Since the start of this pandemic crisis, every household has been affected in one way or another. The ever-changing restrictions have often been confusing and have frustrated many workers, businesses and separated families from their loved ones. Those who have followed the ‘rules’ and restrictions have made great personal sacrifices and must have the feeling that the government should have a sense of accountability.
The most crucial aspect of this pandemic has been the key decision making and leadership, or lack thereof, by our government. Their failure to listen and act upon advice throughout, has led to unnecessary deaths that could have been avoided. Numerous experts have stated that the lack of action in the early stages and the inability to reflect on mistakes was a sign of political arrogance at the cost of human life.
So why doesn’t the government openly acknowledge the numerous wrong decisions made earlier on? Why doesn’t our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, admit that there were clear faults in the strategy? “Herd immunity” was never a real option and travel to the UK should have been limited or even stopped right from the beginning. The number of tests being carried out on a daily basis were not enough. Furthermore, until recently one could fly to the UK and walk through the airport without any checks or required quarantine period.
Numerous health academics and clinicians have argued that the NHS has been underfunded prior to this crisis and long-term structural issues, such as funding cuts have contributed to the UK’s poor response to the pandemic. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that “Covid-19: UK government response was overcentralised and poorly communicated.” https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4445 The report stated that many deaths from Covid-19 could have been avoided if preventative public health services had been better funded. Death rates were higher among those with avoidable health conditions, which are more prevalent in deprived communities.
It didn’t have to be like this.
The UK’s Covid death toll officially totalled more than 100,000 – following a spike in cases and deaths throughout the winter period. The unfortunate reality is that the true number of fatalities to date will likely be even higher, due to the delay in reporting the numbers by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The greater sadness in the reality of this milestone of 100,000 deaths, is that despite always being informed by the advice of world-class medical experts, the government’s priorities were clearly misplaced early on. The first cases noted in China were in December 2019, and the WHO first set up the IMST (Incident Management Support Team), alerting to the danger of this deadly virus in January 2020. On the 31st of January the first cases of Covid in the UK were confirmed, and Boris Johnson failed to take the virus seriously, delaying a full national lockdown until the 23rd of March 2020. This initial delay contributed to the first 20,000 deaths, experts say.
Plans for relaxation of lockdown were made by the government in June 2020 despite concerns; of adequate preparation in hospitals, including stocks of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE); setup of testing facilities, a clear delay in getting out the Covid tests to required households; and adequate understanding of social distancing. Experts have argued that the 100,000 death toll was not inevitable. It was clear that the winter period would contribute to a second wave leading to further deaths. This means that the government had eight months to prepare, adopt policies and protect the public. The statistics are grim, and it is devastating to note that more than half of those who died with the virus did so between November 2020 and January 2021.
‘…more than half of those who died with the virus did so between November 2020 and January 2021’
Doctors and nurses working in intensive care (ICU) are overwhelmed with the critically sick and sheer number of patients requiring ventilation and complex management. Hospitals have struggled with the number of intensive care beds required. This raises the question of the use and effectivity of the Nightingale Hospital. Was this another poorly planned and under evaluated strategy from the Government?
The latest blow and most recent questionable decision is to do with the supply, use, and regime of vaccinations. Despite advice from scientists, doctors and the creators of the Pfizer vaccine, the government made a decision to extend the period between the first and second dose from 21 days to 3 months. It is interesting to note that there is absolutely no scientific data to suggest that the second dose of the vaccine given at a delayed period of 3 months will have the same, less or any effect. Where is the evidence and wisdom behind this decision? The government claims that this is a supply effort to mass vaccinate the population with one dose providing a degree of protection. However, numerous virologists have stated that the Pfizer vaccine based on an mRNA process should be given according to a 21 days regime. Only time will tell if this is to become yet another regret.
It can be suggested that such criticism of the leadership and decision-making of this government is harsh, especially during such unprecedented times. However, the most frustrating aspect is the government’s failure to reflect upon its own disappointments. In other prospering countries such as New Zealand, the death toll has hit 25. Therefore, comparing that with 100,000 lost loved ones perhaps justifies the accountability and criticism the government is currently facing.
