position:lawyer

  • Will California’s New Bot Law Strengthen Democracy ? | The New Yorker
    https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/will-californias-new-bot-law-strengthen-democracy

    Une loi très intéressante en Californie qui va entrer en vigueur aujourd’hui. On va voir comment cela se passe pour la déclaration du caractère robotique d’un compte Twitter ou Facebook...

    California is the first state to try to reduce the power of bots by requiring that they reveal their “artificial identity” when they are used to sell a product or influence a voter.Photograph by Emma Innocenti / Getty
    When you ask experts how bots influence politics—that is, what specifically these bits of computer code that purport to be human can accomplish during an election—they will give you a list: bots can smear the opposition through personal attacks; they can exaggerate voters’ fears and anger by repeating short simple slogans; they can overstate popularity; they can derail conversations and draw attention to symbolic and ultimately meaningless ideas; they can spread false narratives. In other words, they are an especially useful tool, considering how politics is played today.

    On July 1st, California became the first state in the nation to try to reduce the power of bots by requiring that they reveal their “artificial identity” when they are used to sell a product or influence a voter. Violators could face fines under state statutes related to unfair competition. Just as pharmaceutical companies must disclose that the happy people who say a new drug has miraculously improved their lives are paid actors, bots in California—or rather, the people who deploy them—will have to level with their audience.

    We are in new terrain, where the microtargeting of audiences on social networks, the perception of false news stories as genuine, and the bot-led amplification of some voices and drowning-out of others have combined to create angry, ill-informed online communities that are suspicious of one another and of the government.

    Regulating bots should be low-hanging fruit when it comes to improving the Internet. The California law doesn’t even ban them outright but, rather, insists that they identify themselves in a manner that is “clear, conspicuous, and reasonably designed.”

    The point where economic self-interest stops and libertarian ideology begins can be hard to identify. Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week, appealed to personal freedom to defend his platform’s decision to allow the microtargeting of false, incendiary information. “I do not think we want to go so far towards saying that a private company prevents you from saying something that it thinks is factually incorrect,” he said. “That to me just feels like it’s too far and goes away from the tradition of free expression.”

    In the 2016 Presidential campaign, bots were created to support both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but pro-Trump bots outnumbered pro-Clinton ones five to one, by one estimate, and many were dispatched by Russian intermediaries. Twitter told a Senate committee that, in the run-up to the 2016 election, fifty thousand bots that it concluded had Russian ties retweeted Trump’s tweets nearly half a million times, which represented 4.25 per cent of all his retweets, roughly ten times the level of Russian bot retweets supporting Clinton.

    Bots also gave Trump victories in quick online polls asking who had won a Presidential debate; they disrupted discussions of Trump’s misdeeds or crude statements; and they relentlessly pushed dubious policy proposals through hashtags like #draintheswamp.

    They have also aided Trump during his Presidency. Suspected bots created by unidentified users drove an estimated forty to sixty per cent of the Twitter discussion of a “caravan” of Central American migrants headed to the U.S., which was pushed by the President and his supporters prior to the 2018 midterm elections. Trump himself has retweeted accounts that praise him and his Presidency, and which appear to be bots. And last week a suspected bot network was discovered to be smearing Senator Kamala Harris, of California, with a form of “birtherism” after her strong showing in the first round of Democratic-primary debates.

    Hertzberg, the state senator who authored the legislation, told me that he was glad that the changes to the bill before passage were related to the implementation of the law, rather than to its central purpose of requiring that bots reveal themselves to the public when used politically or commercially. A lawyer by training, Hertzberg said that he resented the accusation that he didn’t care about First Amendment concerns. “There is no effort in this bill to have a chilling effect on speech—zero,” he said. “The argument you go back to is, Do bots have free speech? People have free speech. Bots are not people.”

    #régulation #Robots #Californie

  • Rasmea Odeh Breaking the Silence in Berlin: #RasmeaSpricht #RasmeaSpeaks
    https://samidoun.net/2019/03/rasmea-odeh-breaking-the-silence-in-berlin-rasmeaspricht-rasmeaspeaks

    29 March 2019 - On Wednesday evening, 27 March, Rasmea Odeh‘s voice and words were heard in Berlin, Germany, despite a harsh, repressive campaign that included yet another ban on her speaking in person issued by Berlin’s Senator for the Interior. The successful event at be’kech in Berlin’s Wedding district brought crowds to the space despite a large police presence; the space was so crowded that many people stayed outside to watch the event through glass windows.

    The evening marked a significant achievement for Rasmea Odeh and all those defending the right to organize and advocate for Palestine in Berlin. Despite all attempts to prevent it from taking place, Rasmea’s voice was heard in Berlin and celebrated by people of conscience.
    Photo: Public-solidarity

    Once again, as was the case on 15 March, when Rasmea was to join Palestinian poet and former prisoner Dareen Tatour for an evening of solidarity and celebration of Palestinian women’s struggle, the venue itself was subject to harassment and threats. Another media smear campaign was launched against Rasmea along with attempts to demand that she once again be prohibited from speaking.

    On Wednesday afternoon, only hours before the event, Berlin Interior Senator Andreas Geisel, an SPD politician who had earlier declared that speaking “against the state of Israel” crossed a “red line” that justified the violation of freedom of speech, once again banned Odeh from delivering a public speech at the event. However, organizers presented a video from Odeh, ensuring that her message and her story would be able to be heard by supporters in person and everyone around the world who supports her and the struggle for justice in Palestine.
    Photo: Salim Salim, Arabi21

    Once again, several vans of police filled the area (although a smaller presence than that surrounding the 15 March event). They searched the crowd for Rasmea, but left partway through the event after it was clear that she was not attending in person. A claimed counter-demonstration by pro-apartheid Zionist organizations was not immediately visible, but there may have been several participants at the corner of the street.

    The moderator of the evening opened the event with a stirring call against the silencing of oppressed and marginalized people, especially Palestinian women. She noted the growing support received by the event and the campaign to defend Odeh by a number of organizations, including the Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte, which sent a statement to the organization. The event was supported by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Berlin Muslim Feminists, Bündnis gegen Rassismus, HIRAK (Palestinian Youth Mobilization, Berlin), The Coalition Berlin, Bloque Latinoamericano Berlin, Brot und Rosen international socialist women’s organiation, Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation – Klasse Gegen Klasse, Berlin Against Pinkwashing, Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace), RefrACTa Kollektiv Brasilien-Berlin, BDS Berlin and the Kali feminist collective.

    The event also included a speech by a Palestinian student on behalf of HIRAK, emphasizing that this week also marks the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return in Gaza. Just this week, Israel has been shelling Gaza, causing further destruction after taking hundreds of lives in the past year as Palestinians participated in collective, popular protests for their right to return and break the siege. She urged people to get involved in struggles here in Berlin, including Palestinian community organizing, the solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.

    The organizers next showed a video from 2013 in which Rasmea speaks about her life as a Palestinian woman. The video was made when she received the 2013 Outstanding Community Leader award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance:

    The screening was followed by a 20-minute video presentation – the main speech of the night – in which Rasmea discussed her situation in Berlin as well as presenting more broadly on Palestinian women, Palestinian prisoners and the continuing struggle for liberation. Full video coming shortly!

    As Rasmea spoke, including discussing her personal experience of torture, people in the packed room were silent, watching and listening closely to the Arabic speech and the subtitles in German and English. The conclusion of her speech was met with loud and prolonged applause and cheers as the event’s moderator noted that “this is what they did not want you to hear.”

    The event continued with a cultural evening featuring anti-colonial poetry by Wind Ma, a silent theater sketch by Maher Draidi of Almadina Theater, a musical performance of songs and guitar by Nicolás Miquea and a closing dabkeh performance by the Yafa Dabkeh Troupe. The event concluded with a stirring moment as people chanted together, “Viva, viva Palestina! Free, free Palestine!”

    Rasmea Odeh, born in 1947, is a lifelong struggler for Palestine and a well-known feminist organizer and activist. After surviving torture and sexual assault under interrogation by occupation forces and serving 10 years in Israeli prison, she came to the United States, where she organized over 800 women in Chicago in the Arab Women’s Committee, a project of the Arab American Action Network. In 2013, she was targeted by the FBI and U.S. immigration authorities and accused of lying about her time in Israeli prison, despite the fact that it was publicly known; she even testified before a Special Committee of the United Nations about her experience under torture and imprisonment. After a years-long court battle that won widespread grassroots support, she was deported to Jordan in 2017. She was one of the initial signatories of the call for the International Women’s Strike.
    Photo: Public-solidarity

    After she was invited to speak in Berlin on 15 March, the U.S. ambassador (with ties to the German far right) Richard Grenell, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, charged with fighting Palestine solidarity and the BDS movement internationally, and the Israeli ambassador in Germany launched calls to censor her. Media propaganda falsely labeled her an “anti-Semite,” when she is in reality a longtime anti-racist struggler who developed strong connections with other oppressed communities, particularly the Black liberation movement. In the U.S., Angela Davis and Jewish Voice for Peace were among her supporters. In this context, Berlin politicians yielded to the demands of Trump and Netanyahu, and when Rasmea arrived at the event location, she was given a sheaf of papers. Her Schengen visa was ordered cancelled and she was directed to leave the country; she was banned from speaking at the event.

    Most of the allegations in the documents simply restated attacks by pro-apartheid media publications, including labeling the BDS campaign “anti-Semitic”. The German authorities also claimed that allowing Rasmea to speak and retain her visa would “damage the relationship between Germany and Israel.” Thus, Rasmea Odeh’s voice, experience and analysis was ordered suppressed and silenced through the joint complicity of the German, U.S. and Israeli governments.

    Rasmea is committed to fighting back in court. Her lawyer, Nadija Samour, said that “cancelling a visa based on what has happened so far in the past is a completely new concept from a legal point of view.” However, she and her supporters are aware that this is not simply a legal question but a clear political battle that requires support from the broadest number of people in Germany and internationally.

    Supporters of Rasmea in the United States, including the US Palestinian Community Network, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Rasmea Defense Committee and many other groups have worked to support the growing campaign in Germany, and more organizations have been adding their voices to express support for Rasmea. By cancelling her Schengen visa, German officials are not only attempting to silence Rasmea’s speech in Berlin but to prevent her from traveling elsewhere in Europe to speak about her experiences and her views – thus denying people across the continent the opportunity to hear from a leading transnational feminist and Palestinian organizer.

    Rasmea was ordered silenced based on a desire to stop her from sharing her words and her experience, telling her story and presenting her analysis. The U.S. government is apparently committed to chasing Rasmea around the world in order to persecute her wherever she goes; meanwhile, the Israeli state continues its intensive attack on people’s right to support Palestine everywhere in the world, which has included the promotion of anti-BDS laws and falsely labeling Palestinian human rights defenders and solidarity groups as “terrorists.” The German state and Berlin authorities also chose to join this campaign, issuing two separate bans in less than two weeks against Rasmea Odeh to prevent her from delivering a live speech about her experiences, her involvement in women’s organizing and her view of Palestine.

    In many ways, Rasmea’s case does not stand alone; in Germany, it comes alongside the Humboldt 3 case and the prosecution of activists for speaking up against war crimes, attempts to block Palestine events from taking place in any location and far-right campaigns particularly targeting migrant communities. It also comes alongside the pursuit of anti-BDS laws in the US, the use of “anti-terror” frameworks to criminalize Palestinian community work and the use of visa denial to suppress political and cultural expression, such as in Australia’s recent denial of a visa to Palestinian American poet Remi Kanazi.

    In a particularly disturbing media article containing propaganda against Kanazi, pro-apartheid groups demand that Kanazi is barred for, among other things, supporting Rasmea and other Palestinian political prisoners. They also use the recent far-right, white-supremacist massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a justification for banning him, despite the fact that this was an attack targeting Muslims, linked to racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab propaganda, based on white supremacy, and which took the lives of a number of Palestinians specifically. It is clear that there is a global attack, backed by Erdan and the Israeli government, aimed at all Palestinians and supporters of Palestine – and especially aiming to isolate Palestinian prisoners from the international movements that continue to defend their rights.

    The campaign to defend Rasmea Odeh is not ending with this event – instead, it marks a strong beginning of a resurgent movement against the silencing of Palestinian women and for justice in Palestine. It also made it clear that Palestinian women, on the frontlines of struggle from inside Israeli prisons, to the Great Return March in Gaza to organizing for justice in Berlin, will not be silenced. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges people and organizations around the world to get involved and join this campaign by following the Facebook page, Rasmea spricht (Rasmea will speak) and sending statements of solidarity to samidoun@samidoun.net.

    #Palestine #femmes #résistance #zionisme #Allemagne

  • The woman fighting back against India’s rape culture

    When a man tried to rape #Usha_Vishwakarma she decided to fight back by setting up self-defence classes for women and girls.

    At first, people accused her of being a sex worker. But now she runs an award-winning organisation and has won the community’s respect.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-48474708/the-woman-fighting-back-against-india-s-rape-culture
    #Inde #résistance #femmes #culture_du_viol

    • In China, a Viral Video Sets Off a Challenge to Rape Culture

      The images were meant to exonerate #Richard_Liu, the e-commerce mogul. They have also helped fuel a nascent #NoPerfectVictim movement.

      Richard Liu, the Chinese e-commerce billionaire, walked into an apartment building around 10 p.m., a young woman on his arm and his assistant in tow. Leaving the assistant behind, the young woman took Mr. Liu to an elevator. Then, she showed him into her apartment.

      His entrance was captured by the apartment building’s surveillance cameras and wound up on the Chinese internet. Titled “Proof of a Gold Digger Trap?,” the heavily edited video aimed to show that the young woman was inviting him up for sex — and that he was therefore innocent of her rape allegations against him.

      For many people in China, it worked. Online public opinion quickly dismissed her allegations. In a country where discussion of rape has been muted and the #MeToo movement has been held back by cultural mores and government censorship, that could have been the end of the story.

      But some in China have pushed back. Using hashtags like #NoPerfectVictim, they are questioning widely held ideas about rape culture and consent.

      The video has become part of that debate, which some feminism scholars believe is a first for the country. The government has clamped down on discussion of gender issues like the #MeToo movement because of its distrust of independent social movements. Officials banned the #MeToo hashtag last year. In 2015, they seized gender rights activists known as the Feminist Five. Some online petitions supporting Mr. Liu’s accuser were deleted.

      But on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media service, the #NoPerfectVictim hashtag has drawn more than 17 million page views, with over 22,000 posts and comments. Dozens at least have shared their stories of sexual assault.

      “Nobody should ask an individual to be perfect,” wrote Zhou Xiaoxuan, who has become the face of China’s #MeToo movement after she sued a famous TV anchor on allegations that he sexually assaulted her in 2014 when she was an intern. “But the public is asking this of the victims of sexual assault, who happen to be in the least favorable position to prove their tragedies.” Her lawsuit is pending.

      The allegations against Mr. Liu, the founder and chairman of the online retailer JD.com, riveted China. He was arrested last year in Minneapolis after the young woman accused him of raping her after a business dinner. The prosecutors in Minnesota declined to charge Mr. Liu. The woman, Liu Jingyao, a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, sued Mr. Liu and is seeking damages of more than $50,000. (Liu is a common surname in China.)

      Debate about the incident has raged online in China. When the “Gold Digger” video emerged, it shifted sentiment toward Mr. Liu.
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      Mr. Liu’s attorney in Beijing, who shared the video on Weibo under her verified account, said that according to her client the video was authentic.

      “The surveillance video speaks for itself, as does the prosecutor’s decision not to bring charges against our client,” Jill Brisbois, Mr. Liu’s attorney in the United States, said in a statement. “We believe in his innocence, which is firmly supported by all of the evidence, and we will continue to vigorously defend his reputation in court.”

      The video is silent, but subtitles make the point so nobody will miss it. “The woman showed Richard Liu into the elevator,” says one. “The woman pushed the floor button voluntarily,” says another. “Once again,” says a third, “the woman gestured an invitation.”

      Still, the video does not show the most crucial moment, which is what happened between Mr. Liu and Ms. Liu after the apartment door closed.

      “The full video depicts a young woman unable to locate her own apartment and a billionaire instructing her to take his arm to steady her gait,” said Wil Florin, Ms. Liu’s attorney, who accused Mr. Liu’s representatives of releasing the video. “The release of an incomplete video and the forceful silencing of Jingyao’s many social media supporters will not stop a Minnesota civil jury from hearing the truth.”

      JD.com declined to comment on the origin of the video.

      In the eyes of many, it contradicted the narrative in Ms. Liu’s lawsuit of an innocent, helpless victim. In my WeChat groups, men and women alike said the video confirmed their suspicions that Ms. Liu was asking for sex and was only after Mr. Liu’s money. A young woman from a good family would never socialize on a business occasion like that, some men said. A businesswoman asked why Ms. Liu didn’t say no to drinks.

      At first, I saw the video as a setback for China’s #MeToo movement, which was already facing insurmountable obstacles from a deeply misogynistic society, internet censors and a patriarchal government. Already, my “no means no” arguments with acquaintances had been met with groans.
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      The rare people of prominence who spoke in support of Ms. Liu were getting vicious criticism. Zhao Hejuan, chief executive of the technology media company TMTPost, had to disable comments on her Weibo account after she received death threats. She had criticized Mr. Liu, a married man with a young daughter, for not living up to the expectations of a public figure.

      Then I came across a seven-minute video titled “I’m also a victim of sexual assault,” in which four women and a man spoke to the camera about their stories. The video, produced by organizers of the hashtag #HereForUs, tried to clearly define sexual assault to viewers, explaining that it can take place between people who know each other and under complex circumstances.

