Monthly Archives: July 2008

Teacher sent to re-education labor camp for posting images of collapsed schools in Sichuan earthquake

A teacher in China has been detained for posting images on the internet of schools that collapsed in the devastating Sichuan earthquake, a rights group said yesterday.

Telegraph | Jul 31, 2008

Liu Shaokun was detained for “disseminating rumours and destroying social order”, said Human Rights in China and was ordered to serve a year of “re-education through labour”.

Since he was detained on June 25 on suspicion of “inciting subversion,” Liu’s family has been denied access to him and were not formally notified of his detention as required by the law, the rights group said.

The May 12 disaster left nearly 88,000 people dead or missing, including 9,000 school children, according to official reports.

The poor condition of the school buildings has become a sensitive political issue for the government, and grieving parents have staged numerous protests demanding an inquiry.

Many have accused local officials of colluding with builders to allow them to get away with cheap and unsafe practices.

“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to (labour camps) to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun,” said Sharon Hom, head of the rights group.

“These actions further undermine human rights and the ‘peaceful Olympics’ called for by the authorities, and reflect an irresponsible callousness towards the Sichuan earthquake victims and parents of the thousands of children killed by collapsed school buildings.”

Mr Liu’s wife was informed by police last week that the teacher, from Guanghan Middle School in Deyang city, had been sent to a labour camp.

The “re-education through labour” system allows police to incarcerate a crime suspect for up to four years without the need for a criminal trial or a formal charge.

The system, in place since 1957, has been widely criticised by the UN and other organisations.

China to continue internet censorship during Olympics

Beijing Olympics: China defies IOC to ban internet freedom

Beijing today defied concerns of the International Olympic Committee and press freedom groups by confirming that the internet at Games facilities would remain censored.


China’s All-Seeing Eye

Telegraph | Jul 30, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

Officials were challenged as to why journalists and others trying to access the internet at the Media Press Centre, the Olympic Village and other venues were blocked from seeing sites including the BBC Chinese language service, other international media and human rights groups.

Sun Weide, the chief spokesman, acknowledged that sites would remain blocked, specifically those connected to falun gong, a religious movement which is heavily repressed in China.

“Falun gong is an evil cult so their sites are blocked and will remain so,” he said, though he refused to give specifics about other sites.

The International Olympics Committee says it is “concerned” about internet censorship, while acknowledging there is little it can do as long as sites pertaining to sport are left open.

“I will speak with the Chinese authorities to advise them of the restraints and to see what their reaction is,” said Kevan Gosper, the IOC member who heads its press commission.

Among the other sites inaccessible are some Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers, those of human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and most non-Chinese government sites relating to Tibet.

Giselle Davies, the IOC spokeswoman, said it had been aware of Chinese intentions to censor the internet but thought originally it would apply to pornography sites and other material regularly blocked in other countries.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, had previously pledged there would be no censorship in Beijing.

But Ms Davies said it became clear that there were “issues” with Beijing’s approach. “They have always made clear that some websites would be an issue, and we’re working with them to ensure the media face the minimum possible restrictions,” she said.

China is maintaining tight security across the city in the lead-up to the Games next week, despite hopes by the IOC that the Games would bring greater openness.

The authorities also announced yesterday that security checkpoints were being set up for tourists wishing to walk on to Tiananmen Square, which is normally accessed through underpasses from the surrounding main roads.

Among the greatest concerns is the possibility of protests on the Square, the most sensitive and surveilled public place in China since the student demonstrations of 1989. International broadcasters are still battling with the authorities over the extent to which they will be allowed to film there during the Games, in line with earlier promises.

Meanwhile, police leave has been cancelled to ensure “absolute security without a single lapse” in Tibet, one potential source of disturbances during the Games period, state media reported.

Giant bee warns Prince Charles of looming ecological disaster

A man dressed as a giant bee met the Prince of Wales


Prince Charles: 18 months to climate doomsday
Press Association | Jul 30, 2008

A man dressed as a giant bee has warned the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall that the world could be facing an “ecological disaster”.

Beekeeper Barry Walker-Moore, 62, told Charles and Camilla of the threat disease is posing to bee populations and asked them to back a campaign for more research.

Mr Walker-Moore, a Ministry of Defence technician from Cromer, Norfolk, met the royal couple at the Sandringham Flower Show in Sandringham, Norfolk.

