How severe, ongoing stress can affect a child’s brain

Wed, 2017-07-12 03:00

ASHEVILLE, NC: A quiet, unsmiling little girl with big brown eyes crawls inside a carpeted cubicle, hugs a stuffed teddy bear tight, and turns her head away from the noisy classroom.
The safe spaces, quiet times and breathing exercises for her and the other preschoolers at the Verner Center for Early Learning are designed to help kids cope with intense stress so they can learn. But experts hope there is an even bigger benefit — protecting young bodies and brains from stress so persistent that it becomes toxic.
It is no secret that growing up in tough circumstances can be hard on kids and lead to behavior and learning problems. But researchers are discovering something different. Many believe that ongoing stress during early childhood — from grinding poverty, neglect, parents’ substance abuse and other adversity — can smolder beneath the skin, harming kids’ brains and other body systems. And research suggests that can lead to some of the major causes of death and disease in adulthood, including heart attacks and diabetes.
“The damage that happens to kids from the infectious disease of toxic stress is as severe as the damage from meningitis or polio or pertussis,” says Dr. Tina Hahn, a pediatrician in rural Caro, Michigan. She says her No. 1 goal as a physician is to prevent toxic stress. Hahn routinely questions families about stresses at home, educates them about the risks and helps them find ways to manage.
Mounting research on potential biological dangers of toxic stress is prompting a new public health approach to identifying and treating the effects of poverty, neglect, abuse and other adversity. While some in the medical community dispute that research, pediatricians, mental health specialists, educators and community leaders are increasingly adopting what is called “trauma-informed” care.
The approach starts with the premise that extreme stress or trauma can cause brain changes that may interfere with learning, explain troubling behavior, and endanger health. The goal is to identify affected children and families and provide services to treat or prevent continued stress. This can include parenting classes, addiction treatment for parents, school and police-based programs and psychotherapy.
Many preschoolers who mental health specialist Laura Martin works with at the Verner Center have been in and out of foster homes or they live with parents struggling to make ends meet or dealing with drug and alcohol problems, depression or domestic violence.
They come to school in “fight or flight” mode, unfocused and withdrawn or aggressive, sometimes kicking and screaming at their classmates. Instead of adding to that stress with aggressive discipline, the goal is to take stress away.
“We know that if they don’t feel safe then they can’t learn,” Martin said. By creating a safe space, one goal of programs like Verner’s is to make kids’ bodies more resilient to biological damage from toxic stress, she said.
Many of these kids “never know what’s going to come next” at home. But at school, square cards taped at kids’ eye level remind them in words and pictures that lunch is followed by quiet time, then a snack, then hand-washing and a nap. Breathing exercises have kids roar like a lion or hiss like a snake to calm them. A peace table helps angry kids work out conflicts with their classmates.
The brain and disease-fighting immune system are not fully formed at birth and are potentially vulnerable to damage from childhood adversity, recent studies have shown. The first three years are thought to be the most critical, and children lacking nurturing parents or other close relatives to help them cope with adversity are most at risk.
Under normal stress situations — for a young child that could be getting a shot or hearing a loud thunderstorm — the stress response kicks in, briefly raising heart rate and levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. When stress is severe and ongoing, those levels may remain elevated, putting kids in a persistent “fight or flight” mode, said Harvard University neuroscientist Charles Nelson.
Recent studies suggest that kind of stress changes the body’s metabolism and contributes to internal inflammation, which can raise risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. In 2015, Brown University researchers reported finding elevated levels of inflammatory markers in saliva of children who had experienced abuse or other adversity.
Experiments in animals and humans also suggest persistent stress may alter brain structure in regions affecting emotions and regulating behavior. Nelson and others have done imaging studies showing these regions are smaller than usual in severely traumatized children.
Nelson’s research on neglected children in Romanian orphanages suggests that early intervention might reverse damage from toxic stress. Orphans sent to live with nurturing foster families before age 2 had imaging scans several years later showing their brains looked similar to those of kids who were never institutionalized. By contrast, children sent to foster care at later ages had less gray matter and their brains looked more like those of children still in orphanages.
Toxic stress is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a distinct mental condition that can result from an extremely traumatic event, including combat, violence or sexual abuse. Experts say it can occur in adults and children who live with persistent toxic stress, including children in war-torn countries, urban kids who have been shot or live in violence-plagued neighborhoods, and those who have been physically or sexually abused.
The toxic stress theory has become mainstream, but there are skeptics, including Tulane University psychiatrist Dr. Michael Scheeringa, an expert in childhood PTSD. Scheeringa says studies supporting the idea are weak, based mostly on observations, without evidence of how the brain looked before the trauma.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the theory and in 2012 issued recommendations urging pediatricians to educate parents and the public about the long-term consequences of toxic stress and to push for new policies and treatments to prevent it or reduce its effects.
In a 2016 policy noting a link between poverty and toxic stress, the academy urged pediatricians to routinely screen families for poverty and to help those affected find food pantries, homeless shelters and other resources.
“The science of how poverty actually gets under kids’ skin and impacts a child has really been exploding,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, a former president of the academy.
Some pediatricians and schools routinely screen children and families for toxic stress, but it is not universal, said John Fairbank, co-director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. “That’s certainly an aspiration. It would be a big step forward,” said Fairbank, a Duke University psychiatry professor.
Much of the recent interest stems from landmark US government-led research published in 1998 called the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. It found that adults exposed to neglect, poverty, violence, substance abuse, parents’ mental illness and other domestic dysfunction were more likely than others to have heart problems, diabetes, depression and asthma.
A follow-up 2009 study found that adults with six or more adverse childhood experiences died nearly 20 years earlier than those with none.
Some children seem resistant to effects from toxic stress. Harvard’s Nelson works with a research network based at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child that is seeking to find telltale biomarkers in kids who are affected — in saliva, blood or hair — that could perhaps be targets for drugs or other treatment to prevent or reduce stress-related damage.
That research is promising but results are likely years off, says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, the center’s director.
Alvin and Natalie Clarke brought their young grandchildren into their Cass City, Michigan home after their parents jailed on drug charges. The 6-year-old grandson hits, yells, breaks toys, misbehaves in school. His 4-year-old sister used to have nightmares and recoil in fear when her baby doll was left alone on the floor — signs her therapists say suggest memories of neglect.
The Clarkes had never heard the term “toxic stress” when they were granted guardianship in 2015. Now it is a frequent topic in a support group they have formed for other grandparent-guardians.
Their grandson’s therapists say he has PTSD and behavior problems likely stemming from toxic stress. Around strangers he is sometimes quiet and polite but the Clarkes say he has frequent tantrums at home and school and threatens his sister. He gets frightened at night and worries people are coming to hurt him, Natalie Clarke said.
Weekly sessions with a trauma-focused therapist have led to small improvements in the boy. The Clarkes said he needed more help but that treatment is costly and his school is not equipped to offer it.
The little girl has flourished with help from Early Head Start behavior specialists who have worked with her and the Clarkes at home and school.
“Thank God she doesn’t remember much of it,” Natalie Clarke said. “She’s a happy, loving little girl now.”