      The man was molested by an older boy in his childhood. One of the women was raped by a classmate when she was sick in bed. One was assaulted by a powerful man at work but did not dare speak out because she thought nobody would believe her. One was raped after consuming too much alcohol on a date.

      “Slut-shaming doesn’t come from others,” she said in the video. “I’ll be the first one to slut-shame myself.”

      One woman with a red cross tattooed on her throat said an older boy in her neighborhood had assaulted her when she was 10. When she ran home, her parents scolded her for being late after school.

      “My childhood ended then and there,” she said in the video. “I haven’t died because I toughed it out all these years.”

      The video has been viewed nearly 700,000 times on Weibo. But creators of the video still have a hard time speaking out further, reflecting the obstacles faced by feminists in China.

      It was produced by a group of people who started the #HereForUs hashtag in China as a way to support victims of sexual harassment and assault. They were excited when I reached out to interview them. One of them postponed her visit to her parents for the interview.

      Then the day before our meeting, they messaged me that they no longer wanted to be interviewed. They worried that their appearance in The New York Times could anger the Chinese government and get their hashtag censored. I got a similar response from the organizer of the #NoPerfectVictim hashtag. Another woman begged me not to connect her name to the Chinese government for fear of losing her job.

      Their reluctance is understandable. They believe their hashtags have brought women together and given them the courage to share their stories. Some victims say that simply telling someone about their experiences is therapeutic, making the hashtags too valuable to be lost, the organizers said.

      “The world is full of things that hurt women,” said Liang Xiaowen, a 27-year-old lawyer now living in New York City. She wrote online that she had been molested by a family acquaintance when she was 11 and had lived with shame and guilt ever since. “I want to expand the boundaries of safe space by sharing my story.”

      A decentralized, behind-the-scenes approach is essential if the #MeToo movement is to grow in China, said Lü Pin, founding editor of Feminist Voices, an advocacy platform for women’s rights in China.

      “It’s amazing that they created such a phenomenon under such difficult circumstances,” Ms. Lü said.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/business/china-richard-liu-rape-video-metoo.html
      #Chine #vidéo

  • Take Action: Palestinian detainee Hassan al-Aweiwi on hunger strike for over 2 months
    8 June 2019
    https://samidoun.net/2019/06/take-action-palestinian-detainee-hassan-al-aweiwi-on-hunger-strike-for-ove

    Palestinian prisoner Hassan al-Aweiwi is on his 68th day of hunger strike, protesting his imprisonment without charge or trial under Israeli administrative detention. On Thursday, 6 June, Aweiwi was transferred to a civilian hospital, Barzilai, after the severe deterioration of his health after over two months without food. He is currently being held in Ramle prison clinic.

    Hassan Abed Rabbo of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Commission said that Aweiwi, 35, had lost over 20 kilograms since he launched his hunger strike. The married father of three from al-Khalil was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 15 January 2019 and transferred to administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial. There are currently approximately 500 Palestinians, out of a total of 5,400 Palestinian prisoners, held under administrative detention. Detention orders can be issued for up to six months at a time and are indefinitely renewable; Palestinians have been jailed for years at a time under administrative detention.(...)

    #grèvedelafaim

  • ICC submission calls for prosecution of EU over migrant deaths

    Member states should face punitive action over deaths in Mediterranean, say lawyers.

    The EU and member states should be prosecuted for the deaths of thousands of migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean fleeing Libya, according to a detailed legal submission to the international criminal court (ICC).

    The 245-page document calls for punitive action over the EU’s deterrence-based migration policy after 2014, which allegedly “intended to sacrifice the lives of migrants in distress at sea, with the sole objective of dissuading others in similar situation from seeking safe haven in Europe”.

    The indictment is aimed at the EU and the member states that played a prominent role in the refugee crisis: Italy, Germany and France.

    The stark accusation, that officials and politicians knowingly created the “world’s deadliest migration route” resulting in more than 12,000 people losing their lives, is made by experienced international lawyers.

    The two main authors of the submission are Juan Branco, who formerly worked at the ICC as well as at France’s foreign affairs ministry, and Omer Shatz, an Israeli lawyer who teaches at Sciences Po university in Paris.
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    The allegation of “crimes against humanity” draws partially on internal papers from Frontex, the EU organisation charged with protecting the EU’s external borders, which, the lawyers say, warned that moving from the successful Italian rescue policy of Mare Nostrum could result in a “higher number of fatalities”.

    The submission states that: “In order to stem migration flows from Libya at all costs … and in lieu of operating safe rescue and disembarkation as the law commands, the EU is orchestrating a policy of forced transfer to concentration camps-like detention facilities [in Libya] where atrocious crimes are committed.”

    The switch from Mare Nostrum to a new policy from 2014, known as Triton (named after the Greek messenger god of the sea), is identified as a crucial moment “establishing undisputed mens rea [mental intention] for the alleged offences”.

    It is claimed that the evidence in the dossier establishes criminal liability within the jurisdiction of the ICC for “causing the death of thousands of human beings per year, the refoulement [forcible return] of tens of thousands migrants attempting to flee Libya and the subsequent commission of murder, deportation, imprisonment, enslavement, torture, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts against them”.

    The Triton policy introduced the “most lethal and organised attack against civilian population the ICC had jurisdiction over in its entire history,” the legal document asserts. “European Union and Member States’ officials had foreknowledge and full awareness of the lethal consequences of their conduct.”

    The submission does not single out individual politicians or officials for specific responsibility but does quote diplomatic cables and comments from national leaders, including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

    The office of the prosecutor at the ICC is already investigating crimes in Libya but the main focus has been on the Libyan civil war, which erupted in 2011 and led to the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, has, however, already mentioned inquiries into “alleged crimes against migrants transiting through Libya”.

    The Mare Nostrum search and rescue policy launched in October 2013, the submission says, was “in many ways hugely successful, rescuing 150,810 migrants over a 364-day period”.

    Criticism of the policy began in mid-2014 on the grounds, it is said, that it was not having a sufficient humanitarian impact and that there was a desire to move from assistance at sea to assistance on land.

    “EU officials sought to end Mare Nostrum to allegedly reduce the number of crossings and deaths,” the lawyers maintain. “However, these reasons should not be considered valid as the crossings were not reduced. And the death toll was 30-fold higher.”

    The subsequent policy, Triton, only covered an “area up to 30 nautical miles from the Italian coastline of Lampedusa, leaving around 40 nautical miles of key distress area off the coast of Libya uncovered,” the submission states. It also deployed fewer vessels.

    It is alleged EU officials “did not shy away from acknowledging that Triton was an inadequate replacement for Mare Nostrum”. An internal Frontex report from 28 August 2014, quoted by the lawyers, acknowledged that “the withdrawal of naval assets from the area, if not properly planned and announced well in advance – would likely result in a higher number of fatalities.”

    The first mass drownings cited came on 22 January and 8 February 2015, which resulted in 365 deaths nearer to the Libyan coast. It is alleged that in one case, 29 of the deaths occurred from hypothermia during the 12-hour-long transport back to the Italian island of Lampedusa. During the “black week” of 12 to 18 April 2015, the submission says, two successive shipwrecks led to the deaths of 1,200 migrants.

    As well as drownings, the forced return of an estimated 40,000 refugees allegedly left them at risk of “executions, torture and other systematic rights abuses” in militia-controlled camps in Libya.

    “European Union officials were fully aware of the treatment of the migrants by the Libyan Coastguard and the fact that migrants would be taken ... to an unsafe port in Libya, where they would face immediate detention in the detention centers, a form of unlawful imprisonment in which murder, sexual assault, torture and other crimes were known by the European Union agents and officials to be common,” the submission states.

    Overall, EU migration policies caused the deaths of “thousands civilians per year in the past five years and produced about 40,000 victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court in the past three years”, the report states.

    The submission will be handed in to the ICC on Monday 3 June.

    An EU spokesperson said the union could not comment on “non-existing” legal actions but added: “Our priority has always been and will continue to be protecting lives and ensuring humane and dignified treatment of everyone throughout the migratory routes. It’s a task where no single actor can ensure decisive change alone.

    “All our action is based on international and European law. The European Union dialogue with Libyan authorities focuses on the respect for human rights of migrants and refugees, on promoting the work of UNHCR and IOM on the ground, and on pushing for the development of alternatives to detention, such as the setting up of safe spaces, to end the systematic and arbitrary detention system of migrants and refugees in Libya.

    “Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean need to follow international law, and responsibility depends on where they take place. EU operations cannot enter Libya waters, they operate in international waters. SAR operations in Libyan territorial waters are Libyan responsibility.”

    The spokesperson added that the EU has “pushed Libyan authorities to put in place mechanisms improving the treatment of the migrants rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jun/03/icc-submission-calls-for-prosecution-of-eu-over-migrant-deaths
    #justice #décès #CPI #mourir_en_mer #CPI #cour_pénale_internationale

    ping @reka @isskein @karine4

    Ajouté à la métaliste sur les sauvetages en Méditerranée :
    https://seenthis.net/messages/706177

    • L’Union Européenne devra-t-elle un jour répondre de « crimes contre l’Humanité » devant la Cour Pénale Internationale ?

      #Crimes_contre_l'humanité, et #responsabilité dans la mort de 14 000 migrants en 5 années : voilà ce dont il est question dans cette enquête menée par plusieurs avocats internationaux spécialisés dans les Droits de l’homme, déposée aujourd’hui à la CPI de la Haye, et qui pourrait donc donner lieu à des #poursuites contre des responsables actuels des institutions européennes.

      La démarche fait l’objet d’articles coordonnés ce matin aussi bien dans le Spiegel Allemand (https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/fluechtlinge-in-libyen-rechtsanwaelte-zeigen-eu-in-den-haag-an-a-1270301.htm), The Washington Post aux Etats-Unis (https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/fluechtlinge-in-libyen-rechtsanwaelte-zeigen-eu-in-den-haag-an-a-1270301.htm), El Pais en Espagne (https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/06/02/actualidad/1559497654_560556.html), The Guardian en Grande-Bretagne, et le Monde, cet après-midi en France... bref, ce qui se fait de plus retentissant dans la presse mondiale.

      Les auteurs de ce #plaidoyer, parmi lesquels on retrouve le français #Juan_Branco ou l’israélien #Omer_Shatz, affirment que Bruxelles, Paris, Berlin et Rome ont pris des décisions qui ont mené directement, et en connaissance de cause, à la mort de milliers de personnes. En #Méditerrannée, bien sûr, mais aussi en #Libye, où la politique migratoire concertée des 28 est accusée d’avoir « cautionné l’existence de centres de détention, de lieux de tortures, et d’une politique de la terreur, du viol et de l’esclavagisme généralisé » contre ceux qui traversaient la Libye pour tenter ensuite de rejoindre l’Europe.

      Aucun dirigeant européen n’est directement nommé par ce réquisitoire, mais le rapport des avocats cite des discours entre autres d’#Emmanuel_Macron, d’#Angela_Merkel. Il évoque aussi, selon The Guardian, des alertes qui auraient été clairement formulées, en interne par l’agence #Frontex en particulier, sur le fait que le changement de politique européenne en 2014 en Méditerranée « allait conduire à une augmentation des décès en mer ». C’est ce qui s’est passé : 2014, c’est l’année-bascule, celle où le plan Mare Nostrum qui consistait à organiser les secours en mer autour de l’Italie, a été remplacé par ce partenariat UE-Libye qui, selon les auteurs de l’enquête, a ouvert la voix aux exactions que l’on sait, et qui ont été documentées par Der Spiegel dans son reportage publié début mai, et titré « Libye : l’enfer sur terre ».

      A présent, dit Juan Branco dans The Washington Post (et dans ce style qui lui vaut tant d’ennemis en France), c’est aux procureurs de la CPI de dire « s’ils oseront ou non » remonter aux sommet des responsabilités européennes. J’en terminerai pour ma part sur les doutes de cet expert en droit européen cité par El Pais et qui « ne prédit pas un grand succès devant la Cour » à cette action.

      https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/revue-de-presse-internationale/la-revue-de-presse-internationale-emission-du-lundi-03-juin-2019
      #UE #Europe #EU #droits_humains

    • Submission to ICC condemns EU for ‘crimes against humanity’

      EU Commission migration spokesperson Natasha Bertaud gave an official statement regarding a recently submitted 245-page document to the International Criminal Court by human rights lawyers Juan Branco and Omer Shatz on June 3, 2019. The case claimed the EU and its member states should face punitive action for Libyan migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. The EU says these deaths are not a result of EU camps, rather the dangerous and cruel routes on which smugglers take immigrants. Bertaud said the EU’s track record on saving lives “has been our top priority, and we have been working relentlessly to this end.” Bertaud said an increase in EU operations in the Mediterranean have resulted in a decrease in deaths in the past 4 years. The accusation claims that EU member states created the “world’s deadliest migration route,” which has led to more than 12,000 migrant deaths since its inception. Branco and Shatz wrote that the forcible return of migrants to Libyan camps and the “subsequent commission of murder, deportation, imprisonment, enslavement, torture, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts against them,” are the grounds for this indictment. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were named specifically as those knowingly supporting these refugee camps, which the lawyers explicitly condemned in their report. The EU intends to maintain its presence on the Libyan coast and aims to create safer alternatives to detention centers.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=28&v=AMGaKDNxcDg

    • Migration in the Mediterranean: why it’s time to put European leaders on trial

      In June this year two lawyers filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) naming European Union member states’ migration policies in the Mediterranean as crimes against humanity.

      The court’s Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, must decide whether she wants to open a preliminary investigation into the criminality of Europe’s treatment of migrants.

      The challenge against the EU’s Mediterranean migrant policy is set out in a 245-page document prepared by Juan Branco and Omer Shatz, two lawyer-activists working and teaching in Paris. They argue that EU migration policy is founded in deterrence and that drowned migrants are a deliberate element of this policy. The international law that they allege has been violated – crimes against humanity – applies to state policies practiced even outside of armed conflict.

      Doctrinally and juridically, the ICC can proceed. The question that remains is political: can and should the ICC come after its founders on their own turf?

      There are two reasons why the answer is emphatically yes. First, the complaint addresses what has become a rights impasse in the EU. By taking on an area stymying other supranational courts, the ICC can fulfil its role as a judicial institution of last resort. Second, by turning its sights on its founders (and funders), the ICC can redress the charges of neocolonialism in and around Africa that have dogged it for the past decade.
      ICC legitimacy

      The ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court. Founded in 2002, it currently has 122 member states.

      So far, it has only prosecuted Africans. This has led to persistent critiques that it is a neocolonial institution that “only chases Africans” and only tries rebels. In turn, this has led to pushback against the court from powerful actors like the African Union, which urges its members to leave the court.

      The first departure from the court occurred in 2017, when Burundi left. The Philippines followed suit in March of this year. Both countries are currently under investigation by the ICC for state sponsored atrocities. South Africa threatened withdrawal, but this seems to have blown over.

      In this climate, many cheered the news of the ICC Prosecutor’s 2017 request to investigate crimes committed in Afghanistan. As a member of the ICC, Afghanistan is within the ICC’s jurisdiction. The investigation included atrocities committed by the Taliban and foreign military forces active in Afghanistan, including members of the US armed forces.

      The US, which is not a member of the ICC, violently opposes any possibility that its military personnel might be caught up in ICC charges. In April 2019 the ICC announced that a pre-trial chamber had shut down the investigation because US opposition made ICC action impossible.

      Court watchers reacted with frustration and disgust.
      EU migration

      An estimated 30,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in the past three decades. International attention was drawn to their plight during the migration surge of 2015, when the image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi face-down on a Turkish beach circulated the globe. More than one million people entered Europe that year. This led the EU and its member states to close land and sea borders in the east by erecting fences and completing a Euro 3 billion deal with Turkey to keep migrants there. NATO ships were posted in the Aegean to catch and return migrants.

      Migrant-saving projects, such as the Italian Mare Nostrum programme that collected 150,000 migrants in 2013-2014, were replaced by border guarding projects. Political pressure designed to reduce the number of migrants who made it to European shores led to the revocation and non-renewal of licenses for boats registered to NGOs whose purpose was to rescue migrants at sea. This has led to the current situation, where there is only one boat patrolling the Mediterranean.

      The EU has handed search and rescue duties over to the Libyan coast guard, which has been accused repeatedly of atrocities against migrants. European countries now negotiate Mediterranean migrant reception on a case-by-case basis.
      A rights impasse

      International and supranational law applies to migrants, but so far it has inadequately protected them. The law of the sea mandates that ships collect people in need. A series of refusals to allow ships to disembark collected migrants has imperilled this international doctrine.

      In the EU, the Court of Justice oversees migration and refugee policies. Such oversight now includes a two-year-old deal with Libya that some claim is tantamount to “sentencing migrants to death.”

      For its part, the European Court of Human Rights has established itself as “no friend to migrants.” Although the court’s 2012 decision in Hirsi was celebrated for a progressive stance regarding the rights of migrants at sea, it is unclear how expansively that ruling applies.

      European courts are being invoked and making rulings, yet the journey for migrants has only grown more desperate and deadly over the past few years. Existing European mechanisms, policies, and international rights commitments are not producing change.

      In this rights impasse, the introduction of a new legal paradigm is essential.
      Fulfilling its role

      A foundational element of ICC procedure is complementarity. This holds that the court only intervenes when states cannot or will not act on their own.

