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Journalists who cover Russia’s space program say they may adopt a more cautious approach to their reporting after several aspects of Roscosmos were effectively declared off limits. 

A Federal Security Service (FSB) order, which took effect October 11, lays out information that it says could be used to threaten national security if received by foreign organizations or citizens. 

The order doesn’t directly mention news gathering and is not a blanket ban on coverage of Roscosmos, but in a digital age where reporting is shared online or via social media, journalists say they could risk being in violation of the order. 

It is also a provision of Russia’s foreign agent law, which brings further implications for media. 

Spanning 60 types of information, the FSB details content from military, intelligence and space programs that it says could be used to threaten security. At Roscosmos, those topics include financial details, project timelines and some of its space programs; information about plans and restructuring at the space agency; and details on new technologies and materials.

Roscosmos did not respond to a request for comment on how the new order could affect foreign and domestic reporting and referred VOA to the FSB. 

The FSB did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. 

Reporting restrictions 

Independent journalists and media analysts describe the order as a “tightening of the screw” and say it will make it harder to report in a transparent and independent way on the space program. 

Alexander Khokhlov, a space and science reporter who contributes to media outlets including TV Rain and Meduza, says the new measures may limit his coverage. 

As a precautionary measure, Khokhlov said, he may have to focus only on news coming from Western agencies and companies. 

“I rarely cover the topics listed in the FSB’s order; however, their formulation is rather broad. I will further refrain from writing and commenting on the Roscosmos’ activity,” said Khokhlov, who is also member of the Northwestern Federation of Cosmonautics of Russia. 

“I might as well focus on covering SpaceX and its gradual progress toward building a colony on Mars,” Khokhlov said, referring to the private space program founded by U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk. 

Khokhlov, who has reported on Russia’s space missions and the rise of the private space sector in the U.S., said the regulations could limit what science journalists can cover. 

Describing it as “yet another step toward the information vacuum in the field of cosmonautics in Russia” Khokhlov said, “The risks are already obvious for those trying to present an alternative point of view.” 

He cited the large number of journalists labeled as foreign agents in the past year. 

As of October 15, the Ministry of Justice website lists 32 news outlets and 56 journalists who fall under the designation of foreign agent, including independent networks that are part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

 

Those added to the Russian Justice Ministry list must label all content, including news reports and personal social media posts, as content produced by a foreign agent. Individuals have to send in detailed reports of their finances. Failure to comply can result in fines and possibly criminal charges. 

“It is a heavy legal and financial load for those (journalists) with the possibility for fines and even felony charges,” Khokhlov said. 

Russia amended its existing foreign agent law in 2017, in response to the U.S. ordering news groups funded by Moscow to register under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

Since then, Russia has used the designation against independent media, civil society organizations and even an election-monitoring group, in a move that critics say is aimed at punishing and discrediting critical and opposition voices. 

Analyst Bach  Avezdjanov, who until last year was a program officer for Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression program in New York, has been closely monitoring the impact of the law on the country’s independent press. 

The FSB’s list “threatens further the already restricted information environment in Russia,” Avezdjanov told VOA. 

“The Russian government does not hide its intent to arbitrarily designate anyone who collects, researches or reports for academic, journalistic or other purposes, information about Russia’s military and space program,” he said. 

Avezdjanov said that regulations could be used to block reporting on allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

He cited an internal audit at the space agency that appeared to show corruption or mismanagement, which resulted in a loss of billions of rubles, and led to criminal cases.

But under paragraph 37 of the new FSB order, which bans information about financial or economic problems, such information “can no longer reach the eyes and ears of foreigners,” he said.

“In effect, the law built a new iron curtain around certain types of information,” Avezdjanov said. 

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. 

 

 


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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, was released from a Washington hospital Monday morning after an overnight stay early in his 12-day visit to the United States. 

Bartholomew, 81, was scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden later Monday at the White House, and also to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

The patriarch “is feeling well and is ready to continue” his official visit Monday, according to a tweet from Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. 

Bartholomew is the patriarch of Constantinople, based in Turkey. He is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope. He does directly oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions, although large portions of the Eastern Orthodox world are self-governing under their own patriarchs. 

