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Kremlin opponent Navalny says he will return to Russia despite threats

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Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has said he will go home to Russia at the weekend despite the prison service’s latest motion to put him behind bars for allegedly breaching the terms of his suspended sentence and probation.

Mr Navalny has been convalescing in Germany after an August poisoning with a nerve agent that he has blamed on the Kremlin.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to deter him from returning home with new legal motions.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

“Putin is stamping his feet demanding to do everything so that that I don’t return home,” Mr Navalny said on Instagram, pointing at the Federal Penitentiary Service’s appeal to court to replace his suspended sentence with a custodial one.

He said he will fly home from Germany on Sunday.

At the end of December, the Federal Penitentiary Service demanded that Mr Navalny report to its office in line with the terms of a suspended sentence he received for a 2014 conviction on charges of embezzlement and money laundering that he rejected as politically motivated.

The service warned that he faced prison time if he failed to appear.

Mr Navalny says his suspended sentence ended on December 30, and noted the European Court for Human Rights had ruled that his 2014 conviction was unlawful.
He fell into a coma on August 20 while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to one in Berlin two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that doctors who treated Mr Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no trace of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning.

They refused to open a full criminal inquiry, citing the lack of evidence that Mr Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, he released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up.

The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

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Google threatens to pull search engine in Australia in row over Government plans

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Google has threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government goes ahead with plans to make tech giants pay for news content.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison quickly hit back, saying “we don’t respond to threats”.

Mr Morrison’s comments came after Mel Silva, the managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, told a Senate inquiry into the bill the new rules would be unworkable.

The mandatory code of conduct proposed by the government aims to make Google and Facebook pay Australian media companies fairly for using news content they siphon from news sites.

Ms Silva said: “If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia.

“And that would be a bad outcome not only for us, but also for the Australian people, media diversity, and the small businesses who use our products every day.”

Ms Silva said it was willing to pay a wide and diverse group of news publishers for the value they added, but not under the rules as proposed, which included payments for links and snippets.

She said the code’s “biased arbitration model” also posed unmanageable financial and operational risks for Google and suggested a series of tweaks to the bill.

“We feel there is a workable path forward,” she said.

Facebook has also spoken out against the plans (Niall Carson/PA)

Like in many other countries, Google dominates internet searches in Australia, with Ms Silva telling senators about 95% of searches in the nation are done through the company.

Mr Morrison, speaking to reporters in Brisbane, said: “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia.

“That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

Facebook also opposes the rules and has threatened to remove news stories from its site in Australia.

Simon Milner, a Facebook vice president, said the sheer volume of deals it would have to strike would be unworkable.

The Australia Institute, an independent think tank, said politicians should stand firm against Google’s bullying.

“Google’s testimony today is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy,” said Peter Lewis, the director of the institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

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Regeni case: Rome’s Public Prosecution requests initiation of Egypt officers’ trial

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The Public Prosecutor in Rome on Wednesday officially requested legal action against four Egyptian National Security Agency officers accused of the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016.

Italian news agencies quoted the Public Prosecution office stating that the four officers, Major General Tariq Saber, Colonel Aser Kamel Muhammad Ibrahim, Colonel Husam Helmy and Major Ibrahim Abdel Al-Sharif, are accused of kidnapping, conspiring to commit murder and inflicting severe bodily harm.

Unidentified assailants kidnapped Italian student Giulio Regeni, who was 28-years-old at the time, in January 2016. A few days later, Regeni’s body was found mutilated and bearing signs of torture, in a suburb of Cairo.

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Regeni came to Egypt to research trade unions, which the local authorities regard as a politically sensitive subject.

The Italian investigators accused the Egyptian intelligence services of: “Torturing Regeni for days by burning parts of his body, and kicking and punching him, in addition to using a cold weapon and truncheons before killing him.” However, Cairo rejects these accusations.

The Italian authorities identified five suspects in 2018, who were working for the Egyptian General Intelligence Service.

The Italian Public Prosecution dismissed charges against one of the suspects, concluding that the victim died due to respiratory failure caused by blows inflicted on him.

If the pre-trial chamber judge agrees to initiate the trial, it will take place in absentia due to the Egyptian authorities’ refusal to extradite the suspects.

Egypt: interior ministry transfers suspect in Italian student’s murder

On 31 December, the Italian government asserted that the Egyptian Public Prosecution’s decision to drop the charges against the suspected National Security agents is “unacceptable”.

The case has caused tension between Cairo and Rome, as Italy accuses the Egyptian authorities of refusing to cooperate, and even misleading Italian investigators.

However, Egypt bought two frigates from Italy worth €1.2 billion last June, in a sign of the recovery of bilateral relations between the two countries.

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