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A year on from Apple Daily’s closure, what’s left of Hong Kong’s free press? | Hong Kong

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Apple Daily’s former headquarters reside in a dusty industrial complex in a far-off area of south-eastern Hong Kong. A year ago today, 1m copies of the pro-democracy newspaper left the printing press for the last time since its launch in 1995.

Once a busy newsroom that was considered the voice of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, today the building is shrouded in an eerie silence, with weeds growing, gates chained shut and empty security booths. Police declined to respond to a request for comment on whether the site was considered a crime scene. Beside the former headquarters’ boarded-up entrance, graffiti in red says: “Give me back my freedom.”

Over the course of 26 years, a paper once known for its sensationalist reporting style had become a leading voice of support for the pro-democracy movement, setting it apart from many other outlets.

A journalist at her computer seen from behind with two fluorescent-yellow banners in Chinese in the foreground, one with an umbrella
The news desk at Apple Daily. One slogan on the banner opposes the extradition law and the other, referencing the Yellow Umbrella protests, says: ‘I want universal suffrage.’ Photograph: Liau Chung-ren/Zuma/Rex

This accelerated after 1997, when sovereignty of the territory was handed from Britain to China, says Prof Francis Lee, director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication. “People who supported the pro-democracy movement could see Apple Daily as becoming more important,” he says.

The authorities’ move against Apple Daily came soon after new national security legislation was passed in June 2020. Vaguely defined but wide-ranging in scope, the national security laws prohibit acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces”, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for those found guilty.

In the last year these laws have been used against multiple news outlets, in an industry-wide clampdown that has left an estimated 1,000 journalists and media workers out of a job and has had a chilling effect on press freedom in Hong Kong.

Following the introduction of the security laws, Apple Daily was raided twice by police and in August 2020 Lai was arrested. “Watching my boss handcuffed, with police surrounding him – I was angry,” said Norman Choi, who was features editor at the time.

“I recall that some colleagues shouted out things like ‘take care’,” he recalled. “Some colleagues were still doing their job and recorded the whole process.”

The following year, the company’s funds were finally frozen in June 2021, leading to the newspaper’s inevitable closure and liquidation.

A bundle of newspapers are put on a counter
A newspaper seller arranges copies of Apple Daily in 2020. Jimmy Lai has now been detained for more than 18 months. Photograph: Yan Zhao/AFP/Getty

Now, even though the newspaper no longer appears on newsstands, seven Apple Daily executives remain behind bars. The media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded Apple Daily and its parent company, Next Digital, has been in custody for more than 18 months.

Six other executives, including Next Digital’s chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s associate publisher Chan Pui-man, and its last editor-in-chief, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, have all been held in pre-trial detention for more than 11 months.

All were denied bail and jointly face two charges under the national security legislation of “conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign countries or external elements”, and “conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications” under the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance. Lai also faces fraud charges.

Apple Daily’s demise was swiftly followed by the closure of other prominent local media outlets, in a shake-up that left an estimated 1,000 journalists and media workers out of work, and has had a chilling effect on press freedom in Hong Kong.

Stand News, an online publication that rose in popularity during the 2019 pro-democracy protests, shut down after its HK$61m (£6m) assets were frozen by the police in December 2021. Chung Pui-kuen, its former editor-in-chief, and his successor, Patrick Lam, were later charged with “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” and have been in custody since last December.

Citizen News also ceased operations in January over concerns for the safety of its employees.

A man on a balcony holds up newspapers in front of a large crowd below, many of whom are press photographers
An Apple Daily journalist holds up freshly printed copies of the last edition as supporters gathered outside the newspaper’s office on 24 June. Photograph: Daniel Suen/AFP/Getty

Press freedom has gone through an “obvious and swift regression” in recent years, says Lee, who warns that the fear of being targeted by the authorities could silence interviewees and other sources of information.

“If the society at large is afraid to speak [to the media] … you cannot produce news,” he says.

Since 2019, the Hong Kong Journalists Association has been under heightened pressure from pro-Beijing media and the government, which has launched an investigation into the union’s finances and use of social media.