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France to boost refugee aid, deport economic migrants

Wed, 2017-07-12 16:12

PARIS: France will cut processing time for asylum requests and boost housing for refugees while “systematically” deporting illegal economic migrants, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday.
Unveiling an “action plan” for dealing with tens of thousands of people who arrive in France each year, Philippe said it aimed to “guarantee the right to asylum (and) better handle migratory flows.”
France, which received 85,000 asylum requests last year, is grappling with a system that President Emmanuel Macron has described as “completely overwhelmed.”
France has come under harsh criticism from charities for failing to provide adequate facilities for refugees, leading to the formation of squalid camps in northern France and around Paris.
An aid worker who took part in a meeting at the interior ministry on the issue last week said he feared a “general hardening of expulsion measures” in the plan announced Wednesday.
“We are not what France should be” in striking a balance between humanitarian concern for refugees and observing a tough policy on handling economic migrants, Philippe said.
Philippe said 40 percent of asylum seekers and refugees do not have access to housing, and that the current 80,000 homes and shelters would be increased by 12,500 in 2018 and 2019.
He said the plan calls for additional resources to allow authorities to reduce processing time for an asylum application from 14 months to six.
Philippe said those who are denied asylum will be “systematically” deported, adding that the legal framework for their detention pending deportation would be “redefined” as part of a draft law to be introduced in September.
He said France would beef up means for integrating refugees such as language teaching, something Macron, elected in May, listed as a priority during his campaign.
Philippe also announced the creation of an inter-ministerial coordinator for integrating refugees into French society — a key demand of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Last Thursday, EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has seen some 85,000 migrants stream into the country since the start of the year.

