rescue official Cesar Urena told AFP.

The disaster is of “large proportions,” he added.

Watch: Colombia landslide kills more than 250

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Nation in mourning

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca called the development “an unprecedented tragedy” for the area.

There are “hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and tributaries.

Soldiers carry a victim, in Mocoa, Colombia. (AAP)AAP

The rivers flooded causing a “big avalanche,” the army said in a statement.

Some 130 millimetres of rain fell Friday night, Santos said. “That means 30 per cent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.

He promised earlier on Twitter to “guarantee assistance to the victims of this tragedy, which has Colombians in mourning.”

“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.

Rescue efforts

The authorities activated a crisis group including local officials, military personnel, police and rescuers to search for missing people and begin removing mountains of debris, Marquez said.

A thousand emergency personnel were helping the rescue effort.

Mocoa, a town of 40,000 people, was left without power or running water.

“There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced and many houses have collapsed,” retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez, 69, said by telephone.

“People do not know what to do… there were no preparations” made for such a disaster, he said.

“We are just scarcely realizing what has happened to us.”

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

A landslide in November killed nine people in the southwestern rural town of El Tambo, officials said at the time.

A landslide the month before killed 10 people in the north of the country.

Watch: Historic flooding in Peru

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April Fool’s marchers in New York elect Trump as their ‘king’

Wearing Donald Trump masks and marching behind a life-sized doll of the president sitting on a toilet, dozens of people took part Saturday in a wry April Fool’s Day march in New York.

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The parade is in its 32nd year but the 2017 edition brought a new surprise: it actually happened.

Organizer Joey Skaggs, an American prankster, has for decades annually hyped an April Fool’s Day parade to lure media to the procession, but until now it has been but a hoax.

“This year was very special, we couldn’t let it pass without doing something, which is why we’re here,” 55-year-old Judy told AFP, declining to give her last name but saying she helped organize the parade.

“We need to take every opportunity we have to show our feelings about the fool in the White House,” she said, sporting a Trump mask.

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Past phantom events have fooled an array of major US outlets. 

Marchers, many wearing masks of the real estate mogul-turned-president, walked behind a rolling outhouse in which a large Trump doll sat on the toilet. 

“Donald Trump has been elected King of Fools this year – unanimously,” Skaggs told AFP.

An effort to set a world’s record for the largest collection of Trump look-alikes may have fallen a bit short, but onlookers seemed to enjoy it. 

The event’s slogan: “Make Russia Great Again.” 

The parade began in front of Central Park on Fifth Avenue and ended before Trump Tower, where the president’s wife Melania and young son Barron are still living.

New York, one of the most diverse and politically liberal cities in the country, has been the scene of dozens of protests against Trump since his stunning election victory over Hillary Clinton in November.

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Saudi Arabia accused of using executions as political weapon against Shia minority

Saudi authorities say the offences were committed in the Qatif region of the oil-rich Eastern Province of the country.

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But Amnesty International has accused the Saudi government of carrying out a “systematic crackdown” which has seen “virtually all independent human rights activists and other critics silenced, prosecuted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms or forced to flee the country”.

A report this year by human rights organisation Reprieve found that 41 per cent of those executed in Saudi Arabia in 2017 were killed for non-violent acts such as attending political protests.

Human Rights Watch says it’s concerned with the lack of due process, the possibility that individuals are tortured into giving confessions and prosecutors’ inability to provide any other corroborating evidence.

The area where ‘politics is made’ 

Many of the kingdom’s Shia Muslim minority live in the Eastern Province, where they fear marginalisation by the Sunni monarchy.

“It’s a very serious conflict that has got very scant international attention,” Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch, told SBS World News.

“Essentially pitched battles over the past month-and-a-half between Saudi security forces and armed militants who have holed up in the historic neighbourhood in the town of Awamiya (in Qatif region) and are resisting the Kingdom’s stated intention to demolish the historical neighbourhood.”

