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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Syria

  • Some analysts are criticizing Pres. Trump for what seems like a u-turn in Syria: withdrawing U.S. troops from the northeast, and then planning to redeploy troops in the east.
  • He probably began to worry that neither the SDF nor Turkey is willing to bear responsibility for containing IS, and decided to step back into Syria to prevent an IS resurgence.
  • Of course, U.S. troops will have a harder time in Syria if the SDF doesn’t have their backs, which is probably why Trump is encouraging evicted Kurds to move to Syria’s eastern oil region.

Aviation

  • Indonesian air accident investigators released their final report into last year’s Lion Air Boeing 737 Max crash. The 353-page report found nine contributing factors, including a sensor that was installed without testing, an unprepared first officer, and an earlier cockpit issue that should’ve grounded the plane. An investigator summarized: “If one of the nine hadn’t occurred, maybe the accident wouldn’t have occurred.”
  • That doesn’t absolve Boeing of responsibility: those nine factors were mainly human errors related to interfacing with an overly complicated plane, and could have been partially prevented through better plane design and training.
  • Boeing said it’s doing what it can to fix vulnerabilities and prevent future crashes—for example, by updating its manuals and training programs, and redesigning the plane’s Angle of Attack sensors so the anti-stall system would only engage if both sensors agree.

China

  • The EU gave the Sakharov prize—its highest human rights award—to Ilham Tohti, a Uighur activist that China jailed for life on separatism charges in 2014. European Parliament President David Sassoli prodded China further in his statement announcing the prize: “By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China.” A WaPo article summarizing the significance of the award is pasted below.
  • Separately, VP Pence gave a forceful speech on China, in which he criticized American companies like Nike and the NBA for “willfully ignor[ing]” China’s “abuses of human rights,” and accused the NBA in particular of “checking its social conscience at the door” for giving in to China by muffling concerns about Hong Kong.
  • A Chinese team was kicked out of an orienteering event at the Military Games it organized, after six other countries competing in the event alerted judges to “extensive cheating”—including assistance from local spectators who marked the way for Chinese competitors, and flummoxed other athletes.

U.S.

  • California’s largest power utility, PG&E, said that a jumper at a transmission tower broke near the origin of the fast-growing Kincaid fire, at around the time the fire started. The obvious implication is that the resulting sparks may have ignited this fire.
  • PG&E—which is facing criticism and legal action for failing to repair faulty equipment that caused previous fires—stopped short of admitting that this broken jumper could’ve caused the latest blaze.

Other News

  • Australia permanently banned tourists from climbing Ayers Rock / Uluru, a landmark in the middle of the desert that the indigenous Anangu people consider sacred and have always asked people not to climb.
  • Ethiopian PM Abiy’s one-time Oromo ally, Jawar Mohammed, is stirring protests against persistent ethnic tensions—even though Abiy, who’s also Oromo, has done a lot to settle ethnic arguments. Regional leaders like Jawar now want to claw back more power and resources for their tribe.

E.U.’s Sakharov human rights prize awarded to jailed Uighur intellectual, probably angering China (Washington Post)

The European Union on Thursday awarded its highest human rights prize to the imprisoned Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti in a move that pointedly rebuked China’s treatment of the Muslim ethnic minority and may draw a reprisal from Beijing.

Tohti, an economist who advocated greater autonomy for the Uighurs of Xinjiang in western China, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 on separatism charges. He had spent years criticizing Chinese government restrictions and crackdowns on Uighur culture and calling for dialogue between his people and the Han ethnic majority in China.

In a statement announcing the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, European Parliament President David Sassoli called Tohti “a voice of moderation and reconciliation” and noted that China has detained more than 1 million Uighurs in internment camps since 2017.

“By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China,” Sassoli said.

Abortions, IUDs and sexual humiliation: Muslim women who fled China for Kazakhstan recount ordeals

The award is likely to anger the Chinese government, which has reacted furiously in the past to international institutions recognizing Chinese dissidents with human rights awards. China punished Norway with years-long, unofficial restrictions on salmon imports and visas after a Norwegian committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the writer Liu Xiaobo, who died in Chinese government custody in 2017.

In recent years, however, Chinese officials have appeared to tolerate a degree of criticism from Europe, a region they have sought to woo amid a withering trade war with the United States.

Beijing has bristled at Western criticism of its sprawling internment network in western Xin­jiang, which it defends as a cultural integration and job training campaign for Muslim Uighurs.

The Chinese government has introduced policies in Xinjiang encouraging Uighur to intermarry with Han and study Chinese language and classics. Meanwhile, other prominent Uighur intellectuals such as Rahile Dawut, an expert on Uighur folklore at Xinjiang University, also have been detained under murky circumstances for years.

Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham, who lives in Washington, said the award was a recognition of the plight facing Uighurs.

“I hope this award will motivate other countries to speak up and take actions against the atrocities the Uighur people are facing today,” she said in a text message, adding that she hoped to travel to Strasbourg, France, to accept the award on her imprisoned father’s behalf.

In a faxed comment, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of the award and called Tohti a criminal sentenced by a Chinese court according to law. “We hope all parties could respect China’s domestic affairs and judicial sovereignty, and not be boosters for terrorists,” it said.

Earlier this month, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denounced the university lecturer as “a separatist in support of extreme terrorism” who recruited students into militant causes and condemned the European Parliament’s consideration of the Sakharov Prize as “an insult on and a travesty to human rights.”

Although Xinjiang has been struck by militant separatist attacks and racial violence in the past, international human rights groups say the Chinese internment program is vastly disproportionate to the threat and tantamount to a wholesale effort to erase the religion and culture of more than 10 million Uighurs.

The Sakharov Prize is named for the late Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, who was feted by the Soviet system as a star physicist before he became one of its fiercest critics and a staunch human rights campaigner.

Former winners of the Sakharov Prize include South African leader Nelson Mandela, Pakistani women’s rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg ­Sentsov. Since its inception in 1988, the prize has been given twice to Chinese citizens: veteran pro-democracy activists Hu Jia, in 2008, and Wei Jingsheng, in 1996.

In a message to The Washington Post late Thursday, Hu, who has spent most of the past two decades in prison and house arrest, said he supported Tohti for the Sakharov Prize in 2016 — before China ramped up its detention program in Xinjiang — but he was not chosen.

“Since then, the condition of the Uighur people has gone off a precipice, something like the Jews of Europe historically,” Hu said. “This finally left the world with no choice but to speak up.”

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