He spent several minutes discussing the effect the varroa mite is having on bees when the Prince and Duchess visited the West Norfolk & King’s Lynn Beekeepers’ Association stand at the show.

“The Prince keeps bees and obviously knows a lot about the problem,” said Mr Walker-Moore.

“The Duchess was more concerned about my health and how hot I was in my Barry the Bee costume. I was hot but I put it on to attract attention. If we get publicity about the problem it’s worth it.”

Beekeepers say honey sales generate more than £150 million a year and honey bees play a vital environmental role.

The British Beekeepers’ Association is pressing the Government to fund more research into bee health.

Beekeepers say there have been “massive” bee colony losses in the United States, and the UK could face similar problems.

“There really could be an ecological disaster if honey bee populations are wiped out,” added Mr Walker-Moore. “It’s a very serious problem which the Government has to address. I asked the Prince to sign our petition calling on the Government to fund more research. But he said ‘I can’t’.”

Missouri Police taser injured boy 19 times

KY 3 News’ Sara Sheffield reports on an injured teen from Ozark, Missouri who was tasered up to 19 times by police.

Raw Story |  Jul 26, 2008

by David Edwards and Diane Sweet

Passing motorists called Ozark police out of concern for the teen as he walked along the busy overpass. When the police arrived, the young man was lying on the shoulder of the highway directly underneath the 30 foot high overpass with a broken back and foot.

Doctors believe 16-year-old Mace Hutchinson broke his back and heel after falling, as his injuries are consistent with such a fall. The boy’s family does not understand why police would have tasered the the teen 19 times after he was so seriously injured.

The teen’s father said that the use of the taser caused Mace to develop an elevated white blood cell count, leading to a fever that delayed the young man’s otherwise immediate surgery by two days.

Ozark Police Capt. Thomas Rousset attempted to explain why the taser was used:

“He refused to comply with the officers and so the officers had to deploy their Tasers in order to subdue him. He is making incoherent statements; he’s also making statements such as, ‘Shoot cops, kill cops,’ things like that. So there was cause for concern to the officers.”

Ozark police say that while there remains unanswered questions in the case, the reason for the use of the Taser is not one of them.

School To Put Students In ‘Prison’ Jumpsuits As Punishment

Local 6 | Jul 30, 2008

GONZALES, Texas. — A school in Texas will force students who don’t follow the rules to wear prison-like jumpsuits in a controversial move this coming school year.

Gonzales High School has new navy blue jumpsuits that students will wear if they break the dress code.

Violators will be forced to wear the jumpsuit for the day, the report said.

Some parents said the jumpsuits will make students feel like prisoners but the district said it’s just a way to keep the children dressed appropriately for school.

A school board official said it’s “worth a try” because it’s a way to keep the district’s conservative values intact.

Some students said the plan may backfire on the school.

“I talked to some of my friends about it and they said they are not going to obey the dress code just so they can wear the jumpsuit,” high school student Jordan Meredith.

Before the jumpsuits students who didn’t follow the code had to sit in the office and wait for their parents to bring them clothes or face in-school suspension.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Totalitarian DNA database turns ‘innocents into criminals’

‘First step towards a totalitarian state’: The damning verdict of one Citizens’ Inquiry panel member

A million records should be destroyed, warns watchdog

Daily Mail | Jul 30, 2008

By  James Slack

The national DNA database is being used by ministers to ‘criminalise the innocent’, it was claimed yesterday.

A Citizens’ Inquiry set up by a Government watchdog has demanded that the samples of a million innocent people stored on the files for life be removed.

Meanwhile, the Home Office should be stripped of responsibility for managing the library – because it has a ‘hidden agenda’ and ‘cannot be trusted’, the panel argued.

The database was originally a register of those convicted of a crime. But under laws quietly passed by Labour, anybody arrested for a serious offence and later cleared can have their genetic data stored for life.

Panel member Javed Aslam said: ‘For me, that is the first step towards a totalitarian state.’

The inquiry, overseen by the Human Genetics Commission, made a series of criticisms about the operation of the database. Most striking is the recommendation for the DNA of all innocents,

including children, to be deleted. The panel, which took evidence from leading DNA experts and police, said: ‘Retaining the sample criminalises the innocent.’

A majority of the panel, which received a £50,000 Government grant, also ruled that there should be no universal DNA database, and that the ethnicity of a suspect should not be recorded. When children are found guilty of a crime, they should remain in the database for only a limited period, the panel said.