Map of Saudi Arabia showing Eastern Province regionSBS

According to Ali Al-Ahmed, a former political prisoner in Saudi Arabia who now heads the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington DC, “if you compare it to the rest of Saudi Arabia, it has always been a place where politics have been made”.

“Movements from communist to pan-Arabist, to Islamist, to liberal movements have been born there, and activists from there dominate the country’s political opposition historically. So this is an area which has given the Saudi monarchy a big headache for many years.”

Historic and cultural heritage threatened

Earlier this year, the UN urged Saudi Arabia to halt forced evictions and demolitions of the historic Al-Masora neighbourhood in Awamiya.

History is being demolished by #Saudi in#Awamia, #Qatif. #awamiasiege #awamiasiege2017 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/XBiV63BP1W

— Angry Qatifi (@AngryQatifi) June 8, 2017

“The Saudi government, as part of its long term policy is to destroy local culture and to target societies,” Mr Al-Ahmed said.

“And what they have done is in order to humiliate the birthplace of the protest movement in the Eastern Province, they wanted to destroy its culture.”

He links ‘targetted’ executions to the Kingdom’s quest to establish its legitimacy in the country’s eastern region of Qatib.

“All of them are protestors. Most of them their only crime is to protest or to write slogans on the walls or to raise the word in Arabic ‘Death to Al-Saud’, or ‘Down to Al-Saud’.

“That is a very, very sensitive and huge embarrasment to the Saudi monarchy… and that’s why Sheikh Al-Nimr was executed because he dared to speak in public inside Saudi Arabia about the Saudi Royal family by name.”

Execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

The execution of 57-year-old Saudi Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, and 47 others in January 2016 prompted widespread international condemnation.

A Shiite cleric from Saudi’s Eastern Province, he was a well-known figure at anti-government demonstrations, often criticising Saudi rulers for their treatment of the kingdom’s Shiite minority.

But he was arrested by authorities in 2012, a year after a wave of popular uprisings began to take effect in parts of the Middle East, and sentenced to death in 2014.

Rare footage of #SheikhNimr participating in peaceful protests. #HumanRightsDefender #HumanRights#SaveThe7 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/gJXVTfLYI8

— Zena (@Zena__E) December 19, 2015

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the time said the Australian government was “deeply disturbed” by his execution.

“The Australian government supports the universal abolition of the death penalty and we are deeply disturbed by the recent executions carried out in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Mr Al-Ahmed says that for young people, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr became an icon. However, there’s a ‘different direction’ now.

“The young people have a different direction or projection than the previous generation in terms of what they are trying to achieve. Before there was the goal of obtaining basic human rights.

“I think now it’s a much higher level in terms of attaining and capturing greater political rights. It’s no longer an issue of human rights. It is an issue of politics and either regime change or replacement or severe reform.”

International pressure

Reprieve director Maya Foa is calling governments, including Australia, to make it clear to the Saudi Royal Family and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that they do not support the execution of citizens, including juveniles, for attending peaceful protests.

“Silence is effectively condoning this behaviour, and could very quickly turn into complicity,” she told SBS World News,

Saudi Shiite women hold placards bearing a portrait of Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in the eastern coastal city of Qatif, January 2016.Getty

Crown Prince urged to act on human rights

Amnesty International is calling on Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to use his new authority as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to “match his words with actions and demonstrate his commitment to human rights”.

It quotes an article Mohammed bin Salman gave to the ‘Economist’ magazine earlier this year in which he spoke of the Kingdom’s values.

“It is important to us, the participation in decision making; it is important to us to have our freedom of expression; it is important to us to have human rights,” he said.

Tigers aim to bare claws in AFL after loss

Richmond badly need Damien Hardwick’s flawless AFL record against Brisbane to last at least one more game.

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The Lions are the only team yet to beat the Tigers since Hardwick took over as coach in 2010.

