April 26, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 17

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

THIS WEEK:

Iran faces a pushback over crimes of fashion, DDT has allies in Uganda, U.S. insurers are unprepared for climate change, chlorine attacks and prisoner abuse test our war-crimes conscience, farmland and water supplies suffer from Asian pollution … and free speech is a slippery slope for punks, dissidents and activists worldwide.

QUOTED:

“I would rather die so I can save the government the money they are spending on spying on me.”

— Gao Yaoijie, a 79-year-old AIDS activist, on China’s crackdown on environment and health activists (see “Dissent,” below).


TOP STORIES

Iran: Crimes of Fashion

With hotter weather comes the urge to shed layers, leading to the latest crackdown by Iranian police on immodest dress. More than 100 women were arrested in Tehran on the first day of the crackdown, and about 2,000 young men protested new rules forbidding sleeveless t-shirts, even in same-sex dorms.

One judge warned the campaign may backfire, and a lawmaker said the police would be better off fighting drug abuse and poverty, the BBC reports.

Malaria Fears Rise on DDT Shortfall

Uganda is short $400 million needed for a DDT spraying campaign scheduled for July. Health officials say malaria is a leading cause of poverty there, where 320 people are killed by the disease every day.

The chemical hasn’t been used there since the 1970s due to ecological concerns, but some public health advocates, including the World health Organization, now say it is cost-effective and has minimal health impacts if used carefully.

Climate Change: An Insurance Nightmare

Federal and private insurers paid $320 billion in weather-related claims over the last 25 years, but a new report finds they are unprepared for billions more in property and crop losses caused by increases in flooding, drought and hurricanes due to climate change.

The Government Accountability Office report was commissioned by senators Joseph Leiberman of Connecticut, and Maine Republican Susan Collins.

Sources:

“Anger at Iran dress restrictions”
BBC, April 23, 2007

“Uganda: No Money for DDT Spraying”
The Monitor (Uganda), April24, 2007

“U.S. Government Insurers Ill Prepared for Climate Perils”
Environment News Service, April 20, 2007


DISSENT

Critics Quickly Jailed in Cuba, China, Turkey

A renowned Chinese clean-water campaigner in the industrialized Shanghai watershed was taken from his home last week by undercover police officers on charges of blackmail.

Although pollution there is bad enough to have brought visits by top Communist Party officials, Wu Lihong’s family says his work upset local officials who profit from factory taxes.

Critics say Chinese harassment and detention of activists is commonplace.

In Cuba, journalist Oscar Sanchez Madan was arrested, tried and jailed all on the same day; a week later, human rights advocate Rolando Jimenez Posada was given a 12-year sentence after being held without charges for four years.

Both trials were held in secret, and neither had defense lawyers present. The Miami Herald reports that secret trials are common in Cuba, but are only recently coming to light.

Turkish punk rocker Cengiz Sari, 24, says a snotty lyric he wrote at age 17 about college entrance exams was simply teenage rebellion.

But years later the tune became an You Tube sensation, and the chief of the Turkish exam board got wind of it.

Now bandmembers and their agent face 18 months in jail for insulting “Turkishness,” the Washington Times reports.

Sources:

“Secret trials in Cuba are criticized”
Miami Herald, April 24, 2007

“Punk rockers face jail time over tune ‘insulting’ Turkey”
The Washington Times, April 24, 2007

“Once-acclaimed activist jailed by Chinese authorities”
Taipei Times, April 24, 2007

“China arrests environment activist Wu”
Agence France-Press, April 24, 2007


WAR CRIMES

Conscience is the Question at a Time of War

Writing in the Guardian, columnist Henry Porter says Western forces may have triggered the violence in Iraq, but that “the great majority of casualties are caused by Arabs killing Arabs.”

In particular, he condemned “the Muslim world” for silence over Islamist use of chlorine gas in civilian attacks, which turns to acid when contacting the skin, lungs, eyes, throat and nose.

Accountability is topic No. 1 in Canada as well, where critics called for the resignation of Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor after reports blamed Canadian troops for the torture of more than 30 Afghan prisoners.

O’Connor says he will investigate, but his detractors say that government awareness and acceptance of torture is equivalent to complicity in “war crimes,” the Canadian Broadcast Service reports.

At present there is no universally accepted court for trying war crimes.

In the European Union, home to the International Criminal Court, the Czech Republic is starting to feel the heat as the only member nation that hasn’t ratified the ICC charter.

In 2001, a Czech vote to back the ICC was soundly defeated, in part due to fears over eroding national sovereignty.

Advocates counter that the ICC only acts against war criminals when local courts don’t.

Sources:

“International court for war crimes gets snubbed by Czechs”
The Prague Post, April 18, 2007

“Latest Afghan abuse claims spark cries for O’Connor to resign”
Canadian Broadcast Service, April 23, 2007

“When will Islam damn the chlorine bombers?”
The Observer (U.K.), April 22, 2007


POLLUTION

Mines, Factories and the Cost of Asian Growth

Investors breathed a sigh of relief when Indonesia dismissed charges against Newmont Mining, a U.S. firm accused of dumping mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay that locals say causes skin rashes and tumors.

But numerous tests found pollution within “normal” levels there, the BBC reports.

In Vietnam, rivers are “choking” on industrial waste, Edie News Center reports. Pollution from rapid growth is creating “dead” areas with no plants or animals, where water supplies are “not at all suitable” for domestic use or agriculture.

China admitted that pollution is a “severe threat” to its food supply as well. The BBC reports that as much as 10 percent of Chinese farmland is now unusable due to heavy metals, fertilizer overuse and solid waste.

A new report also blames Chinese industry for almost 50 percent of the mercury contamination in Korea, and from 20 to 30 percent of the mercury found in U.S. rivers and soil.

Sources:

“U.S. mine firm cleared of pollution”
BBC, April 24, 2007

“Pollution ‘hits China’s farmland'”
BBC, April 23, 2007

“China Blamed for Half of Korea’s Mercury Pollution”
The Chosun Ilbo (Korea), April 23, 2007

“Vietnam’s industrial pollution ‘choking rivers'”
Edie News Center (U.K.), April 24, 2007


Editors: Josh Wilson, Scott Domini Elhert

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