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EU’s Barnier hits back at Britain on Brexit bill

Wed, 2017-07-12 15:15

BRUSSELS: EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Britain on Wednesday to quickly settle a row over its divorce bill, hitting back at Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s remark that the bloc could “go whistle” on the issue.
“I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking,” France’s Barnier told a news conference when asked about Johnson’s comments on the money the EU expects Britain to pay when withdrawing.
Barnier urged Britain to send Brussels its negotiating position on key issues ahead of the second round of formal Brexit talks with his British counterpart David Davis, which start Monday in Brussels.
He added that following its vote last year to leave the EU, Britain had to finally admit that it needed to foot the bill for its departure, estimated by EU officials at around €100 billion ($112 billion).
“On the single financial settlement, it is essential that the UK recognize the existence of financial obligations which are simply a result of the period in which they were members of the EU,” he said.
Only then could the EU and Britain work on the “methodology” of how that bill would be worked out, added Barnier, a former European Commissioner and French foreign minister
The first phase of the Brexit talks is focusing on divorce issues — the divorce bill, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and the border in Northern Ireland.
The EU says it will only start discussing future relations with the UK, including a possible trade deal, after “sufficient progress” has been made on those topics, hopefully later this year.
But the exit bill has been a major source of contention, with Johnson saying it was excessive in a speech to Parliament on Monday.
“I think that the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate and I think ‘to go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression.”
But Barnier hinted that any future trade deal would depend on Britain paying its bills.
“How do you build a relationship, which is going to last with a country where you don’t have trust?” said the Frenchman.
“I can’t imagine that a very great country like the UK will not also be a responsible country and respect its commitments.”
And the EU negotiator showed his impatience with Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May’s disastrous election performance last month has created huge uncertainty over its Brexit policy.
Barnier repeatedly said that the “clock is ticking” before his deadline of October 2018 to reach the outline of a deal, before Britain formally leaves the EU in March 2019.
“We have published nine EU position papers so far on different issues. The EU positions are clear,” said Barnier.
“We now need to know the UK’s position on each of these issues in order to make progress.”
Barnier insisted he and his team were ready to work evenings, weekends “and even Bastille Day (the French national holiday which falls on Friday)” to respond if Britain manages to get its proposals in before Monday.
However, he insisted that there must be progress on all three divorce issues before moving onto trade talks, adding that “progress on one or two would not be sufficient.”
Barnier rejected May’s offer at an EU Summit last month on the rights of EU citizens after Brexit, saying that “the British position does not allow those persons concerned to live their lives as they do today.”

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Spanish royals visit Britain despite Brexit tensions

Wed, 2017-07-12 05:39

LONDON: Spanish King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia begin a state visit to Britain on Wednesday, as the two countries attempt to strengthen ties despite tensions over Britain’s plans to leave the EU and the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
The visit was delayed twice, once while Spanish politicians formed a new government and again last month because Britain held a snap general election.
The Spanish royals will be greeted on Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth II — a distant cousin of Felipe — with a ceremony in central London.
Ana Romero, author and former royal correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, said the visit is the “jewel of the crown” of the king’s calendar.
“The pomp has its importance because it is the moment which the monarchy has to demonstrate its diplomatic usefulness,” she told AFP.
Felipe is due to address the British Parliament, where he could follow in his father’s footsteps and talk about Gibraltar — although the political landscape has somewhat changed since 1986.
At the time, King Juan Carlos said the sovereignty of the British territory was “the only thing that separates us.”
The EU has already promised Spain a veto over the extension to Gibraltar of any future trade deal between Britain and the bloc, a topic which could come up during the king’s lunch on Thursday with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
With a population of just over 32,000, Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory since 1713 but Spain has long laid claim to the rocky outcrop.
The fate of an estimated 300,000 British citizens living in Spain — the majority of them retirees — may also be up for discussion along with that of around 116,000 Spaniards living in Britain.
“Most importantly, we must give priority to our citizens, be it the British here, or the Spaniards there,” Britain’s ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, told Spanish public radio RNE.
“We are proud of the contribution from the Spanish, be it nurses, engineers, and we want them to stay,” he said.
Romero suggested that while such topics will likely come up during the visit, the king also has other priorities.
“It would be logical that he will allude to the sovereignty dispute over Gibraltar, as his father did, as well as to Brexit and jihadism, since in the most recent attacks in London a Spaniard died as he tried to defend a woman,” she said, referring to an attack on London Bridge on June 3.
Business will also be on the agenda and top Spanish business leaders will accompany the royals, including from Ferrovial, a Heathrow airport shareholder, Santander bank and telecoms firm Telefonica.

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2 suspects held over Germany’s 100kg gold coin heist

Wed, 2017-07-12 12:12

BERLIN: German police commandos Wednesday detained two suspects in the spectacular theft of a 100-kilo (220-pound) gold coin from a Berlin museum this year.
Around 300 police took part in dawn raids on two apartments and a jeweler’s shop in Berlin’s Neukoelln district and locations in surrounding Brandenburg state.
The Canadian “Big Maple Leaf” stolen in late March has a face value of $1 million, but the market price of 100 kilos of gold is almost $4 million.
The commemorative coin issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007 measures 53 cm (21 inches) across and features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
Thieves in late March stole the mega-coin from the Bode Museum on the capital’s so-called Museum Island, close to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apartment.
Police in early July published video surveillance footage of the suspected thieves that showed three men wearing dark clothes, their faces obscured by hoodies, high collars and their hands.
Authorities said Wednesday that two of the men detained were believed to be the suspects in the footage, and that the other raids aimed mainly at securing evidence.
There was no indication that the massive gold coin had been recovered.

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Trillion-ton iceberg breaks off Antarctica

Wed, 2017-07-12 13:33

LONDON: One of the biggest icebergs on record has broken away from Antarctica, scientists said on Wednesday, creating an extra hazard for ships around the continent as it breaks up.
The 1 trillion-ton iceberg, measuring 5,800 sq km, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12, said scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey.
The iceberg has been close to breaking off for a few months. Throughout the Antarctic winter, scientists monitored the progress of the rift in the ice shelf using the European Space Agency satellites.
“The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” said Adrian Luckman, professor at Swansea University and lead investigator of Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf for years.
“It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters,” he added.
The ice will add to risks for ships now it has broken off. The peninsula is outside major trade routes but the main destination for cruise ships visiting from South America.
In 2009, more than 150 passengers and crew were evacuated after the MTV Explorer sank after striking an iceberg off the Antarctic Peninsula.
The iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, was already floating before it broke away so there is no immediate impact on sea levels, but the calving has left the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent.
The Larsen A and B ice shelves, which were situated further north on the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.
“This resulted in the dramatic acceleration of the glaciers behind them, with larger volumes of ice entering the ocean and contributing to sea-level rise,” said David Vaughan, glaciologist and director of science at British Antarctic Survey.
“If Larsen C now starts to retreat significantly and eventually collapses, then we will see another contribution to sea level rise,” he added.
Big icebergs break off Antarctica naturally, meaning scientists are not linking the rift to manmade climate change. The ice, however, is a part of the Antarctic Peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.
“In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events, which may eventually lead to collapse — opinions in the scientific community are divided,” Luckman said.
“Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”

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Curfew imposed after three rebels killed in Indian Kashmir