Sixth-placed Richmond will start overwhelming favourites on Sunday at Etihad Stadium against the bottom side.

But recent events will have long-suffering Tigers fans nervous.

Richmond were appalling last week against St Kilda, falling as much as 95 points behind before going down by 67.

And the last time the Lions visited Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago, they plunged Essendon into crisis with one of the upset wins of the season.

It showcased some rich potential at Brisbane, who will welcome back No.2 draft pick Josh Schache for his first senior game since round eight.

In Schache and Eric Hipwood, the Lions have the makings of a key forward pairing that could terrorise opposition defences for the next decade.

At Richmond, Hardwick went old-school in the wake of the St Kilda loss and ordering mouthguards at training.

Contested ball has been the focus heading into Sunday’s game.

“We were beaten up around the ball, which is unlike us, and St Kilda took it up to us in the contested nature of the game – and we faltered,” Hardwick said.

“That (was) the first thing we addressed in our review this week and the thing we’re looking to rectify (against Brisbane).”

Richmond and Brisbane reacted to last week’s heavy losses – Geelong mauled Lions by 85 points – with a combined seven axings.

Anthony Miles, a contested-ball specialist, returns for the Tigers.

Nick Vlastuin, Nathan Broad and Ivan Soldo are also back, while Sam Lloyd, Taylor Hunt, Connor Menadue and Tyson Stengle were dropped.

The Lions also recalled Ben Keays and Cedric Cox for Matthew Hammelmann, Rohan Bewick and Archie Smith.

China’s late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo cremated

The body of China’s late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was cremated on Saturday after a private ceremony attended by his wife and friends, two days after the dissident lost a battle with cancer while in custody.

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Liu’s body was cremated “in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs” in the northeastern city of Shenyang, said Zhang Qingyang, an official from the municipal office.

Officials released photos showing his wife, the poet Liu Xia, with her brother, Liu Xiaobo’s brother and friends in front of the body surrounded by white flowers at a funeral home. 

China’s government has come under international criticism over its treatment of the democracy advocate and his wife, who has been under house arrest since 2010, with calls for Beijing to release her and let her travel abroad.

“As far as I know, Liu Xia is in a free condition,” Zhang said, though it was unclear whether she was released.

At the funeral, Mozart’s Requiem was played and Liu Xia “fixed her eyes on him a long time, mumbling to say farewell,” Zhang said, adding that she was “in very low spirits”.

Authorities have severely restricted Liu Xia’s contact with the outside world.

“She has just lost her husband, so she is currently emotionally grieving,” Zhang said. 

“It’s best for her not to receive too much outside interference during this period after Liu Xiaobo has died, during this period of dealing with the funeral. This is the family’s wish, as well as natural and normal.”

China had ignored international pleas to let Liu Xiaobo get treatment abroad before he died of multiple organ failure at a Shenyang hospital on Thursday at age 61, more than a month after he was transferred from prison due to late-stage liver cancer.

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The foreign ministry lashed out at the criticism on Friday, saying it lodged official protests with the United States, Germany, France and the United Nations human rights office.

Zhang said authorities would release information about where Liu Xiaobo’s ashes will be taken “at an appropriate time”.

Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represented Liu Xiaobo, said Liu Xia has been held “incommunicado” since his death. She has never been charged with any crime, he said.

“The world needs to mobilise to rescue her – and fast,” he said in a statement.

Liu was jailed in 2008 after co-writing a petition calling for democratic reforms. The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion” a year later. 

Alleged people-smuggler arrives in Australia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo sanctioned the extradition after Australia’s Federal Police charged Ahmad Zia Alizadah with 10 people-smuggling offences.

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Ahmad Zia Alizadah was marched through Perth airport after his extradition from Indonesia.

He’s alleged to have taken between US $4,000 and US$10,000 from each asylum-seeker, for journeys on boats intercepted by Australian authorities between February and May 2010.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton told the ABC the extradition is a message to other would-be people-smugglers.

