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Trump freezes funds aim to help Hong Kong protesters


The Trump Administration has frozen funding intended to help people in Hong Kong evade surveillance by the Chinese government, sources with knowledge of the matter tell Media, just as Beijing prepares to impose a new national security law that protesters fear will erode civil liberties there. NRM learnt

The funding freeze came on June 9, five days after Michael Pack, an ally of President Trump, was confirmed by the Senate to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees federal funding of several Internet freedom and foreign news initiatives, including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Senior staff at the agency were informed in an email, obtained by Noble Reporters Media, that Pack had suspended funding on a range of activities at the agency. In the email, USAGM’s chief financial officer Grant Turner cited a request by Pack to immediately freeze “new contracts or extensions of any contract” from the agency’s federal operations and grantees, as well as on new hires and promotions.

Riot police round up a group of protesters during the a demonstration against a law criminalizing insulting the Chinese national anthem, on May 27, 2020 in Hong Kong.
 Willie Siau—SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The freeze affected several contracts—estimated by two sources with knowledge of them to be worth around $2 million—that would have directly benefited the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In a statement, the USAGM did not dispute the $2 million figure, but said that it was committed to defending Internet freedom in the region. “USAGM CEO Michael Pack understands the scale and nature of the threat posed by opponents of freedom of expression, and that is precisely why he considers bolstering [Chinese] firewall circumvention a top priority of his tenure at the agency,” a spokesperson said.


The funds were set to be distributed by the Washington-based Open Technology Fund (OTF), group overseen by USAGM that funds open-source Internet freedom projects around the world. The OTF is officially an independent non-profit, but is funded by Congress with government oversight.

The Trump Administration’s funding freeze came less than a month after the Chinese Communist Party announced plans for a national security law that will make secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces a crime. Pro-democracy campaigners say the law, which is expected to be passed on Tuesday and take immediate effect, will curtail Hong Kong’s autonomy and the freedoms it enjoys that distinguish it from mainland China.

The impending legislation, and another controversial law that criminalizes insulting China’s national anthem, have sparked fresh rounds of unrest in Hong Kong in recent weeks—though protests have so far failed to regain the momentum they had in the second half of 2019.

One of the OTF’s plans ahead of the national security law coming into force in Hong Kong was to set up a cybersecurity incident response team focused on Hong Kong. The team would have analyzed Chinese surveillance techniques, and shared information quickly with developers of secure communications apps after identifying how those techniques are developing, two people with knowledge of the plans said. Those plans were made impossible by the funding freeze.


Another initiative hamstrung by the freeze was the OTF’s approximately $500,000 rapid response fund, designed to provide fast relief for civil society groups, protesters, journalists and human rights defenders who have come under digital attack. The fund is open to applicants from around the world, but has made several payouts to groups in Hong Kong since unrest began there in June 2019. The freeze has so far prevented at least one Hong Kong-related payout from the rapid response fund. That payout was described by two people with knowledge of the plans as being for a large project focused on helping civil society groups in Hong Kong with their digital security.

The OTF is little-known outside the world of open source technology, but its funding has contributed to the development of secure communications tools used by protesters in Hong Kong and around the world. It was a key early funder of Signal, the encrypted messaging app of choice for many Hong Kong protesters. Between 2012 and 2016, it donated nearly $3 million to the development of the encryption protocol the app is built on. (The app has since received at least $50 million in other private investment.) The OTF has also directed funds toward projects dedicated to collecting and preserving information shared on the Chinese social networks Weibo and Wechat before posts are censored. It has also invested more than $6 million in Tor, the encrypted internet service that can mask browsing habits from authorities, popular among dissidents around the world.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [the freeze] is negatively impacting the Hong Kong protesters and putting them at risk, as well as lots of other folks around the world,” said a U.S. Agency for Global Media official who spoke to Media on condition of anonymity to protect their employment. “I’m almost certain that they didn’t take into account the timing of the national security law. It was sort of a carte blanche thing on day one and I’m not sure if they are really appreciating the operational impact.”

