Moazam Begg, ex-Guantanamo prisoner, freed after ‘anti-terrorist’ witchhunt


This video is called Ex-Gitmo detainee Moazzam Begg released after terror charges dropped.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Moazzam Begg freed after terrorism case against him collapses

Secret intelligence material handed to prosecutors demolished case against former Guantánamo Bay detainee

Ian Cobain

Wednesday 1 October 2014 17.22 BST

The prosecution of the former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg has dramatically collapsed after the police and crown prosecutors were handed secret intelligence material that undermined the terrorism case against him.

Five days before Begg was due to go on trial on a string of terrorism charges, which carried prison terms of up to 15 years, prosecutors announced at the Old Bailey that they had “recently become aware of relevant material” that obliged them to offer no evidence.

He was released from Belmarsh high-security prison in south London after the judge entered a formal verdict of not guilty. Speaking to reporters at the gates of the prison, Begg said he had wanted his “day in court” but was happy to be a free man.

“I need to reconnect with my family again,” he said. “I need to understand what it’s like to be a free man and I think that it’s important to point out some of the government’s failures in its foreign policy and its internal policy: its clear demonising of the Muslim community.”

Police sources said the decision to halt the prosecution was taken following the receipt of intelligence material two months ago, while the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”

Asked whether the information had been handed over by MI5 and, if so, how long the agency had possessed the material, the Home Office said it would be inappropriate to comment, on the grounds that the decision to halt the prosecution had been taken by the police and CPS.

There was speculation that the newly disclosed material detailed the way in which Begg had informed British authorities of his plans to travel to Syria.

Begg spent more than seven months in custody after being arrested and questioned over a number of trips he had made to Syria a year earlier. His friends say that the experience had been deeply traumatic.

The 46-year-old from Birmingham was facing seven charges of possessing a document for the purposes of terrorism funding and training, and attending a terrorism training camp. He denied all the charges.

Christopher Hehir, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey that the CPS had previously been satisfied that they possessed sufficient evidence to secure Begg’s prosecution. He added, however: “The prosecution have recently become aware of relevant material, in the light of which, after careful and anxious consideration, the conclusion has been reached that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in this case. The prosecution therefore offers no evidence.”

Begg’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said he should never have been charged as his activities did not amount to terrorism. “This is a good man trying to do the right thing in a very difficult world,” she said.

“He is a rare individual who will talk to everyone and listen to everyone, even those with whom he profoundly disagrees. He has spent the near decade since he was released from the torture of Bagram and Guantánamo in attempting to wake the world up to injustice and to comprehend its causes and effects. There is nothing new that can have been discovered now that was not always crystal clear – that this is an innocent man.”

Begg had made no secret of trips he had made to Syria, at one point writing about his experiences in an internet post. He was taken aback by his arrest, protesting that he had not been engaged in terrorism.

On appearing in court, he denied attending a terrorist training camp “knowing or believing instruction or training was provided there for the purposes of terrorism” between 9 October 2012 and 9 April 2013.

He had also denied five charges of possessing articles for purposes connected with terrorism between 31 December 2012 and 26 February 2014. Those counts related to electronic documents found on a laptop computer in his possession.

Begg had further denied being involved in a funding arrangement between 14 July 2013 and 26 February 2014 by making available a Honda generator.

Had the case gone to trial, Begg was planning to argue before the jury that his actions – several months before the British government tried, and failed, to persuade parliament to sanction air strikes against Syrian government forces – were not the actions of a terrorist.

At an earlier hearing, his counsel, Ben Emmerson QC, told the court that his client’s stance on Syria was not at odds with the British government’s position. …

“This is not some sort of political defence. This is a serious point about the lethal and physical limits of the definition of terrorism because if the defence says the occasions concerned were defensive actions, in much the same way the UK was itself providing non-lethal aid, then we submit that would not be defined as an act of terrorism.”

Emmerson also said Begg had “never made any secret of his visits to Syria and on two occasions informed authorities of his travel plans in advance”.

Begg spent three years detained without charge after the al-Qaida attacks of 2001. In February 2002 he was arrested in Pakistan, handed over to US forces, and detained first at Bagram prison, north of Kabul, and then Guantánamo Bay. During his detention he was interrogated by British as well as US intelligence officers.

He was eventually released in January 2005. Working with the London-based rights group Cage, he became a prominent campaigner on behalf of terrorism suspects who were being denied basic legal rights.