“That’s a very important part of our messaging out to the region, to indicate to people who might be inclined to accept these payments to conduct these illegal activities, that people will face the full force of the Australian law.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Immigation Minister Peter Dutton, and Justice Minister Michael Keenan have released a joint statement.

It says, in part:

“People smuggling is a crime with global dimensions that can only be tackled through hard work and cooperation with our international partners. The illegal maritime pathway to Australia is closed, and it will remain closed. It has been more than 1,000 days since a successful people-smuggling venture reached Australia.”

Mr Alizadah is the ninth person to be extradited from Indonesia over people-smuggling since 2008.

Mr Dutton defended the length of time taken for Mr Alizadah to be sent to Australia.

“Extradition proceedings always take time. Both countries need to be satisfied in terms of the process, and they need to make sure it can withstand legal challenge. Obviously there’s information and intelligence exchanges that take place between the two partners and that would have contributed to the delay.

Mr Alizadah appeared briefly in court but charges weren’t read.

The need for a Farsi or Bahasa Indonesia interpreter forcing the case’s adjournment to next week.

Ahmad Zia Alizadah will remain in custody, with prosecutors indicating any bail application would be strongly opposed.

 

Government plans to force tech services to decrypt messages

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the internet is now a place where terrorists, paedophiles and drug traffickers can hide in the dark.

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He says they’re using social media and encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp to communicate, and his government plans to tackle the issue in parliament.

“Internet companies, like the telcos at the moment, will have the obligation to assist the police with getting access to communications and information and data they are lawfully entitled to in accordance with an appropriate warrant or court order.”

The laws will be modelled on a system in place in the United Kingdom, giving police and security agencies greater access to encrypted messages.

Unlike so-called “backdoor” access, in which developers deliberately insert known flaws that can provide a way in, the government is after lawful permission to read messages when appropriate.

Attorney-General George Brandis says it’s about making sure technology advances don’t leave the law behind.

“We intend to work with the companies in order to address what is potentially the greatest degradation of intelligence and law enforcement capability that we have seen in our lifetimes.”

Mr Turnbull was quick to claim credit on discussions about encrypted technology at the G20 Leaders summit in Germany.

“What the G20 agreed at our initiative, at Australia’s initiative, is that we need to say with one voice to Silicon Valley and its emulators: ‘All right, you’ve devised these great platforms, now you’ve got to help us to ensure that the rule of law prevails and that they’re not exploited by those who want to hide from the law as they plan to do us harm.'”

The Prime Minister’s special adviser on cyber-security, Alastair MacGibbon, says the law change will go unnoticed by many Australians.

“To the average person on the street there’s no impact whatsover, just like the average person on the street has never had police execute a search warrant on their house, and the average person on the street has never had their telephone intercepted. We’re talking about police and domestic security agencies who go about their business in a very focused way trying to weed out criminals and terrorists and others that would do us harm. A very very small percentage of our population.”

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has told Channel Nine his party will be examining the law change closely.

“We’ll look at any legislation with the same approach that we’ve had to all of this, which is a commonsense approach that we must keep Australians safe and governments have that responsibility, and we should have a bipartisan approach but we’ll look at the detail when it comes forward.”

Social media giant Facebook has already announced it will resist the push for it to decrypt messages and hand them over to law enforcement.

The America-based company says it already does all it can to assist.

 

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo dead at 61

The human rights activist had been serving an 11-year jail sentence and was recently moved to a hospital for treatment under heavy guard.

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He was 61 years old.

Liu Xiaobo was a prominent figure in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

He and other activists negotiated the safe exit of hundreds of demonstrators and have been credited with saving their lives.

He was subsequently placed in a detention centre and not released until 1991.

When not in prison, the university professor was subject to severe restrictions, while his wife, poet Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest.

In 2009, Liu Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years for trying to overthrow the state after he helped write a petition known as Charter 08, calling for sweeping political reforms.