Trump Knew His Supporters Were Armed in Jan. 6 Capitol Riots
- Former White House aid, Cassidy Hutchinson, stated that former US President Donald Trump was aware that rioters were armed on January 6th, 2021 when they stormed the US Capitol, but he did not want to stop them.
- Hutchinson worked as a top advisor to Mr Trump’s chief of staff, and testified at a hearing to a select House committee that was in charge of investigating the Jan 6th riot at the US Capitol.
- Hutchinson recounted how Mr. Trump said that rioters were “not here to hurt me” and that security should “let them in.” She also stated that he lunged at the driver of the limousine in a rage when he was told he could not be taken to the Capitol.
- Mr Trump denied several parts of Hutchinson’s testimony, stating, “I didn’t want or request that we make room for people with guns to watch my speech.”
At Least 23 Migrants Dead in Attempt to Cross Morocco-Melilla Border
At least 23 migrants from Morocco died trying to cross the border with neighboring Melilla, one of Spain’s two autonomous cities, highlighting the desperate plight of many Africans.
Around 2,000 people attempted to make the crossing, resulting in a violent skirmish at the border on Friday (June 24). About 58 migrants and 140 border security officers were also injured, according to Morocco’s Interior Ministry.
Crossing the border from Morocco into Melilla is one of the most accessible routes for Africans to enter Europe, since Melilla is located in North Africa but is also part of the European Union. Migrants seek increased opportunities and economic stability in Europe, as well as freedom from unsafe conditions in their home countries.
Those trying to cross into Melilla could be injured at the border, forced to remain in Morocco, or sent back to their homes by Moroccan officials.
Refugee advocacy and human rights groups have expressed serious concern at what they see as an excessive use of force against already vulnerable people at the Morocco-Melilla border.
“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” Esteban Beltran, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said in a statement. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”
Friday’s deadly incident at the border is likely to spur further tensions between Spain and Morocco.
In May 2021, over 10,000 people attempted to cross into Cueta, the second Spanish territory in North Africa. The mass migration shocked Spain and took place during a diplomatic standoff between the nations over Western Sahara, which has long sought independence from Morocco.
Looking ahead, Spanish authorities could respond by increasing security measures at the border and obstruct many Africans from crossing. Morocco may then have to accommodate an influx of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, and the country may limit immigrants too.
Russian Missile Sets Ukraine Shopping Center on Fire
- A busy shopping center in Ukraine was set on fire by Russian missiles on Monday, killing at least thirteen people and injuring dozens. The total number of casualties is still unknown.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that “The number of victims is impossible to imagine” and that there could have been up to 1,000 people in the mall.
- The attack came during the G7 summit, where world leaders condemned recent atrocities and promised to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” in a joint statement. President Zelensky spoke to the leaders at the summit and stated that he wants the war to end before winter.
- NATO has decided to increase the number of troops in its rapid reaction force from 40,000 to 300,000, more than eightfold. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated this move is part of the “biggest overhaul of collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”
- The United States has announced that it will provide Ukraine with advanced medium and long-range air defense capabilities.
Albanian Prime Minister expressed discontent over membership delays for the European Union￼
On June 23rd, the leaders of the European Union had a meeting with six Western Balkan Countries. These countries, consisting of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia, have all applied to become part of the EU for years now.
This time they met to further their integration into the EU.
The meeting took place amidst tensions between the countries, as Bulgaria’s veto on accession talk with North Macedonia.Bulgaria refuses to recognize Macedonia as a separate country and this veto also put Albanian negotiations on hold.
Before the summit took place the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, criticised EU leader for their delay.
“You are a mess guys, you are a big mess and you are a disgrace and I think it’s a shame that a NATO country kidnaps two other NATO countries while in the backyard of Europe there is a hot war and of course, it’s not good to see that 26 other countries sit still in a scary show of impotence,” Rama said.
This frustration came to be due to the long wait of being able to join the European Union. The longest-standing nation dates back to 2005, when North Macedonia applied for EU membership.
While the Western Balkan country has been applying and waiting for years now, countries like Ukraine and Moldovia are moving in record speed to be granted the candidate status. Which furthers the frustration Western Balkans leaders feel.