      Complementarity has played an unexpectedly central role in the cases before the ICC to date, as African states have self-referred defendants claiming that they do not have the resources to try them themselves. This has greatly contributed to the ICC’s political failure in Africa, as rights-abusing governments have handed over political adversaries to the ICC for prosecution in bad faith, enjoying the benefits of a domestic political sphere relieved of these adversaries while simultaneously complaining of ICC meddling in domestic affairs.

      This isn’t how complementarity was supposed to work.

      The present rights impasse in the EU regarding migration showcases what complementarity was intended to do – granting sovereign states primacy over law enforcement and stepping in only when states both violate humanitarian law and refuse to act. The past decade of deadly migration coupled with a deliberately wastrel refugee policy in Europe qualifies as just such a situation.

      Would-be migrants don’t vote and cannot garner political representation in the EU. This leaves only human rights norms, and the international commitments in which they are enshrined, to protect them. These norms are not being enforced, in part because questions of citizenship and border security have remained largely the domain of sovereign states. Those policies are resulting in an ongoing crime against humanity.

      The ICC may be the only institution capable of breaking the current impasse by threatening to bring Europe’s leaders to criminal account. This is the work of last resort for which international criminal law is designed. The ICC should embrace the progressive ideals that drove its construction, and engage.

      https://theconversation.com/migration-in-the-mediterranean-why-its-time-to-put-european-leaders
      #procès

  • Italie : La capitaine Pia Klemp menacée de 20 ans de prison - Secours Rouge
    https://secoursrouge.org/Italie-La-capitaine-Pia-Klemp-menacee-de-20-ans-de-prison


    Pia Klemp

    Pia Klemp a participé au sauvetage de réfugiés dans la méditerranée avec l’association Sea-Watch. Elle est maintenant accusée par la justice italienne d’aide à l’immigration illégale. Le parquet exige une peine de prison de 20 ans. Pour ses investigations, le parquet a eu recourt à des écoutes téléphoniques et à des agents infiltrés. Dans le cadre de ses six missions en tant que capitaine des bateaux de sauvetage Sea-Watch 3 et Iuventa, Pia Klemp dit avoir pu sauver les vies de 5000 personnes.

    • German boat captain Pia Klemp faces prison in Italy for migrant rescues

      Pia Klemp stands accused of aiding illegal immigration after she saved people from drowning in the Mediterranean. The Bonn native has accused Italian authorities of organizing “a show trial.”

      Nearly 60,000 people had signed a petition by Saturday afternoon demanding that Italy drop criminal proceedings against German boat captain Pia Klemp and other crew members who have rescued thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

      In an interview with the Basler Zeitung daily on Friday, Klemp said that a trial against her was due to begin soon after she and some of her compatriots were charged in Sicily with assisting in illegal immigration.

      She said that she was told by her Italian lawyer that she could be looking at “up to 20 years in prison and horrendous fines.”

      Klemp added, however, that she intended to fight the case up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, if she had to.

      The 35-year-old Bonn native has been under investigation in Italy since her ship, the Iuventa, was impounded in the summer of 2017, and the government has moved to ban her from sailing around the Italian coast. According to German public broadcaster WDR, through the work on that ship and the Sea-Watch 3, Klemp has personally assisted in the rescue of more than 1,000 people at risk of drowning in unsafe dinghies as they attempted to cross to Europe in search of a better life.

      Read more: Italy’s Matteo Salvini wants hefty fines for migrant rescue vessels

      Salvini’s crackdown

      An already immigrant-unfriendly government in Rome became even more so in June 2018, when newly appointed Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party promised a crackdown the likes of which modern Italy had never seen.

      Since assuming office, Salvini has sought to put a stop to migrant rescue ships docking on Italian shores and allowing refugees to disembark. In January, the nationalist leader made headlines with the forced evacuation of hundreds of asylum-seekers from Italy’s second-largest refugee center and his refusal to clarify where the people, many of whom had lived in Castelnuovo di Porto for years and become integrated into town life, were being taken.

      Shortly thereafter, Sicilian prosecutors ruled that Salvini could be charged with kidnapping more than 177 migrants left stranded on a ship he had ordered impounded.

      ’A yearslong show trial’

      What frustrates Klemp the most, she told the Basler Zeitung, is that the costs — amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros — that she has had to prepare to cover from her own savings and some new donations “for what is likely to be a yearslong show trial” require money that could have been spent on rescue missions.

      “But the worst has already come to pass,” she said. “Sea rescue missions have been criminalized.”

      For this, the captain blames not only the Italian government but what she sees as a failure of the European Union “to remember its avowed values: human rights, the right to life, to apply for asylum, and the duty of seafarers to rescue those in danger at sea.”

      Klemp added that “demagogues” such as Salvini, former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer were effectively allowing thousands to perish in the Mediterranean each year.

      She pushed back at criticism that rescue missions encouraged more people to attempt the highly dangerous crossing. “There are scientific studies that disprove the idea that sea rescues are a so-called pull factor,” she said. “The people come because, unfortunately, there are so many reasons to flee.” And if countries close their borders, “they come via the Mediterranean because there is no legal way to get here,” she added.

      To cover her potentially exorbitant legal costs, a bar in Bonn has announced a fundraising campaign to help Klemp. Cafe Bla has announced that for every patron who orders the “Pia beer,” 50 euro cents will be donated to their former waitress.


      https://www.dw.com/en/german-boat-captain-pia-klemp-faces-prison-in-italy-for-migrant-rescues/a-49112348?maca=en-Twitter-sharing

    • Mobilisation pour la capitaine d’un navire humanitaire

      L’ancienne capitaine du « #Iuventa », immobilisé depuis 2017, encourt vingt ans de prison en Italie. Accusée de complicité avec les passeurs, elle affirme n’avoir fait que respecter le droit international, qui impose de porter secours à toute personne en détresse.

      https://www.liberation.fr/planete/2019/06/11/mobilisation-pour-la-capitaine-d-un-navire-humanitaire_1732973

    • I Helped Save Thousands of Migrants from Drowning. Now I’m Facing 20 Years in Jail | Opinion

      In today’s Europe, people can be sentenced to prison for saving a migrant’s life. In the summer of 2017, I was the captain of the rescue ship Iuventa. I steered our ship through international waters along the Libyan coastline, where thousands of migrants drifted in overcrowded, unseaworthy dinghies, having risked their lives in search of safety. The Iuventa crew rescued over 14,000 people. Today, I and nine other members of the crew face up to twenty years in prison for having rescued those people and brought them to Europe. We are not alone. The criminalization of solidarity across Europe, at sea and on land, has demonstrated the lengths to which the European Union will go to make migrants’ lives expendable.

      Two years ago, Europe made renewed efforts to seal the Mediterranean migrant route by draining it of its own rescue assets and outsourcing migration control to the so-called “Libyan Coast Guard”, comprised of former militia members equipped by the EU and instructed to intercept and return all migrants braving the crossing to Europe. NGO ships like the Iuventa provided one of the last remaining lifelines for migrants seeking safety in Europe by sea. For European authorities, we were a critical hurdle to be overcome in their war against migration.

      In August 2017, the Iuventa was seized by the Italian authorities and the crew was investigated for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” Thus began an ongoing spate of judicial investigations into the operation of search and rescue vessels. Sailors like myself, who had rallied to the civil fleet when it seemed no European authority cared people were drowning at sea, were branded as criminals. The ensuing media and political campaign against us has gradually succeeded in removing almost all NGOs from the central Mediterranean, leaving migrants braving the sea crossing with little chance of survival.

      We sea-rescuers have been criminalized not only for what we do but for what we have witnessed. We have seen people jump overboard their frail dinghies on sighting the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, preferring death at sea over return to the slavery, torture, rape and starvation that awaits them in EU-funded Libyan detention centers. We have also seen what becomes of those who are found too late. For days, I steered our ship through international waters with a dead two-year-old boy in the freezer. No European country had wanted to save him when they had the chance. His mother lived, and after days of drifting in wait of an open port, our ship brought her to Europe—when it no longer mattered to her. We rescuers know that those who drown at Europe’s doorstep are not unlucky casualties of the elements. The transformation of the Mediterranean into a mass grave for migrants is a European political project.

      Over the past year, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has provided a useful alibi for centrist European political forces–those avowedly committed to “European values” of human rights. His persistent targeting of rescue NGOs and his decision to seal Italian ports to ships carrying rescued migrants has seen him cast as the “rotten egg” of an otherwise largely liberal European Union. But Matteo Salvini is neither the architect of Fortress Europe, nor its sole gatekeeper.

      Alongside Italy’s ostentatious prosecution of sea rescuers, other European nations have adopted shrewder, subtler tactics, revoking their flags or miring ships’ crews in unnecessary and lengthy bureaucratic procedures. When Salvini sealed Italian ports, other member states expressed righteous indignation—but not one of them offered its own ports as havens for later rescues. One of two remaining rescue ships, Sea-Watch 3, has since spent weeks motoring along the European coast line with hundreds of refugees on board, pleading for an open port, only to find that their “cargo” was not wanted anywhere in Europe.

      In the coming months, as the conflict in Libya intensifies, thousands more will be forced to brave the sea crossing. I know from experience that without rescue, the majority of them will die. Common sense tells me that with humanitarian vessels barred from saving lives and European commercial and military and Coast Guard ships instructed to avoid migrant routes, their chances of rescue are shrinking. I suspect European leaders share my common sense.

      Meanwhile, we sea rescuers are not alone in facing charges for “crimes of solidarity.” On land across Europe, hundreds of men and women stand trial for having offered food, shelter or clothing to migrants. Among us are countless migrants criminalized for having helped other migrants in need, whose faces will likely not appear in esteemed publications.

      None of us has been prosecuted for helping white Europeans. The simple truth is that in intimidating and punishing those of us who have offered their solidarity to migrants, Europe has worked systematically and with precision to segregate, humiliate and isolate its weakest members—if not based on race and ethnicity de jure, then certainly de facto.

      None of us facing charges for solidarity is a villain, but neither are we heroes. If it is alarming that acts of basic human decency are now criminalized, it is no less telling that we have sometimes been lauded by well-intentioned supporters as saints. But those of us who have stood in solidarity with migrants have not acted out of some exceptional reserve of bravery or selfless compassion for others. We acted in the knowledge that the way our rulers treat migrants offers a clue about how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it. Politicians who target, scapegoat and exploit migrants, do so to shore up a violent, unequal world—a world in which we, too, have to live and by which we, too, may be disempowered.

      The criminalization of solidarity today is not only about stripping Europe’s most precarious of their means of survival. It is also an effort at foreclosing the forms of political organization that alliances between Europeans and migrants might engender; of barring the realization that in today’s Europe of rising xenophobia, racism, homophobia and austerity, the things that migrants seek—safety, comfort, dignity—are increasingly foreclosed to us Europeans as well.

      And in hounding migrants and those standing in solidarity with them, Europe is not only waging a brutal battle of suppression. It is also belying its fear of what might happen if we Europeans and migrants made common cause against Fortress Europe, and expose it for what it is: a system that would pick us off one by one, European and migrant alike, robbing each of us in turn of our freedoms, security and rights. We should show them that they are right to be afraid.

      Captain Pia Klemp is a vegan nature-lover, animal-rights and human-rights activist. Before joining search and rescue missions, Captain Pia Klemp was an activist for maritime conservation with Sea-Shepherd. Chloe Haralambous, a researcher and fellow rescue crew member, contributed to this op-ed.

      The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

      https://www.newsweek.com/refugees-mediterranean-sea-rescue-criminalization-solidarity-1444618

  • Assange reportedly gravely ill, and hardly anyone’s talking about i...
    https://diasp.eu/p/9130190

    Assange reportedly gravely ill, and hardly anyone’s talking about it

    Source: Caitlin Johnstone, Rogue Journalist by Caitlin Johnstone

    “Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per Samuelson has told the press that ‘Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him.’ This jarring revelation has been reported by a small handful of outlets, but only as an aside in relation to Sweden refusing Samuelson’s request for a postponement of a scheduled hearing regarding Assange’s detention en absentia for a preliminary investigation of rape allegations. The fact that the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder is so ill that he can’t converse lucidly is itself far more significant than the postponement refusal, yet headlines mentioning Samuelson’s statement (...)

  • How We Investigated the New York Taxi Medallion Bubble - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/reader-center/taxi-medallion-investigation.html

    It took a year, 450 interviews and a database built from scratch to answer a simple question: Why had anyone ever agreed to pay $1 million for the right to drive a yellow cab?

    By Brian M. Rosenthal
    May 22, 2019

    Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

    The story started, like a lot of stories seem to, with President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.

    On April 9, 2018, the F.B.I. raided Mr. Cohen’s office, thrusting him into the national spotlight. The next day, the top editors at The New York Times asked five reporters to start working on a profile. I was one of them.

    The other reporters researched Mr. Cohen’s family, his legal career, his real estate interests and, of course, his work for the president. I took on the last piece of his business empire: his ownership of 30 New York taxi medallions, the coveted permits needed to own a yellow cab.

    After a few weeks of reporting, the team learned enough to publish our story on Mr. Cohen. And I discovered enough to know what I wanted to investigate next.

    At that time, the taxi industry was becoming a big story. Mr. Cohen had owned his medallions as an investment, counting on them rising in value because of the city’s decision to issue only about 13,000 permits. But thousands of the medallions were owned by drivers themselves, and two driver-owners had just died by suicide. Public officials were talking about how the price of a medallion had plummeted from over $1 million to under $150,000. Most were blaming ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    I had a different question: Why had anybody ever paid $1 million for the right to the grueling job of being a cabby?

    When I pursue an investigation, I identify the single most important question that I am trying to answer, and orient all of my reporting around it. (For example, why did it cost more to build subway track in New York than anywhere else in the world? Or why did Texas have the lowest special education rate in the country?) In this case, I ended up interviewing about 450 people, and I asked almost all the same question: Why did the price reach $1 million? It became my North Star.

    I heard plenty of theories, but I began to get somewhere only when I had an epiphany: No driver-owner had ever really paid close to $1 million for a medallion. On paper, thousands of low-income immigrants had. But while they had poured their life savings into their purchase, virtually all had signed loans for most of the cost — and never really had a chance to repay.

    I needed to examine as many loans as possible, to see if they were as unusual and reckless — and predatory — as some of my sources said they were. But how?

    I got a lead from an unexpected source: the lenders themselves.

    After prices had started crashing, the lenders in the industry had tried to squeeze money out of borrowers. Many of them had filed lawsuits against borrowers — lawsuits which had to include copies of the loans.

    I ultimately reviewed 500 of these loans, and I saw disturbing patterns: Almost none of them included a large down payment. Almost all of them required the borrower to repay everything within three years, which was impossible. There were a lot of interest-only loans, and a wide variety of fees, including charges for paying loans off too early. Many of the loans required borrowers to sign away their legal rights.

    Armed with the loan documents, I started calling dozens of current and former industry bankers, brokers, lawyers and investors. Some pointed me to disclosures that lenders had filed with the government, which were enormously helpful. Others shared internal records, which were even better.

    New York City did not have reliable digital data on medallion sales, so I used paper records to build a database of all the 10,888 sales between 1995 and 2018. The city taxi commission had never analyzed the financial records submitted by medallion buyers, so I did. Nobody knew how many medallion owners had gone bankrupt because of the crisis, so I convinced my boss to pay a technology company, Epiq, to create a program that sped through court records and spat out a tentative list — and then two news assistants helped me verify every result.

    As I dug into the data and the documents, I sought out driver-owners. I wanted to understand what they had been through. To find them, I went to Kennedy International Airport.

    The fare from taking someone from the airport into Manhattan can make a cabby’s day, and so drivers wait in line for hours. And over several visits during a couple of months, I waited with them, striking up conversations outside a food stand run by a Greek family and next to pay phones that had stopped working years ago. After talking briefly, I asked if I could visit their homes and meet their friends.

    In all, I met 200 taxi drivers, including several I interviewed through translators because they did not speak English fluently. (Some of those men still had signed loans of up to $1 million.) One by one, they told me how they had come to New York seeking the American dream, worked hard and gotten trapped in loans they did not understand, which often made them give up almost all of their monthly income. Several said that after the medallion bubble burst, wiping out their savings and their futures, they had contemplated suicide. One said he had already attempted it.

    The day after we began publishing our findings, city officials announced they were exploring ways to help these driver-owners, and the mayor and state attorney general said they were going to investigate the people who channeled them into the loans.

    In the end, the three front-page stories that we published this week about the taxi industry barely mentioned Mr. Cohen at all.

    But they did something much more important: They told the stories of Mohammed Hoque, of Jean Demosthenes and of Wael Ghobrayal.

    Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times. @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/taxi-medallions.html

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

    An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

    Mr. Roth compiled his concerns in a report, and he and several colleagues warned that if the city did not take action, the loans would become unsustainable and the market could collapse.

    They were not the only ones worried about taxi medallions. In Albany, state inspectors gave a presentation to top officials showing that medallion owners were not making enough money to support their loans. And in Washington, D.C., federal examiners repeatedly noted that banks were increasing profits by steering cabbies into risky loans.

    They were all ignored.

    Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

    Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

    For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

    Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

    Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It
    “Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

    New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

    Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city.

    But during that period, much like in the mortgage lending crisis, a group of industry leaders enriched themselves by artificially inflating medallion prices. They encouraged medallion buyers to borrow as much as possible and ensnared them in interest-only loans and other one-sided deals that often required them to pay hefty fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up most of their monthly incomes.