A year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what was termed his “long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

But he was not permitted to travel to Norway to accept it.

It was only late last month the Chinese government revealed Liu Xiaobo was suffering from late-stage liver cancer.

Chinese authorities denied him permission to travel abroad for treatment, and, instead, he died as he had lived, under the custody of the one-party state.

In a brief statement, Shenyang doctors said he had suffered multiple organ failure, that efforts to save him had failed.

“His family members accompanied him for the entire time of his passing. His spouse, his older and younger brothers and all of his family members accompanied him. And when Mr Liu Xiaobo died, he was not in any pain at that moment, he was very much at peace, because all of his relatives said their goodbyes beforehand.”

Reaction to Liu Xiaobo’s death was muted in his homeland due to strict censorship, but there has been an outpouring of sorrow from Western leaders and human-rights groups.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman tweeted on her behalf, writing, “I mourn Liu Xiaobo, the courageous fighter for human rights and freedom of expression.”

United States secretary of state Rex Tillerson has called on China to release his wife from house arrest and let her leave the country.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who lives in Berlin, says the Chinese government contributed to Mr Liu’s death.

“China stopped him to have a chance to have medical care in the West, in the United States and, also, in Germany. I think, by doing that, China showed the world how brutal this kind of society can be. There’s no tolerance. There’s no space for negotiation.”

Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty says Liu Xiaobo has left a lasting legacy for the world.

“I think it’s outrageous. The Chinese government weaved the fiction that Liu Xiaobo was a criminal who was fairly tried under Chinese law and as if the entire country would collapse if he was able to speak freely. But as far as Amnesty International is concerned, he was a prisoner of conscience who campaigned for freedom of expression. Hundreds of thousands of Amnesty supporters across the world have campaigned for his release.”

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has expressed his condolences, as spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn that Mr Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Prize laureate, had passed away. He extends his condolences to his family and to his friends.”

UN human-rights agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell has also hailed the work of Liu Xiaobo, saying he will remain an inspiration.

“The human rights movement in China, and across the world, has lost a principled champion. Liu Xiaobo devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights peacefully and consistently, and he was jailed for standing up for his beliefs.”

 

Three years after MH17 shot down and still waiting

Three years on and there are still many unanswered questions behind the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

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Relatives of victims are still waiting for someone to be held accountable.

The Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, claiming the lives of all 298 people on board.

Most of the victims were from the Netherlands.

Thirty-nine Australians were also killed.

International investigators have concluded that the missile that shot down the plane was fired from Russia-backed rebel-controlled territory by a mobile launcher, brought in by truck from Russia and hastily returned there afterwards.

Moscow rejects the claim.

The Dutch foreign ministry says it will launch criminal proceedings against those responsible for shooting down the plane.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong said he is confident he will find the culprits of the plane tragedy.

“The investigation still ongoing, until hopefully end of the year or early next year, we can get a decision on who we can actually charge in court. And we are hoping that the person who actually shot or launched the Buk missile to come forward to tell us what was happening on that particular day.”

Around 90 family members of the 43 Malaysians killed in the crash attended a service on Thursday where they were briefed on the latest developments in the investigation.

Mohamad Salim bin Sarmo’s son died in the MH17 tragedy.

He hopes the Malaysian government is doing its best to ensure justice is served.

“We were told that we will know everything soon and that is just a matter of time before the culprits can be brought to justice. This is what we been waiting for.”

In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will join Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the unveiling of a national monument for the victims of the flight.

The monument consists of 298 trees, one for each victim, planted in the shape of a ribbon and a memorial plaque.

 

Weekend sport preview

Arsenal marked its return to Australia after a 40-year absence with a workmanlike 2-0 against a battling Sydney FC on Thursday night in front of a sell-out 80,000 crowd.

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Tomorrow, the Gunners will play the Western Sydney Wanderers in front of another huge crowd in Sydney.

