TAIPEI, May 17 -- Taiwan's parliament has legalized same-sex marriage in a landmark vote that made the self-ruled island the first in Asia to adopt such legislation.
The lawmakers comfortably passed a law on Friday, allowing same-sex couples to form "exclusive permanent unions" and a second clause that would let them apply for a "marriage registration" with government agencies. The vote is a major victory for the island's LGBT community who have campaigned for years to have similar of equal marriage rights as heterosexual couples and places the island at the vanguard of Asia's burgeoning gay rights movement. In recent months conservatives had mobilized to rid the law of any reference to marriage, instead putting forward rival bills that offered something closer to limited same-sex unions. But those bills struggled to receive enough votes. Hundreds of gay rights supporters on Friday gathered despite heavy rain near the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, as legislators were set to vote on a series of bills that could offer same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals. The vote came after Taiwan's top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the constitution. Judges gave the government until May 24 this year to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically. But they gave no guidance on how to do that.
SINGAPORE, April 14 -- From celebrities to ministers, condemnation from the West has been heaped on Brunei for enacting harsh anti-gay laws that prescribe death by stoning for various offences – but the tiny oil-rich nation has showed little concern it may be making foes of its traditional friends.
Neither is it likely to fully alienate the West, observers say, despite remaining resolute on the implementation of sharia law in the face of backlash from world leaders. Ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, has a track record of balancing dialogue with the West – the United Kingdom and the United States are major export partners – while courting increased engagement with China, the country’s main import trading partner. “Brunei has been practising hedge diplomacy in its foreign policy,” says Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “However, the greater the criticism from Western countries – including resorting to boycotts – the more likely Brunei will turn to Asia and in particular, China, which has cleverly stayed clear of Brunei’s domestic affairs.”
Beijing has developed a keen interest in Brunei, partly due to the possibility of joint development deals in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which could provide a key toehold into contested South China Sea waters. Brunei is among the claimants to the disputed sea, but its unassertive approach has made it appealing to China, says Mustafa. While Beijing has yet to propose any concrete plans, similar attempts to forge deals with other South China Sea claimants suggest it would “not be surprising to see China offer joint development prospects to Brunei”, says Joseph Liow of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
But if joint agreements are signed, it could prove problematic for other Southeast Asian claimants and the wider international community as it would undercut the 2016 international ruling that says China has no claims to the waters delineated by its controversial nine-dash line, says Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. If China manages to strike a development deal with Brunei, it would indicate Brunei’s EEZ waters were legally “disputed”, strengthening Beijing’s claim and weakening near-universal consensus of the ruling, says Poling. However, there is still “no evidence Brunei is willing to take that gamble”, he says.
Nevertheless, ties between both countries are growing, as Brunei looks to diversify its income streams in a country traditionally reliant on oil reserves – estimated to run out within two to three decades. Brain drain is a growing issue, as is unemployment, which stood at 9.3 per cent according to latest figures. The nation, an enthusiastic supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative , has unveiled a development plan to build a dynamic and sustainable economy by 2035.
BERLIN, April 12 -- Germans are significantly more likely to be victims of a crime committed by an immigrant than vice versa.
About every tenth victim to whom a suspect was identified has been assigned to the perpetrator category “immigrant”. “In the area of murder, manslaughter, killing on request, 230 Germans fell victim to a criminal offense,” it says in the situation report.
Deutsche are significantly more likely victims of a crime that was committed by an immigrant, than vice versa. This emerges from the simultaneously published with the police crime statistics (PKS) situation picture “crime in the context of immigration” of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). The case presented by the Federal Criminal Police Office show a gloomy picture: “In the area of murder, manslaughter, killing on request, 230 Germans fell victim to a criminal offense in which at least one suspected immigrant was involved,” it says in the situation report. This was an increase of 105 percent compared to 2017 (112). “Of these, 102 people were victims of a finished act,” it says.
In total, among the 101,956 victims of crime involving suspected immigrants, 46,336 were Germans; that was 19 percent more than in 2017. It is also noteworthy that last year only 18% of cases in which asylum seekers and refugees were registered as victims of a crime in 2018 – four-fifths are assaulted – one German was identified as suspect (8455 out of 47,042 cases) , In 2017 it was 15 percent.
This could indicate that those political and public representatives who perceive refugees as being threatened by xenophobes have a narrowed view. With all the weaknesses of the PKS, it becomes clear on the basis of these figures that people seeking protection are mainly attacked by other foreigners.”
JOHANNESBURG, March 20 -- This below analysis should form the base of a case study of how a misguided interpretation of statistics can result in a skewed and unrealistic picture of what’s really happening on the ground.