    When the medallion market collapsed, the government largely abandoned the drivers who bore the brunt of the crisis. Officials did not bail out borrowers or persuade banks to soften loan terms.

    “They sell us medallions, and they knew it wasn’t worth price. They knew,” said Wael Ghobrayal, 42, an Egyptian immigrant who bought a medallion at a city auction for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments and support his three children.

    “They lost nothing. I lost everything,” he said.

    The Times conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records and built several databases to unravel the story of the downfall of the taxi industry in New York and across the United States. The investigation unearthed a collapse that was years in the making, aided almost as much by regulators as by taxi tycoons.

    Publicly, government officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

    In interviews with The Times, they blamed each other.

    The officials who ran the city Taxi and Limousine Commission in the run-up to the crash said it was the job of bank examiners, not the commission, to control lending practices.

    The New York Department of Financial Services said that while it supervised some of the banks involved in the taxi industry, it deferred to federal inspectors in many cases.

    The federal agency that oversaw many of the largest lenders in the industry, the National Credit Union Administration, said those lenders were meeting the needs of borrowers.

    The N.C.U.A. released a March 2019 internal audit that scolded its regulators for not aggressively enforcing rules in medallion lending. But even that audit partially absolved the government. The lenders, it said, all had boards of directors that were supposed to prevent reckless practices.

    And several officials criticized Congress, which two decades ago excepted credit unions in the taxi industry from some rules that applied to other credit unions. After that, the officials said, government agencies had to treat those lenders differently.

    Ultimately, former employees said, the regulatory system was set up to ensure that lenders were financially stable, and medallions were sold. But almost nothing protected the drivers.

    Matthew W. Daus, far right, at a hearing of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2004. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
    Matthew W. Daus was an unconventional choice to regulate New York’s taxi industry. He was a lawyer from Brooklyn and a leader of a political club that backed Mr. Giuliani for mayor.

    The Giuliani administration hired him as a lawyer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission before appointing him chairman in 2001, a leadership post he kept after Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

    The commission oversaw the drivers and fleets that owned the medallions for the city’s 12,000 cabs. It licensed all participants and decided what cabs could charge, where they could go and which type of vehicle they could use.

    And under Mr. Bloomberg, it also began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    At the time, the mayor said the growing city needed more yellow cabs. But he also was eager for revenue. He had a $3.8 billion hole in his budget.

    The sales put the taxi commission in an unusual position.

    It had a long history of being entangled with the industry. Its first chairman, appointed in 1971, was convicted of a bribery scheme involving an industry lobbyist. Four other leaders since then had worked in the business.

    It often sent staffers to conferences where companies involved in the taxi business paid for liquor, meals and tickets to shows, and at least one past member of its board had run for office in a campaign financed by the industry.

    Still, the agency had never been asked to generate so much money from the business it was supposed to be regulating.

    Former staffers said officials chose to sell medallions with the method they thought would bring in the most revenue: a series of limited auctions that required participants to submit sealed bids above ever-increasing minimums.

    Ahead of the sales, the city placed ads on television and radio, and in newspapers and newsletters, and held seminars promoting the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

    “Medallions have a long history as a solid investment with steady growth,” Mr. Daus wrote in one newsletter. In addition to guaranteed employment, he wrote, “a medallion is collateral that can assist in home financing, college tuition or even ‘worry-free’ retirement.”

    At the first auctions under Mr. Bloomberg in 2004, bids topped $300,000, surprising experts.

    Some former staffers said in interviews they believed the ad campaign inappropriately inflated prices by implying medallions would make buyers rich, no matter the cost. Seven said they complained.

    The city eventually added a disclaimer to ads, saying past performance did not guarantee future results. But it kept advertising.

    During the same period, the city also posted information on its website that said that medallion prices were, on average, 13 percent higher than they really were, according to a Times data analysis.

    In several interviews, Mr. Daus defended the ad campaigns, saying they reached people who had been unable to break into the tight market. The ads were true at the time, he said. He added he had never heard internal complaints about the ads.

    In all, the city held 16 auctions between 2004 and 2014.

    “People don’t realize how organized it is,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, a lender to medallion buyers, said in a 2011 interview with Tearsheet Podcast. “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner because they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

    Help from a federal agency

    New York City made more than $855 million from taxi medallion sales under Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

    For decades, a niche banking system had grown up around the taxi industry, and at its center were about half a dozen nonprofit credit unions that specialized in medallion loans. But as the auctions continued, the families that ran the credit unions began to grow frustrated.

    Around them, they saw other lenders making money by issuing loans that they could not because of the rules governing credit unions. They recognized a business opportunity, and they wanted in.

    They found a receptive audience at the National Credit Union Administration.

    The N.C.U.A. was the small federal agency that regulated the nation’s credit unions. It set the rules, examined their books and insured their accounts.

    Like the city taxi commission, the N.C.U.A. had long had ties to the industry that it regulated. One judge had called it a “rogue federal agency” focused on promoting the industry.

    In 2004, its chairman was Dennis Dollar, a former Mississippi state representative who had previously worked as the chief executive of a credit union. He had just been inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame, and he had said one of his top priorities was streamlining regulation.

    Dennis Dollar, the former chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, is now a consultant in the industry. 

    Under Mr. Dollar and others, the N.C.U.A. issued waivers that exempted medallion loans from longstanding rules, including a regulation requiring each loan to have a down payment of at least 20 percent. The waivers allowed the lenders to keep up with competitors and to write more profitable loans.

    Mr. Dollar, who left government to become a consultant for credit unions, said the agency was following the lead of Congress, which passed a law in 1998 exempting credit unions specializing in medallion loans from some regulations. The law signaled that those lenders needed leeway, such as the waivers, he said.

    “If we did not do so, the average cabdriver couldn’t get a medallion loan,” Mr. Dollar said.

    The federal law and the N.C.U.A. waivers were not the only benefits the industry received. The federal government also provided many medallion lenders with financial assistance and guaranteed a portion of their taxi loans, assuring that if those loans failed, they would still be partially paid, according to records and interviews.

    As lenders wrote increasingly risky loans, medallion prices neared $500,000 in 2006.

    ‘Snoozing and napping’

    Under Mr. Bloomberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began selling 1,000 new medallions.

    Another agency was also supposed to be keeping an eye on lending practices. New York State banking regulators are required to inspect all financial institutions chartered in the state. But after 2008, they were forced to focus their attention on the banks most affected by the global economic meltdown, according to former employees.

    As a result, some industry veterans said, the state stopped examining medallion loans closely.

    “The state banking department would come in, and they’d be doing the exam in one room, and the N.C.U.A. would be in another room,” said Larry Fisher, who was then the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders. “And you could catch the state banking department snoozing and napping and going on the internet and not doing much at all.”

    The state banking department, which is now called the New York Department of Financial Services, disputed that characterization and said it had acted consistently and appropriately.

    Former federal regulators described a similar trend at their agencies after the recession.

    Some former employees of the N.C.U.A., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that as medallion prices climbed, they tried to raise issues with loans and were told not to worry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board also oversaw some lenders and did not intervene.

    A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the agency was not a primary regulator of the taxi lending industry. The rest of the agencies declined to comment.

    “It was obvious that the loans were unusual and risky,” said Patrick Collins, a former N.C.U.A. examiner. But, he said, there was a belief inside his agency that the loans would be fine because the industry had been stable for decades.

    Meanwhile, in New York City, the taxi commission reduced oversight.

    For years, it had made medallion purchasers file forms describing how they came up with the money, including details on all loans. It also had required industry participants to submit annual disclosures on their finances, loans and conflicts of interest.

    But officials never analyzed the forms filed by buyers, and in the 2000s, they stopped requiring the annual disclosures altogether.

    “Reviewing these disclosures was an onerous lift for us,” the commission’s communications office said in a recent email.

    By 2008, the price of a medallion rose to $600,000.

    At around the same time, the commission began focusing on new priorities. It started developing the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a model for future cabs.

    The agency’s main enforcement activities targeted drivers who cheated passengers or discriminated against people of color. “Nobody really scrutinized medallion transfers,” said Charles Tortorici, a former commission lawyer.

    A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement that during the mayor’s tenure, the city improved the industry by installing credit card machines and GPS devices, making fleets more environmentally efficient and creating green taxis for boroughs outside Manhattan.

    “The industry was always its own worst enemy, fighting every reform tooth and nail,” said the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna. “We put our energy and political capital into the reforms that most directly and immediately impacted the riding public.”

    Records show that since 2008, the taxi commission has not taken a single enforcement action against brokers, the powerful players who arrange medallion sales and loans.

    Alex Korenkov, a broker, suggested in an interview that he and other brokers took notice of the city’s hands-off approach.

    “Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If governing body does not care, then free-for-all.”

    By the time that Mr. Roth wrote his report at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2010, it was clear that something strange was happening in the medallion market.

    Mr. Daus gave a speech that year that mentioned the unusual lending practices. During the speech, he said banks were letting medallion buyers obtain loans without any down payment. Experts have since said that should have raised red flags. But at the time, Mr. Daus seemed pleased.

    “Some of these folks were offering zero percent down,” he said. “You tell me what bank walks around asking for zero percent down on a loan? It’s just really amazing.”

    In interviews, Mr. Daus acknowledged that the practice was unusual but said the taxi commission had no authority over lending.

    Inside the commission, at least four employees raised concerns about the medallion prices and lending practices, according to the employees, who described their own unease as well as Mr. Roth’s report.

    David S. Yassky, a former city councilman who succeeded Mr. Daus as commission chairman in 2010, said in an interview that he never saw Mr. Roth’s report.

    Mr. Yassky said the medallion prices puzzled him, but he could not determine if they were inflated, in part because people were still eager to buy. Medallions may have been undervalued for decades, and the price spike could have been the market recognizing the true value, he suggested.

    Meera Joshi, who became chairwoman in 2014, said in an interview that she was worried about medallion costs and lending practices but was pushed to prioritize other responsibilities. Dominic Williams, Mr. de Blasio’s chief policy adviser, said the city focused on initiatives such as improving accessibility because no one was complaining about loans.

    Worries about the taxi industry also emerged at the National Credit Union Administration. In late 2011, as the price of some medallions reached $800,000, a group of agency examiners wrote a paper on the risks in the industry, according to a recent report by the agency’s inspector general.

    In 2012, 2013 and 2014, inspectors routinely documented instances of credit unions violating lending rules, the inspector general’s report said.

    David S. Yassky, the former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

    The N.C.U.A. chose not to penalize medallion lenders or impose extra oversight. It did not take any wide industry action until April 2014, when it sent a letter reminding the credit unions in the taxi market to act responsibly.

    Former staffers said the agency was still focused on the fallout from the recession.

    A spokesman for the N.C.U.A. disputed that characterization and said the agency conducted appropriate enforcement.

    He added the agency took actions to ensure the credit unions remained solvent, which was its mission. He said Congress allowed the lenders to concentrate heavily on medallion loans, which left them vulnerable when Uber and Lyft arrived.

    At the New York Department of Financial Services, bank examiners noticed risky practices and interest-only loans and repeatedly wrote warnings starting in 2010, according to the state. At least one report expressed concern of a potential market bubble, the state said.

    Eventually, examiners became so concerned that they made a PowerPoint presentation and called a meeting in 2014 to show it to a dozen top officials.

    “Since 2001, individual medallion has risen 455%,” the presentation warned, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The presentation suggested state action, such as sending a letter to the industry or revoking charters from some lenders.

    The state did neither. The department had recently merged with the insurance department, and former employees said it was finding its footing.

    The department superintendent at the time, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said he did not, as a rule, discuss his tenure at the department.

    In an emailed statement, the department denied it struggled after the merger and said it took action to stop the collapse of the medallion market. A department spokesman provided a long list of warnings, suggestions and guidelines that it said examiners had issued to lenders. He said that starting in 2012, the department downgraded some of its own internal ratings of the lenders.

    The list did not include any instances of the department formally penalizing a medallion lender, or making any public statement about the industry before it collapsed.

    Between 2010 and 2014, as officials at every level of government failed to rein in the risky lending practices, records show that roughly 1,500 people bought taxi medallions. Over all, including refinancings of old loans and extensions required by banks, medallion owners signed at least 10,000 loans in that time.

    Several regulators who tried to raise alarms said they believed the government stood aside because of the industry’s connections.

    Many pointed to one company — Medallion Financial, run by the Murstein family. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, was a paid member of its board from 1996 until he died in 2015.

    Others noted that Mr. de Blasio has long been close to the industry. When he ran for mayor in 2013, an industry lobbyist, Michael Woloz, was a top fund-raiser, records show. And Evgeny Freidman, a major fleet owner who has admitted to artificially inflating medallion prices, has said he is close to the mayor.

    Some people, including Mr. Dollar, the former N.C.U.A. chairman, said Congress excepted the taxi trade from rules because the industry was supported by former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “The taxi industry is one of the most politically connected industries in the city,” said Fidel Del Valle, who was the chairman of the taxi commission from 1991 to 1994. He later worked as a lawyer for drivers and a consultant to an owner association run by Mr. Freidman. “It’s been that way for decades, and they’ve used that influence to push back on regulation, with a lot of success.”

    A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said Medallion Financial was not regulated by the state, so the elder Mr. Cuomo’s position on the board was irrelevant. A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the industry’s connections did not influence the city.

    Mr. Murstein, Mr. Woloz, Mr. Freidman and Mr. D’Amato all declined to comment.

    The aftermath
    “I think city will help me,” Mohammad Hossain, who is in deep debt from a taxi medallion loan, said at his family’s home in the Bronx.

    New York held its final independent medallion auction in February 2014. By then, concerns about medallion prices were common in the news media and government offices, and Uber had established itself. Still, the city sold medallions to more than 150 bidders. (“It’s better than the stock market,” one ad said.)

    Forty percent of the people who bought medallions at that auction have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records.

    Mohammad Hossain, 47, from Bangladesh, who purchased a medallion for $853,000 at the auction, said he could barely make his monthly payments and was getting squeezed by his lender. “I bought medallion from the city,” he said through tears. “I think city will help me, you know. I assume that.”

    The de Blasio administration’s only major response to the crisis has been to push for a cap on ride-hail cars. The City Council at first rejected a cap in 2015 before approving it last year.

    Taxi industry veterans said the cap did not address the cause of the crisis: the lending practices.

    Richard Weinberg, a taxi commission hearing officer from 1988 to 2002 and a lawyer for drivers since then, said that when the medallion bubble began to burst, the city should have frozen prices, adjusted fares and fees and convinced banks to be flexible with drivers. That could have allowed prices to fall slowly. “That could’ve saved a lot of people,” he said.

    In an interview, Dean Fuleihan, the first deputy mayor, said the city did help taxi owners, including by reducing some fees, taxes and inspection mandates, and by talking to banks about loans. He said that if the City Council had passed the cap in 2015, it would have helped.

    “We do care about those drivers, we care about those families. We attempted throughout this period to take actions,” he said.

    Federal regulators also have not significantly helped medallion owners.

    In 2017 and 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed or merged several credit unions for “unsafe business practices” in medallion lending. It took over many of the loans, but did not soften terms, according to borrowers. Instead, it tried to get money out as quickly as possible.

    The failure of the credit unions has cost the national credit union insurance fund more than $750 million, which will hurt all credit union members.

    In August 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed Melrose in what it said was the biggest credit union liquidation in United States history. The agency barred Melrose’s general counsel from working for credit unions and brought civil charges against its former C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, saying he used company funds to help industry partners in exchange for gifts.

    The general counsel, Mitchell Reiver, declined to answer questions but said he did nothing wrong. Mr. Kaufman said in an interview that the N.C.U.A. made up the charges to distract from its role in the crisis.

    “I’m definitely a scapegoat,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

    Glamour, then poverty
    After he struggled to repay his taxi medallion loan, Abel Vela left his family in New York and moved back to Peru, where living costs were cheaper. 

    During the medallion bubble, the city produced a television commercial to promote the permits. In the ad, which aired in 2004, four cabbies stood around a taxi discussing the perks of the job. One said buying a medallion was the best decision he had ever made. They all smiled. Then Mr. Daus appeared on screen to announce an auction.

    Fifteen years later, the cabbies remember the ad with scorn. Three of the four were eventually enticed to refinance their original loans under far riskier terms that left them in heavy debt.

    One of the cabbies, Abel Vela, had to leave his wife and children and return to his home country, Peru, because living costs were lower there. He is now 74 and still working to survive.

    The city aired a commercial in 2004 to promote an upcoming auction of taxi medallions. The ad featured real cab drivers, but three of them eventually took on risky loans and suffered financial blows.
    The only woman in the ad, Marie Applyrs, a Haitian immigrant, fell behind on her loan payments and filed for bankruptcy in November 2017. She lost her cab, and her home. She now lives with her children, switching from home to home every few months.

    “When the ad happened, the taxi was in vogue. I think I still have the tape somewhere. It was glamorous,” she said. “Now, I’m in the poorhouse.”

    Today, the only person from the television commercial still active in the industry is Mr. Daus. He works as a lawyer for lenders.

    [Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

    Madeline Rosenberg contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • ‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers - The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/nyregion/nyc-taxis-medallions-suicides.html


    Mohammed Hoque with his three children in their studio apartment in Jamaica, Queens.

    May 19, 2019 - The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

    The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

    After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

    Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

    Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

    But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

    These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

    But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

    The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

    Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers.

    The combination of easy money, eager borrowers and the lure of a rare asset helped prices soar far above what medallions were really worth. Some industry leaders fed the frenzy by purposefully overpaying for medallions in order to inflate prices, The Times found.