Iconic Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is now into his 21st year in charge and he says he’s expecting another tough game, if Sydney’s impressive performance is any guide.

“You could see that we had the physical superiority in pace in power and for them not to pay a heavy price for that means they were intelligent. I was surprised how well they defended in their final third we really had to push to create clear-cut chances.”

SBS Viceland has full coverage of that fixture against the Western Sydney Wanderers.

The coverage gets underway at 7.30 pm.

The Tour de France continues over the weekend with a new name in yellow after Sky rider Chris Froome’s assault on winning a fourth title suffered a hiccup during the week.

Froome relinquished the leaders’ jersey to Fabio Aru of Italy.

Elsewhere, third-placed French rider Romain Bardet is aiming to become the first local to win the famous race since 1985.

Former professional cyclist David McKenzie is covering the race for SBS and he says despite Bardet not being the best time triallist, he could re-write cycling history.

“Romain Bardet can win the Tour de France. With the French willing him across the line – and Bardet has got an attacking style himself, he’s already showed already he’s willing to take this race on – we could have the first French winner in 31 years, now wouldn’t that be something?”

And SBS’s comprehensive coverage of the great race continues on Radio, Online and Television.

Wimbledon looms front and centre for tennis fans this weekend.

The men’s semi-finals begin when America’s Sam Querrey lines up against Marin Cilic of Croatia.

That match gets underway tonight at 10 pm AEST and will be followed by Roger Federer’s semi against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Despite being the biggest name in the last four, the Swiss Federer says he’s wary of the remaining men in the race for the title.

“Being the favourite or not the favourite doesn’t matter, these other guys are all big hitters. I mean all three guys are taller and stronger than I am, so I’ve got to figure out a different way and carve my way through the draw somehow with my slice and my spins and my consistency maybe.”

The women’s tennis final takes place on Sunday evening and sees rising Spanish star Garbine Mugaruza against Venus Williams of the United States.

The 37 year-old five-time champion Williams is into her first final since 2009 and knows it will be tough against the 14th-seeded Spaniard.

If she does manage to win her 6th title, she’ll do it without her sister Serena who’s about to have her first child.

I’ve missed her so much before this match and I was like I just wish she was here. And I was like I wish she could do this for me I was like, no, this time if you do it you do it for yourself. So here we are.”

Wimbledon isn’t the only big event taking place in Britain this weekend.

The British Formula One Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel of Germany holding a 20-point advantage over British Mercedes pilot Lewis Hamilton.

If he manages to win on Sunday night, it will be Hamilton’s fourth consecutive win at his home Grand Prix.

But he made news for all the wrong reasons by snubbing team orders and missing a showpiece demonstration event in London.

The 32 year old Hamilton defended his decision to skip the event, and said it was more about getting his mental preparation right.

“I wanted to make sure that I was the best prepared this weekend, it is an intense season. I mean I love my fans, don’t get me wrong. But it’s really important to make sure I’m here to do the job the best way I can possibly do and be the best prepared I can be and that’s the decision I took.”

Australia takes on South Africa in its final group match of the women’s Cricket World Cup tomorrow night having already booked a semi-final spot.

India and New Zealand face off at the same time in a match that will decide which nation will progress to the last four.

In the AFL this weekend, the big match takes place in Sydney with the second placed Greater Western Sydney Giants looking to slow the Sydney Swans march into the top 8 when they meet on Saturday night.

And in the NRL, the second-placed Sharks have the chance to keep up the pressure on the league-leading Melbourne Storm which has the bye.

The Sharks travel north on Saturday night to tackle the struggling Gold Coast Titans.

US travel ban ruling goes to Supreme Court

A court decision on US President Donald Trump’s travel ban has reopened a window for tens of thousands of refugees to enter the US, and the government is looking to quickly close it.

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The administration late on Friday appealed directly to the US Supreme Court after a federal judge in Hawaii ordered it to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the US.