Many Hong Kongers, especially pro-democracy protesters, already use virtual private networks (VPNs), which can help disguise web browsing habits from authorities, to help circumvent monitoring by police. Additionally, in May, as the news of the national security law was first trickling out, Google searches for “VPN” spiked in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not subject to the internet censorship of China’s Great Firewall, though some fear the effects the security law will have on digital freedom.


“Hong Kong protesters get really geeky about the tools they use,” says Harvey, a freelance programmer from Hong Kong who has participated in the pro-democracy protests and worked with the OTF in the past. He asked to use a pseudonym to protect his identity. “It’s always looming in the minds of Hong Kongers. It’s a place that has one country, two internets, but everybody is scared that [soon] we won’t.”

U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is a touchy subject. During the 2019 protests, protesters openly called for foreign intervention and waved U.S. flags at demonstrations. But the Chinese government has frequently claimed that “foreign forces” are behind the protests. Assistance so far, when it has come, has come from bodies at arm’s length from the U.S. government like the OTF and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), another non-profit predominantly funded by Congress, which spent about $643,000 on Hong Kong programs in 2019. (These programs are described as fostering civil society in Hong Kong; the NED says it has not sent aid to protesters.) In December, China announced sanctions against the NED and several other U.S-based non-profits for “strongly instigat[ing] extremely violent criminal activities,” according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. The OTF has so far evaded Chinese sanctions, although activists fear the new national security law could criminalize protesters’ ties with foreign organizations if authorities consider them to be damaging to national security.

But now the OTF finds itself paralyzed by its own leadership at what current and former insiders say is a critical time. With the national security law looming, Hong Kong protesters are “afraid that any speech or activity that they are involved in could be deemed criminal under this new law, because the CCP is very vague in its wording and expansive in its application, historically, of these laws,” says Libby Liu, the OTF’s former CEO, who resigned on June 13 in response to the funding freeze. “We have several projects housed in Hong Kong. So those people could be caught up in the net that says taking U.S. government funds is a subversive behavior, since the CCP has already found those things to fall within subversive activity or a risk to national security.” So far, Beijing has not released the full draft text of the security law.

The June 9 email announcing the freeze on funding included a line asking urgent exemptions to be raised with senior USAGM staff. In response, OTF staff sent an email requesting all their pending contracts, including the Hong Kong funding, be exempted. As of June 25, they had not received a response to their request and the freeze is still in place, two people with knowledge of the matter said, N.Rs learnt.


Four days after she resigned, Liu was fired and prevented from serving her month’s notice, as she had planned. Laura Cunningham, the OTF’s principal director, was also fired. On Tuesday, the OTF filed a federal lawsuit arguing Pack lacked the legal authority to fire OTF staff and freeze funding. In a statement gathered by NRM, USAGM declined to comment on the pending litigation, but about Pack’s decision to fire senior staff, said: “All of the actions that CEO Michael Pack took are legal, and he stands by them.”

The firings are part of a broader shakeup at USAGM, in what insiders fear is part of a plan to turn the agency into a more overt propaganda operation for the U.S. government. In early May, Trump criticized Voice of America for what he said was the broadcaster’s failure to take a hard line on U.S. adversaries. He then pushed the Senate, which had delayed approving Pack for the role for two years, to confirm him. Upon his confirmation, Pack also fired the heads of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe, and two of USAGM’s other international broadcasting agencies. The two most senior staff members at Voice of America quit in anticipation of Pack’s arrival. As well as clearing most senior staff, Pack replaced the bipartisan board overseeing the agency and stacked it with conservatives.

“The Trump Administration has, I think, felt like either their positions are not being represented fairly, or that the agency should be doing more advocacy of their positions,” the USAGM official who spoke to Media on condition of anonymity said. “The fear now is that the political leadership thinks of this more as a messaging tool for the Trump Administration.”

Meanwhile, as opposition to the national security law continues in Hong Kong, a segment of the U.S. government’s behind-the-scenes support has been on pause for more than two weeks. “The people in Hong Kong are so well-prepared,” Liu says. “They know what the threat is, and they have been protesting for over a year. They are all trying to get ready. And we can’t help them get ready if we can’t be in business.”