Bartholomew was brought to George Washington University Hospital on Sunday night after he felt “unwell” due to the long flight here on Saturday and the busy schedule of events, according to the Greek Orthodox archdiocese. The hospitalization was recommended by his doctor “out of an abundance of precaution,” the archdiocese said. 

Making the latest of several trips to the country during his 30 years in office, Bartholomew is expected to address concerns ranging from a pending restructuring of the American Greek Orthodox archdiocese to his church’s minority status in his homeland, Turkey. His schedule Monday includes a visit to the embassy of Turkey in Washington. 

Also on Monday, Bartholomew is scheduled to give a speech via videoconference for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, according to the latest schedule released by the archdiocese. An earlier version of his schedule included an in-person visit. 

In the evening, he is scheduled to attend a dinner at Georgetown University hosted by its president, John DeGioia, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, he is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy. And on November 2, he is scheduled to preside at a door-opening ceremony at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City. The shrine replaces a church destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. 

 


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A German woman received a 10-year prison sentence Monday for allowing a young Yazidi girl, who was being kept as a slave in Iraq by the woman and her husband, to die of thirst in the hot sun.

German authorities said the 30-year-old convert to Islam, identified only as Jennifer W., was a member of Islamic State in Iraq.

The Higher Regional Court convicted the defendant on charges including membership in a terrorist organization abroad, aiding and abetting attempted murder, attempted war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

According to German news agency dpa, federal prosecutors accused Jennifer W. of letting the 5-year-old Yazidi girl die after the woman’s husband, an Islamic State fighter, chained the girl in a courtyard unprotected from the heat. Prosecutors said the defendant’s husband was punishing the girl for wetting her mattress.

Islamic State views the minority Yazidis as heretics. In 2014, IS fighters killed scores of Yazidi men in Iraq during an onslaught on the Yazidi town of Sinjar. IS also enslaved thousands of women and girls in acts that amounted to genocide, according to the United Nations. 

Judge Joachim Baier said the child was “defenseless and helplessly exposed to the situation,” adding that the defendant “had to reckon from the beginning that the child, who was tied up in the heat of the sun, was in danger of dying.” 

German media reported that the defendant, who is from Lohne in Lower Saxony, was raised as a Protestant but converted to Islam in 2013. She traveled to Iraq through Turkey and Syria in 2014 to join Islamic State, according to The Associated Press. 

According to prosecutors, Jennifer W. was a member of IS’s armed “morality police” in 2015 and patrolled public parks in Fallujah and Mosul for women who did not conform to the group’s strict dress and conduct codes, AP reported. 

The defendant was taken into custody in 2016 while trying to renew her identity papers at the German Embassy in Ankara, after which she was deported to Germany. 

Prior to her sentencing, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office demanded that she serve a life sentence, while the defense asked for a maximum of two years in prison.

Some information for this story comes from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 


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“Belfast”, a film drama by acclaimed actor and director Kenneth Branagh, chronicles the beginnings, in 1969, of the thirty-year political and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Penelope Poulou reports.


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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told British lawmakers Monday that the social media giant “unquestionably” amplifies online hate. 

In testimony to a parliamentary committee in London, the former Facebook employee echoed what she told U.S. senators earlier this month.

Haugen said the media giant fuels online hate and extremism and does not have any incentive to change its algorithm to promote less divisive content.

She argued that as a result, Facebook may end up sparking more violent unrest around the world.

Haugen said the algorithm Facebook has designed to promote more engagement among users “prioritizes and amplifies divisive and polarizing extreme content” as well as concentrates it. 

Facebook did not respond to Haugen’s testimony Monday. Earlier this month, Haugen addressed a Senate committee and said the company is harmful. Facebook rejected her accusations. 

“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Haugen’s testimony comes as a coalition of new organizations Monday began publishing stories on Facebook’s practices based on internal company documents that Haugen secretly copied and made public. 

Haugen is a former Facebook product manager who has turned whistleblower. 

Earlier this month when Haugen addressed U.S. lawmakers, she argued that a federal regulator was needed to oversee large internet companies like Facebook. 

British lawmakers are considering creating such a national regulator as part of a proposed online safety bill. The legislation also proposes fining companies like Facebook up to 10% of their global revenue for any violations of government policies. 

Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies are set to address British lawmakers on Thursday. 

Haugen is scheduled to meet with European Union policymakers in Brussels next month.