US District Judge Derrick Watson vastly expanded the list of US family relationships that refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries can use to get into the country, including grandparents and grandchildren.

In its appeal, the US Justice Department said Watson’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on what family relationships qualify for entry to the US “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just ‘close’ family members, but virtually all family members. Treating all of these relationships as ‘close familial relationship(s)’ reads the term ‘close’ out of the Court’s decision.”

Only the Supreme Court can decide these issues surrounding the travel ban, the Justice Department said.

Watson’s ruling was the latest twist in a protracted legal fight that is due to be argued in the nation’s high court in October.

It could help more than 24,000 refugees who had already been vetted and approved by the US but would have been barred by the 120-day freeze on refugee admissions, said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, a resettlement agency.

“Many of them had already sold all of their belongings to start their new lives in safety,” she said. “This decision gives back hope to so many who would otherwise be stranded indefinitely.”

Citing a need to review its vetting process to ensure national security, the administration capped refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 12-month period ending September 30, a ceiling it hit this week.

The federal budget can accommodate up to 75,000 refugees, but admissions have slowed under Trump, and the government could hold them to a trickle, resettlement agencies say.

“Absolutely this is good news for refugees, but there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Melanie Nezer, spokeswoman for HIAS, a resettlement agency. “It’s really going to depend on how the administration reacts to this.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in, bypassing the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against it in the case.

The Supreme Court allowed a scaled-back version of the travel ban to take effect last month.

Fears for minors as Saudi Arabia accused of ‘ramping up’ executions of protesters

The four were arrested as minors, aged between 13 and 17, after allegedly participating in pro-democracy protests during 2011 and 2012.

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They were sentenced to death after reportedly being tortured into ‘confessions’ and convicted in secret trials.

“We’ve now seen 11 executions in just two days which is an unprecedented rate of executions for Saudi Arabia and deeply troubling,” Maya Foa, Director of London-based human rights organisation Reprieve, told SBS World News.

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“It recalls the mass execution that we had over a year ago now where 47 people were executed in one day, and there are really troubling concerns that Saudi Arabia may be now ramping up its execution machinery to kill more people on its death row.”

While information on Ali Al-Nimr, Darwood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher and Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj has been limited, human rights groups as well as the United Nations have repeatedly called on Saudi authorities to end the death penalty

Ali Al-Nimr

“Ali Al-Nimr was a young man, a juvenile, just 17-years-old who was arrested after he attended a protest,” Ms Foa said.

He was arrested in the eastern province of Qatif and has spent five years in prison, three of them on death row.

“He was tortured terribly and then convicted and sentenced to death – he was actually sentenced to death by crucifixtion. This is clearly an unawful death sentence and a really egregious crime the part of the Saudi authorities to have sentenced him in this way.”

didn’t receive phonecall from #Ali_alnimr

heard no phone calls received by families due to eid vacation, plz pray 4 their safety and freedom pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/cKgMd3WwR5

— ام باقر و #علي_النمر (@NasrahAlahmed) July 6, 2017

He is the nephew of Saudi Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution, together with 47 others in January 2016 sparked widespread international condemnation.

“On the charge sheet they have things like ‘inviting friends to the protest on their BlackBerry, administering first aid at the protest. These are not things that we would ever consider to be crimes let alone meriting execution.”

Zena Al-Esia, a research associate with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, (ESOHR) based in Berlin, says it’s a very difficult situation for his mother, Nasrah Alahmed, who posts frequently on Twitter about her son.

Ali al-Nimr had recently been allowed to visit his father, in Awamiya where there’s currently a military operation.

Ali Al-Nimr with father Supplied

“His father was shot, so Ali al-Nimr was allowed out of prison to visit him. Some people have considered this maybe a positive sign – maybe he’s going to be released – it was just a temporary visit for a few hours,” Ms Al-Esia told SBS World News.

But judging by the recent executions, she said “it’s not a good sign”.