It makes the job of journalists in today’s world that much more important as they need to critically think about the statistics they report on before hitting the publishing button. (The analysis below first appeared in Politicsweb and is republished here with permission.) – Gareth van Zyl
On Tuesday this week Police Minister Bheki Cele released the South African Police Service’s crime statistics for 2017/2018. The information contained in the SAPS’ presentation detonated a small explosion beneath a claim repeatedly made, over the past month, by some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, authoritative “Fact Checkers”, and most brilliant diplomats. How this came to pass is an interesting case study in how, in our current age, a falsity can still travel halfway around the world, and back again, long after the truth has put its boots on and kicked the damn thing to death. The story begins with a reply to a parliamentary question from Freedom Front leader Pieter Groenewald MP by the Minister of Police on the 3rd of May 2018. In it Bheki Cele provided detailed data from the SAPS on the provincial breakdown of farm murders and farm attacks by year from 2012/13 to 2017/18. This was useful information as it suggested that the burden of this type of crime fell disproportionally on farms and small holdings in the eastern half of the country, and that any analysis of this phenomenon needed to take this into account.
The figures were not unproblematic however. The national totals for farm murders in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 periods were significantly lower than official figures earlier released by SAPS. The figure of 47 farm murders for the 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 period (down from 74 the year before) also seemed implausibly low. One likely explanation for this was simply that the figures had been compiled only a month after the end of the reporting year, and were not complete. As Sally de Beer of the SAPS had told Africa Check the year before “the database is a ‘live’ system, meaning that the statistics derived from it are subject to change if new information on cases emerges. The database is not primarily intended as a source of statistics, but as an operational tool.” The fact-checking site cautioned in its 2017 fact-sheet on this issue that, “As such, statistics for certain years may change.” There was thus good reason not to put any weight on this last, probably provisional, national figure.
Then on the 31st May 2018 Agri SA released a report on farm attacks. This contained the following graph:
The source given for the data is clearly “SAPS” (see arrow). The person compiling the graph had merged the data provided to Pieter Groenewald at the beginning of the month with other previously released SAPS statistics. Where they conflicted – for 2015/16 and 2016/17 – Agri SA went with the significantly lower figures from May. The Agri SA report commented: “When police statistics, as announced in Parliament for the past six years, are viewed more closely, it appears that farm attacks had increased while murders declined on a year-on-year basis.” The number of “47” is contained in the graph, but not in the text of the report. Despite Agri SA’s clear admonition to “treat farm attack statistics with caution”, News24 ran a massively hyped-up story the same day asserting that “Farm murders have decreased to their lowest level in more than 20 years, a report by agricultural organisation AgriSA has found.” It made the claim that “According to AgriSA’s statistics, farm murders decreased from 66 recorded incidents in 2016/2017 to 47 in 2017/2018. This was less than a third of the record highs recorded in the late 1990s, when 153 murders were recorded in 1997/1998.” In this way the questionable SAPS numbers released earlier that month were now magically transformed into gold standard statistics from Agri SA. As a Ratcatcher article (published within hours of the News24 report first appearing) noted, the SAPS data Agri SA had used for the past three years was not reliable, and the figure of “47” for 2017/18 was simply wrong. A quick and dirty analysis of the SAPS figures for three provinces revealed at least eight clear cut farm murder cases, reported in the press, which could not have been included in these figures. The article noted:
“Given that a brief news search could establish eight cases missed by the SAPS the true under-count must be substantial. The SAPS figures should also be more not less comprehensive than press reporting. The News24’s headline then is based upon a SAPS figure which was implausible to begin with, and which is provably wrong.”
AfriForum, which collects its own data on farm murders and farm attacks, also vehemently disputed this figure. The assertion that there were only 47 farm murders in 2017/18 and therefore at their “lowest level in more than 20 years”, should have been quietly buried, and left to rest in peace from then on.
Rise of a zombie factoid
In late June 2018 however Jason Burke of the Guardian of London decided to disinter this claim, and the number on which it was based. In an article on the 27th June 2018 he stated that “Forty-seven farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics compiled by AgriSA, an association of hundreds of agricultural associations across South Africa … The new lower totals contradict recent reports in Australian and other western media describing white farmers in South Africa facing “a surge in violence’.” The opening sentence of Burke’s piece contained three factual errors. It conflated farm murders with murders of farmers (not always the same thing), cited a figure that had been already shown to be false (47), and claimed that these statistics had been compiled by Agri SA (they were from the SAPS). This zombie-like factoid – that farm murders were at a “twenty year low” – began massively replicating itself after US President Donald Trump tweeted, following a Fox News broadcast by Tucker Carlson on looming land seizures in SA, that he had “asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” In the subsequent rush to debunk Trump’s comments on farm murders this claim was repeatedly invoked by US and British publications, often linking back to Burke’s Guardian article as the source.