    Between 2002 and 2014, the price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million from $200,000, even though city records showed that driver incomes barely changed.

    About 4,000 drivers bought medallions in that period, records show. They were excited to buy, but they were enticed by a dubious premise.

    What Actually Happened to New York’s Taxi DriversMay 28, 2019

    After the medallion market collapsed, Mayor Bill de Blasio opted not to fund a bailout, and earlier this year, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, shut down the committee overseeing the taxi industry, saying it had completed most of its work.

    Over 10 months, The Times interviewed 450 people, built a database of every medallion sale since 1995 and reviewed thousands of individual loans and other documents, including internal bank records and confidential profit-sharing agreements.

    The investigation found example after example of drivers trapped in exploitative loans, including hundreds who signed interest-only loans that required them to pay exorbitant fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up almost all their monthly income, indefinitely.

    A Pakistani immigrant who thought he was just buying a car ended up with a $780,000 medallion loan that left him unable to pay rent. A Bangladeshi immigrant said he was told to lie about his income on his loan application; he eventually lost his medallion. A Haitian immigrant who worked to exhaustion to make his monthly payments discovered he had been paying only interest and went bankrupt.

    Abdur Rahim, who is from Bangladesh, is one of several cab drivers who allege they were duped into signing exploitative loans. 
    It is unclear if the practices violated any laws. But after reviewing The Times’s findings, experts said the methods were among the worst that have been used since the housing crash.

    “I don’t think I could concoct a more predatory scheme if I tried,” said Roger Bertling, the senior instructor at Harvard Law School’s clinic on predatory lending and consumer protection. “This was modern-day indentured servitude.”

    Lenders developed their techniques in New York but spread them to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere, transforming taxi industries across the United States.

    In interviews, lenders denied wrongdoing. They noted that regulators approved their practices, and said some borrowers made poor decisions and assumed too much debt. They said some drivers were happy to use climbing medallion values as collateral to take out cash, and that those who sold their medallions at the height of the market made money.

    The lenders said they believed medallion values would keep increasing, as they almost always had. No one, they said, could have predicted Uber and Lyft would emerge to undercut the business.

    “People love to blame banks for things that happen because they’re big bad banks,” said Robert Familant, the former head of Progressive Credit Union, a small nonprofit that specialized in medallion loans. “We didn’t do anything, in my opinion, other than try to help small businesspeople become successful.”

    Mr. Familant made about $30 million in salary and deferred payouts during the bubble, including $4.8 million in bonuses and incentives in 2014, the year it burst, according to disclosure forms.

    Meera Joshi, who joined the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2011 and became chairwoman in 2014, said it was not the city’s job to regulate lending. But she acknowledged that officials saw red flags and could have done something.

    “There were lots of players, and lots of people just watched it happen. So the T.L.C. watched it happen. The lenders watched it happen. The borrowers watched it happen as their investment went up, and it wasn’t until it started falling apart that people started taking action and pointing fingers,” said Ms. Joshi, who left the commission in March. “It was a party. Why stop it?”

    Every day, about 250,000 people hail a New York City yellow taxi. Most probably do not know they are participating in an unconventional economic system about as old as the Empire State Building.

    The city created taxi medallions in 1937. Unlicensed cabs crowded city streets, so officials designed about 12,000 specialized tin plates and made it illegal to operate a taxi without one bolted to the hood of the car. The city sold each medallion for $10.

    People who bought medallions could sell them, just like any other asset. The only restriction: Officials designated roughly half as “independent medallions” and eventually required that those always be owned by whoever was driving that cab.

    Over time, as yellow taxis became symbols of New York, a cutthroat industry grew around them. A few entrepreneurs obtained most of the nonindependent medallions and built fleets that controlled the market. They were family operations largely based in the industrial neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens.

    Allegations of corruption, racism and exploitation dogged the industry. Some fleet bosses were accused of cheating drivers. Some drivers refused to go outside Manhattan or pick up black and Latino passengers. Fleet drivers typically worked 60 hours a week, made less than minimum wage and received no benefits, according to city studies.

    Still, driving could serve as a path to the middle class. Drivers could save to buy an independent medallion, which would increase their earnings and give them an asset they could someday sell for a retirement nest egg.

    Those who borrowed money to buy a medallion typically had to submit a large down payment and repay within five to 10 years.

    The conservative lending strategy produced modest returns. The city did not release new medallions for almost 60 years, and values slowly climbed, hitting $100,000 in 1985 and $200,000 in 1997.

    “It was a safe and stable asset, and it provided a good life for those of us who were lucky enough to buy them,” said Guy Roberts, who began driving in 1979 and eventually bought medallions and formed a fleet. “Not an easy life, but a good life.”

    “And then,” he said, “everything changed.”

    – Before coming to America, Mohammed Hoque lived comfortably in Chittagong, a city on Bangladesh’s southern coast. He was a serious student and a gifted runner, despite a small and stocky frame. His father and grandfather were teachers; he said he surpassed them, becoming an education official with a master’s degree in management. He supervised dozens of schools and traveled on a government-issued motorcycle. In 2004, when he was 33, he married Fouzia Mahabub. -

    That same year, several of his friends signed up for the green card lottery, and their thirst for opportunity was contagious. He applied, and won.

    His wife had an uncle in Jamaica, Queens, so they went there. They found a studio apartment. Mr. Hoque wanted to work in education, but he did not speak enough English. A friend recommended the taxi industry.

    It was an increasingly common move for South Asian immigrants. In 2005, about 40 percent of New York cabbies were born in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, according to the United States Census Bureau. Over all, just 9 percent were born in the United States.

    Mr. Hoque and his wife emigrated from Bangladesh, and have rented the same apartment in Queens since 2005.

    Mr. Hoque joined Taxifleet Management, a large fleet run by the Weingartens, a Russian immigrant family whose patriarchs called themselves the “Three Wise Men.”

    He worked 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week. On a good day, he said, he brought home $100. He often felt lonely on the road, and he developed back pain from sitting all day and diabetes, medical records show.

    He could have worked fewer shifts. He also could have moved out of the studio. But he drove as much as feasible and spent as little as possible. He had heard the city would soon be auctioning off new medallions. He was saving to buy one.

    Andrew Murstein, left, with his father, Alvin.CreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
    In the early 2000s, a new generation took power in New York’s cab industry. They were the sons of longtime industry leaders, and they had new ideas for making money.

    Few people represented the shift better than Andrew Murstein.

    Mr. Murstein was the grandson of a Polish immigrant who bought one of the first medallions, built one of the city’s biggest fleets and began informally lending to other buyers in the 1970s. Mr. Murstein attended business school and started his career at Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers, the investment banks.

    When he joined the taxi business, he has said, he pushed his family to sell off many medallions and to establish a bank to focus on lending. Medallion Financial went public in 1996. Its motto was, “In niches, there are riches.”

    Dozens of industry veterans said Mr. Murstein and his father, Alvin, were among those who helped to move the industry to less conservative lending practices. The industry veterans said the Mursteins, as well as others, started saying medallion values would always rise and used that idea to focus on lending to lower-income drivers, which was riskier but more profitable.

    The strategy began to be used by the industry’s other major lenders — Progressive Credit Union, Melrose Credit Union and Lomto Credit Union, all family-run nonprofits that made essentially all their money from medallion loans, according to financial disclosures.

    “We didn’t want to be the one left behind,” said Monte Silberger, Lomto’s controller and then chief financial officer from 1999 to 2017.

    The lenders began accepting smaller down payments. By 2013, many medallion buyers were not handing over any down payment at all, according to an analysis of buyer applications submitted to the city.

    “It got to a point where we didn’t even check their income or credit score,” Mr. Silberger said. “It didn’t matter.”

    Lenders also encouraged existing borrowers to refinance and take out more money when medallion prices rose, according to interviews with dozens of borrowers and loan officers. There is no comprehensive data, but bank disclosures suggest that thousands of owners refinanced.

    Industry veterans said it became common for owners to refinance to buy a house or to put children through college. “You’d walk into the bank and walk out 30 minutes later with an extra $200,000,” said Lou Bakalar, a broker who arranged loans.

    Yvon Augustin has been living with help from his children ever since he declared bankruptcy and lost his taxi medallion.

    Some pointed to the refinancing to argue that irresponsible borrowers fueled the crisis. “Medallion owners were misusing it,” said Aleksey Medvedovskiy, a fleet owner who also worked as a broker. “They used it as an A.T.M.”

    As lenders loosened standards, they increased returns. Rather than raising interest rates, they made borrowers pay a mix of costs — origination fees, legal fees, financing fees, refinancing fees, filing fees, fees for paying too late and fees for paying too early, according to a Times review of more than 500 loans included in legal cases. Many lenders also made borrowers split their loan and pay a much higher rate on the second loan, documents show.

    Lenders also extended loan lengths. Instead of requiring repayment in five or 10 years, they developed deals that lasted as long as 50 years, locking in decades of interest payments. And some wrote interest-only loans that could continue forever.

    “We couldn’t figure out why the company was doing so many interest-only loans,” said Michelle Pirritano, a Medallion Financial loan analyst from 2007 to 2011. “It was a good revenue stream, but it didn’t really make sense as a loan. I mean, it wasn’t really a loan, because it wasn’t being repaid.”

    Almost every loan reviewed by The Times included a clause that spiked the interest rate to as high as 24 percent if it was not repaid in three years. Lenders included the clause — called a “balloon” — so that borrowers almost always had to extend the loan, possibly at a higher rate than in the original terms, and with additional fees.

    Yvon Augustin was caught in one of those loans. He bought a medallion in 2006, a decade after emigrating from Haiti. He said he paid $2,275 every month — more than half his income, he said — and thought he was paying off the loan. But last year, his bank used the balloon to demand that he repay everything. That is when he learned he had been paying only the interest, he said.

    Mr. Augustin, 69, declared bankruptcy and lost his medallion. He lives off assistance from his children.

    During the global financial crisis, Eugene Haber, a lawyer for the taxi industry, started getting calls from bankers he had never met.

    Mr. Haber had written a template for medallion loans in the 1970s. By 2008, his thick mustache had turned white, and he thought he knew everybody in the industry. Suddenly, new bankers began calling his suite in a Long Island office park. Capital One, Signature Bank, New York Commercial Bank and others wanted to issue medallion loans, he said.

    Some of the banks were looking for new borrowers after the housing market collapsed, Mr. Haber said. “They needed somewhere else to invest,” he said. He said he represented some banks at loan signings but eventually became embittered because he believed banks were knowingly lending to people who could not repay.

    Instead of lending directly, the big banks worked through powerful industry players. They enlisted large fleet owners and brokers — especially Neil Greenbaum, Richard Chipman, Savas Konstantinides, Roman Sapino and Basil Messados — to use the banks’ money to lend to medallion buyers. In return, the owners and brokers received a cut of the monthly payments and sometimes an additional fee.

    The fleet owners and brokers, who technically issued the loans, did not face the same scrutiny as banks.

    “They did loans that were frankly insane,” said Larry Fisher, who from 2003 to 2016 oversaw medallion lending at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry. “It contributed to the price increases and put a lot of pressure on the rest of us to keep up.”

    Evgeny Freidman, a fleet owner, has said he purposely overbid for taxi medallions in order to drive up their value.CreditSasha Maslov
    Still, Mr. Fisher said, Melrose followed lending rules. “A lot of people tend to blame others for their own misfortune,” he said. “If they want to blame the lender for the medallion going down the tubes the way it has, I think they’re misplaced.”

    Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner and the broker and lender who arranged Mr. Hoque’s loans, said every loan issued by his company abided by federal and state banking guidelines. “I am very sympathetic to the plight of immigrant families who are seeking a better life in this country and in this city,” said Mr. Konstantinides, who added that he was also an immigrant.

    Walter Rabin, who led Capital One’s medallion lending division between 2007 and 2012 and has led Signature Bank’s medallion lending division since, said he was one of the industry’s most conservative lenders. He said he could not speak for the brokers and fleet owners with whom he worked.

    Mr. Rabin and other Signature executives denied fault for the market collapse and blamed the city for allowing ride-hail companies to enter with little regulation. “It’s the City of New York that took the biggest advantage of the drivers,” said Joseph J. DePaolo, the president and chief executive of Signature. “It’s not the banks.”

    New York Commercial Bank said in a statement that it began issuing medallion loans before the housing crisis and that they were a very small part of its business. The bank did not engage in risky lending practices, a spokesman said.

    Mr. Messados said in an interview that he disagreed with interest-only loans and other one-sided terms. But he said he was caught between banks developing the loans and drivers clamoring for them. “They were insisting on this,” he said. “What are you supposed to do? Say, ‘I’m not doing the sale?’”

    Several lenders challenged the idea that borrowers were unsophisticated. They said that some got better deals by negotiating with multiple lenders at once.

    Mr. Greenbaum, Mr. Chipman and Mr. Sapino declined to comment, as did Capital One.

    Some fleet owners worked to manipulate prices. In the most prominent example, Evgeny Freidman, a brash Russian immigrant who owned so many medallions that some called him “The Taxi King,” said he purposefully overpaid for medallions sold at city auctions. He reasoned that the higher prices would become the industry standard, making the medallions he already owned worth more. Mr. Freidman, who was partners with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, disclosed the plan in a 2012 speech at Yeshiva University. He recently pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud. He declined to comment.

    As medallion prices kept increasing, the industry became strained. Drivers had to work longer hours to make monthly payments. Eventually, loan records show, many drivers had to use almost all their income on payments.

    “The prices got to be ridiculous,” said Vincent Sapone, the retired manager of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, an owner association. “When it got close to $1 million, nobody was going to pay that amount of money, unless they came from another country. Nobody from Brooklyn was going to pay that.”

    Some drivers have alleged in court that lenders tricked them into signing loans.

    Muhammad Ashraf, who is not fluent in English, said he thought he was getting a loan to purchase a car but ended up in debt to buy a taxi medallion instead.

    Muhammad Ashraf, a Pakistani immigrant, alleged that a broker, Heath Candero, duped him into a $780,000 interest-only loan. He said in an interview in Urdu that he could not speak English fluently and thought he was just signing a loan to buy a car. He said he found out about the loan when his bank sued him for not fully repaying. The bank eventually decided not to pursue a case against Mr. Ashraf. He also filed a lawsuit against Mr. Candero. That case was dismissed. A lawyer for Mr. Candero declined to comment.

    Abdur Rahim, a Bangladeshi immigrant, alleged that his lender, Bay Ridge Credit Union, inserted hidden fees. In an interview, he added he was told to lie on his loan application. The application, reviewed by The Times, said he made $128,389, but he said his tax return showed he made about $25,000. In court, Bay Ridge has denied there were hidden fees and said Mr. Rahim was “confusing the predatory-lending statute with a mere bad investment.” The credit union declined to comment.

    Several employees of lenders said they were pushed to write loans, encouraged by bonuses and perks such as tickets to sporting events and free trips to the Bahamas.

    They also said drivers almost never had lawyers at loan closings. Borrowers instead trusted their broker to represent them, even though, unbeknown to them, the broker was often getting paid by the bank.

    Stan Zurbin, who between 2009 and 2012 did consulting work for a lender that issued medallion loans, said that as prices rose, lenders in the industry increasingly lent to immigrants.

    “They didn’t have 750 credit scores, let’s just say,” he said. “A lot of them had just come into the country. A lot of them just had no idea what they were signing.”

    The $1 million medallion
    Video
    Mrs. Hoque did not want her husband to buy a medallion. She wanted to use their savings to buy a house. They had their first child in 2008, and they planned to have more. They needed to leave the studio apartment, and she thought a home would be a safer investment.

    But Mr. Hoque could not shake the idea, especially after several friends bought medallions at the city’s February 2014 auction.

    One friend introduced him to a man called “Big Savas.” It was Mr. Konstantinides, a fleet owner who also had a brokerage and a lending company, Mega Funding.

    The call came a few weeks later. A medallion owner had died, and the family was selling for $1 million.

    Mr. Hoque said he later learned the $50,000 he paid up front was just for taxes. Mega eventually requested twice that amount for fees and a down payment, records show. Mr. Hoque said he maxed out credit cards and borrowed from a dozen friends and relatives.

    Fees and interest would bring the total repayment to more than $1.7 million, documents show. It was split into two loans, both issued by Mega with New York Commercial Bank. The loans made him pay $5,000 a month — most of the $6,400 he could earn as a medallion owner.

    Mohammed Hoque’s Medallion Loans Consumed Most of His Taxi Revenue
    After paying his two medallion loans and business costs, Mr. Hoque had about $1,400 left over each month to pay the rent on his studio apartment in Queens and cover his living expenses.

    Estimated monthly revenue $11,845

    Gas $1,500

    Income after expenses $1,400

    Vehicle maintenance $1,300

    Medallion loan 1 $4,114

    Insurance $1,200

    Car loan $650

    Credit card fees $400

    Medallion loan 2 $881

    Other work-related expenses $400

    By the time the deal closed in July 2014, Mr. Hoque had heard of a new company called Uber. He wondered if it would hurt the business, but nobody seemed to be worried.

    As Mr. Hoque drove to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s downtown office for final approval of the purchase, he fantasized about becoming rich, buying a big house and bringing his siblings to America. After a commission official reviewed his application and loan records, he said he was ushered into the elegant “Taxi of Tomorrow” room. An official pointed a camera. Mr. Hoque smiled.

    “These are little cash cows running around the city spitting out money,” Mr. Murstein said, beaming in a navy suit and pink tie.