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

 


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The followers of French television talk-show provocateur Eric Zemmour like to compare him to America’s former President Donald Trump, believing he is the man to shake up France.

And they were delighted by an opinion poll published Friday suggesting that the 63-year-old Zemmour, an apologist for the Vichy regime which collaborated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, could edge out far-right champion Marine Le Pen to secure a second-round face-off with President Emmanuel Macron in next April’s election.

Zemmour, who has been convicted twice in France for spreading racial hatred, was in characteristic colorful form as the poll came out, describing at a rally in Normandy the English as “our greatest enemies for a thousand years.” And even though he says he likes the Trump comparisons, he had critical words for the United States, too, saying the 1944 Allied landings may have freed France from the Nazis but that it was also an enterprise of “occupation and colonization by Americans.”

Later he told reporters: “I understand that the Americans and the English want to be considered as liberators but it’s they who supported Nazi Germany against us [between the wars] because they considered that France had too much influence in Europe.” But he added that it was in the past and he praises Britain for leaving the European Union.

Zemmour, the son of Jewish Algerian immigrants who fled to France during Algeria’s war for independence, has yet to declare his candidacy in next year’s presidential race. Nonetheless, he is already shaking up the election and, according to his detractors, adding toxicity.

 

Unconventional views

Next year’s French election had seemed settled with a likely rerun of 2017, when Macron draws support from across the political spectrum to rout Le Pen. Few had expected the controversial Zemmour to emerge as a candidate. His views on French history have drawn widespread condemnation, including his praise for the Vichy regime, which he says protected French Jews by handing to the Germans only foreign-born ones.

That claim is hotly disputed by professional historians and his take on recent history has been denounced by leading members of France’s Jewish community, including Noémie Médar,  president of the Jewish association Fonds Social Juif Unifié, who says Zemmour “lies about historical realities.”

Zemmour, onetime host for the French right-wing channel C-News, is now running second and ahead of Le Pen in some opinion polls, apparently doing a better job of attracting both traditional Conservative voters and far-right supporters in a union des droites, or right-wing alliance. Some French commentators wonder whether he can beat Macron in a runoff, saying that with France in such a volatile and angry pandemic mood a surprise Black Swan event, like a terror attack, on the eve of the vote could give him a winning surge.

“His profile, his strategy and the state of public opinion are reminiscent of the election of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016,” according to journalist Bernard Gorce of La Croix, a daily Catholic newspaper. Even so, few believe that even if he blows Le Pen out of the way in the first round of voting in a crowded field of competitors, he has the potential to deny Macron reelection.

 

Hurt or help Macron?

Macron is polling consistently first in opinion polls, coming in with support from around a quarter of likely voters, and in a run-off not one poll has indicated he would face a serious challenge from Zemmour, or Le Pen for that matter. In fact, Zemmour’s name on the ballot could persuade more left-wing voters to come out to back Macron.

Not that Emmanuel Macron’s aides want to highlight that. They have a vested interest in talking up Zemmour as a political threat. While not admitting it publicly, they acknowledge the electoral rise of the maverick talk-show pundit and so-far undeclared candidate is a blessing in disguise for the embattled French President. They estimate Zemmour, an anti-migrant critic who wants foreign first names banned in France and immigration stopped, will boost Macron’s reelection fortunes and possibly ensure him a bigger win than otherwise. “Zemmour helps us,” an aide told VOA.

Last week, Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, made light of Zemmour’s challenge, pouring doubt on the accuracy of opinion polling. “We know very well that we cannot actually measure the opinion of the French,” she said during an interview with BFMTV. She added she was afraid of no one.

 

But her support is waning, as Zemmour’s backing grows. “We are witnessing the collapse of the very heart of the electorate of Le Pen,” Jean-Daniel Lévy, of the pollster Harris Interactive, told Le Point magazine.

Zemmour focuses on immigration and Islam. In September on CNews, he announced: “Young people of immigrant background…are all thieves, they are all murderers, they are all rapists.”

He also targets so-called elites and Brussels, Washington, and London, saying France should shrug off their influence. Citing Charles de Gaulle, the legendary late French President, he says France should withdraw from NATO’s integrated military command structure as De Gaulle did in 1966. Nicolas Sarkozy returned France to the command structure more than a decade ago during his presidency. Gay rights and the ‘feminization’ of the West are among his other themes.