For example an article in the New York Times on the 23rd August 2018 by Kimon de Greef and Palko Karasz stated that: “The number of killings of farmers, including farm workers, is at a 20-year low, 47 in the fiscal year 2017-18, according to research published in July by AgriSA, a farmers’ organization in South Africa.” This same claim was then repeated in an editorial in the publication denouncing Trump, which added that the “numbers have been declining steadily since peaking in 1998, when 153 were killed.”
In an article for the Financial Times Joseph Cotterill stated that “Agri SA, a farmers’ organisation, said in May that farm murders were at their lowest level in two decades. There were 47 murders between 2017 and 2018 compared with 66 over the previous period, it said.” It was also credulously accepted by the American and British Fact-Checking establishment.
The Washington Post Fact Checker wrote that “the government’s farm-murder statistic has been declining steadily from its peak in 2001-2002, when the total was 140. Separate figures from Agri SA show that murders of farmers are at a 20-year low, with 47 recorded in the year from April 2017 to March 2018 period, the Guardian reported.”
The BBC’s “Reality Check” claimed that “AgriSA, an association of agricultural organisations, also records murders and attacks on farms. It found that in the year to April 2018, there were 47 murders, with their data showing a decline from a high in 1998, when 153 people were killed.”
Politifact repeated the claim that “there were 47 farm murders in the 2017-18 financial year” and they “have been declining over time.” But to its (partial) credit it correctly attributed the source of this information to the SAPS, not AgriSA. The internet myth-busting website Snopes meanwhile reposted the AgriSA graph above and also stated that “the number of farm murders in South Africa hit a 30-year low point in 2017-18, according to a report released by the South African Agricultural Industry (AgriSA) that cited South African police data.” Then, at the end of August, Foreign Policy ran an article headlined “In Tacit Rebuke, U.S. Embassy in South Africa Rejects Trump Tweet: Internal cable cites report that farm murders in South Africa are at their lowest level in 19 years”. Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch reported on the contents of a leaked cable to Washington DC from US diplomats in South Africa which was headed ““Despite Crime Epidemic, Farm Murders Down.” The authors reported that the cable had “cited a recent report by AgriSA, a nonprofit industry group that represents 70,000 commercial farmers, that estimated that there were 47 farm murders from 2017 to 2018, fewer than at any time in the past 19 years.”
None of these journalists, diplomats or Fact Checkers though it worth cautioning that the number of 47 had long been shown (by a body-count) to be too low, or even that it was contested. Although implausible to begin with – and long disproven by the time it started feasting on the brains of British and American intellectuals – this factoid was apparently too convenient not to unleash upon readers as well. It was further invested with bogus authority by simply asserting that the number came from Agri SA, rather than highly provisional police figures. News24’s hyped up interpretation of Agri SA’s somewhat more cautious analysis were also presented as reflecting the latter organisation’s own view.
End of an error
On Tuesday the South African Police Service, during their press briefing, released updated figures for the number of recorded farm murders (though not attacks) for 2017/18. The SAPS presentation stated that there were, in fact, 62 farm murders last year, not 47. The SAPS added that 42 of the murders occurred on farms, 15 on small holdings and one at a cattle post. 46 victims were white. If one compares the provincial breakdown with the information released on the 3rd May there was an under-count of eighteen murders in eight provinces (three of which had been identified by the Ratcatcher) and an over-count of three in one (the North West.)
MOSCOW, March 15 -- The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a so-called White Book on human rights violations committed by Western states during the fight against terrorism.
"The Russian Foreign Ministry has prepared a White Book of human rights violations by Western countries under the guise of the fight against terrorism and other criminal threats and challenges," the diplomat noted. "Today, we find ourselves in the situation when the international community is forced to go along the path of enhancing the control functions of law enforcement agencies and special forces in order to fight terrorist and criminal threats." Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova informed the press during Friday’s briefing.
At the same time, she stressed that "the protection of a human right to life and physical safety often contradicts other legislative principles." The document includes the information concerning the abilities of Western special forces to exert almost total control over society. "With the aim to monitor Internet traffic and taking into account the need for censuring the global network, they impose cooperation with private IT companies and providers, and continue to spy on the users of information and communication systems both at the national level and abroad, including in their allied countries, as well as international organizations," Zakharova stated. She added that illegal arrests, torture and extra judicial killings also take place under the guise of counter terrorism.