    He did not mention he was quietly leaving the business, a move that would benefit him when the market collapsed.

    By the time of the appearance, Medallion Financial had been cutting the number of medallion loans on its books for years, according to disclosures it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Murstein later said the company started exiting the business and focusing on other ventures before 2010.

    Mr. Murstein declined numerous interview requests. He also declined to answer some written questions, including why he promoted medallions while exiting the business. In emails and through a spokesman, he acknowledged that Medallion Financial reduced down payments but said it rarely issued interest-only loans or charged borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    “Many times, we did not match what our competitors were willing to do and in retrospect, thankfully, we lost the business,” he wrote to The Times.

    Interviews with three former staffers, and a Times review of loan documents that were filed as part of lawsuits brought by Medallion Financial against borrowers, indicate the company issued many interest-only loans and routinely included a provision allowing it to charge borrowers for repaying loans too early.

    Other lenders also left the taxi industry or took precautions long before the market collapsed.

    The credit unions specializing in the industry kept making new loans. But between 2010 and 2014, they sold the loans to other financial institutions more often than in the previous five years, disclosure forms show. Progressive Credit Union, run by Mr. Familant, sold loans off almost twice as often, the forms show. By 2012, that credit union was selling the majority of the loans it issued.

    In a statement, Mr. Familant said the selling of loans was a standard banking practice that did not indicate a lack of confidence in the market.

    Several banks used something called a confession of judgment. It was an obscure document in which the borrower admitted defaulting on the loan — even before taking out any money at all — and authorized the bank to do whatever it wanted to collect.

    Larry Fisher was the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders originally in the industry, from 2003 to 2016.
    Congress has banned that practice in consumer loans, but not in business loans, which is how lenders classified medallion deals. Many states have barred it in business loans, too, but New York is not among them.

    Even as some lenders quietly braced for the market to fall, prices kept rising, and profits kept growing.

    By 2014, many of the people who helped create the bubble had made millions of dollars and invested it elsewhere.

    Medallion Financial started focusing on lending to R.V. buyers and bought a professional lacrosse team and a Nascar team, painting the car to look like a taxi. Mr. Murstein and his father made more than $42 million between 2002 and 2014, disclosures show. In 2015, Ms. Minaj, the rap star, performed at his son’s bar mitzvah.

    The Melrose C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, had the highest base salary of any large state-chartered credit union leader in America in 2013 and 2015, records show. His medallion lending supervisor, Mr. Fisher, also made millions.

    It is harder to tell how much fleet owners and brokers made, but in recent years news articles have featured some of them with new boats and houses.

    Mr. Messados’s bank records, filed in a legal case, show that by 2013, he had more than $50 million in non-taxi assets, including three homes and a yacht.

    The bubble bursts

    At least eight drivers have committed suicide, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans.
    The medallion bubble burst in late 2014. Uber and Lyft may have hastened the crisis, but virtually all of the hundreds of industry veterans interviewed for this article, including many lenders, said inflated prices and risky lending practices would have caused a collapse even if ride-hailing had never been invented.

    At the market’s height, medallion buyers were typically earning about $5,000 a month and paying about $4,500 to their loans, according to an analysis by The Times of city data and loan documents. Many owners could make their payments only by refinancing when medallion values increased, which was unsustainable, some loan officers said.

    City data shows that since Uber entered New York in 2011, yellow cab revenue has decreased by about 10 percent per cab, a significant bite for low-earning drivers but a small drop compared with medallion values, which initially rose and then fell by 90 percent.

    As values fell, borrowers asked for breaks. But many lenders went the opposite direction. They decided to leave the business and called in their loans.

    They used the confessions to get hundreds of judgments that would allow them to take money from bank accounts, court records show. Some tried to get borrowers to give up homes or a relative’s assets. Others seized medallions and quickly resold them for profit, while still charging the original borrowers fees and extra interest. Several drivers have alleged in court that their lenders ordered them to buy life insurance.

    Many lenders hired a debt collector, Anthony Medina, to seize medallions from borrowers who missed payments.

    The scars left on cabs after medallions were removed.

    Mr. Medina left notes telling borrowers they had to give the lender “relief” to get their medallions back. The notes, which were reviewed by The Times, said the seizure was “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.” Some drivers said Mr. Medina suggested he was a police officer and made them meet him at a park at night and pay $550 extra in cash.

    One man, Jean Demosthenes, a 64-year-old Haitian immigrant who could not speak English, said in an interview in Haitian Creole that Mr. Medina cornered him in Midtown, displayed a gun and took his car.

    In an interview, Mr. Medina denied threatening anyone with a gun. He said he requested cash because drivers who had defaulted could not be trusted to write good checks. He said he met drivers at parks and referred to himself as the vehicle apprehension unit because he wanted to hide his identity out of fear he could be targeted by borrowers.

    “You’re taking words from people that are deadbeats and delinquent people. Of course, they don’t want to see me,” he said. “I’m not the bad guy. I’m just the messenger from the bank.”

    Some lenders, especially Signature Bank, have let borrowers out of their loans for one-time payments of about $250,000. But to get that money, drivers have had to find new loans. Mr. Greenbaum, a fleet owner, has provided many of those loans, sometimes at interest rates of up to 15 percent, loan documents and interviews showed.

    New York Commercial Bank said in its statement it also had modified some loans.

    Other drivers lost everything. Most of the more than 950 owners who declared bankruptcy had to forfeit their medallions. Records indicate many were bought by hedge funds hoping for prices to rise. For now, cabs sit unused.

    Jean Demosthenes said his medallion was repossessed by a man with a gun. The man denied that he was armed.

    Bhairavi Desai, founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers and independent owners, has asked the city to bail out owners or refund auction purchasers. Others have urged the city to pressure banks to forgive loans or soften terms.

    After reviewing The Times’s findings, Deepak Gupta, a former top official at the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the New York Attorney General’s Office should investigate lenders.

    Mr. Gupta also said the state should close the loophole that let lenders classify medallion deals as business loans, even though borrowers had to guarantee them with everything they owned. Consumer loans have far more disclosure rules and protections.

    “These practices were indisputably predatory and would be illegal if they were considered consumer loans, rather than business loans,” he said.

    Last year, amid eight known suicides of drivers, including three medallion owners with overwhelming loans, the city passed a temporary cap on ride-hailing cars, created a task force to study the industry and directed the city taxi commission to do its own analysis of the debt crisis.

    Earlier this year, the Council eliminated the committee overseeing the industry after its chairman, Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, said the Council was “controlled by the homosexual community.” The speaker, Mr. Johnson, said, “The vast majority of the legislative work that we have been looking at has already been completed.”

    In a statement, a council spokesman said the committee’s duties had been transferred to the Committee on Transportation. “The Council is working to do as much as it can legislatively to help all drivers,” the spokesman said.

    As of last week, no one had been appointed to the task force.

    On the last day of 2018, Mr. and Mrs. Hoque brought their third child home from the hospital.

    Mr. Hoque cleared space for the boy’s crib, pushing aside his plastic bags of T-shirts and the fan that cooled the studio. He looked around. He could not believe he was still living in the same room.

    His loan had quickly faltered. He could not make the payments and afford rent, and his medallion was seized. Records show he paid more than $12,000 to Mega, and he said he paid another $550 to Mr. Medina to get it back. He borrowed from friends, promising it would not happen again. Then it happened four more times, he said.

    Mr. Konstantinides, the broker, said in his statement that he met with Mr. Hoque many times and twice modified one of his loans in order to lower his monthly payments. He also said he gave Mr. Hoque extra time to make some payments.

    In all, between the initial fees, monthly payments and penalties after the seizures, Mr. Hoque had paid about $400,000 into the medallion by the beginning of this year.

    But he still owed $915,000 more, plus interest, and he did not know what to do. Bankruptcy would cost money, ruin his credit and remove his only income source. And it would mean a shameful end to years of hard work. He believed his only choice was to keep working and to keep paying.

    His cab was supposed to be his ticket to money and freedom, but instead it seemed like a prison cell. Every day, he got in before the sun rose and stayed until the sky began to darken. Mr. Hoque, now 48, tried not to think about home, about what he had given up and what he had dreamed about.

    “It’s an unhuman life,” he said. “I drive and drive and drive. But I don’t know what my destination is.”

    [Read Part 2 of The Times’s investigation: As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money]

    Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Suzanne Hillinger, Derek M. Norman, Elisha Brown, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Pierre-Antoine Louis and Sameen Amin. Doris Burke and Susan Beachy contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

    Follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at @brianmrosenthal

    #USA #New_York #Taxi #Betrug #Ausbeutung

  • Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes
    https://womenintheworld.com/2019/03/11/iranian-lawyer-who-defended-womens-right-to-remove-hijab-gets-38-ye

    After two trials described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair,” Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.

    Sotoudeh, who has dedicated her life to defending Iranian women prosecuted for removing their hijabs in public, has been in the crosshairs of Iran’s theocratic government for years.

  • The Future Is Here, and It Features Hackers Getting Bombed – Foreign Policy
    https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/06/the-future-is-here-and-it-features-hackers-getting-bombed


    Smoke billows from a targeted neighborhood in Gaza City during an Israeli airstrike on the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave on May 5.
    MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

    Israeli armed forces responded to a Hamas cyberattack by bombing the group’s hacking headquarters.

    With an airstrike on Sunday, the Israeli military provided a glimpse of the future of warfare.

    After blocking a cyberattack that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said was launched by operatives working on behalf of the militant group Hamas, the IDF carried out an airstrike in Gaza targeting the building in which the hackers worked, partially destroying it. The strike appears to be the first time that a nation’s military has responded in real time to a cyberattack with physical force.

    In a tweet, the IDF declared victory, saying: “We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.

    HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed,” the tweet added, in what appears to have been a macabre attempt at a joke using an invented file name.

    For years, countries have used policy documents and strategy white papers to warn that they reserved the right to choose the method by which they respond to cyberattacks, either in kind through cyberspace or with physical force, said Catherine Lotrionte, an expert on international law and a professor at Georgetown University. Now, Israel has made those warnings concrete.

    You’ve got a physical operation against a building that was in response to an ongoing cyberattack or at least a cyberattack that Hamas was planning—that’s the interesting part,” Lotrionte said.

    Key questions remain about the Israeli operation, and IDF officials declined to answer questions from Foreign Policy about the nature of the attack launched by Hamas against Israel.

    In a press statement, the IDF said Hamas “attempted to establish offensive cyber capabilities within the Gaza Strip and to try and harm the Israeli cyber realm.” These “efforts were discovered in advance and thwarted,” and following the operation to thwart the cyberattack, “the IDF attacked a building from which the members of Hamas’ cyber array operated.

    The decision to bomb a Hamas hacking unit comes as armed forces are increasingly integrating cyberoperations into their militaries, and the Israeli decision to target such a unit was completely unsurprising to scholars and practitioners of cyberwarfare.

    It’s no surprise that in a digital age marked by heightened risk of cyberwarfare a nation-state engaged in a noninternational armed conflict would regard the cyber-capabilities of its adversary as valid military targets under international law,” said David Simon, a lawyer at the law firm Mayer Brown who worked on cybersecurity policy and operations as a special counsel at the U.S. Defense Department.

    And even if the notion of bombing hackers appears surprising on its face, Israel was likely on solid legal footing when it did so, provided that the hackers were in fact carrying out an offensive operation on behalf of a militant group engaged in armed conflict with Israel.

    Legal experts emphasized that the context of Sunday’s strike was key in understanding Israel’s calculus to carry it out. The strike came amid a renewed period of fighting that saw Palestinian militants fire hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory, with Israel responding with an intense artillery and aerial barrage of Gaza.

    Militaries around the world have recognized cyberspace as a domain of military operations, and that leaves hackers participating in an armed conflict in a highly exposed position. “Hackers who are engaged in military attacks are legitimate targets,” said Gary Brown, a cyberlaw professor at the National Defense University.

    Militant groups such as Hamas have invested heavily in their online operations in recent years, using them as a way to poke at far more powerful, better resourced opponents. Cyberspace serves as a key way to distribute propaganda and gain intelligence about adversaries.

    In one notorious example, a hacker working on behalf of the militant group Islamic Jihad pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges of hacking into the video feeds of IDF drones carrying out surveillance over Gaza.

    Sunday’s bombing is not the first time hackers have been targeted in airstrikes—though it is believed to be the first time hackers engaged in an ongoing operation have been hit. In 2015, a U.S. airstrike in Syria killed the Islamic State hacker Junaid Hussain, who had become a prolific propagandist and recruiter for the group.

    Hussain hacked into the personal accounts of hundreds of U.S. service members and posted their personal information online and helped recruit the men who opened fire in 2015 on a cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas. As he ascended the ranks of the Islamic State’s leadership, he was singled out to be killed.

    Hussain’s killing arguably laid the groundwork for Sunday’s strike, which experts argue sends a message to hackers engaged in offensive activity.

    It’s kind of a wake-up call for people who thought they were going to be able to engage in cyberactivity with impunity,” Brown said. “It now looks like states are willing to reach behind the lines and strike hackers.

    • Si je lis bien le communiqué des Forces de défense israéliennes, il ne s’agit pas du tout d’une riposte comme cela est repris partout, mais bien d’une attaque préemptive, pour parler comme un précédent président états-unien.

      https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1125066395010699264

      CLEARED FOR RELEASE: We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.

      HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed.

      Je ne trouve pas le communiqué de presse du porte-parolat de l’armée israélienne. Mais celui-ci semble sans ambiguïté.

      IDF : Hamas cyber attack against Israel foiled - Israel National News
      http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/262717

      Over the course of the weekend, a joint IDF and Israel Security Agency (ISA) operation thwarted an attempted cyber attack by Hamas targeting Israeli sites, according to a press release by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit on Sunday.

      The Hamas terrorist organization attempted to establish offensive cyber capabilities within the Gaza Strip and to try and harm Israeli cyber targets.

      All of Hamas’ efforts were discovered in advance and thwarted. Hamas’ cyber efforts, which included an attempt in recent days, failed to achieve its goals.

      Following Israel’s technological activities to stop Hamas’s cyber efforts, the IDF attacked a building from which the members of Hamas’ cyber array operated.

      Israel’s cyber efforts and defensive capabilities have led Hamas’ cyber attempts to fail time and time again," a senior ISA official said.

    • On se demande vraiment comment David Israël, associé à David etats-unis, david Union européenne, david Canada, david Australie, david Nouvelle-Zélande, sans oublier les divers arabes modérés de la région, on se demande donc comment ces David et modérés réussissent à faire en sorte que les « cyber-efforts et les capacités défensives d’Israël » conduisent les « cyber-tentatives du [GOLIATHISSIME] Hamas à échouer à plusieurs reprises. »

  • Refugee, volunteer, prisoner: #Sarah_Mardini and Europe’s hardening line on migration

    Early last August, Sarah Mardini sat on a balcony on the Greek island of Lesvos. As the sun started to fade, a summer breeze rose off the Aegean Sea. She leaned back in her chair and relaxed, while the Turkish coastline, only 16 kilometres away, formed a silhouette behind her.

    Three years before, Mardini had arrived on this island from Syria – a dramatic journey that made international headlines. Now she was volunteering her time helping other refugees. She didn’t know it yet, but in a few weeks that work would land her in prison.

    Mardini had crossed the narrow stretch of water from Turkey in August 2015, landing on Lesvos after fleeing her home in Damascus to escape the Syrian civil war. On the way, she almost drowned when the engine of the inflatable dinghy she was travelling in broke down.

    More than 800,000 people followed a similar route from the Turkish coast to the Greek Islands that year. Almost 800 of them are now dead or missing.

    As the boat Mardini was in pitched and spun, she slipped overboard and struggled to hold it steady in the violent waves. Her sister, Yusra, three years younger, soon joined. Both girls were swimmers, and their act of heroism likely saved the 18 other people on board. They eventually made it to Germany and received asylum. Yusra went on to compete in the 2016 Olympics for the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. Sarah, held back from swimming by an injury, returned to Lesvos to help other refugees.

    On the balcony, Mardini, 23, was enjoying a rare moment of respite from long days spent working in the squalid Moria refugee camp. For the first time in a long time, she was looking forward to the future. After years spent between Lesvos and Berlin, she had decided to return to her university studies in Germany.

    But when she went to the airport to leave, shortly after The New Humanitarian visited her, Mardini was arrested. Along with several other volunteers from Emergency Response Centre International, or ERCI, the Greek non-profit where she volunteered, Mardini was charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, people smuggling, money laundering, and espionage.

    According to watchdog groups, the case against Mardini is not an isolated incident. Amnesty International says it is part of a broader trend of European governments taking a harder line on immigration and using anti-smuggling laws to de-legitimise humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants.

    Far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini recently pushed through legislation that ends humanitarian protection for migrants and asylum seekers, while Italy and Greece have ramped up pressure on maritime search and rescue NGOs, forcing them to shutter operations. At the end of March, the EU ended naval patrols in the Mediterranean that had saved the lives of thousands of migrants.

    In 2016, five other international volunteers were arrested on Lesvos on similar charges to Mardini. They were eventually acquitted, but dozens of other cases across Europe fit a similar pattern: from Denmark to France, people have been arrested, charged, and sometimes successfully prosecuted under anti-smuggling regulations based on actions they took to assist migrants.

    Late last month, Salam Kamal-Aldeen, a Danish national who founded the rescue non-governmental organisation Team Humanity, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, challenging what he says is a Greek crackdown on lifesaving activities.