The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz responded:
“The most important [thing] is that the states from Western Balkans will have a good opportunity to become really members of the European Union,” adding “they’ve worked so hard, so it’s our common task this something that will happen.”
Bulgaria seemed to make progress until their opposition appeared to be wanting to advance with opening accession negotiations. Despite the hope it did not further any progress, due to dispute in the parliament.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister called the opposition leader “most dishonest person I know.”
The European Council President Charles Michel stated that he was watching the development in Bulgaria closely and that starting the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia were his top priority.
By the end of the meeting Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama posted on Twitter:
“Nice place nice people nice words nice pictures and just imagine how much nicer could be if nice promises were followed by nice delivery.
But we Albanians are not as nice as to give up nicely! So, we will keep going and working even harder to make Albania a nice EU member”
Exclusive: John Pilger claims Julian Assange extradition is bad news for “truth-tellers”
We spoke to veteran investigative journalist and documentarian John Pilger about what he thought Assange’s looming extradition meant for the state of the press in the UK, and the fate investigative journalists like him
Julian Assange – the investigative journalist and whistleblower spent the last ten years fighting for freedom after having leaked secret documents regarding US human rights abuses. Most of those years were spent holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain where he was granted asylum by the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa in 2012.
That asylum ended seven years later when Correa’s replacement, Lenin Moreno handed him over to the British authorities. On the morning of April 11th, 2019, Assange was dragged out of the embassy by British police in a brutal show of force, and taken to be locked up in Belmarsh prison, the detention centre known as the British Guantanamo Bay. He has remained there since.
Last week, Assange’s decade long battle was dealt a blow. British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed Assange’s extradition order to the United States, where he faces 18 federal counts of espionage for publishing secret state documents handed to him by the former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning; documents which exposed the atrocities, human rights abuses and war crimes committed by The United States, its allies, and their forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Besides this, the documents showed the systematic human rights abuses and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S Prison located in Cuba that held more than 150 prisoners, who were innocent without charge for years. And most of all, they confirmed that the pretext for the U.S led invasion of Iraq was a farce.
But in a country that lauds itself on its free press, especially when holding up its democratic values against its autocratic Middle-Eastern counterparts, what happens when a journalist exercises his right within the free press and is castigated the way Assange has been and for as long as he has?
“There is no free press as we might imagine or mythologise it. A powerful, almost unconscious self-censorship routinely dominates the media, much of it run or influenced by an augmented extremism called Murdochism. Added to this are draconian laws that constrain our right to know and which allow the ‘intelligence services’ (known in the US as the ‘deep state’) to manipulate the press. Little of this is discussed publicly.”
According to Pilger, it was Julian Assange who “broke down this wall of censorship, on the public’s behalf.” It is no surprise then, that the whistleblower, Manning was pardoned by the US after seven years in prison, while the publisher could face confinement for the rest of his life. Currently, Assange faces up to ten years in prison for each federal count against him. But Assange is an Australian national, and just recently the former foreign minister of Australia, Bobb Carr, wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that he believed that the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, should request the Biden administration for Assange’s freedom.
Pilger affirms that the Australian government should support their citizen, but that “rights and reality live in two different worlds. We should unite them!”
Despite Carr’s suggestion, Australian Prime Minister publicly affirmed he stood by his previous remarks that Assange had “paid a big price for the publication of the information already” and that “I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange,” but that he would not publicly ask Biden for a pardon for Assange. Speaking to the broadcaster Sky News, he said “We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone.”
But what is it that makes such prominent world leaders so reluctant to directly support the plight of Assange? For some it is the fact that he published secret state documents through his whistleblower site, Wikileaks. Was this really a violation of the official secret act, as has been alleged, or does the right of the public to know what governments are doing abroad with taxpayers money negate this? Is the country not put at risk when state secrets are made public?
“Wikileaks revealed grave state crimes,” he says, “The law should apply to governments as well as to individuals. Nazi leaders and officials were prosecuted and punished at the end of World War Two because they committed state crimes. The principle is the same.”
If Julian Assange’s team fails in its attempts to appeal and he is sent to the US, what will that entail for him? And what implications will it have on future whistleblowers and investigative journalists?
John Pilger is blunt. “For Julian it will be the end of his life. For truth-tellers, it will mean even greater risk than at present. The shadows of state control will spread until we call, ‘’stop.’