Thousands protest China’s proposal in HK

Riot police detain a protester during a demonstration against Beijing’s national security legislation in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, May 24, 2020. Vincent Yu—AP

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protesters in a popular shopping district Sunday, as thousands took to the streets to march against China’s move to impose national security legislation on the city.

Pro-democracy supporters have sharply criticized a proposal, set to be approved by China’s rubber-stamp parliament this week, that would ban secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference, in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The pro-democracy camp says the proposal goes against the “one country, two systems” framework that promises Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China.

Crowds of demonstrators dressed in black gathered in the Causeway Bay district on Sunday, chanting slogans such as “Stand with Hong Kong,” “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Revolution of our times.”


The protest was a continuation of a monthslong pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong that began last year and has at times descended into violence between police and protesters.

Police raised blue flags, warning protesters to disperse, before firing multiple rounds of tear gas. They later fired a water cannon at the demonstrators.

At least 120 people were arrested, mostly on charges of unlawful assembly, police said in a Facebook post.


They said in a separate post that protesters threw bricks and splashed unidentified liquid at officers, injuring at least four members of the police media liaison team. They warned that such behavior is against the law and that police would pursue the matter.

Earlier in the afternoon, prominent activist Tam Tak-chi was arrested during the protest for what police said was unauthorized assembly. Tam said he was giving a “health talk” and was exempt from social-distancing measures that prohibit gatherings of more than eight people.

The bill that triggered Sunday’s rally was submitted at the opening of China’s national legislative session on Friday. It would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and could allow mainland agencies to be set up in the city, sparking concern that Chinese agents could arbitrarily arrest people for activities deemed to be pro-democracy.


Speaking at an annual news conference during the legislative session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that Hong Kong affairs were an internal matter for China, and that “no external interference will be tolerated.”

“Excessive unlawful foreign meddling in Hong Kong affairs has placed China’s national security in serious jeopardy,” Wang said, adding that the proposed legislation “does not affect the high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong.”

‘Saddest Day in Hong Kong’s History’
“It does not affect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents. And it does not affect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong,” he said.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called the proposal “a death knell for the high degree of autonomy” that Beijing promised the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong prior to its handover to China, lamented what he called “a new Chinese dictatorship.”

“I think the Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China, which has proved once again that you can’t trust it further than you can throw it,” Patten said in an interview with The Times of London.


Patten is leading a coalition of at least 204 international lawmakers and policymakers who are decrying the proposed legislation. In a statement, the coalition called it a “flagrant breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a 1984 treaty that promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy even after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said it appeared that China was violating the 1984 treaty.

“And I can’t see how Hong Kong remains the Asian financial center if the Chinese Communist Party goes through and implements this national security law and takes over Hong Kong,” O’Brien said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”


“That would be a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, but it will also be very bad for China.,” he said.

Bernard Chan, a top-level Hong Kong politician and delegate to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, defended the national security legislation pushed by China, saying it was written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the city’s mini-constitution — but never enacted.

Chan expressed concern that Hong Kong would inevitably face economic hardship given trade frictions between the U.S. and China.


“I think we are definitely the collateral damage being dragged into this thing. But then, I don’t think there’s any alternatives,” he said.

“But with or without this law, honestly, the U.S. and China are always going to be continuing this loggerhead for quite some time to come,” Chan said. “China will remain as a threat to the U.S. in terms of the … world economic dominance.”



Protesters full APC Secretariat, demand Oshiomhole’s resignation

A group under the auspecies of All Progressives Congress (APC ) Youths Stakeholders Forum, on Monday grounded activities at the headquarters of the ruling party, demanding for immediate resignation of the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomole.

Displaying placards with various inscriptions like ‘Oshiomole Must Go’, ‘Oshiomhole is problem of APC’, ‘Oshiomhole must go before he kill APC, among others, the protesters had stormed the headquarters in the early hours of Monday, chanting anti Oshiomole songs and disrupting vehicular and human traffic.

The protesters maintained that Oshiomhole’s continued stay in office is not only a curse and but will also bring misfortune to the party, adding that his action has decimated the number of the states controlled by APC from 24 to 18 .

Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Genesis Johnson said they were disappointed with the leadership style of the party leadership.

He accused Oshiomole of impunity particularly over the nullification of the party’s Governor and Deputy Governor-elect by the Supreme Court in Bayelsa State.