OTTAWA, March 9 -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's re-election hopes have taken another major hit with a second cabinet minister resigning on Tuesday over an on-going bribery scandal.
Treasury Secretary Jane Philpott announced her decision to resign, voicing serious concerns over Mr Trudeau's recent actions to shield a major Canadian engineering firm from bribery accusations. Ms Philpott said in a statement: "It grieves me to leave a portfolio where I was at work to deliver on an important mandate. But I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one's principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them."
SNC-Lavalin, based in Trudeau's home province of Quebec, is accused of paying C$48m worth of bribes to the Libyan government, in order to secure major contracts. If found guilty, the company would be barred from bidding on federal Canadian projects for a decade. SNC-Lavalin employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Quebec. Mr Trudeau has caused a division within his Liberal party by actively lobbying for the firm in question to pay a fine, rather than face criminal prosecution and a ban. Former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from her role three weeks ago and has since detailed a series of events during which she was pressured by Mr Trudeau and his team to interfere in the justice system to prevent SNC-Lavalin from receiving any ban. Mr Trudeau also lost the services of long-time advisor and close friend Gerald Butts, though he is still backing the Prime Minister.
"I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in his office pressured Ms Wilson-Raybould," Butts said in a statement. The loss of Ms Philpott will add further pressure to the reigning Liberal party which was already reeling after Ms Wilson-Raybould shared her version of events. A poll released on Monday had nearly 25 percent of Canadians saying it will change the way they vote in the October election.
WASHINGTON, February 3 -- Virginia's Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is facing a growing tide of calls for resignation Friday night after a photo depicting two men, one in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface, appeared on a medical school yearbook page with his name on it.
The picture appeared in a "student-produced" publication in 1984, according to Jennifer McCarrell, the director of marketing and communications at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), where Northam is a graduate. "I can confirm that the picture in question does appear in a 1984 student-produced publication," McCarrell wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "The EVMS library is open to the public and does provide access to its materials." The page in question is emblazoned with the name "Ralph Shearer Northam" at the top. In a statement released Friday evening, Northam apologized and acknowledged that he is one of the men depicted in the photo. "Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive," Northam wrote, "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now."
However Northam did not say that he would be resigning his post as governor, and did not say whether or not he was the person in the Ku Klux Klan robe or the one in blackface in the photo. "I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor," Northam added. Northam also released a video message Friday evening, further apologizing for the video, and adding that he intends to fight to earn back the trust of Virginians.
"I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," Northam said in the video, "I have spent the past year as your governor, fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people. I am committed to continuing that fight for the remainder of my term, and living up to the expectations you set for me when you elected me to serve."
ROTTERDAM, December 28 -- A Dutch-flagged ship that rescued 32 migrants from a sinking boat near Libya.
It is still looking for a harbor where the migrants may enter and be processed as possible refugees. The Dutch Justice and Security ministry is trying to help find a port for Sea-Watch 3, part of the German organization Sea-Watch. But Sea-Watch claims that the Netherlands was one of the countries refusing to allow the ship to enter.
The Netherlands said it is hopeful a country bordering the Mediterranean Sea will provide assistance. "We approached the Coast Guard of those countries and asked whether they could offer a safe haven," a ministry spokesperson told AD. "A number of countries have reacted negatively and we are still waiting for answers from other countries."
The 32 passengers includes six minors, one of which is a baby, and two others which are rather young. There are also four women on board and 22 crew members. Aside from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Malta, and Spain have refused the Sea-Watch 3, according to the group. The aid organization was hopeful the migrants would find a place to stay during the Christmas season, Sea Watch spokesperson Jelle Goezinnen said in a statement sent to NL Times. Sea-Watch 3 has been unable to stop at a port for the past week.
Racist Sinead O’Connor claims she won’t spend time with “disgusting white people” after converting to Islam
DUBLIN, November 7 -- Recent Islamic convert Sinead O’Connor, who now goes by the name “Shuhada Davitt”, in a recent tweet declared that “truly I never wanna spend time with white people again (if that’s what non-muslims are called). Not for one moment, for any reason. They are disgusting”
The Irish singer has had a history of mental illness and had at least one suicide attempt in the last year by her own admission, being admitted into a mental hospital soon after. The singer, a self-identified feminist, only recently publicly announced her conversion to Islam, and now wears a hijab. In her most recent flurry of tweets, she says she can no longer spend time with “non-Muslims”, claiming they are “disgusting”.
Sinead O’Connor’s demise only serves to highlight how it is typically the most vulnerable and unstable people who convert to Islam. With her history of mental illness, we can only hope she receives the help she needs.