04/01/2023, 10.06
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Hong Kong rejects US report criticizing crackdown on freedoms

Today's headlines: Bahrain convict three Shiites for discussing Islam on YouTube; In Pakistan, 12 people died in a stampede during charity donations; In India, a Hindu procession set fire to a mosque; Human Rights Watch calls on Bangladesh not to proceed with repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar; Wagner mercenaries assisted by the pro-Russian government of Burkina Faso.


The Hong Kong government today "firmly rejected" a U.S. report criticizing the crackdown on freedoms in the city. The Hong Kong Policy Act Report of 2023, released by the U.S. State Department, states that Chinese and Hong Kong authorities "have continued to use the 'National Security Act' as a broad and vague basis for undermining the rule of law, rights, and freedoms." Under the law, more than 230 people have been arrested since 2020.


Three members of the Al-Tajdeed Society, an organization that promotes free discussion of religious issues, were sentenced to one year in prison after posting a series of videos on YouTube questioning the views expressed by some Islamic clerics. Jalal al-Qassab, Redha Rajab and Mohammed Rajab belong to the country's Shiite majority-while the ruling family is Sunni-but they have also been accused of blasphemy by Shiite clerics.


At least 12 people, including five women and three children, died yesterday in Karachi in a stampede during a charity distribution. "The money was being distributed among people living in poverty. A large crowd had gathered today, resulting in a stampede. Efforts to control the crowd made things worse. Some people drowned in the nearby stream, others were trampled," said one of the leaders. Inflation in Pakistan-which has yet to meet its foreign debt obligations to borrow from the International Monetary Fund-has risen to 45 percent this week.


Yesterday in the city of Biharsharif, a procession of Hindus celebrating the Ram Navami festival set fire to a mosque. A hotel, some Muslim stores, and several cars parked on the street also burned. Unrest was also reported in Sasaram, and Internet services were suspended for two days in both cities in the Indian state of Bihar. The imam of the mosque said he was hit by a stone thrown by the "Hindutva mob."


Human RIghts Watch called on Bangladesh to suspend its repatriation program for Rohingya refugees housed in Cox's Bazar camp. According to the human rights group, the refugees were forced to meet with representatives of Burma's coup junta to discuss a pilot project that would return about 1,000 refugees to Myanmar. But the situation in the country is not safe because of the civil conflict, with the junta continuing to carry out massacres against civilians.


Wagner's Russian mercenaries are focusing on another African country, Burkina Faso, trying to drive the French out of its territory, and already they have shut down a French newspaper and forced some military units to leave, including those that were protecting the Paris embassy from terrorists, at the behest of the pro-Russian government.


Russia's war-supporting music and entertainment stars no longer have access to Western audiences, but they have found space in Uzbekistan: a large "Žara" (Heat) festival was organized in Tashkent, where "Battalion Z" or "Putin's Band," composed of singers banned even in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, was named.


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