“We are caught between exuberant Islamic demography and this deconstructive discourse in the name of the so-called equality of men and women, in the name of freedom of homosexuals,” he said last month at a populist gathering in Hungary. He also warned in Budapest about whites being replaced in their countries and urged them to have more kids.

The pundit, and author of more than a dozen bestsellers mainly on French decline and how to restore France to greatness, makes much of Le Pen’s poor chances of beating Macron, arguing anti-Macron voters should give him a chance. “She cannot win. She made the wrong strategic and tactical choices,” he said recently.

Whether his support will continue to grow is a subject that divides pollsters and commentators, with some arguing that if he does declare formally, he will at some stage or other have to come up with detailed policies on the economy, pandemic control, taxes and government spending which could all too easily shatter his current electoral coalition.


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Former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Frances Haugen plans to answer questions Monday from lawmakers in the United Kingdom who are working on legislation to rein in the power of social media companies. 

Haugen is set to appear before a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft legislation to crack down on harmful online content, and her comments could help lawmakers beef up the new rules. She’s testifying the same day that Facebook is set to release its latest earnings and that The Associated Press and other news organizations started publishing stories based on thousands of pages of internal company documents she obtained. 

It will be her second appearance before lawmakers after she testified in the U.S. Senate earlier this month about the danger she says the company poses, from harming children to inciting political violence and fueling misinformation. Haugen cited internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in Facebook’s civic integrity unit. 

The documents, which Haugen provided to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, allege Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public. Some stories based on the files have already been published, exposing internal turmoil after Facebook was blindsided by the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot and how it dithered over curbing divisive content in India, and more is to come. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has disputed Haugen’s portrayal of the company as one that puts profit over the well-being of its users or that pushes divisive content, saying a false picture is being painted. But he does agree on the need for updated internet regulations, saying lawmakers are best able to assess the tradeoffs.

Haugen told U.S. lawmakers that she thinks a federal regulator is needed to oversee digital giants like Facebook, something that officials in Britain and the European Union are already working on. 

The U.K. government’s online safety bill calls for setting up a regulator that would hold companies to account when it comes to removing harmful or illegal content from their platforms, such as terrorist material or child sex abuse images. 

“This is quite a big moment,” Damian Collins, the lawmaker who chairs the committee, said ahead of the hearing. “This is a moment, sort of like Cambridge Analytica, but possibly bigger in that I think it provides a real window into the soul of these companies.” 

Collins was referring to the 2018 debacle involving data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies plan to speak to the committee Thursday. 

Ahead of the hearing, Haugen met the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who killed herself in 2017 after viewing disturbing content on Facebook-owned Instagram. In a chat filmed by the BBC, Ian Russell told Haugen that after Molly’s death, her family found notes she wrote about being addicted to Instagram.

Haugen also is scheduled to meet next month with European Union officials in Brussels, where the bloc’s executive commission is updating its digital rulebook to better protect internet users by holding online companies more responsible for illegal or dangerous content. 

Under the U.K. rules, expected to take effect next year, Silicon Valley giants face an ultimate penalty of up to 10% of their global revenue for any violations. The EU is proposing a similar penalty. 

The U.K. committee will be hoping to hear more from Haugen about the data that tech companies have gathered. Collins said the internal files that Haugen has turned over to U.S. authorities are important because it shows the kind of information that Facebook holds — and what regulators should be asking when they investigate these companies.  

The committee has already heard from another Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, who raised the alarm after finding evidence of online political manipulation in countries such as Honduras and Azerbaijan before she was fired.


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British finance minister Rishi Sunak’s budget this week will include an extra $8.1 billion of spending for the health service over the next few years to drive down waiting lists, the finance ministry said on Sunday.   

The sum comes on top of an $11 billion package announced in September to tackle backlogs built up over the COVID-19 pandemic, the finance ministry said.   

The spending is aimed at increasing what is termed elective activity in the National Health Service (NHS) — such as scans and non-emergency procedures — by 30% by the 2024/25 financial year. 

The increase comprises $3.2 billion for testing services, $2.9 billion to improve the technology behind the health service, and $2 billion to increase bed capacity.   

“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future,” Sunak said in a statement. 

