UK Journalist Accuses Malaysia of ‘Political Revenge’ Over Conviction


UK journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has condemned Malaysia’s judiciary, alleging “political revenge” for her investigative reporting after a court sentenced her in absentia.

Rewcastle Brown, 64, is contesting a surprise conviction for criminal defamation of a Malaysian royal, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence handed down by a local magistrates court during a single-day hearing.

UK Journalist Accuses Malaysia of 'Political Revenge' Over Conviction

Her reporting focused on the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, where billions of dollars were misappropriated from the Malaysian sovereign fund, implicating top officials including former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib was jailed in 2022 in connection with the scandal but maintains his innocence against multiple charges.

The court’s ruling accused Rewcastle Brown of defaming Malaysia’s former Queen Nur Zahirah in her book “The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose,” without prior notification or the opportunity to present a defense.

Asserting that the conviction was politically motivated and malicious, Rewcastle Brown emphasized the retaliation against her investigative journalism that exposed corruption at the highest levels of power.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the decision, describing it as “outrageous” and calling for the sentence to be revoked, citing the chilling effect on press freedom and the deterrence it poses to investigative reporting on official corruption.

Rewcastle Brown’s case underscores the challenges journalists face in Malaysia when reporting on sensitive issues and highlights the importance of defending press freedom worldwide.

Report Urges Russia to Compensate Ukraine for Environmental Damage Resulting from War

Report Urges Russia to Compensate Ukraine for Environmental Damage Resulting from War

In a recent report published on Friday, a high-level working group emphasized the need for Russia to address the environmental costs resulting from its invasion of Ukraine. The report highlights various damages, including landmine contamination, disturbance of radioactive dust near Chernobyl, and the breach of the Kakhovka Dam, which flooded agricultural land and ecosystems.

Report Urges Russia to Compensate Ukraine for Environmental Damage Resulting from War

Led by Ukraine’s presidential administration, the group unveiled 50 recommendations aimed at assessing damages, holding Russia accountable, and promoting a green recovery. Co-chaired by former Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, the group includes prominent figures such as EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andrii Kostin.

The recommendations advocate for establishing mechanisms to track and preserve evidence of environmental impacts, appointing officials to oversee climate-friendly reconstruction, and developing strategies for prosecuting wartime environmental damage. Additionally, the report suggests that international human rights investigations should consider environmental consequences as a human rights issue.

Urging Ukraine to expedite the development of its Mine Action Strategy and provide guidance on the removal of toxic waste, the report also explores avenues for funding such initiatives. This includes utilizing frozen Russian state assets held in overseas accounts.

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius expressed readiness to support Ukraine’s efforts for recovery and reconstruction, emphasizing financial, technical, and legislative assistance.

The report underscores the importance of addressing environmental concerns in conflict zones and advocates for accountability and reparations to mitigate the long-term impacts of war on ecosystems and communities.

Meta Removes Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Social Media Accounts for Violating Policy

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has taken action against accounts affiliated with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Following criticism over Khamenei’s support for Hamas, especially after their October 7 attack on Israel, Meta confirmed the removal of these accounts on Friday.

Meta Removes Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Social Media Accounts for Violating Policy

The decision, based on Meta’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy, comes as a response to repeated violations. This policy prohibits organizations or individuals with a violent mission or engaged in violence from having a presence on Meta’s platforms, including those designated as terrorists by the US government.

Meta, headquartered in Menlo Park, California, did not provide specific details about the reasoning behind the removal. However, the move reflects the company’s commitment to enforcing its policies and maintaining a safe online environment.

Senate Advances $95 Billion Aid Package for Ukraine and Israel Amid Political Turmoil

In a significant move on Thursday, the Senate pushed forward a crucial wartime aid package aimed at assisting Ukraine and Israel. This decision comes after a previous setback caused by Republican opposition to a comprehensive border security bill, which was later abandoned.

Senate Advances $95 Billion Aid Package for Ukraine and Israel Amid Political Turmoil

With a vote of 67 to 32, the Senate cleared the path for consideration of the $95 billion emergency aid bill, focusing solely on foreign policy matters. Despite earlier resistance from some Republicans, who had demanded inclusion of immigration enforcement measures, several of them agreed to move forward with the aid package after securing the opportunity to propose changes.

The urgency of providing support to Ukraine, particularly in its conflict against Russian forces, was emphasized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who described the vote as a positive step. However, challenges lie ahead as Republicans threaten to prolong the process with potential amendments.

