The EU imposed sanctions on Thursday on six individuals and one entity it believes were involved in the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
The individuals are some of the highest-ranking officials in Russia, including the head of domestic intelligence services, a deputy government minister and a deputy chief of staff in President Vladimir Putin’s office.
The decision comes after a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday and nine days after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the substance used to poison Navalny was Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Amongst those blacklisted include Putin allies Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of Russia’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Security Service, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in the Presidential Executive Office, and Andrei Yarin, head of the presidential administration’s domestic policy directorate whose oversight included “countering Alexei Navalny’s influence in Russian society”.
Pavel Popov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, was also cited in the EU’s sanctions list.
The State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, the Russian body responsible for the destruction of Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpiles, has also been sanctioned.
The EU said that the use of Novichok in an attack against Navalny would only have been possible because of the failings of the Institute to destroy the remaining stockpiles.
The adopted measures include a travel ban to EU countries and an asset freeze for individuals named and the Institute. In addition, EU persons and entities are forbidden from making funds available to those on the sanctions list.
Russia would retaliate in kind with reciprocal sanctions against the EU, the country’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.
The punitive measures are similar to those imposed in the wake of the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury, the UK, in March 2018.
Like Navalny, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer and double agent, and his daughter Yulia, were poisoned with Novichok.
Both survived the attack.
Navalny became seriously ill on a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20, eventually falling into a coma at a hospital in Omsk.
After two days, he was airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin for further treatment where he stayed in an induced coma for 16 days.
He was discharged from hospital in the German capital at the end of September after 32 days of treatment, 24 of which were spent in intensive care.
In an interview with German magazine Der Speigel earlier this month, Navalny claimed Putin was responsible for the attempt on his life.
“I claim that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other version of what happened,” he said.
Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary
Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54
Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..
Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.
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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.
"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.
The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.
The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.
Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.
He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source
Popping the digital filter bubble
Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36
Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..
Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36
Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!
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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.
Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.
Online rights are human rights
But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.
For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”
The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.
Blinkered online views, democratic bad news
For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.
And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”
That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.
Escaping the echo chamber
So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?
In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source
‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview
Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..
Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions