Report: Only 15% of World Enjoys Free Expression of Information

A Britain-based group says its latest study of worldwide free expression rights shows only 15% of the global population lives where people can receive or share information freely. In its 2022 Global Expression Report, Article19, an international human rights organization, said that in authoritarian nations such as China, Myanmar and Russia, and in democracies such as Brazil and India, 80% of the global population live with less freedom of expression than a decade ago. The report said authoritarian regimes and rulers continue to tighten control over what their populations see, hear and say. While mentioning Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report singles out China’s government for “exerting ultimate authority over the identities, information and opinions” of hundreds of millions of …

144 Ukraine Fighters Freed from Russian Captivity in Prisoner Exchange

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that 144 of the country’s fighters were freed from Russian captivity via “an exchange mechanism” and that nearly 100 of the freed fighters had participated in the defense of the Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol. Earlier, a leading Ukrainian parliamentarian told VOA that Kyiv and Moscow were undergoing a process of prisoner exchange and that Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman with ties to Putin, was playing “an active role” in the talks.   Hours later, in his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the development “optimistic and very important.” Zelenskyy said 59 of the soldiers that returned to Ukraine were members of the National Guard, followed by 30 servicemen with the Navy, 28 who had served in the Army, …

US, NATO Trade Charges With China Over New Strategic Concept   

The United States joined its NATO allies on Wednesday to issue a strong rebuke to “malicious hybrid and cyber” threats from the People’s Republic of China, warning the “no-limits” partnership between China and Russia is undercutting a rules-based international order. In Beijing, Chinese officials pushed back and asked the Atlantic alliance to stop “stoking political confrontation or seeking to start a new Cold War.” On Wednesday in Madrid, where NATO leaders are meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “there are aspects increasingly where we [the U.S. and NATO] have to contest what China is doing. And one of the things that it’s doing is seeking to undermine the rules-based international order.” The chief U.S. diplomat said Washington is not looking for a conflict with Beijing even as the …

Biden Thanks Erdogan for Dropping Veto on Sweden, Finland NATO Bids

U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday for dropping his objections to the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, leading the way for the military alliance to expand even closer to Russia. “I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden,” Biden told Erdogan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid. “You’re doing a great job.” In response, speaking through an interpreter, Erdogan said that Biden’s “pioneering in this regard is going to be crucial in terms of strengthening NATO for the future, and it’s going to have a very positive contribution to the process between Ukraine and Russia.” Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday signed …

Lone Surviving Attacker in Paris Massacre Guilty of Murder

The lone survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists was convicted Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 2015 bombings and shootings across Paris that killed 130 people in the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history. The special court also convicted 19 other men involved in the assault following a nine-month trial. Chief suspect Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation to a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his argument that he ditched the vest because he decided not to follow through with his attack on the night of Nov. 13, 2015. Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was given France’s most severe sentence possible. Of the defendants …

New NATO Strategic Concept Targets Russia, China

NATO heads of state and government meeting in Madrid on Wednesday approved a new Strategic Concept for the alliance, naming “Russia’s aggression,” “systemic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China” and the “deepening strategic partnership” between the two countries as its main priorities. In this document, the Western military alliance that was formed after the Second World War defined Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” and for the first time addressed challenges that Beijing poses toward NATO’s security, interests and values. At the summit that runs until Thursday, the alliance agreed to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion, now in its fifth month. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters earlier this week that NATO will boost the number of troops on …

US, Iran Indirect Talks to Revive 2015 Nuclear Pact End Without Progress

Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse about how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact have ended without the progress “the EU team as coordinator had hoped-for,” EU’s envoy Enrique Mora tweeted Wednesday. “We will keep working with even greater urgency to bring back on track a key deal for non-proliferation and regional stability,” Mora said. The talks began Tuesday with Mora as the coordinator, shuttling between Iran’s Ali Bagheri Kani and Washington’s special Iran envoy Rob Malley. “What prevented these negotiations from coming to fruition is the U.S. insistence on its proposed draft text in Vienna that excludes any guarantee for Iran’s economic benefits,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim said, citing informed sources at the talks. Then-U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the pact in 2018 and reimposed …

UN: Climate of Fear and Impunity Reigns in Belarus

A U.N. investigator warns that systematic and widespread repression in Belarus is eroding peoples’ civic and political rights. The investigator’s report was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Belarus boycotted the meeting. Special Rapporteur Anais Marin says the human rights situation in Belarus has gone from bad to worse. She says authorities are enacting laws that are stripping the rights and freedoms of their citizens. She says the criminal code has been amended to restrict freedom of expression, the right to peacefully assemble and other fundamental rights. She says the new laws retroactively criminalize activities that previously were only considered administrative offenses. Speaking through an interpreter Wednesday in Geneva, she warned the action raises the troubling prospect of potential abuse resulting from the arbitrary application …

Biden: US to Bolster European Military Presence

U.S. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday the United States is bolstering its military presence in Europe, including the deployment of additional naval destroyers in Spain and positioning more troops elsewhere. Biden, in Madrid for a 30-nation NATO summit, said the U.S. would establish a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, as well as send two additional F-35 fighter jets to Britain. “Today, I’m announcing the United States will enhance our force posture in Europe to respond to the changed security environment, as well as strengthening our collective security,” Biden said. NATO leaders are gathering for a summit that will include discussion of support for Ukraine and how the West’s military …

German Court Gives 101-year-old Ex-Nazi Guard Five Years in Jail

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.  Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, from 1942 to 1945.  Given his age, Schuetz is highly unlikely to be put behind bars. The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp.  “I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial Monday.  But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz …

Finland, Sweden on Path to NATO Membership as Turkey Drops Veto

NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary. It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection. “Our …

US Accuses 5 Firms in China of Supporting Russia’s Military

President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. The Commerce Department, which oversees the trade blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.” The agency also added an additional 31 entities to the blacklist from countries including Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. However, of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations. “Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the …

Zelenskyy Calls for Missile Defense System Ahead of NATO Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he stressed the need for a “powerful missile defense system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks” in talks with NATO’s leader. The phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came ahead of the start of a summit of NATO leaders in Madrid where Ukraine is expected to be among the major topics of discussion. “At our NATO summit we will step up support for our close partner Ukraine, now and for the longer term,” Stoltenberg tweeted after speaking with Zelenskyy. “NATO allies stand with you.” Stoltenberg said Monday that the Western military alliance is declaring a sevenfold increase in the number of its troops on standby alert — from 40,000 to more than 300,000. Rescue crews in central Ukraine worked Tuesday to …

As Key French Terror Trial Ends, Europe Faces New Security Landscape 

One of France’s most high-profile trials in history wraps up this week amid a sharply changing security landscape across Europe, where the war in Ukraine and far-right violence have reshaped threat perceptions once dominated by Islamist extremism. Verdicts are expected Wednesday in Paris, where 20 men stand accused of being involved in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks around the French capital in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Top defendant Salah Abdeslam, considered the lone surviving attacker, has captured news headlines throughout the months-long trial. He risks life without parole, France’s toughest sentence. Since opening last September, the trial has revived memories of Islamist violence that spiraled across Europe and the Middle East a few years ago, when IS controlled a swath of Iraq and Syria, …

Turkey Maintains Threat to Veto Sweden, Finland from Joining NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, threatening to veto Finland’s and Sweden’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance. Ankara is warning it’s not ready to lift its veto threat of their NATO membership bid ahead of the alliance’s summit in Madrid on Tuesday.   Erdogan’s chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin, speaking on Turkish TV Sunday, said Turkish demands had not been met.  Kalin said Turkey has brought negotiations to a certain point and it is not possible for Turkish leaders to take a step back. He said Turkish diplomats told this to their counterparts and made it clear the next step is up to them.   Erdogan wants Sweden and Finland to end their support of the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which …

Russia Edges Toward Debt Payment Default

Russia moved closer Sunday to defaulting on international debt payments for the first time in a century.  Interest payments totaling $100 million on two bonds were originally due May 27, but carried a 30-day grace period.  Russia has struggled to make such payments due to restrictions on its financial activities and sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine that began in late February.  Russian forces launched new missile attacks Sunday on Ukraine’s two biggest cities, the capital of Kyiv and Kharkiv.  Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least two apartment buildings in the city were hit, leaving at least one person dead, and four others injured.  Russia also ramped up its use of cruise missiles, striking targets across northwestern Ukraine. Air raid sirens blared in several cities.  “It’s …