Senator Rand Paul, among those voicing opposition, criticized the bill’s allocation of resources to foreign countries before addressing domestic concerns. Such dissent could lead to delays in the bill’s passage.

If approved by the Senate, the aid package faces further uncertainty in the House, where Republicans have shown reluctance towards increasing aid to Ukraine. House Democrats, led by Hakeem Jeffries, are determined to utilize all available legislative tools to ensure comprehensive national security legislation is enacted.

The Senate’s decision follows a failed attempt to advance a bipartisan border bill, with Democrats accusing Republicans of prioritizing political agendas over national interests. Despite initial support from Schumer, the bill was ultimately stalled due to lack of sufficient votes.

The ongoing political turmoil underscores the challenges in achieving consensus on critical issues, with both parties grappling for control over legislative priorities. Amidst these tensions, the fate of the aid package hangs in the balance, with implications for both international relations and domestic policy agendas.

Supreme Court Leans Against Trump Disqualification Over Insurrection Allegations

Supreme Court Leans Against Trump Disqualification Over Insurrection Allegations

In a pivotal session, the US Supreme Court indicated reluctance to uphold Colorado’s decision to disqualify Donald Trump from the 2024 presidential race based on accusations of insurrection. Justices from both liberal and conservative sides expressed deep concerns about the unprecedented implications of allowing states to determine a candidate’s eligibility, fearing it could lead to widespread division and discord within the nation.

Supreme Court Leans Against Trump Disqualification Over Insurrection Allegations

Echoing worries about the potential fallout, even liberal justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Jackson Brown highlighted the dangers of states dictating terms for national elections. Meanwhile, conservative justices raised alarms over the possibility of reciprocal disqualifications among rival candidates, with Chief Justice John Roberts bluntly pointing out the chilling effect such actions could have on the electoral process.

The overarching concern appeared to revolve around safeguarding the unity and integrity of the United States, overshadowing the specific allegations against Trump regarding the events of January 6, 2021. Despite the Colorado court’s ruling citing Trump’s alleged role in the insurrection, the justices seemed hesitant to entertain arguments regarding the interpretation of constitutional language that might justify his disqualification.

Overall, the Supreme Court’s leaning suggests a cautious approach to state-led disqualifications, prioritizing the preservation of national unity and electoral integrity amidst politically charged circumstances.

US Senate to Vote on Standalone Foreign Aid Package Including Ukraine

The US Senate will convene again on Thursday to vote on a standalone supplemental funding bill aimed at providing significant aid to Ukraine and Israel. This move follows the failure of a bipartisan border and national security package to advance on Wednesday.

US Senate to Vote on Standalone Foreign Aid Package Including Ukraine

The proposed foreign aid package, similar to the bipartisan bill, encompasses military assistance for Ukraine, security support for Israel, and humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine, Gaza, and the West Bank. Notably, the bill excludes the US border security measures outlined in the bipartisan proposal. However, there’s potential for some Republican senators to seek the addition of border provisions through an amendment process.

In a preliminary vote held on Wednesday, 58 members supported advancing the foreign aid package, falling short of the 60 votes required for approval. As a result, the bill currently lacks sufficient support to pass in the Senate.

Facing uncertainty over the level of support for the bill, senators engaged in extensive debates during the initial vote, which remained open for four hours. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced plans to reconvene on Thursday to hold the decisive vote, affording Republican colleagues additional time to deliberate.

Schumer’s decision followed the earlier setback in advancing the bipartisan border bill, which failed to garner the necessary 60 votes. Notably, Schumer initially backed the bill’s advancement but later changed his vote, strategically positioning for potential reconsideration in the future.

In a floor speech preceding the vote, Schumer criticized Republicans for obstructing the bipartisan bill, attributing their opposition to political motivations aligned with former President Donald Trump. Schumer accused Senate Republicans of prioritizing Trump’s interests over national concerns, particularly regarding border security.

The upcoming Senate vote on the standalone foreign aid package underscores ongoing efforts to address critical international priorities amid political tensions and partisan divides.

Blinken Holds Meeting with Palestinian Authority President in the West Bank: EAST CONFLICT LIVE UPDATES

EAST CONFLICT LIVE UPDATES –

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently engaged in discussions with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.

Blinken Holds Meeting with Palestinian Authority President in the West Bank

Blinken’s meeting with Abbas is part of ongoing efforts to facilitate reforms within the Palestinian Authority, with the ultimate aim of fostering governance unity between the West Bank and Gaza.

This diplomatic engagement occurs against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the West Bank following the October 7 attacks. Blinken has consistently urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take stronger actions to address violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers. Last week, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on four Israelis implicated in such violence.

Blinken’s meeting with Abbas marks another instance of their continued dialogue during Blinken’s visits to the region.

Iran-Backed Houthis Target Greek and British Cargo Ships in Red Sea: EAST CONFLICT LIVE UPDATES

EAST CONFLICT LIVE UPDATES

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launched six ballistic missiles at two cargo ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, causing minor damage to one vessel.

Iran-Backed Houthis Target Greek and British Cargo Ships in Red Sea

Details of the Attacks

A Greek-owned bulk carrier was struck by three missiles fired by the Houthis on Tuesday afternoon. Earlier the same day, a British-owned cargo ship in the Red Sea was also targeted by the militants.

US Involvement and Response

The USS Laboon, operating near the Greek ship, intercepted and shot down a third anti-ship ballistic missile launched by the Houthis, as confirmed by the US Central Command.

Impact on Ships

The Greek-owned vessel, Star Nasia, sustained damage from the explosion, according to a Greek shipping ministry official.

Context and Recent Events

These fresh attacks occurred shortly after joint airstrikes by the US and the UK targeted Houthi bases in Yemen just two days prior.

US Clarification on Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

In related news, the US clarified its previous claims regarding airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, stating that there was not a pre-notification to the Iraqi government. Vedant Patel, the State Department spokesperson, affirmed that the Iraqi government was notified immediately after the strikes took place.

The US conducted retaliatory strikes on over 85 targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday, resulting in at least 39 casualties.

Stay updated for further developments on this evolving situation.

Canadian Building Permits Plummet 14% in December, Marking Lowest Level in Over Three Years

OTTAWA—Canadian building permit issuance witnessed a significant decline in the final month of 2023, hitting its lowest level in more than three years amid concerns surrounding pent-up demand for housing in the country.

Canadian Building Permits Plummet 14% in December, Marking Lowest Level in Over Three Years

The total value of building permits plummeted by 14% from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted 9.25 billion Canadian dollars, equivalent to $6.83 billion, as reported by Statistics Canada on Tuesday.

The sharp drop was notably weaker than the 2% increase anticipated by economists, according to TD Securities. December’s decline follows a 3.9% fall in permits observed in the previous month.

Statistics Canada attributed the decline in permits to its lowest level since October 2020 to weaknesses in both residential and non-residential sectors. On a year-over-year basis, the overall value of permits issued in December witnessed a decrease of 14.5%.

Impact on Construction Activity

Building permits serve as an early indicator of construction activity in Canada, drawing from a survey of 2,400 municipalities representing 95% of the country’s population. However, the issuance of a permit does not guarantee imminent construction.

Despite signs of activity in Canada’s housing market, including a rise in existing home sales, construction intentions in the residential sector notably decreased in December. Permits for multifamily dwellings experienced a significant decline, while intentions for single-family homes saw a slight increase.

Quarter and Annual Trends

The overall value of building permits in the final quarter of 2023 experienced a notable decline of 9% from the previous quarter and a 1.7% decrease compared to the same period in 2022. Single-family homes were the only segment to witness a quarterly increase.

For the entirety of 2023, the value of building permits experienced a decline of 2.3%, albeit nominal permit valuations were inflated due to rising material and labor costs. On a constant-dollar basis, the value of building permits saw a more significant decrease of 8.9% compared to 2022.

China Raises Concerns with US Treasury Officials Over Tariffs and Sanctions in Beijing Talks

China Raises Concerns with US Treasury Officials Over Tariffs and Sanctions in Beijing Talks

In a significant diplomatic exchange, Chinese financial officials conveyed their apprehensions to visiting US Treasury representatives regarding the imposition of US tariffs, investment limitations, and sanctions aimed at constraining Chinese companies. The Chinese finance ministry reported on Tuesday that discussions between the two parties were characterized by depth, frankness, pragmatism, and constructiveness. Key topics covered during the meetings in Beijing this week included macroeconomic situations, policy matters, and the management of debt in developing countries. Stay tuned for further updates on the outcomes of these discussions.