He argued that his impunity has caused the party a major lost in states like Zamfara, Bayelsa and Rivers States “Look at what happen in Bayelsa State, it was caused by Oshiomhole and we say enough is enough. We want him to park his load and leave that office. He is not the only Nigerian that can manage that office .

“Since he came into this office he has been creating problems for this party. We will suffered to win election and at the end of the day opposition will go to court and collect the state.

“We are not happy with his conduct and we the party faithful are asking him to go, we put him there. Bringing Oshiomole is like bringing curse to the party,” he stated.

The protesters vowed to sustain the protest with the view to seeing that the National Chairman gives way for the party to move forward.


Before PDP protesters had an accident in Abuja

Some People’s Democratic Party (PDP) members were involved in an accident yesterday January 20, during a protest in Abuja against the sack of Emeka Ihedioha as the Governor of Imo State by the Supreme Court.

A video from the scene of the incident showed one of the trucks conveying some of the protesting members of the political party, moving recklessly before colliding with another truck.

Though it is not clear if anyone died, eyewitnesses however alleged that some of the protesters sustained injuries.

Here is the video below;


#Newsworthy ..

Protesters flood Iran over Ukraine’s plane crash

Protests were reported late Saturday in several parts of the Iranian capital Tehran over the shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger plane by the Iranian military, according to Iranian media.

Hundreds of people took part in Saturday night protest rallies outside Tehran, Amir Kabir and Sharif, according to news agencies IRNA and Isna.

They criticised both the shooting down and the day-long denials by Iranian authorities and the media.

According to Isna, some demonstrators outside Amir Kabir University called for those responsible for the downing of the airliner to resign.

Thousands of Iranians posted a black page on social media as a sign of their grief and as a protest against the government.

For them, the shooting down of the passenger plane does irreparable damage to Iran’s image.

After days of vehement denials, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Saturday admitted it mistakenly shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane outside Tehran this week, killing all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadians.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday voiced support for anti-government protests in Iran just days after the two countries stepped back from an escalated military conflict.

“We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.

“The government of Iran must allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people,” Trump said in a tweet.

“There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching,” he added.

Among those taking part in the demonstrations was the UK ambassador, who was reportedly detained briefly.

In London, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused Iran of a “flagrant violation of international law” after it briefly detained the British ambassador during anti-government protests on Saturday in Teheran.

“The arrest of our ambassador in Teheran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” Raab said in a statement after reports that ambassador Rob Macaire was detained for more than one hour.

“The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment.

“It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards,” he added


As part of retaliation, Iraqi protesters storm US Embassy in the commune, set it on fire.

Plenty of Iraqi protesters stormed the US embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday Dec 31st, smashing the main door, and setting fire to the reception area after US Military launched attacks on Iran backed Kataib Hezbollah, killing 25 suspected terrorists as retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base .

Protesters storm US Embassy in Iraq and set it ablaze as retaliation after US military attacks that killed 25 terrorists

The protesters marched on to the heavily fortified Green Zone and kept walking until they reached the embassy.

Protesters storm US Embassy in Iraq and set it ablaze as retaliation after US military attacks that killed 25 terrorists

Protesters storm US Embassy in Iraq and set it ablaze as retaliation after US military attacks that killed 25 terrorists

Protesters were also seen hanging yellow flags belonging to the Kataib Hezbollah on the walls of the Embassy as they approached, according to Al Jazeera.

After the protesters broke the main door, tear gas was launched into the Embassy area by police, and gunfire was exchanged as Iraqi police guarding the Embassy left their duty posts, while the US Ambassador to Iraq was evacuated from the building.

Earlier during the day hundreds of protesters gathered outside the US embassy to decry US air attacks in Iraq and Syria .

The protesters shouted “Down, Down USA!” as they hurled water bottles and smashed security cameras outside the embassy grounds.

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi,on hearing of the attempted attacks on the embassy, called on the protesters to leave the compound “immediately”.

“We recall that any aggression or harassment of foreign embassies will be firmly prohibited by the security forces,” Abdul Mahdi’s office said several hours after the attack began.