A sliding scale was suggested for adults who commit minor offences, with samples removed after a minimum of five years.

Many of the suggestions are likely to be backed by the HGC when it compiles a report for ministers early next year. It will put pressure on the Home Office to delete the samples of a million innocents on the database.

Last night, experts backed the panel’s report. Professor Albert Weale, chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is the ethics watchdog for the science industry, said: ‘We agree that the DNA of innocent people should not be kept by police. There is little evidence that removing people who have not been convicted from the DNA database will lead to serious crimes going undetected.

‘Figures on the number of “cold cases” that have been solved are often used to support the retention of unconvicted people’s DNA.

‘However, the Home Office admits that almost all of the offenders convicted under the cold-case programme have proved to be persistent and prolific violent criminals whose DNA would be on the database anyway.’ Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: ‘It is long past time the Government realised that, if crime-fighting tools like the DNA database are to be effective, they must command public confidence.’

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman David Howarth said: ‘There must be better ways of catching criminals than spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money adding innocent people to the DNA database.’

The panel of 30 members of the public, also recommended that juries be given better information about DNA in trials. One or even two independent scientists should explain the evidence to jurors, in addition to those hired by the prosecution and defence.

There should also be a wider information campaign to improve public knowledge of DNA in relation to criminal investigations, using TV and internet sites such as Facebook and MySpace, they said.

A minority of panel members called for a universal DNA database, with everyone required to give a sample, possibly from birth. But the majority rejected this on the grounds of cost and the assumption that all are innocent until proven guilty. Those picked up for minor offences such as breach of the peace and some non-violent offenders, should not have samples taken by force, the report added.

The Home Office said it welcomed discussion about the use of the database and would consider the report. Benefits ‘lie not only in detecting the guilty but also in eliminating the innocent’, it said.

‘The database also focuses inquiries and saves valuable police time. The database will also build public confidence as elusive offenders will be more easily detected.’

Army recruiter threatened teen with jail for not enlisting

Raw Story | Jul 29, 2008

By David Edwards and Muriel Kane

An army recruiter in Houston has been lying to high school students about their obligations under a non-binding military “delayed entry program” and even threatening them with jail if they don’t follow through and enlist.

Eighteen year old Irving Gonzales told KHOU 11 News in Houston that as a high school senior he started thinking about enlisting in the Army as a way of helping out his family financially and signed up for the program. But when he told the recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette, that he’d changed his mind and “I’d rather just stay here, go to college,” Marquette insisted that Gonzales couldn’t get out because “you signed a binding contract.”

Accourding to KHOU reporter Mark Greenblatt, Army recruiting regulations state that “delayed entry members can leave any time” and “under no circumstances can a recruiter threaten or intimidate future soldiers.”

In an audio recording played by KHOU, Gonzales went on to ask, “What if I just don’t show up?”

Marquette replied, “Then guess what? You’re AWOL. … You want to go to school? You will not get no loans. … As soon as you get pulled over for a speeding ticket … they’re going to see that you’re a deserter. Then they’re going to apprehend you, take you to jail.”

“All that lovey dovey I want to go to college and all that?” Marquette concluded. “Guess what? You just threw it out the window.”

Marquette refused to speak to KHOU reporters who caught up with him in a parking lot, telling them, “I don’t want to be bothered.” However, the Army says that making threats as Marquette did is a violation of regulations and that he has been removed from recruiting duties, pending an investigation.

According to Greenblatt, when KHOU found the same tactics being used three years ago, the story became a national scandal and the military promised its recruiters would be retrained. “It seems someone didn’t learn their lessons,” Greenblatt reports. The officer involved in that earlier incident was even promoted to be a station commander, responsible for training and supervising other recruiters.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), whose district lies just north and east of Houston, agrees that “there is a problem.”

“Our country cannot deceive its citizens,” Poe who is himself a veteran, told KHOU. “Since the Army hasn’t taken the initiative, now Congress may have to get involved. … The Army has to get their ship in shape.”

Robots with ’emotions’ cuddle and recognise faces

Human touch: Holly Cave cuddles Heart Robot, which is designed to react emotionally to humans

Daily Mail | Jul 30, 2008

It may be his appearance that is pressing the wrong buttons with some young acquaintances. Heart Robot, who has been programmed to react ’emotionally’, depending on how he is treated, has brought out the bully in many of the visitors to a science event.