    According to Maria Serrano, senior campaigner on migration at Amnesty International, collectively the cases have done tremendous damage in terms of public perception of humanitarian work in Europe. “The atmosphere… is very hostile for anyone that is trying to help, and this [has a] chilling effect on other people that want to help,” she said.

    As for the case against Mardini and the other ERCI volunteers, Human Rights Watch concluded that the accusations are baseless. “It seems like a bad joke, and a scary one as well because of what the implications are for humanitarian activists and NGOs just trying to save people’s lives,” said Bill Van Esveld, who researched the case for HRW.

    While the Lesvos prosecutor could not be reached for comment, the Greek police said in a statement after Mardini’s arrest that she and other aid workers were “active in the systematic facilitation of illegal entrance of foreigners” – a violation of the country’s Migration Code.

    Mardini spent 108 days in pre-trial detention before being released on bail at the beginning of December. The case against her is still open. Her lawyer expects news on what will happen next in June or July. If convicted, Mardini could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

    “It seems like a bad joke, and a scary one as well because of what the implications are for humanitarian activists and NGOs just trying to save people’s lives.”

    Return to Lesvos

    The arrest and pending trial are the latest in a series of events, starting with the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, that have disrupted any sense of normalcy in Mardini’s life.

    Even after making it to Germany in 2015, Mardini never really settled in. She was 20 years old and in an unfamiliar city. The secure world she grew up in had been destroyed, and the future felt like a blank and confusing canvas. “I missed Syria and Damascus and just this warmness in everything,” she said.

    While wading through these emotions, Mardini received a Facebook message in 2016 from an ERCI volunteer. The swimming sisters from Syria who saved a boat full of refugees were an inspiration. Volunteers on Lesvos told their story to children on the island to give them hope for the future, the volunteer said, inviting Mardini to visit. “It totally touched my heart,” Mardini recalled. “Somebody saw me as a hope… and there is somebody asking for my help.”

    So Mardini flew back to Lesvos in August 2016. Just one year earlier she had nearly died trying to reach the island, before enduring a journey across the Balkans that involved hiding from police officers in forests, narrowly escaping being kidnapped, sneaking across tightly controlled borders, and spending a night in police custody in a barn. Now, all it took was a flight to retrace the route.

    Her first day on the island, Mardini was trained to help refugees disembark safely when their boats reached the shores. By nighttime, she was sitting on the beach watching for approaching vessels. It was past midnight, and the sea was calm. Lights from the Turkish coastline twinkled serenely across the water. After about half an hour, a walkie talkie crackled. The Greek Coast Guard had spotted a boat.

    Volunteers switched on the headlights of their cars, giving the refugees something to aim for. Thin lines of silver from the reflective strips on the refugees’ life jackets glinted in the darkness, and the rumble of a motor and chatter of voices drifted across the water. As the boat came into view, volunteers yelled: “You are in Greece. You are safe. Turn the engine off.”

    Mardini was in the water again, holding the boat steady, helping people disembark. When the rush of activity ended, a feeling of guilt washed over her. “I felt it was unfair that they were on a refugee boat and I’m a rescuer,” she said.

    But Mardini was hooked. She spent the next two weeks assisting with boat landings and teaching swimming lessons to the kids who idolised her and her sister. Even after returning to Germany, she couldn’t stop thinking about Lesvos. “I decided to come back for one month,” she said, “and I never left.”
    Moria camp

    The island became the centre of Mardini’s life. She put her studies at Bard College Berlin on hold to spend more time in Greece. “I found what I love,” she explained.

    Meanwhile, the situation on the Greek islands was changing. In 2017, just under 30,000 people crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece, compared to some 850,000 in 2015. There were fewer arrivals, but those who did come were spending more time in camps with dismal conditions.

    “You have people who are dying and living in a four-metre tent with seven relatives. They have limited access to water. Hygiene is zero. Privacy is zero. Security: zero. Children’s rights: zero. Human rights: zero… You feel useless. You feel very useless.”

    The volunteer response shifted accordingly, towards the camps, and when TNH visited Mardini she moved around the island with a sense of purpose and familiarity, joking with other volunteers and greeting refugees she knew from her work in the streets.

    Much of her time was spent as a translator for ERCI’s medical team in Moria. The camp, the main one on Lesvos, was built to accommodate around 3,000 people, but by 2018 housed close to 9,000. Streams of sewage ran between tents. People were forced to stand in line for hours for food. The wait to see a doctor could take months, and conditions were causing intense psychological strain. Self-harm and suicide attempts were increasing, especially among children, and sexual and gender-based violence were commonplace.

    Mardini was on the front lines. “What we do in Moria is fighting the fire,” she said. “You have people who are dying and living in a four-metre tent with seven relatives. They have limited access to water. Hygiene is zero. Privacy is zero. Security: zero. Children’s rights: zero. Human rights: zero… You feel useless. You feel very useless.”

    By then, Mardini had been on Lesvos almost continuously for nine months, and it was taking a toll. She seemed to be weighed down, slipping into long moments of silence. “I’m taking in. I’m taking in. I’m taking in. But it’s going to come out at some point,” she said.

    It was time for a break. Mardini had decided to return to Berlin at the end of the month to resume her studies and make an effort to invest in her life there. But she planned to remain connected to Lesvos. “I love this island… the sad thing is that it’s not nice for everybody. Others see it as just a jail.”
    Investigation and Arrest

    The airport on Lesvos is on the shoreline close to where Mardini helped with the boat landing her first night as a volunteer. On 21 August, when she went to check in for her flight to Berlin, she was surrounded by five Greek police officers. “They kind of circled around me, and they said that I should come with [them],” Mardini recalled.

    Mardini knew that the police on Lesvos had been investigating her and some of the other volunteers from ERCI, but at first she still didn’t realise what was happening. Seven months earlier, in February 2018, she was briefly detained with a volunteer named Sean Binder, a German national. They had been driving one of ERCI’s 4X4s when police stopped them, searched the vehicle, and found Greek military license plates hidden under the civilian plates.

    When Mardini was arrested at the airport, Binder turned himself in too, and the police released a statement saying they were investigating 30 people – six Greeks and 24 foreigners – for involvement in “organised migrant trafficking rings”. Two Greek nationals, including ERCI’s founder, were also arrested at the time.

    While it is still not clear what the plates were doing on the vehicle, according Van Esveld from HRW, “it does seem clear… neither Sarah or Sean had any idea that these plates were [there]”.

    The felony charges against Mardini and Binder were ultimately unconnected to the plates, and HRW’s Van Esveld said the police work appears to either have been appallingly shoddy or done in bad faith. HRW took the unusual step of commenting on the ongoing case because it appeared authorities were “literally just [taking] a humanitarian activity and labelling it as a crime”, he added.
    Detention

    After two weeks in a cell on Lesvos, Mardini was sent to a prison in Athens. On the ferry ride to the mainland, her hands were shackled. That’s when it sank in: “Ok, it’s official,” she thought. “They’re transferring me to jail.”

    In prison, Mardini was locked in a cell with eight other women from 8pm to 8am. During the day, she would go to Greek classes and art classes, drink coffee with other prisoners, and watch the news.

    She was able to make phone calls, and her mother, who was also granted asylum in Germany, came to visit a number of times. “The first time we saw each other we just broke down in tears,” Mardini recalled. It had been months since they’d seen each other, and now they could only speak for 20 minutes, separated by a plastic barrier.

    Most of the time, Mardini just read, finishing more than 40 books, including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, which helped her come to terms with her situation. “I decided this is my life right now, and I need to get something out of it,” she explained. “I just accepted what’s going on.”

    People can be held in pre-trial detention for up to 18 months in Greece. But at the beginning of December, a judge accepted Mardini’s lawyer’s request for bail. Binder was released the same day.
    Lingering fear

    On Lesvos, where everyone in the volunteer community knows each other, the case came as a shock. “People started to be... scared,” said Claudia Drost, a 23-year-old from the Netherlands and close friend of Mardini’s who started volunteering on the island in 2016. “There was a feeling of fear that if the police… put [Mardini] in prison, they can put anyone in prison.”

    “We are standing [up] for what we are doing because we are saving people and we are helping people.”

    That feeling was heightened by the knowledge that humanitarians across Europe were being charged with crimes for helping refugees and migrants.

    During the height of the migration crisis in Europe, between the fall of 2015 and winter 2016, some 300 people were arrested in Denmark on charges related to helping refugees. In August 2016, French farmer Cédric Herrou was arrested for helping migrants and asylum seekers cross the French-Italian border. In October 2017, 12 people were charged with facilitating illegal migration in Belgium for letting asylum seekers stay in their homes and use their cellphones. And last June, the captain of a search and rescue boat belonging to the German NGO Mission Lifeline was arrested in Malta and charged with operating the vessel without proper registration or license.

    Drost said that after Mardini was released the fear faded a bit, but still lingers. There is also a sense of defiance. “We are standing [up] for what we are doing because we are saving people and we are helping people,” Drost said.

    As for Mardini, the charges have forced her to disengage from humanitarian work on Lesvos, at least until the case is over. She is back in Berlin and has started university again. “I think because I’m not in Lesvos anymore I’m just finding it very good to be here,” she said. “I’m kind of in a stable moment just to reflect about my life and what I want to do.”

    But she also knows the stability could very well be fleeting. With the prospect of more time in prison hanging over her, the future is still a blank canvas. People often ask if she is optimistic about the case. “No,” she said. “In the first place, they put me in… jail.”

    https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/feature/2019/05/02/refugee-volunteer-prisoner-sarah-mardini-and-europe-s-hardening-
    #criminalisation #délit_de_solidarité #asile #migrations #solidarité #réfugiés #Grèce #Lesbos #Moria #camps_de_réfugiés #Europe

    Avec une frise chronologique:

    ping @reka

  • Indonesia: Polish Tourist Sentenced to 5 Years for Treason | News | teleSUR English
    https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Indonesia-Polish-Tourist-Sentenced-to-5-Years-for-Treason-20190503-0

    Published 3 May 2019 Authorities accused Skrzypski of collaborating with members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a separatist organization which advocates for a non-violent approach to gain independence.

    Polish tourist Jakub Skrzypski maintains his innocence as the first foreigner in Indonesia to be found guilty of treason and receive a sentence of five years in prison.

    Skrzypski was arrested in Papua, which is located on the far east of Indonesia, in August of last year. The 39-year-old plans to appeal the sentence, saying he was a victim of a politically motivated “show trial. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak in my defense or to present any favorable evidence. I reject the trial as well as the verdict,” he told reporters.

    Authorities accused Skrzypski of collaborating with members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a separatist organization which advocates for a non-violent approach to gain independence. According to his lawyer, Latifah Anum Siregar, “he was a tourist and he was just visiting friends that he met over the internet and other people who he had been recommended to meet who turned out to be activists.”

    Along with Skrzypski, student Simon Magal, the nephew of a prominent West Papua activist Yosepha Alomang was also held. Magal had been jailed previously for a campaign against the Freeport McMoran goldmine in the province.

    While the organization is not outlawed in the country, public demonstrations in support of the movement are. It is also illegal to fly the Papua independence flag.

    Siregar pointed out at the trial that the grounds for accusing her client of treason are unfounded because the KNPB was not registered or classified as banned. The KNBP is one of four separatist campaigns in the region.

    Indonesian authorities also claim that Skrzypski attempted to arrange an arms deal for the group, but this accusation was not mentioned at the trial. According to Papua police spokesperson Suryadi Diaz, “he (Skrzypski) has been involved in buying ammunition for them.”

    Skrzypski denies all accusations, saying that he does not “even know [the conflict in Papua] very well” and reiterated that the “trip wasn’t a clandestine one. I was visiting friends.”

    The Indonesian military and police are documented as being suspicious of foreigners who communicate with Papuans. “The Skrzypski-Magal case is another example that the Indonesian government keeps blocking media access and deters independent reporting about Papua,” Indonesia’s representative for Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, stated.

    Despite the country promising to allow access to the media, the territory has remained restricted to international journalists.

    #Indonésie #Pologne #tourisme #espionnage #trahison

  • Saudi Arabia is carrying out a second oppressive mass slaughter in the era of King Salman, including children, protestors, and activists – European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
    https://www.esohr.org/en/?p=2196

    Without the knowledge of the victims’ families, the Saudi government today circulated awful news of the execution of 37 people, including minors, protestors, and the disabled. Many of them were linked to the Arab Spring protests that took place in Saudi Arabia, particular in the governorate of Qatif beginning on 17 February 2011. Others were charged by Saudi Arabia with spying for Iran, although most of the charges did not include evidence of actual acts of espionage.

    Among the names were at least six minors: Abdullah Salman Al Sarih and Abdulkarim Mohammad al-Hawaj, whose charges go back to when they were 16 years of age, and Said Mohammad al-Sakafi, Salman Amin Al Quraysh, Mujtaba Nadir al-Sweiket, and Abdulaziz Hassan Al Sahwi, whose charges date back to when they were 17. There are also suspicions that others are likely minors, but the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) was unable to obtain further details.

    Furthermore, among the shocking executions was Haidar Mohammad Al Laif, who according to Saudi Arabia – in its reply to the UN on 13 December 2017 – was given a final sentence of eight years.

    Many of the charges leveled against the individuals whose executions were announced by the Ministry of Interior were not classified as serious or terroristic crimes. For example, there were charges related to the right to expression, peaceful protest, peaceful association, signing political statements, possessing political documents and information on political detainees. Similarly, some of them have been accused of spreading Shi’ism and practicing non-traditional religious activities involving Shiites in the governorate of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia.

    The trials of most of the victims of today’s massacre, the details and proceedings of which the ESOHR has followed, have severely lacked the conditions for a fair trial. The trials have taken place in total secrecy and isolation from any of the victim’s relatives or in semi-secrecy, attended by only a few of the victim’s relatives – one to three at most. On the government’s part, select official media entities can attend, as well as members of executive agencies, such as the Mabahith (secret police), and members of the official human rights establishment. Meanwhile, no one from the public or members of civil society can be found at the trial.

    (...)

    In a report issued in February 2019 following a field visit to Saudi Arabia, the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emerson, called for “a prompt review of all current cases of prisoners charged and convicted of terrorist offenses who are facing the death penalty, in order to ensure that minimum international standards are met in each case.” He stressed that this means that the death penalty may not be imposed except for the most serious crimes leading to loss of life and may not be imposed on people who were minors at the time of their crimes or people with mental or cognitive disabilities. Ben Emerson’s report included a clear reference to those who were executed today, stating that when 24 people were brought to trial in June of 2016 because of pro-democracy protests in 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced 14 of them to death. This again confirms that the trials did not fulfill the required legal processes and the standards of a fair trial and that the accused were subjected to torture and were not able to have a lawyer. This case is a source of serious concern.

    The rapporteur also expressed particular concern vis-à-vis “a pattern of systematic oppression in the Eastern Province where most of the Shiite population lives,” noting that death sentences were issued against many members of the Shiite minority – who were facing imminent execution – for their participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012.

    The brutal executions carried out by Saudi Arabia today blatantly ignored the many urgent appeals of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and various committees. These appeals included many of the names of people who were killed by Saudi Arabia today:

    (...)

    With the executions today, the number of victims of execution since 2019 to today totals 105, while at this point in 2018 there were 48 executions. The rate has more than doubled by 50% compared to last year.

    As stipulated in Saudi Arabia, executions are carried out only after the signature of the king or his deputy, which makes King Salman directly and explicitly responsible for the executions carried out today.

    The ESOHR does not have information about some of the names mentioned as executed today. This goes back to the Saudi government’s closure of all spaces for civil society and the intimidation surrounding the families of the victims. The ESOHR also emphasizes the lack of confidence in the accounts offered by the state under the justification of “terrorism.”

    The ESOHR believes that Saudi Arabia has entered into a bloody era since the ascension of King Salman and his Crown Prince and their absolute control over the country, both internally and externally. The first and most heinous manifestation of this internal control was the mass execution of 2 January 2016. This was followed by numerous crimes, culminating in today’s crime of executing 37 citizens – among them minors, the disabled, and demonstrators – on charges that fall within freedom and opinion and expression and are not classified as criminal.

    After this heinous crime, the ESOHR calls for an international investigation to be opened in order to hold accountable all those responsible for the crimes and violations that have occurred. The ESOHR believes that this is the response that may bring this bloodshed to an end. The ESOHR also calls for a review of Saudi Arabia’s membership in various UN agencies and committees.

    The ESOHR is raising profound concerns about dozens of people threatened with becoming victims of other executions in the future and advocates all legal means to save their lives.

    #arabie_saoudite notre cliente et alliée

  • Des anges gardiens de l’Est au service d’une Europe vieillissante
    (anges gardiennes, non, plutôt ?)
    https://www.nouvelobs.com/societe/20190421.AFP5077/des-anges-gardiens-de-l-est-au-service-d-une-europe-vieillissante.html
    https://information.tv5monde.com/info/des-anges-gardiens-de-l-est-au-service-d-une-europe-vieillissa (avec des photos)

    Dans les cas les plus graves, le mal-être des auxiliaires de vie peut tourner à la dépression. En Roumanie, le phénomène est connu sous le nom de « syndrome italien ». Le terme désigne les troubles psychiatriques dont souffrent certaines soignantes ayant travaillé des années à l’étranger, souvent en Italie, laissant leur propre famille derrière elles.

    Durant la seule année dernière, plus de 150 femmes souffrant de ce syndrome ont été admises dans une unité spécialisée de l’hôpital psychiatrique de Iasi, dans le nord de la Roumanie.

