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‘Worse day by day’: journalists speak out after Pakistani vlogger tortured | Pakistan

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Gathered before a solemn crowd, Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s best-known journalists, spoke defiantly. “Do not ever enter the homes of journalists again,” he said. “We don’t have tanks or guns like you, but we can tell the people of Pakistan about the stories that emerge from inside your homes.”

Mir may have been addressing journalists in Islamabad on Friday, but his words were not directed at them; they were a clear message to Pakistan’s all-powerful military establishment.

Days before, attackers had barged into the home of YouTube journalist Asad Toor, whose videos are critical of the ruling elite. They tied him up and tortured him, but not before allegedly introducing themselves as officers from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy security arm of the military.

“I was told that the army and ISI were not happy with my journalism,” says Toor after the attack. “While torturing me, they asked me why I had named ISI and the army in my reporting.”

The Pakistan authorities have denied all involvement and claimed Toor staged the attack in order to seek political asylum abroad. On Tuesday, the Federal Investigation Agency filed a case against Toor for “defamation” of a government institution.

“There is no space for freedom of speech and dissent,” says Toor. “If one criticises the military and Imran Khan, they face physical and online attacks. The level of frustration has rocketed. They can’t tolerate criticism by journalists.”

In response to the attack, Mir was among a group of journalists who had gathered to voice their anger at the increasing violence, intimidation and censorship of journalists who have dared to criticise Khan’s government.

Mir’s speech, which was directed at the military without mentioning it by name, went viral. But on Monday, Mir was told that his popular chatshow, which has been running for two decades, was to be pulled from the news channel Geo TV. The last time this happened to Mir was in 2007, when military leader Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.

Mir is no stranger to intimidation for his reporting: he still has two bullets in his body from an assassination attempt in 2014. But Mir says that press freedom has deteriorated to one of the lowest points he has experienced in his decades-long career.

“They have gone so low,” says Mir, who would not directly name the military or ISI. “They have even shared the contact number of my daughter on WhatsApp and asked others to threaten her. She is just a student. She is now getting threatening and intimidating messages.”

The decision to pull Mir’s show was condemned by many, including Amnesty International, which said it further undermined any protection of free speech “in an already repressive environment”.

“Censorship, harassment and physical violence must not be the price journalists pay to do their jobs,” said Amnesty.

Since Khan came to power in 2018 with the backing of the military, journalists and civil rights groups have spoken out against a steady erosion of press freedom. Violent attacks on journalists are on the rise. In April, a senior Pakistani journalist was shot and wounded in Islamabad, believed to have been targeted because of his reporting.

The military now routinely issues threats to ensure news stories which are negative about the military or Khan’s government are pulled, critical journalists are fired and no coverage is given to opposition politicians and rallies.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, Pakistan is the world’s fifth most dangerous country for journalists. In its 2020 world press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Pakistan 145th out of 180 countries.

The assault on the media in Pakistan is now about to become law, as the president, Arif Alvi, introduces some of the most draconian censorship seen in years, including an almost blanket ban on negative coverage of the government or the military.

Under these rules, existing press freedom laws will be repealed and a new authority granted power to inspect and raid any news organisation, summon any journalist for investigation and cancel the licence of a media network. Even journalists broadcasting over YouTube would need a licence.

The ordinance also states that TV news anchors cannot broadcast views which are “prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan” and that no coverage can be given to any story which “defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or legislative or judicial organs of the state”.

Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, describes the new regulation as “media martial law. We are entering into the worst and darkest era of media freedom. In this era there is a lack of safety for journalists both in their career and in their life.

“It is getting worse day by day. Journalists don’t feel safe here.”



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Hungary’s Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s

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Hungary’s ruling nationalist party has submitted legislation to ban content it sees as promoting homosexuality and gender-change to minors, Reuters reported. The draft law would ban LGBTIQ literature for under-18s, including educational material, and advertisements deemed to be promoting gay rights. The vote will take place next Tuesday. Prime minister Viktor Orbán’s government has been taking aim at the LGBTIQ community ahead of elections next spring.

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Rebel Joe: POTUS Reportedly Breaks Royal Protocol Making Queen Wait For Him

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Biden’s predecessors – Donald Trump and Barack Obama – too violated rules when meeting members of the Royal Family. The Republican and his wife Melania shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband Prince Philip instead of curtsying and bowing, while the Democrat made a speech over the UK’s national anthem.

US President Joe Biden violated royal protocol while attending a G7 dinner reception in the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail has reported, citing Debrett’s, a leading authority on royal etiquette. According to the newspaper, the protocol states that all guests must arrive at the venue before royals and no guest should leave an event before members of the “Firm” (nickname for senior members of the Royal Family and their staff).

The Democrat and his wife Jill arrived five minutes after the Queen got there with Prince Charles and the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge. However, it appears that the faux pas by the US president didn’t affect the meeting as the monarch seemed happy when she greeted Joe Biden and First Lady Jill.