Asim Qureshi, Cage’s research director, said on the collapse of Begg’s prosecution: “This has been a testing time for Moazzam, his family and the Muslim community. The criminalisation of virtually any Muslim who has been to Syria has only increased in intensity, while Cage has been attacked from every angle by a host of government agencies.

“We hope that Moazzam’s release is a sign that the government are now willing to adopt a more measured strategy in relation to anti-terrorism policy and avoid the attempt to criminalise all dissent and crush any organisation like Cage that stands up for the rule of law and justice.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission chairman, Massoud Shadjareh, added: “As was widely suspected there seems to have been no basis for his arrest and it does seem that as a high-profile member of the Muslim community, Mr Begg was being made an example of in order to silence activists campaigning against draconian anti-terrorism laws.”

While West Midlands police and the CPS were not disclosing the exact nature of the new information, detectives and prosecutors were dismayed that it had not been made available to them earlier.

A CPS spokesperson said: “At the time that the charges against Mr Begg were authorised the CPS was satisfied, in accordance with the code for crown prosecutors, that there was sufficient evidence available to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction and that it was in the public interest to prosecute. However, in accordance with our continuing duty to review and working closely with the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit, we have been made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation that means that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”

West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale said: “New material has recently been disclosed to police and CPS, which has a significant impact on key pieces of evidence that underpinned the prosecution’s case. Our criminal justice system – quite rightly – demands a very high standard of proof.

“I understand this is going to raise many questions. However, explaining what this newly revealed information is would mean discussing other aspects of the case which would be unfair and inappropriate as they are no longer going to be tested in court.

“From the beginning this case has challenged the relationship between West Midlands police and some of the communities we serve. I would like to reassure them and Mr Begg that at every stage of this investigation my officers acted in the best interests of the public and of justice.”

Rare fungus discovery in the Netherlands


This video is called Fungi: Death Becomes Them – CrashCourse Biology #39.

Translated from the Dutch Mycological Society:

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

A few weeks ago the very rare Neolentinus schaefferi mushroom was discovered in the PWN dunes at Bakkum. In the Netherlands Neolentinus schaefferi so far had been known from six different locations of which now three have disappeared. Ever since a few weeks, Neolentinus schaefferi at Bakkum is basking in the sun on an old polar stump. That mushrooms develop in such a sunny location is amazing.

‘Abu Ghraib’ for refugees in Germany


This video is called Photos show abuse of asylum seekers by security guards in Germany.

By Christoph Dreier in Germany:

Abu-Ghraib-like” torture of refugees exposed in Germany

1 October 2014

Reports from various German refugee facilities have revealed that residents are subjected to systematic torture and humiliation. Last weekend, videos and pictures emerged showing the serious mistreatment of refugees by security staff at one facility. One short video shows a refugee lying on a mat covered with vomit. The refugee asks someone off camera why they are hitting him.

“Do you want another? Should I kick you in the face, or what?” responds the security guard. “Then I do not need to beat you.” His colleague orders the victim to lie down in the vomit.

The video was shot in the refugee camp in Burbach in North Rhine Westphalia, and was leaked to a journalist, who then alerted the police. During a search of the security guards’ day room, police discovered a baton and a knuckleduster.

Police officers also found more images on the mobile phone of a security guard. In one picture, disseminated via WhatsApp, a security guard can be seen pushing his boot into the neck of a refugee lying on the ground, handcuffed.

The images revealed “A touch of Abu Ghraib,” a headline in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper acknowledged, while Bild stated: “These images remind us of Abu Ghraib.”

The police are investigating six security guards for aggravated assault in Burbach. Two of them have previous convictions. In addition, the police have said an employee at a refugee camp in Essen and another in Bad Berleburg are being investigated for assaulting and beating residents. A total of eleven investigations are currently underway.

The WDR news programme Westpol showed a doctor’s certificate regarding the injuries of a resident at the Essen home. “They mistreat us here”, a refugee told the programme. “The security staff have transformed this home into a prison. They hit us. And especially if you complain. They do what they want with us. They treat us as if we had no rights.”

On Tuesday, the regional newspaper Siegerland Kurier published excerpts from an anonymous interview conducted with one of the guards from Burbach, who can be heard in the video. The employee, whose name was changed by the editors to S., leaves no doubt that the abuse of refugees is systematic in the refugee system. Attacks, as documented on the video, have always taken place, he told the newspaper.