In fact, the veteran journalist is no stranger to censorship of his own work either. In 2014 his regular column for the oft-touted ‘independent’ paper the Guardian was axed, according to Pilger, “Without explanation.”
“I wrote a fortnightly piece for the Guardian which was axed in 2014 with the specious explanation that the paper ‘needed greater variety’: some such nonsense. There were (and are) warring political factions on the Guardian and under a new editor a virulent right-wing took control. At that time, I was writing about the Western-sponsored coup in Ukraine, which had just happened, and the war it beckoned.”
It is a grim state of affairs to which the future of journalism seems to be hurtling towards, painted darker by recent events. What hope does that leave to budding journalists who would wish to pursue a career like that of Pilger’s and other investigative journalists and whistleblowers, like Assange, who in their fearlessness can speak truth and expose the crimes and excesses of those in power? How can the fear of reprisal by the authorities be abated?“Keep going. Be resolute and follow your star. The times are difficult, but there are more independent outlets,online, than when I began. Try and stay away from the mis-named ‘mainstream’ which used to have space for independent minded journalists, but no more. Journalism is a wonderful craft: how it is practised and honoured is up to you.”
From witch-hunting to testimonies: Gambia’s transition to democracy ￼
Transitioning to a democracy can be a difficult move particularly for a country that has experienced a violent past. For 22 years the Gambia was ruled by President Yahya Jammeh, known for human rights abuses, gender-based violence, harassment, torture and in particular, witch hunts, but was finally toppled by Adama Barrow in 2016.
Witch hunting started in 2009 when President Jammeh claimed that the cause of his aunt’s death was witchcraft. As a result, several witch hunts took place throughout the country. Those who were suspected of witchcraft were forced into detention centres where they would be stripped naked and beaten until they would confess that they had carried out murders using witchcraft. Additionally, they were forced to drink a herbal concoction which caused many to fall sick and some to even die. The elderly who were mostly suspected of witchcraft faced the worst of the beatings.
However, it was not just witch hunting that defined Jammeh’s leadership. Human rights abuses, the lack of freedom of press and harassment of political opponents shaped a significant amount of his leadership. Deyda Hydara, editor of the daily The Point newspaper, had previously spoken up against the dictatorial regime. In 2004 Hydara was killed in a drive by shooting. Despite many pointing their fingers at Jammeh, he denied any link to the murder of the respected journalist. But in 2019 as part of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), Malick Jatta, a member of the Junglers – a death squad known to have done the ‘dirtiest work’ for the former President – confessed to Hydara’s murder at the behest of Jammeh.
When the former President lost the 2016 election to Adama Barrow, a property developer who achieved a 45.5% majority compared to Jammeh’s 36.7% Jammeh refused to accept the result. However, he was forced into exile to Equatorial Guinea.
Adama Barrow’s win has been a turning point for the Gambia. He was the first President to start the country’s transition to democracy and freedom after Jammeh. Barrow was a favourite and was easily re-elected in December 2021 with a 53% majority. Under his Presidency, Barrow established the TRRC and hearings began in January 2019. It was set up to seek justice and a sense of peace for the victims of Yahya Jammeh. The commission included a large number of testimonies with hundreds of victims and perpetrators stating their personal accounts on what had taken place under the 22 years of the dictatorship.
Alongside the TRRC,, the UN has supported 2,000 victims through the Victim Participation Support Fund. The fund provides ‘psychosocial support and essential medical interventions’. Furthermore, approximately 30 people who testified during the TRRC were provided with witness protection. The TRRC concluded on 28thMay 2021 and was a way to close the door on Gambia’s traumatic past. Despite the conclusion of the commission, many Gambians to this day live in fear as the reward promised for those who confessed to crimes under Jammeh and who were previously part of the Junglers, was release from jail. This decision not only stops victims achieving justice but also gives them a life where they will continually live in fear. Many of Jammeh’s ‘henchmen’ remain in positions of authority in the Gambia including in the army, the Government and the national intelligence service ensuring victims remain uneasy. Yahya Jammeh may have left and lost his power over the Gambia, but the harsh impact of his rule still lingers within many people today.
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