A group of protesters hold signs in front of their faces
Supporters of the journalist Choy Yuk-ling, also known as Bao Choy, protest outside a court in Hong Kong last year. She was found guilty of making false statements in an investigation into an attack on anti-government protesters. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Meanwhile, there has been discord among the 2,355 members of the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, who recently debated whether it was duty-bound to uphold press freedom in Hong Kong despite the growing risks.

Clashing interests were in the open during a club meeting in May, when some associate members – including those from the world of business and industry – opposed a non-binding motion from journalists calling on the club to “speak out publicly against threats to press freedom in Hong Kong”, saying the club was no place for political advocacy.

This came after a board decision in April to suspend the human rights press awards after 25 years.

The American journalist Timothy McLaughlin, who resigned from the club’s press freedom committee, says cancelling the award amounts to self-censorship and was an insult to journalists who faced real risks in their work. The club could turn into a tool for authorities “to whitewash the damage being done to the media in Hong Kong” should it continue to “self-censor and cower”, he warns.

Yet despite the risks, across the island there are efforts growing to keep the spirit of press freedom alive.

In May, in an old tenement building in Kowloon, a group of former reporters scrambled to get their new bookshop ready for their first visitors, channelling the frenetic energy of their former lives as news journalists racing to meet a deadline.

Two men in front of book shelves look at the camera
Kris Lau, left, and Sum Wan-wah at the Have A Nice Stay bookshop in Hong Kong last month. Photograph: Chan Long-hei/The Guardian

After 10 years in the media, one of the founders Kris Lau became jobless when his previous news outlet closed in late 2021.

“At first we considered staying in the [news] industry, but there were no suitable posts,” he says. Instead, Lau and four other former journalists decided to set up a bookshop, called Have a Nice Stay, that will also serve as a meeting place for people to exchange ideas.

Now, when visitors enter, they are greeted by two framed newspaper front pages: on the left, the first issue of Apple Daily, published on 20 June 1995; on the right, the South China Morning Post edition that marked Hong Kong’s transition from British to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997.

Two newspaper front pages on the wall of a bookshop
Key events in Hong Kong’s recent history commemorated in two newspapers at Have a Nice Stay bookshop. Photograph: Chan Long-hei/The Guardian

The bookshop is an attempt to give journalists facing increasingly hostility a morale boost and inspire the next generation of young reporters to keep fighting for press freedom.

In recent months, a new crop of independent media has also taken root in the city, including the Witness, an online-only Chinese-language website focusing on court and legal reporting.

After losing his job at Stand News, Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Ronson Chan joined Channel C HK, an online media outlet producing video content that has gained close to 230,000 followers on YouTube since launching last July.

While it may not provide the same kind of political journalism that Apple Daily or Stand News did, Chan still sees it as a valid way to voice concerns about the socially disadvantaged in Hong Kong.

“We do a lot of livelihood issues, less on policy … it is very ‘laymen’,” says Chan says. His top priority is survival so he tries not to provoke the authorities. “This is the most practical way for me to retain my journalist identity.”

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Brazilian woman and fake seer con elderly mother out of $142 million | International

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A woman was arrested on August 10 by Rio de Janeiro police who charged her with conning her mother out of millions. In a strange story of greed abetted by fake psychics, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices stole more than $142 million in money, jewelry and artwork from Boghici’s mother over a two-year period.

Geneviève Boghici, the widow of a major art collector and dealer named Jean Boghici, was walking out of a bank in January 2020 near the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) when she was approached by a supposed psychic prophesying her daughter’s imminent death unless she underwent “spiritual therapy.” They walked together to Boghici’s apartment, where the psychic threw some shells in a mystical ritual that confirmed the tragic prophesy. The 82-year-old victim knew that her daughter suffered from psychological problems, and her affinity for the supernatural swayed her to transfer $980,000 to the swindlers.

Soon after the two-year con began, the elderly woman became suspicious and halted the money transfers when her daughter started to isolate her from friends. Sabine would not allow her mother to use the phone and dismissed all the domestic workers, justifying them as Covid-19 precautions. Yet Sabine and her cronies entered freely to loot her mother’s home of its valuables. Several psychics took items from the home, saying they were “cursed” and needed to be “prayed over.” The increasingly suspicious Geneviève tried to resist, but Sabine began threatening her life. According to the police, she wouldn’t allow her mother to eat and put a knife to her throat.