Wed, 2017-07-12 21:44

SRINAGAR, India: Authorities imposed a curfew Wednesday in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir after three rebels were killed in a firefight with government forces, police said.
The shootout overnight, west of the main city of Srinagar, comes amid high tension after suspected militants shot dead seven Hindu pilgrims and injured 19 others in the disputed Himalayan territory.
Soldiers and counterinsurgency police cordoned off a neighborhood in Redbugh village late Tuesday after learning about the presence of armed rebels in a house, a police officer said.
“After the night-long standoff, all three militants were killed when they tried to break the cordon,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.
“Their weapons and bodies have been recovered and identified as locals.”
Fearing residents could pour onto the streets for the funerals of the slain rebels, authorities imposed a curfew in parts of Srinagar and erected checkpoints and blockades along main roads.
Shopkeepers in Srinagar’s main commercial center Lal Chowk shuttered their businesses for the day.
There is no suggestion the shootout was linked to the attack on a bus shuttling Hindus on an annual pilgrimage to a Himalayan cave revered as the abode of the god Shiva.
Some officials have blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a pro-Pakistan militant group, for that attack but it has denied any role.
Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, said police and security forces were still carrying out investigations.
“No one should jump to any conclusion on the attack. Let us wait for the definite inferences and inputs,” he told reporters in Srinagar.
White House condemns attack on pilgrims
The White House is condemning as “cowardly” a deadly terrorist attack on religious pilgrims in India this week.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says an attack on religious freedom is an attack on the “most fundamental right of liberty.”
Spicer is offering condolences to the victims and families of Monday’s assault. He says the US and India will fight together against terrorist threats in every part of the world.
Warned of attack
Meanwhile, as India’s government blamed separatist rebels for gunning down seven Hindu pilgrims and wounding 19 more in Kashmir before fleeing into the night, rebel groups in the disputed region condemned the rare, deadly attack on civilians and insisted they had no part in it.
A memo that was circulated to regional police, military and paramilitary units two weeks ago indicates Indian security officials had been expecting an attack. The memo, marked “top secret,” warned that a “sensational attack by terrorist outfits cannot be ruled out” in the mostly Muslim region.
The memo, dated June 25 and verified as authentic by The Associated Press, said, “terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris (pilgrims) and about 100 police.”
It described circumstances eerily similar to what transpired Monday night: “The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on yatra (pilgrimage) convoy, which they (militants) believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation.”

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Nobel laureate Xiaobo breathing fails: Hospital

Wed, 2017-07-12 21:50

BEIJING, China: China’s cancer-stricken Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo suffered respiratory failure as his condition worsened on Wednesday, his hospital said, as Germany offered to host him and rights groups decried the lack of independent information.
The First Hospital of China Medical University in the northeastern city of Shenyang said Liu’s family declined to have him put on artificial ventilation, which was necessary “to maintain life.”
“The hospital has explained the necessity of tracheal intubation to the patient’s family, the family refused the tracheal intubation,” the hospital said on its website.
The hospital, which earlier reported that he had suffered organ failure, said the 61-year-old democracy advocate’s liver function had deteriorated despite three days of anti-infection and blood treatment.
Liu, who has been held since 2008 for “subversion,” risks becoming the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who passed away in a hospital under the Nazis in 1938.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin was “very concerned” about Liu’s health and that it “stands ready to host and medically” treat him.
The Chinese government has rebuffed international appeals to let Liu seek treatment abroad, saying he is getting the best possible care from top domestic doctors.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang repeated his standard answer earlier on Wednesday that other countries should respect the country’s judicial sovereignty and “not interfere in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of an individual case.”
A German and a US doctor visited Liu last weekend and said he was still strong enough to fulfill his wish to go abroad, but the hospital has issued increasingly pessimistic reports every day since then.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took to Twitter to call on Beijing to free Liu and “allow him to seek treatment wherever he wishes.” She reiterated her offer to have Liu treated in Taiwan, which China considers a rebel province.
The US repeated calls on Tuesday for Liu to be released and said it was ready to welcome him if he chose to be treated there.
Liu, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009, was admitted to the hospital early last month after he was transferred from prison due to late-stage liver cancer.
Human rights groups said it was nearly impossible to obtain independent information about Liu’s health given that he is in a heavily guarded hospital and his wife, who is with him, is also not free.
“What is on display is still the manipulation and control of information and dishonesty of the Chinese government,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia researcher Maya Wang told AFP.
“The couple has not been allowed to speak freely to anyone,” Wang said. “There are some reasons to continue to cast doubt on the assessment of the hospital.”
Amnesty International’s China researcher Patrick Poon said the information is hard to verify but if it is true, “Liu Xiaobo is in his last hours of life.”
“Even in his last moments, the Chinese government doesn’t seem to loosen their grip of control of Liu Xiaobo and his family,” he said.
A video leaked earlier this week showed the Western doctors praising their Chinese counterparts as they stood by Liu’s bedside.
The video was denounced as propaganda by rights groups while the German embassy said Monday it “seems that security organs are steering the process, not medical experts.”
But in an editorial, the state-run Global Times newspaper said the video aimed to show the Chinese doctors’ efforts to help him and said “Western forces are politicizing Liu’s cancer treatment.”
Liu was arrested in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a bold petition that called for the protection of basic human rights and reform of China’s one-party Communist system.
At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in 2010, he was represented by an empty chair.
Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and family friend, sobbed as he heard the latest update, but he said the family may have declined the ventilator out of hope he could survive.
“Perhaps Liu Xiaobo’s family still hopes that there can be a ray of light — hopes that there can be a turnaround,” Hu said.
“This is what we hope too. As long as he still has a breath left, then those planes should be ready to take him away at any moment. Xiaobo, hold on.”