    Parmi les anciennes patientes de l’unité, une quinquagénaire ayant travaillé en Italie de 2002 à 2014, décrit la montée d’une angoisse « profonde et sombre » au fil des ans : « C’est avantageux d’un point de vue de financier mais après la tête ne fonctionne plus correctement », confie cette mère de deux enfants sous couvert d’anonymat.

    « J’ai travaillé la plupart du temps auprès de malades d’Alzheimer, coincée entre quatre murs (...) Je leur ai sacrifié mes plus belles années ».

    also in english (article plus long, il semble)

    Care workers cross Europe’s east-west divide
    https://news.yahoo.com/care-workers-cross-europes-east-west-divide-024600024.html
    [AFP]
    Julia ZAPPEI with Ionut IORDACHESCU in Bucharest, AFP•April 21, 2019

    Women from Slovakia and Romania form the backbone of Austria’s domestic care sector (AFP Photo/JOE KLAMAR)

    Leoben (Austria) (AFP) - Every two weeks, Alena Konecna packs her bags to leave her own mother and daughter at home in Slovakia and travel some 400 kilometres (250 miles) across the border into Austria to take care of someone else’s mother.

    As citizens across the continent prepare to vote in May’s European Parliament elections, 40-year-old Konecna is an example of those who regularly take advantage of one of the EU’s most important pillars: the free movement of labour.

    She’s one of more than 65,000 people — mostly women from Slovakia and Romania — who form the backbone of Austria’s domestic care sector.

    For two weeks at a time, Konecna stays with the 89-year-old bedridden woman to cook and care for her.

    “Without care workers from abroad, the 24-hour care system would break down... No one (in Austria) wants to do it,” says Klaus Katzianka, who runs the agency that found Konecna her current job and who himself needs round-the-clock care due to a disability.

    But the arrangement may be coming under strain.

    – Demographic time bomb -

    Austria — along with other countries such as Germany, Greece and Italy — looked to poorer neighbouring states after the fall of communism to meet the need for carers generated by an ageing population and changing family structures.

    But it is “problematic to build a system on this,” says Kai Leichsenring, executive director of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.

    As eastern European nations become richer and their own populations age, workers there may increasingly choose to stay put, he warns.

    Western European nations would then have to look further afield — to Ukraine or China, for example — to meet the ever-growing demand.

    In Konecna’s case, she started to work as a caregiver more than two years ago in the town of Leoben, nestled amid mountains in the Austrian countryside, which reminds her of her home in Banska Bystrica in Slovakia.

    Previously the single mother worked in a factory in the car industry.

    Fed up with the long shifts and inspired by her mother’s erstwhile career as a nurse, in 2015 she took a three-month course in first aid and care skills, including some practical experience in nursing homes.

    She also took a one-month German course, allowing her to watch TV with her employer and read newspapers to her.

    Care workers can earn roughly double as much in Austria than in Slovakia, although Konecna says it’s hard to leave behind her daughter, now 19.

    “My daughter was often sick when I was away. And I have missed things like my daughter’s birthday,” she says, adding she would prefer working in Slovakia if wages were better there.

    – ’Italy syndrome’ -

    Besides being separated from their families, there are other problems in how the sector works across Europe.

    A study by the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz found inadequate training, extreme working hours and salaries below the legal minimum wage.

    Up to 300,000 caregivers are estimated to work in private homes in Germany, mostly illegally. They previously hailed mostly from Poland but now increasingly come from poorer EU states such as Romania and Slovakia.

    Konecna was put off going to Germany by the more gruelling cycle which is common there, with workers staying three months at a time.

    For many of those from poorer EU member states working in the West, workplace conditions can leave lasting effects.

    In Romania, more than 150 women were hospitalised at Socola Psychiatric Hospital in the country’s northeast last year alone, their mental health having suffered after caring for the elderly abroad — what has become known as the “Italy syndrome”.

    “I had the misfortune to work all the time for elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s so I spent most of my time between four walls, under constant pressure,” says one former hospital patient, a 58-year-old mother of two who worked in Italy from 2002 until 2014.

    “I devoted the most beautiful years of my life to elderly Italians.”

    – ’Big minus’ -

    Added to the stress of such jobs, there are signs that EU migrant workers like Konecna may come under fire from their host governments.

    Last year in Austria for example, the right-wing government decided to cut the amount of child benefit paid to foreigners who work in Austria but whose children live abroad in lower income countries.

    With a monthly salary of about 1,200 euros ($1,400), Konecna says the changes have meant an effective pay cut of 80 euros, a “big minus” for her.

    Katzianka, who fears difficulties to find carers from Slovakia now, has hired a lawyer for Konecna to contest the change.

    Romania has also protested to the European Commission over the change, saying it violates EU principles of equal treatment.

  • U.S.-Thai pair facing death for ’sea home’ should fight the charge: Thailand says - Reuters
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-seahome-idUSKCN1RV0KM


    A floating home, lived in by an American man and his Thai partner, is pictured in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket island in Thailand, April 13, 2019. Picture taken April 13, 2019.
    Royal Thai Navy/Handout via REUTERS

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - A senior Thai government official on Friday urged a U.S. man and a Thai woman on the run from a possible death sentence for building an off-shore “sea home” to fight the charge in court.

    The two, Chad Elwartowski and his partner Supranee Thepdet, have been accused of violating Thai sovereignty by raising a small cabin on top of a big, weighted spar in what they say are international waters, 14 nautical miles off the west-coast Thai island of Phuket.

    But Thailand says the structure is in its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

    I urge them to get a lawyer to fight this case,” Supoj Rodruang Na Nongkhai, the deputy provincial governor of Phuket, told Reuters.

    He said the two were believed to be in hiding in Thailand.

    They have been charged under a law on the violation of sovereignty, which stipulates punishment of life in prison or death.

    Thailand will proceed with everything according to the law. We are not threatening them,” Supoj said.

    #EEZ_madness

  • » Palestinian child dies of injuries sustained two weeks ago
    April 15, 2019 8:23 AM - IMEMC News
    https://imemc.org/article/palestinian-child-dies-of-injuries-sustained-two-weeks-ago

    Palestinian medical sources report that a Palestinian child, Issac Abdul Muti Suwailm Eshteiwi , 16, from Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, died of injuries sustained when he was shot by Israeli forces east of Rafah near the border fence on April 3rd.

    After he was shot, the injured boy was grabbed by Israeli soldiers who thrust him into a military vehicle and took him to a military base in Israel. The Israeli military claimed that Issac and two other children were attempting to escape over the border fence when they were shot.

    When the incident occurred, one of the teens suffered fatal injuries when he was shot. The Israeli military reported that Issac suffered “mild injuries” after he was shot at close range by their sharpshooters, and the third boy was taken onto custody without reported injury.

    But he has remained in Israeli custody since being shot, and his family has not been allowed to see him, according to local sources.

    His parents were informed on Sunday that Issac had succumbed to his injuries. It is unknown whether further injuries had been inflicted upon him while in Israeli military custody due to “harsh interrogation”/torture. Injured Palestinians detained by Israeli forces have frequently reported that Israeli forces torture them while in custody.

    #Palestine_assassinée #marcheduretour

    • Israel To Release Corpse Of Slain Teen Who Was Killed In April
      July 2, 2019 1:36 AM
      https://imemc.org/article/israel-to-release-corpse-of-slain-teen-who-was-killed-in-april

      The Israeli Authorities have decided, Monday, to release the corpse of a Palestinian teen, identified as Ishaq Abdul-Mo’ti Eshteiwi, 16, who was killed by Israeli army fire in April of this year.

      The decision came after the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights filed an appeal with Israeli courts demanding the transfer of the teen’s corpse to his family.

      Yahia Mohareb, a lawyer with al-Mezan, said that the center filed the appeal on April 15th, asking for allowing the transfer of the slain teen to his family for burial.

      A senior official at the Palestinian District Coordination Office said, Monday, that Israel has informed them that the Ishaq’s corpse will be transferred on Tuesday, July 2d.

      Ishaq was from Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip; he was shot with several live rounds in the abdomen, and the upper extremities, after crossing the perimeter fence.

      After shooting him, the soldiers took him to a hospital, and abducted Hamad Mousa al-Bahabsa, 16, and Mansour Fawwaz ash-Shawi, 16. Ash-Shawi was shot in his left leg, and both teens were later released and sent back to the Gaza Strip.

      It is worth mentioning that Israel is still holding the copses of 12 Palestinians, who were killed during the ongoing Great Return March processions in the Gaza Strip, after they crossed the perimeter fence, in the Gaza Strip.

  • From Warm Intro to $107M: Qwil’s Step-By-Step Fundraising Journey
    https://hackernoon.com/from-warm-intro-to-107m-qwils-step-by-step-fundraising-journey-412315450

    It’s a near-universal pain point for freelancers: the unpredictable cash flow cycle. It’s common to wait 30-plus days to be paid after completing a job, and sometimes, it’s just too long.Qwil, says its co-founder and CEO, Johnny Reinsch, was born out of his own experience as an independent contractor with a high-value client that paid him late. “I was about to overdraw my bank account the day before my payment was due,” he says. “I tracked down the finance person and got the money just in time, but I was like, ‘why does it have to work this way?’”As a self-described “recovering M&A lawyer” and a former exec at bitcoin wallet Xapo, he knew that it didn’t.Enter Qwil — a fintech company with a mission to “empower freelancers with instant, convenient access to credit.” For businesses, it’s a way to (...)

    #entrepreneurship #founders #startup #loans #venture-capital

  • #hodlonaut’s pro bono lawyer: “I cannot imagine practicing law in any other field.”
    https://hackernoon.com/hodlonauts-pro-bono-lawyer-i-cannot-imagine-practicing-law-in-any-other-

    Hodlonaut’s pro bono lawyer: "I cannot imagine practicing law in any other field."Source, https://weareallhodlonaut.com/via community.hackernoon.com,START A CRYPTO THREADHodlonaut’s pro bono lawyer: “I cannot imagine practicing law in any other field.” was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    #satoshi-nakamoto #hodlnaur-lawyer #craig-wright #donate-to-hodlonaut

  • Nowhere to go: #Myanmar farmers under siege from land law

    The Myanmar government has tightened a law on so-called ’vacant, fallow and virgin’ land, and farmers are at risk.

    Han Win Naung is besieged on his own land.

    Last September, local administrators in Myanmar’s southern Tanintharyi region put up a sign at the edge of his 5.7-hectare farm that read “Under Management Ownership - Do Not Trespass”.

    They felled the trees and started building a drug rehabilitation facility and an agriculture training school on opposite ends of his plot.

    He was eventually informed that the administrators were challenging his claim to the land and had filed charges against him under a controversial law that could see him jailed for three years.

    “I didn’t know what this law was,” the 37-year-old farmer told Al Jazeera. “I didn’t understand what was happening to us. They also asked us to move. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

    Han Win Naung is accused of violating the Vacant, Fellow and Virgin (#VFV) Lands Management Law which requires anyone living on land categorised as “vacant, fallow, and virgin” to apply for a permit to continue using it for the next 30 years.

    According to estimates based on government data, this category totals more than 20 million hectares or 30 percent of Myanmar’s land area. Three-quarters of it is home to the country’s ethnic minorities.

    The law has sparked outrage among land-rights activists, who say it criminalises millions of farmers who do not have permits and lays the ground for unchecked land seizures by the government, the military and private companies.

    Struggle to survive

    “The more people learn about this law, the more they will use it against farmers who cannot afford lawyers,” said a lawyer who is representing Han Win Naung. She asked to be identified only as a member of Tanintharyi Friends, a group that represents several farmers who have been sued under this law.

    Now Han Win Naung’s farm is in disrepair. Because of the lawsuit, he has been unable to tend to the mango, banana and cashew trees that have sustained his family since his father set up the farm 28 years ago.

    “We haven’t been able to do anything on the farm since September … We are facing a lot of trouble getting food on the table,” he said.

    The VFV law is modelled on a British colonial policy in which land occupied by indigenous people was labelled “wasteland” in order to justify seizing it and extracting its revenue. After independence, Myanmar’s military rulers adopted the strategy as a way to ensure they could feed their ranks.

    In 2012, the nominally civilian government under former general Thein Sein enshrined the strategy into law, referring to the targeted land as “vacant, fallow, and virgin” instead of “wasteland”.

    Last year, despite coming to power on a platform of protecting the land rights of smallholder farmers and promising to reverse all military land grabs within a single year, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) made the VFV law stricter.

    With the NLD’s endorsement, arrests and evictions of farmers like Han Win Naung are accelerating.

    In September 2018, Myanmar’s parliament, which is controlled by the NLD, passed an amendment that imposed a two-year prison sentence on anyone found living on “vacant, fallow, and virgin land” without a permit after March 11.

    This gave millions of farmers, many of them illiterate or unable to speak Burmese, just six months to complete a Kafkaesque process of claiming land they already consider their own.

    According to a survey conducted by the Mekong Region Land Governance Project, in the month before the deadline, 95 percent of people living on so-called VFV land had no knowledge of the law.

    ’Torn up’

    As the deadline approached, local land-rights activists jumped into action, sending petitions to the government demanding that the law be repealed.

    In November, 300 civil society organisations signed an open letter denouncing the law as “an effort to grab the land of ethnic peoples across the country”, especially land belonging to hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people who have no ability to apply for permits.

    In December, the Karen National Union (KNU), a powerful ethnic armed organisation that had recently withdrawn from the national peace process, called for the VFV law to be “torn up”, raising the spectre of future conflict.

    But these petitions fell on deaf ears, and as the deadline expired, millions of people, many of whose families had been on the same land for generations, became trespassers.

    Saw Alex Htoo, deputy director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), blames the NLD’s pursuit of foreign investment for the policy.

    “The NLD is pushing for investment to come into the country without really looking at what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “That’s the only way they could support this VFV law, which is inviting conflict and will displace millions of farmers across the country.”

    When asked why the party would pass an amendment that could harm so many people, NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt said that while land disputes might arise, the purpose of the law was not mass dispossession.

    “The purpose of the law is to promote the rule of law,” he said.

    "When we implement the new law, those affected have the responsibility to understand and follow it. If they have grievances, they can report them to the relevant committee addressing land grabs. There will be some people who are affected negatively by this law, but that is not the intention of this law.

    “The government is working to improve the livelihood and quality of life in Myanmar and the rule of law.”

    Ye Lin Myint, national coordinator for the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), said enforcement of the VFV law actually calls the rule of law into question because it contradicts several earlier government commitments, including the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the government and eight ethnic armed organizations.

    “The NCA clearly states that during the peace process, there should be no land seizures,” he said. “This law will start a domino effect of ethnic conflict.”

    Conflict over the VFV law has already begun. At least one activist has been arrested for protesting against it and observers say the NLD’s role in generating conflict risks a backlash in next year’s election.

    “The ruling National League for Democracy party are really shooting themselves in the foot with the VFV law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “This will be a human rights disaster that goes to the doorstep of millions of farmers across the nation, and it’s a fair bet they will punish those they consider responsible in the next election.”

    Han Win Naung attests to this. Since he was sued, his 80-year-old father has stopped eating and cannot sleep. His children, nieces, and nephews are embarrassed to go to school.

    “People like us have been suffering since this government came to power,” he said. “We don’t think we will be voting for the NLD in 2020.”

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/myanmar-farmers-siege-land-law-190328003658355.html
    #Birmanie #terres #agriculture #géographie_du_vide #loi #expulsion #minorités #accaparemment_des_terres
    ping @odilon

  • #Venezuela : du fait des sanctions états-uniennes, le Venezuela est dans l’impossibilité de régler les indemnités d’expropriation de mines d’or. Les sociétés créancières essaient de mettre la main sur la pépite de PDVSA, sa filiale pétrolière aux É.-U. (article de décembre 2018)
    Venezuela’s deals to shield Citgo from creditors now in doubt - Reuters
    https://fr.reuters.com/article/bondsNews/idUKL1N1YG26B

    Venezuela is facing the possible unraveling of a pair of billion-dollar settlements aimed at protecting the cash-strapped country’s U.S.-based Citgo Petroleum Corp from seizure by creditors.

    A lawyer for Canadian mining company Crystallex International Corp said on Tuesday Venezuela had breached the $1.4 billion November agreement that resolved a long-running fight over an expropriated gold mine.

    Separately, Venezuela’s $1.3 billion settlement in October with Rusoro Mining of Vancouver, also over expropriated mining assets, has been upended by U.S. sanctions on Caracas, a source told Reuters.

    Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

    Both companies had their sights on getting a U.S. court order to auction the parent company of Citgo, which is indirectly owned by Venezuela through its state oil company, PDVSA.

    • Après avoir éjecté du procès PDVSA, maison mère de Citgo, comme n’ayant pas intérêt à agir, un juge états-unien accède à la requête de Juan Guaidó en lui reconnaissant un intérêt à agir en tant que représentant légitime du Venezuela et en accordant un délai de 120 jours pour préparer l’argumentaire juridique.

      U.S. court allows Venezuela’s Guaido to argue in Crystallex case - Reuters
      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-crystallex-idUSKCN1R22C4

      In a March 20 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said Guaido’s representatives could request a stay in the dispute with Crystallex, which is going after Citgo to collect on an arbitration award in compensation for Venezuela’s expropriation of a gold mining project.

      We grant the Republic of Venezuela’s motion to intervene,” Judge Thomas Ambro wrote, referring to a March 1 request by Venezuela’s lawyers for a 120-day stay to allow Guaido’s interim government “sufficient time to evaluate its position in this and other cases.