​Reports say the presence of the Royal Family was crucial as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is attempting to sign a post-Brexit free trade deal with the United States.

Biden became the 13th sitting US president to meet with Queen Elizabeth II during her 69-year reign. The monarch has met every US president since Dwight Eisenhower, except for Lyndon B Johnson, who did not visit the United Kingdom during his time in office.

While posing for a group photo with other G7 leaders, Queen Elizabeth cracked a joke. “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself”, the monarch said making leaders chuckle.

​This was the first time the Queen, 95, has met foreign leaders since the beginning of the pandemic and the first major official engagement since the death of her husband Prince Philip.



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Spanish-American trade tensions: Spain warns Trump that trade hostilities could endanger greater military cooperation | International

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Spain views its bilateral relations with the United States as a whole, not as a set of separate areas where it is possible to have a good relationship in one (defense, for instance) and an openly hostile attitude in another (trade).

This was the message conveyed on Thursday by Spain’s foreign and defense ministers, Arancha González Laya and Margarita Robles, respectively, to US ambassador Duke Buchan. Washington should not expect military cooperation to increase while simultaneously imposing new tariffs and issuing threats to Spanish businesses, said Spanish government sources.

The Foreign Ministry portrayed the meeting as an initial contact between the new head of Spanish diplomacy and the Trump administration’s representative in Madrid. The encounter took place 48 hours before González Laya was scheduled to have a telephone conversation with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo.

For the first time, military cooperation was framed as one more element of US-Spanish relations, together with political, economic and cultural collaboration

But the unusual format of the meeting – two ministers going to see an ambassador – reveals a goal that goes beyond diplomatic formalities. For the first time, military cooperation was framed as one more element of US-Spanish relations, together with political, economic and cultural collaboration.

This attitude signals a change in Spain’s position: until now, the US military presence in the country had been “encapsulated” and treated as a separate issue, even at times when relations were cooler, such as the period when former US president George W. Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero were in power.

In recent months, the Spanish government has authorized the US to replace four missile destroyers at its Navy base in Rota (Cádiz) with more modern vessels. The move also involves increasing the US presence at the base with a new helicopter maritime strike squadron. And the Spanish government has been sounded out about the possibility of deploying six destroyers in Rota instead of four, which means increasing its naval force by 50% and adding 600 sailors.

Spain views the agricultural tariffs, imposed in retaliation over European subsidies to the aviation giant Airbus, as unfair

While these requests are being made, the Trump administration is also making decisions that the Spanish government views as unfriendly. The most serious one of all was the recent introduction of 25% tariffs on several agricultural products, including olive oil, wine and cheese. Spanish exports of these products represented over €800 million a year.

Spain views these sanctions, imposed in retaliation over European subsidies to the aviation giant Airbus, as unfair. The tariffs have added to the financial troubles of Spain’s agricultural sector, which has been staging protests for weeks. But it wasn’t the first time: under pressure from California growers, in 2018 the US government slapped a tariff of nearly 35% on Spanish black olives, forcing Spanish exporters to take their battle to the US courts.

Another recent decision by the US State Department is viewed as even more hostile: the vice-chairman and CEO of the Meliá hotel chain, Gabriel Escarrer, has been barred from entering US territory. The move also affects his children and close relatives, and it is derived from Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows the secretary of state to deny entry to individuals who “traffic” in property that was confiscated from US nationals by the Cuban government from 1959 onwards.

The vice-chairman and CEO of the Meliá hotel chain, Gabriel Escarrer. has been barred from entering US territory

Several Spanish companies with a presence in Cuba have already been threatened or faced with legal problems under Title III, which allows US nationals to bring suits against anyone deemed to be “trafficking” with expropriated assets. But while these cases can be appealed in court, the decision to bar an individual from entering the country is discretionary and cannot be contested. “Not even North Korea does this sort of thing,” said one Spanish diplomat.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration further warned that it is considering sanctions against foreign companies operating in Venezuela as a way to put pressure on President Nicolás Maduro. The Spanish oil company Repsol was specifically named along with Russia’s Rosneft.

The decision to put military and trade relations on the same level follows Trump’s own logic: the US president has warned that NATO allies that fail to contribute 2% of their gross domestic product to defense could ultimately pay in the form of tariffs.

On Wednesday, the Spanish foreign minister told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels that Spain is a “solid and reliable” ally. González Laya is planning to travel to Washington DC shortly, although Madrid is aware that the Trump administration is currently focusing on the re-election effort.

Despite the differences, the US-Spain relation is considered strategic. “For multiple reasons, political, economic and security-related, we consider it a priority to maintain and expand our relations with the United States of America,” said King Felipe VI in a speech to the diplomatic corps at the Royal Palace, just hours after the ministers had met with the US ambassador.

English version by Susana Urra.

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