From left to right: Ali Al-Nimr, Darwood Al-Marhoun, Abdullah Al-Zahar, Abdulkareem Al-HawajSBS

Darwood Al-Marhoon

Arrested in 2012 after refusing to spy on protesters, human rights groups say 17-year-old Darwood al-Marhoon was tortured and forced to sign a blank piece of paper which would later become his confession.

Access to legal counsel was denied on many occassions and he remains in solitary confinement awaiting execution. He has exhausted all appeals.

Abdullah Al-Zaher

Abdullah al-Zaher was 15 when he was arrested in 2012 and charged with ‘harbouring’ protestors and participating in demonstrations. His father told the Guardian in 2015 that he was forced to sign a piece of paper that police had fabricated. He has exhausted all appeals.

Abdulkareen Al-Hawaj

This month, Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj had his death sentence upheld on appeal. He was found guilty of crimes committed when he was 16. He, too, has exhausted all appeals.

‘Youngest political prisoner’

In January 2017, the  UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported on the case of a minor, identified by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) as Murtaja Al-Qureyrees (pictured below), who was 13-years-old at the time of his arrest at the border while travelling to Bahrain with his family.

According to ESOHR, he is currently the youngest political prisoner in Saudi Arabia who was arrested without a warrant.

The UN found that his detention was arbitrary and ‘in contravention of articles 10, 11, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.

There are also fears for a young, Saudi deaf man Munir Adam (pictured below) who faces imminent execution in Saudi Arabia.

Advocates say authorities have upheld the death sentence for 23-year-old who has impaired sight and hearing. 

He was 18 when he was arrested in the wake of political protests in 2012. He is said to have been badly tortured and forced to sign a false confession.

Murtaja al-Qureyees (left), Munir Adam (right)ESOHR

Claims of false confessions

Human Rights Watch reviewed more than a dozen convictions of Saudi Shia accused of violence and other crimes related to the Shia uprisings in 2011 and 2012, and in nearly all of the cases it found that Shia citizens were convicted almost solely based on confessions that they gave supposedly freely to Saudi police.

“All of the families that we’ve been able to interview say that in court these individuals recanted their confessions saying that they were tortured to give them, but the judges ignored those comments and went ahead and issued judgements anyway,” Adam Coogle, Middle East research at Human Rights Watch, told SBS World News.

0:00 Adam Coogle from Human Rights Watch says detainees, including minors, tortured into confessions Share Adam Coogle from Human Rights Watch says detainees, including minors, tortured into confessions

“Some of the Shia sentenced to death also include individuals who supposedly committed their crimes before they were 18, so they’re considered child offenders,” he said.

Maya Foa cites the case of yet another juvenile, executed during last year’s mass executions.

“Reprieve later found out that there were a number of juveniles among those executed – including Ali Al-Ribh, a young man pulled out of school, tortured, forced to sign a forced confession, sentenced to death and executed. His family only found out that he had been executed after it had happened by reading it in a newspaper.”

#Ali_AlNimr courageous mother tells the story of how her son sentenced to death 4protesting长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/q7a3r9GT6f pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/OEztmZ7KH0

— Zena (@Zena__E) December 6, 2015Four executed in criminal court for terrorism

There’s been condemnation of recent executions on July 11 and 12 in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, including four men convicted in a secret ‘terrorism’ court. 

They had been accused of protest-related crimes and acts of violence. At least six others had been executed the previous day, on smaller criminal charges. 

From the right of the photo: Zaher al-Basri, Mahdi al-Sayegh, Yussuf Ali al-Mushaikass, Amjad al-MoaibadESOHR

In 2011 and 2012, thousands took to the streets demanding reform across the Kingdom in Arab Spring protests. It was during these protests that many were detained.

Many were also tried in the Specialised Criminal Court which hears terrorism cases, but human rights groups say the Court has also been used to sentence alleged protestors, including several minors, to death.

The Saudi Embassy in Canberra has been contacted for comment.

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