The electronic puppet, created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol, visibly relaxes in response to soothing, low sounds or a gentle touch.

But when jolted with a loud noise or sudden movement, his pulse races and his fists clench.

Holly Cave, who helped organise the ‘Emotibots’ event at the London Science Museum, in which Heart Robot features, said: ‘Heart Robot looks like a cross between ET and Gollum (from Lord Of The Rings)and is about the size of a small child.

‘Different children react to him very differently. They either want to hug and cuddle him, and look after him like a doll or baby, or they just want to scare him.’

Heart Robot, created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol, was designed to explore what happens when machines interact emotionally with humans.

But he also revealed something about the psychological differences between pre-teen children.

Holly said: ‘He’s half robot, half puppet. You move him around by hand, but he has innate responses that appear emotional.

Also taking part in the Emotibots event this week is Hexapod, a six-legged metallic spidery robot that tracks people’s faces and latches onto visitors who walk around it.

If a person holds Hexapod’s gaze long enough what it sees is  downloaded and projected onto a plasma screen.

Children are invited to interact with the Hexapod robot, which also takes pictures of visitors’ faces to be uploaded onto its website.

Museum bosses hope the Emotibot exhibit, coinciding with the release of the Disney film Wall-E, will show children that robots aren’t all fictional, and increase their interest in science.

‘A huge number of children will be seeing Wall-E, and it seemed interest in robots was higher than ever,’ said Holly.

‘Everyone’s falling for the ‘lonely’ robot WALL-E, but the idea of robots having emotions or a personality may no longer just be science fiction.

‘How humans and robots might interact in the future is something that raises lots of interesting ethical and moral questions.

‘We wanted to do something where children can get up close and interact with the robots.

‘For most of them it will probably be the first time they’ve seen a robot up close. We hope the exhibit will make them think about robots, and whether or not they can really form an emotional attachment to them.’

The robot, invented by animatronics expert Matt Denton, has six legs and a single camera for an eye.

It has had a starring role in several films  –  prototypes for it were used in two Harry Potter films, for Hagrid’s pets. Currently Mr Denton is trying to secure funding for a larger, 2m-wide version.

Emotibots is free and takes place at the Science Museum from today until Thursday.

Collapse of WTO talks ushers in ‘New World Order’

AFP | Jul 30, 2008

OSLO, July 30, 2008 (AFP) – The breakdown of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations signals a “new world order” in which the West can no longer unilaterally impose its will on the rest of the world, Norway’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“I may have been present as the world order crumbled. But at the same time, I have witnessed the emergence of a new world order where all of the world’s countries are present and defend their rights,” Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote in an opinion piece in the Norwegian paper of reference Aftenposten.

“Just a few years ago, the United States and the EU resolved all disputes. When they agreed on a solution, that was often the way it turned out. Those days are numbered,” he wrote, pointing to the mounting influence of countries like China, India and Brazil.

The Geneva talks collapsed Tuesday after nine gruelling days of negotiations aimed at reaching a consensus on subsidy levels and import tariffs for a new deal under the WTO’s seven-year-old Doha Round.

“The failure in Geneva should encourage us to develop a world order that is in line with a new era,” Stoere said, insisting that the aborted talks should not be the final word on the matter.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, has traditionally imposed high duties on imported agricultural goods to protect its heavily subsidised farmers.

Italy deploys troops to patrol the streets

Army, air force, navy and Carabinieri to work alongside police

Xinhua | Jul 29, 2008

ROME, July 29 (Xinhua) — The Italian government launched on Tuesday a scheme that will deploy 3,000 troops in major Italian cities to help patrol the streets, local media reported.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa unveiled the six-month pilot scheme, which will start on Monday.

They said the army, air force, navy and Carabinieri would work alongside police.

A total of 2,000 troops will be placed at the disposal of 16 mayors to guard black spots and immigration holding centers in cities including Rome, Milan and Naples.

Some units will watch “sensitive” sites in Rome, Milan and Naples — 51 in the capital, 20 in Milan and one in Naples.

The remaining 1,000 will patrol the streets of Bari, Catania, Milan, Naples, Padua, Palermo, Padua, Rome, Turin and Verona.

The last time Italy put soldiers on the streets was to fight a crime wave in Naples in 1997.

Troops were also deployed in Sicily after a Mafia bomb campaign in 1993-1994.