Sunak is expected to set fairly tight limits for most areas of day-to-day public spending in his budget on Wednesday, which will seek to lower public debt after a record surge in borrowing during the pandemic. 


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Russians hoping to apply for an immigrant visa to the United States are now required to travel to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, the State Department confirmed Sunday, while blaming restrictions imposed by Moscow.

That development came amid unresolved U.S.-Russian tensions, and tit-for-tat expulsions that earlier led Moscow to limit the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia.

Russia condemned the U.S. visa move and it prompted a heated rejoinder from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

American diplomats, she wrote on the Telegram platform, had long been “destroying” the consular services system in Russia, turning what should be a routine, technical procedure “into a real hell.”

The State Department, for its part, pinned the blame squarely back on Moscow.

“The Russian government’s decision to prohibit the United States from retaining, hiring or contracting Russian or third-country staff severely impacts our ability to provide consular services,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement received by AFP. “The extremely limited number of consular staff in Russia at this time does not allow us to provide routine visa or U.S. citizen services.”

It added: “We realize this is a significant change for visa applicants,” and it cautioned them not to travel to Warsaw before booking an appointment with the embassy there.

The statement recognized that the shift to Warsaw, which took effect this month, was not an “ideal solution.”

It added: “We considered a number of factors including proximity, availability of flights, convenience for applicants… the prevalence of Russian speakers among our locally engaged personnel, and the availability of staff.”

Warsaw is about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Moscow.

On the State Department website, Russia has been added to a short list of countries where “the United States has no consular representation or in which the political or

security situation is tenuous or uncertain enough” to prevent consular staff from processing immigrant visa applications.

Most countries on that list have poor or no direct relations with the U.S., including Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

Amid a continuing dispute over how many diplomats each side can post in the other’s country, Russia has placed the U.S. on a list of “unfriendly” countries requiring approval to employ Russian nationals.

Russian applicants for nonimmigrant visas can still apply at any overseas U.S. embassy or consulate so long as they are physically present in that country, the U.S. statement said.

Meantime, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will be able to process only “diplomatic or official visas.”

Successive rounds of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions by the two countries have left embassies and consulates badly understaffed, playing havoc with normal services.

This was a central subject of talks two weeks ago during a Russia visit by Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, but little progress was announced.


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The spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians was hospitalized Sunday in Washington on the first full day of a planned 12-day U.S. visit and will stay overnight, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said.

The archdiocese said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was preparing to leave for a service at the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in the nation’s capital when he felt unwell “due to the long flight and full schedule of events upon arrival.”

“His doctor advised him to rest and out an abundance of caution” go to George Washington University Hospital “for observation,” according to the archdiocese. Later Sunday, it said the patriarch “is feeling well” and was expected to be released Monday.

Bartholomew, 81, has a broad agenda spanning religious, political and environmental issues. His schedule includes a meeting Monday with President Joe Biden and various ceremonial and interfaith gatherings.

The patriarch is considered first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope.

Making the latest of several trips to the country during his 30 years in office, Bartholomew is expected to address concerns ranging from a pending restructuring of the American church to his church’s status in his homeland, Turkey.

Bartholomew is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame on Thursday in an event highlighting efforts to improve Orthodox-Catholic ties, centuries after the two churches broke decisively in 1054 amid disputes over theology and papal claims of supremacy.

Just as his influence is limited in Turkey, it is also limited in the Eastern Orthodox communion, rooted in eastern Europe and the Middle East with a worldwide diaspora.

Large portions of the communion are in national churches that are independently governed, with the ecumenical patriarch having only symbolic prominence, though he does directly oversee Greek Orthodox and some other jurisdictions.

The Russian Orthodox Church, with about 100 million adherents, has in particular asserted its independence and influence and rejected Bartholomew’s 2019 recognition of the independence of Orthodox churches in Ukraine, where Moscow’s patriarch still claims sovereignty.

In addition to his scheduled meetings with top U.S. officials, Bartholomew also plans to hold a ceremonial door-opening at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City, which was built to replace a parish church destroyed during the 9/11 attacks, and to memorialize those killed at the nearby World Trade Center. 

A 2017 Pew Research Center report found that there were about 200 million Eastern Orthodox worldwide. It reported about 1.8 million Orthodox in the United States, with nearly half of those Greek Orthodox.


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