Police recover 'Sol Poente' by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.
Police recover ‘Sol Poente’ by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.Policia Civil de Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

The victim told the police that her daughter had some sort of relationship with one of the supposed psychics, Rosa Stanesco Nicolau, who practiced her trade in Rio de Janeiro as “Mãe Valéria de Oxossi” (Mother Valeria), and was a known con artist. Starting in September 2020, under constant threat from her daughter and accomplices, the elderly woman made another 38 bank transfers to the thieves.

Sabine and her cohorts stole 16 paintings and sculptures, and sold them all to art galleries or private buyers. Two of these works – Elevador Social (Social Elevator) by Rubens Gerchman, and Maquete para o menú espelho (A model for my mirror) by Antonio Dias – were bought by Eduardo Costantini, owner of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Argentina), for his private collection. The São Paulo (Brazil) gallery owner who brokered the deal said he was not suspicious because he had known the family for a long time and the seller was the daughter of the deceased art collector. Constantini released a statement saying that he bought the paintings in good faith and was in direct contact with Genevieve Boghici.

In 2012, a fire in the Boghici’s Copacabana apartment destroyed part of their valuable collection, including Di Cavalcanti’s Samba and Alberto Guignard’s A Floresta (The Forest). Sol Poniente (Setting Sun), painted by Tarsila do Amaral in 1929, is one of the most valuable works in the Boghici collection ($49 million). It survived the 2012 fire but not the rampant greed of their daughter. The stolen painting was found under a bed by police, who arrested Sabine and three other people, including the fake seer. In a final twist to the whole bizarre story, the scamming psychic was apprehended trying to escape through a window.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs | Global development

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Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in privately run pharmacies and shops can be prohibitively expensive. Some people have been given alternative drugs, but others have stopped taking any medication.

“Does the government even realise that at least 500,000, or one-third of the patients, are affected by this? Some adults are being given 11 doses of paediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an NGO that works to improve the treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and Aids. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting with about 30 others outside India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in Delhi for 22 days, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, are facing ARV shortages. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their longstanding drug regimes.

“The [Covid-19] pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this shortage is pushing us further into penury,” Gangte said.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor taking part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions over the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these drugs for the last 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down since I can neither find the strength to work, nor have any savings to live off,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV-positive. About 1.5 million people are on antiretroviral therapy, far lower than the World Health Organization’s “90-90-90 target” – under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90% are on ARV treatment, and 90% are no longer infectious.

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 Aids-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of a shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided for [a] duration of less than one month, but at no point in time has there been any shortage of drugs for any of the PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% PLHIV.”

Naco did not wish to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian that was dated 30 May, Naco asked all state Aids prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to tide through the crisis situation as an interim arrangement”.

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J&J Stops Global Sales of Scandalous Talc-Based Powder After 130 Years

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Once one of its top products for families, J&J’s talc-based powder has been haunted by claims of causing cancer in recent years even as the company consistently denied what it has called rumors and “misinformation”.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will be ceasing the sales of its talc-based powder, two years after stopping them in the US and Canada, after keeping it in its product line for 130 years. The company will be replacing the product with a cornstarch-based powder.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company’s statement said.

The J&J talc-based powder has been at the epicenter of several lawsuits claiming it caused ovarian cancer due to the presence of a known cancer-causing material – asbestos. However, the company has repeatedly denied these allegations, despite losing $3.5 billion in these lawsuits.

As the firm announced the retirement of the talc-based powder, it once again repeated its long-held position on the controversial product’s safety.

“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Apart from losing a number of lawsuits, J&J faced tough questions following a 2018 Reuters investigation, which claimed the company knew about the asbestos contamination since at least 1971 but failed to act on it. As the veins of asbestos are often found in talc deposits, the extracted talc used to make the powder can be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral.

A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.06.2021

Pay Up: Supreme Court Rejects J&J’s Request to Appeal $2 Bln Verdict in Talc Cancer Case
Despite continuing to maintain its innocence, J&J stopped selling talc-based powder in the US and Canada in 2020, citing the harm done to the sales by the “misinformation” about its safety. However, the company continued to distribute it around the world alongside the cornstarch-based alternative, which will now completely substitute it.



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