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UN urges Singapore to halt Malaysian’s execution

Wed, 2017-07-12 21:53

SINGAPORE: The UN on Wednesday urged Singapore to halt the execution of a Malaysian drug trafficker, saying it should not go ahead while an appeal was pending in his home country.
Prabagaran Srivijayan was sentenced to death in 2012 for trafficking 22.24 grams (0.8 ounces) of heroin, but has consistently maintained his innocence.
He is expected to be hanged Friday, according to the UN’s human rights body, which cited family members.
Trafficking certain volumes of illegal drugs carries the mandatory death penalty in Singapore, unless certain conditions are met for it to be commuted to a life sentence.
The UN rights body’s Southeast Asia office “calls on the Singaporean government to halt the imminent execution of Malaysian national Prabagaran Srivijayan for a drugs-related offense, and urges the government to immediately instate a moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” it said in a statement.
“We are gravely concerned that the execution will proceed despite a pending appeal,” the statement said.
Prabagaran’s lawyers have filed a case in Malaysia where the Court of Appeal is considering an application to refer Singapore to the International Court of Justice over concerns about the trial, according to activists.
His legal team has also raised concerns about the fairness of his trial. Amnesty International said this included the alleged failure of the authorities “to follow up leads and call on key witnesses that would corroborate his version of events.”
James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, added: “The Singaporean authorities must immediately halt his execution before another person suffers this inhumane and irreversible punishment.”
Both Malaysia and Singapore execute murderers and drug traffickers by hanging, a system, which dates back to British colonial rule.
Singapore, however, has consistently maintained that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime and has rejected calls to abolish capital punishment.
The city-state last November hanged two foreigners — a Malaysian and a Nigerian — for drug trafficking after their last-minute appeals were rejected.
Singapore hosts thousands of multinational corporations, many of which have made the city their regional headquarters because of its reputation for safety and incorruptibility.
A Malaysian state amended its Islamic laws on Wednesday to allow public canings, sparking criticism that the change was unconstitutional and could infringe on the rights of religious minorities.
Ethnic Malay Muslims make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people and attempts to implement stricter forms of sharia law in recent years have raised concerns among members of the ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
The new law was approved in the state assembly of Kelantan, which is governed by a conservative Islamist party, PAS, and where nightclubs and cinemas are banned.

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Indonesia’s president signs decree to ban radical groups

Wed, 2017-07-12 03:00

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s president has signed a decree giving the government the power to ban radical organizations, in a move aimed at outlawing groups behind an apparent rise in the political clout of hard-line Islam.
The measure announced Wednesday by the country’s top security minister follows months of sectarian tensions in the world’s most populous Muslim nation that shook the government and undermined its reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.
It amends an existing law regulating mass organizations, allowing the government to sidestep a potentially lengthy court process to implement a ban. It is likely that Hizbut Tahrir, a group that campaigns for Indonesia to adopt Shariah law and become a caliphate, is among the targets of the decree after the government announced in May that it planned to ban the group.
Wiranto, the coordinating minister for politics, security and law, said the decree is aimed at protecting the unity and existence of Indonesia as a nation and not at discrediting Islamic groups. Wiranto, who uses one name, said the decree was signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the move, calling it a “troubling violation” of the rights to freedom of association and expression despite it being supported by moderate groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization.
Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, said the government already has the power to take legal action against any group suspected of violating the law.
“Banning any organization strictly on ideological grounds … is a draconian action that undermines rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians have fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship,” Harsono said.
Hizbut Tahrir, along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind months of massive protests in Jakarta, the capital, against the city’s minority Christian governor, an ally of Jokowi who was accused of blaspheming Islam. He subsequently lost a bid for re-election to a Muslim candidate and was imprisoned for two years for blasphemy despite prosecutors downgrading the charge to a lesser offense.
Hizbut, a global organization, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.
Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for the group in Indonesia, said it plans to seek a judicial review of the decree in the Constitutional Court.
“The move just shows an arbitrary action aimed at disbanding Hizbut Tahrir,” he said.

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