There was brief media splash last month after Germany's ZDF TV reported that the US is planning to replace 20 nuclear bombs deployed at Büchel airbase. According to the reports, the current B61 bombs are to be replaced this year with B61-12s, a newer version that is said more accurate and less destructive (potentially making their use more "thinkable"). Alarmingly, reports indicated that the new variants can also be fired as missiles, while B61s had to be dropped from aircraft. Moscow of course immediately responded by threatening "countermeasures"—including deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles to Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. (The Telegraph, Reuters, Sept. 23; Washington's Blog, Sept. 23)
Cuban street artist Danilo Maldonado AKA "El Sexto," known for his satirical graffiti, was released Oct. 21 after 10 months in prison for "disrespect toward government officials"—which holds a penalty of three years, although he was never formally charged. "We are very happy to learn that in the end he is being freed," said Amnesty International's Robin Guittard. "He's just an artist who tried to do an art show, to use his legitimate right to freedom of expression. That should never lead people to be sent to prison. That's a very cold reminder of what's the situation of freedom of expression today in Cuba." The artist's mother, Maria Victoria Machado, added: "A government that doesn't let itself be criticized starts to lose credibility." Maldonado received the Human Rights Foundation's Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent this past April. Amnesty in September declared Maldonado Cuba's only "prisoner of conscience," although the group said it was considering other cases.
An oft-noted failing of the dreaded "mainstream media" is their tendency to bogus neutrality—as when they give climate-change denialists equal weight with representatives of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. We hope we don't smell something similar in coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wildly fictional comments asserting that the idea for the Nazi Holocaust originated not with Adolf Hitler but the Mufti of Jerusalem. Here is the offending text, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office:
The oil refinery city of Baiji was taken from ISIS Oct. 21 by Iraqi security forces and their Shi'ite militia allies. Key to the fighting was the Popular Mobilization Units or Hashid al-Shaabi militia. (Long War Journal, Oct. 19) After driving ISIS forces from the city, the PMU reported the discovery of at least 19 mass graves containing "365 bodies of Daesh terrorists"—the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. It was not clear how long the bodies had been buried there or how they were identified as ISIS fighters. (AFP, Oct. 21)
A Kurdish lawyer in Turkey will face trial at a later date for comments he made about the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), when he said the group was not a terrorist organization but a political movement. Tahir Elci was detained on Oct. 20 and released later that day, but he is not permitted to leave the country and must report regularly to the police. In an interview for CNN Turk, Elci stated that even if the PKK's actions sometimes are of a terrorist nature, it has widespread support. The PKK, a separatist group launched in 1984, is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the US and the EU. Terror propaganda laws in Turkey make being a "terror apologist" punishable with prison time.
The Bahrain Court of Appeals convicted rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja on charges related to her ripping up a photo of the Bahraini king during a court hearing in 2014, Amnesty International said Oct. 21. Her appeal reduced her charges for insulting the king from three years to one year in prison. She has also been fined 3,000 Bahraini dinars ($7,953.34), and if she fails to pay the fine her prison term may be extended by a year-and-a-half. She previously spent almost a year-and-a-half in prison and has been arrested and released three times since December 2011. Presently she is appealing three separate convictions against her, including a four-sentence for two charges of "destroying public property" and a one-year sentence for "insulting a police officer" while visiting her father in jail. Zainab al-Khawaja is the daughter of prominent activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, currently in prison for life for his participation in pro-democracy protests in 2011.
A Saudi activist was sentenced to 10 years in prison and banned from traveling abroad for an additional 10 years, a human rights lawyer said Oct. 20. Abdel-Karim al-Khadar, a professor of Islamic studies from Qassim arrested in April 2013, was a leading activist against religious extremism and militancy. He was extremely vocal, posting videos online giving lectures on religion, women's rights and coexistence. He was sentenced by the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court, created to try terrorist suspects. He was convicted of disobeying the ruler, founding [an unofficial] human rights organization, supporting protests, violating Internet laws through his posts and accusing Saudi authorities of human rights abuses. Al-Khadar, a founding member of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, is the third activist to be sentenced to prison time this week. Seven of the group's founders are currently in prison.
Thousands of protesters marched on government offices in Resistencia, capital of Argentina's Chaco province, after popular leader Angel Verón died Oct. 19 from wounds sustained in a beating by police three weeks earlier. Verón, a leader of "No al Desalojo" (No Evictions) campaign for housing rights as part of the Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD), was at a roadblock on the major route into Resistencia when he was attacked by police on Sept. 24. The roadblock was launched to press Gov. Jorge Capitanich on his pledge to provide construction materials for his group to build housing for the poor. Protesters are demanding the resignation of provincial police chief Gustavo Peña, and a thorough investigation of the incident leading to Verón's death. Protesters held a vigil outside the provincial government building to demand a meeting with Capitanich, but were rebuffed. Capitanich stepped down earlier this year as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet chief. (Chaco por Día, Oct. 21; Diario Norte, Oct. 20; Clarín, Oct. 19)