This could be for violations of the ban on cigarettes and alcohol. His colleagues were really keen to catch residents for such infringements, he said. “They walked round the hallways sniffing at doors. If they smelled cigarette smoke, the room was stormed,” explains S. The guards doing this described themselves as “SS-troops;” i.e., Nazi storm troopers. Many of his co-workers had a “clearly visible right-wing background,” he said.

The scenes shown in the video took place in the so-called “problem room”. This is where residents were taken if they “made trouble” or asked questions. They were locked in the room for up to eight hours. In some cases they were denied the use of the toilet, and had to urinate out the window.

According to S., at least some police officers who were called about disputes between residents welcomed the abuse. “One once said: The next time, we’ll pick them up after you’ve worked them over for five hours,” S. recalled. The officer had been called to arrest a resident detained by the security staff.

The Siegerland Kurier also published photos from the camp at Burbach. They show sanitary facilities smeared with feces and menstrual blood, rubbish-strewn corridors and injured residents. S. reported that it often took days until defects were rectified. Medical care was often not provided.

The refugee camp in Burbach was established last year at an old barracks. It was meant to provide accommodation for 500 people, but is now home to 700 refugees. Acuh, the Essen camp, is seriously overcrowded, with 650 residents in a facility meant for 300.

Both camps are run by the for-profit company “European Homecare”, which operates a total of 40 camps and is considered the market leader in the sector. The security service at Burbach was first outsourced by “European Homecare” to the firm “ESS”, and then to “SKI Security”.

The terrible conditions in the refugee camps and their systematic character have shocked people throughout Germany. At the same time, politicians of all parties have cynically tried to downplay the events.

The North Rhine Westphalia state Interior Minister Ralf Jäger (SPD, Social Democratic Party) described the torture by security guards as “mistakes by individual criminals”. Criminals had infiltrated the security company, he told broadcaster ZDF. This was “reprehensible, but sometimes not preventable, despite all the checks, despite all the supervision”. Nevertheless, he declared, “we need more controls” and “our partners have not complied with all contractual conditions”.

Federal Interior Minister Thomas De Maizière (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) also tried to downplay the scandal. He was sure that “the state of North Rhine Westphalia would correct these deficiencies without delay”. On Monday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert announced a rapid investigation and stressed that Germany was “a philanthropic country”.

Opposition representatives mainly criticised the lack of finance for the refugee accommodations, without making any serious criticism of Germany’s brutal asylum regime. The parliamentary leader of the Greens, Kathrin Göring-Eckardt, demanded that the government “consider as soon as possible” which buildings it could provide for the initial reception of refugees. In addition, “it must provide financial relief for the federal states and municipalities”.

The Left Party domestic political spokesperson Ulla Jelpke, and Özlem Demirel, the state spokeswoman for the party in North Rhine Westphalia, both provided statements. Jelpke called for better financial support for the local authorities. “Local authorities must be able to provide care for asylum seekers, instead of placing this task in the hands of profit-oriented companies,” she said.

Demirel added, “I expect that not only the security guards responsible will be punished quickly, but that there will be major improvements in the standards of accommodation and the security staff. It must be excluded that right-wing extremists can work in refugee shelters with or without a uniform”.

In reality, the brutal acts of the security staff are not simply due to the poor financing of the accommodations or the result of a lack of control. Since the change to the asylum law in 1993, the situation of asylum seekers in Germany has systematically deteriorated. The use of inhumane treatment was part of a deliberate plan to deter further refugees and curb immigration.

Late last year, 350 refugees who were originally stranded on the Italian island of Lampedusa were seriously harassed by the Hamburg Senate (city/state government). The refugees were denied basic care, and even the Church was prohibited from providing this. At the same time, the Hamburg police organized a large-scale operation in the city, subjecting all dark-skinned people to ID controls.

There were several cases of police brutality against refugees in Berlin over the summer. …

The barbaric conditions in the refugee camps have been known for some time and are deliberate. Earlier reports revealed mass epidemics, the placing of refugees in dilapidated facilities and a lack of basic hygienic conditions. A UNICEF study severely criticised the German authorities for massive violations of the UN Children’s Convention in dealing with refugee children.

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, 4 October


This video is called Global march for elephants and rhinos.

From Wildlife Extra:

The world stands up for rhinos and elephants

On Saturday 4th October, which is World Animal Day, the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos will take place and is set to be the biggest ever global movement on behalf of animals.

Thousands of people will take to the streets in 130 cities around the world to raise awareness of the plight faced by these critically endangered animals.

The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos will aim to achieve the implementation of tougher penalties for wildlife crime, a full worldwide ban on the trade of ivory and rhino horn, and the strengthening of law enforcement in consumer countries and range states. In addition, they will also make the demand that ivory and rhino shops and carving factories are shut down immediately.

A number of celebrities have supported the march with messages, including David Attenborough, Richard Branson, Jane Goodall, Stephen Fry, Damon Albarn, Bill Bailey, Twiggy, Joanna Lumley, and others.

The marches will take place in key cities across the US, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. In the UK there will be marches in Bristol, Birmingham, and Edinburgh as well as in London.

Maria Mossman from Action4Elephants is co-organising the London march. She says: “We’re just ordinary people who care about these extraordinary animals. It would be devastating and criminal if elephants and rhinos went extinct within 20 years, but that is the frightening reality. It could happen. It will happen, if something isn’t done. The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is a way for people around the world to show that we’re not going to accept it.”

Care for the Wild International will be supporting the event. The charity’s CEO Philip Mansbridge commented on the marches taking place around the world: “By backing the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, we’re saying it’s not just our problem, it’s your problem. Everyone. Who among us wasn’t amazed the first time we saw a picture of an elephant or a rhino? But beyond the sentiment, these animals are vital to the planet, and it’s vital to us as a species that we save them, otherwise we’ve failed. So please take to the streets on October 4th to show that we all care.”

The London march starts at 1pm in Cavendish Square, and finishes at 3pm in Parliament Square.

For more information, see here and here.

Bahrain regime arrests human rights defender Nabeel Rajab again


This video is called Nabeel Rajab: Bahrain ‘Bought British Government’s Silence’ Over Human Rights Violations.

From AFP news agency:

October 1, 2014 7:45pm

Bahrain detains top activist over ‘insulting’ tweets

Bahraini police on Wednesday detained prominent rights activist Nabil Rajab after questioning him over remarks posted on Twitter deemed offensive to the security forces, the interior ministry said.

Rajab acknowledged during questioning that he was responsible for the remarks posted on his Twitter account, and “legal measures have been taken to refer him to the general prosecution”, a ministry statement said.

It said Rajab “insulted official bodies in his tweets”.

In one tweet posted on Sunday, Rajab charged that Bahrainis allegedly joining Islamist extremists in Syria were originally members of the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s security forces.

“Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator,” he wrote, referring to one acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group.

Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was released in May after serving two years in jail for participating in unauthorised protests.

The vocal activist had led anti-government protests following a crackdown on Shiite-led demonstrations against the Al-Khalifa ruling family in March 2011.

Australia’s crimson rosella parrots, beauty and disease


This video says about itself:

This morning’s delegation of Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans) at Banksia Cottage, one of the Bunjaree Cottages near Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, 100km west of Sydney, Australia.

From Wildlife Extra:

Colours of the Crimson Rosella parrot reveal a deadly secret

The crimson rosella parrot are [sic] immune to Beak and Feather Disease

The vibrant colours of Australia’s Crimson Rosella parrot might not in fact be quite as they seem. The colours covering its feathers could be the result of a virus that is known to kill other species.

A research team from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) and School of Medicine carried out an eight-year study of the Crimson Rosella and subspecies across New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

The Beak and Feather Disease Virus that the Crimson Rosella carry around so proudly in the colour of their feathers is surprisingly deadly in other parrot species. As such, the Australian Government have listed the Beak and Feather Disease Virus as a key threat to biodiversity under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Justin Eastwood, Deakin CIE PhD student who worked on the project, explains: “The virus is only found in parrots; it’s no danger to humans, but the danger it presents to parrots seems to vary from species to species and it can be pretty nasty.”

The results, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA journal, could have important implications for managing disease in Australia’s unique wildlife. Project author and CIE researcher Dr Mathew Berg explains, “Our research results are not only good news for Crimson Rosellas, but we now have a good model species with which to study the disease, which is extremely important if we are to minimise its impact on the world’s parrot population.”

The research team aim to better understanding how disease and wildlife interact and co-evolve, and will be working with Zoos Victoria, the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease, Charles Sturt University and Biosecurity Victoria to investigate disease ecology and conservation in Australian parrots.

See also here.