UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths
By Peter Nicholls

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested a man and a woman on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.

As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, a human rights activist said at least one of them might have been a Vietnamese woman.

Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.

“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Police said they had detained the man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck in the early hours of Wednesday.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offense, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

The victims – 31 men and eight women – are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased.

Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.

“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath … I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, Mom,” the message said according to Hoa.

She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.

“Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck,” Hoa said on Twitter.

VietHome, an organization for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi’s London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.

BRITAIN ‘HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY’

China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

“It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death,” the widely read tabloid said.

It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.

The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.

The refrigeration unit had traveled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town’s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.

The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 p.m. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.

Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)

Hundreds of arrests as London climate-change activists vow more protests

By Simon Dawson Helena Williams

LONDON (Reuters) – London police have made nearly 500 arrests as climate-change protesters, labelled “uncooperative crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continue two weeks of civil disobedience to push for more to be done to protect the environment.

The Extinction Rebellion group has been taking action in several countries including Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, France and New Zealand as it lobbies politicians to go further in cutting carbon emissions.

The protests are the latest stage in a global campaign for tougher and swifter steps against climate change coordinated by the group, which rose to prominence in April when it snarled traffic in central London for 11 days.

Police said 152 arrests had been made on Tuesday, taking the total number over the two days to 471 as some protesters lay down in the road outside parliament whilst others dressed in colourful costumes or brought tree saplings to give to lawmakers.

Police have introduced stricter conditions, saying anyone wanting to continue the protest can only do so in Trafalgar Square.

“This action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing serious disruption to the community,” police said. “Anyone who fails to comply with the condition is liable to arrest and prosecution.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the protesters when he attended an event late on Monday.

“I am afraid the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties,” he said, using a slang term for eco-protesters.

“They said there was some risk that I would be egged,” he added.

On Tuesday, some protesters hit back at him.

“It’s not helpful,” Diana Jones, from the southern English county of Sussex, told Reuters.

“We’re just ordinary people trying to express our deep disappointment with how slow the process of getting climate change action to occur is taking place, with the government not really listening, not really taking it forward on the scale it needs to be taken.”

The group wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 rather than the government’s 2050 target.

(Additional reporting by Henry Nicholls and Ben Makori; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)

California hotel employee charged with threatening workplace attack

Illegal high-capacity magazines and an assault rifle along with multiple guns, ammunition are seen in this Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) photo in Long Beach, California, U.S., released on August 21, 2019. Courtesy LBPD/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A California man who threatened to attack a Marriott hotel where he worked because he was upset over an employment-related issue has been arrested on weapons charges, Long Beach police said.

Police said they found an arsenal that included illegal high-capacity magazines and an assault rifle at the home of Rodolfo Montoya, 37, after they were notified of the threat by a fellow employee of the Long Beach Marriott.

Montoya, who lives in nearby Huntington Beach, is being held on $500,000 bail after being charged with manufacturing and distributing assault weapons, possessing an assault weapon and making a criminal threat, police said.

The arrest comes amid a slew of threats in the past week to carry out mass shootings and follows actual firearms attacks since late July that killed at least 34 people in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“In recent months, we have seen several tragic incidents that have resulted in many lives lost,” Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. “The witnesses who came forward and the diligence of our employees involved in this investigation very likely prevented a threat of violence and saved many lives.”

It was not immediately clear whether Montoya was represented by a lawyer.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

New York man arrested in alleged plot to attack Times Square

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers patrol in Time Square after a man was arrested in an alleged plot to buy grenades for an attack on Times Square in New York, U.S., June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York man was arrested after allegedly discussing acquiring grenades and detonating them in Times Square, one of midtown Manhattan’s most crowded crossroads, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

Ashiqul Alam, 22, from Jackson Heights in the city’s Queens borough, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, the person said. He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn later on Friday, but it was unclear what charges he would face.

The New York Police Department declined to comment on the matter and referred inquires to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also declined to comment.

The alleged plot was uncovered after police and federal authorities learned the man had been inquiring about buying grenades and using them in Times Square, one of the most visited destinations in the United States, the New York Daily News reported.

Authorities do not believe the man had links to a wider plot involving other people, the Daily News said, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

The man had been under surveillance for some time and authorities had been closely monitoring him, NBC News reported, citing unnamed officials.

He talked about wanting to make a suicide bomb vest as well as using explosives, and eventually settled on a shooting attack in Times Square, NBC reported.

The man had discussed potential attacks on politicians in New York and Washington before settling on a plot to attack Times Square, NBC said.

Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of FBI agents and New York police detectives, made the arrest. The task force began tracking him and eventually took him into custody, according to media reports said.

With its millions of visitors each year, Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, has been targeted by at least two bombers in recent years, despite its heavily-fortified police presence.

On May 1, 2010, police thwarted an attempted car bomb in Times Square, defusing a crude device made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.

A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to the plot, admitting that he had received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that the group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had funded the plot. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2017, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel near Times Square. The man, Akayed Ullah, was convicted of six criminal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and support of a terrorist organization.

On Friday morning, it was business as usual in Times Square, with a bustle of people on their way to work and tourists beginning to stream into the area.

Kate Fan, a 28-year-old charity worker visiting from her home in Guangzhou, China, said that she heard about the incident but still felt safe.

“We hear a lot of stories about New York being unsafe, but we feel like people sometimes exaggerate safety issues,” she said.

(Writing and additional reporting by Meredith Mazzilli, Peter Szekely and Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Zieminski)

Leader of Mexico-based church accused of rape, child porn

A man cleans a stained glass inside a La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) church after its leader Naason Joaquin Garcia was arrested in California, in Mexico City, Mexico June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Cortes

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The head of a Mexican-based church estimated to have more than 1 million followers worldwide has been arrested in California and charged with crimes including human trafficking, child pornography production and rape of a minor.

“La Luz Del Mundo” (Light of the World) leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, was charged on Tuesday after being arrested at Los Angeles International Airport the day before, prosecutors said.

The church called the accusations unfounded.

“The Apostle of Jesus Christ, Brother Naason Joaquin Garcia, has always behaved in accordance with the law and with full respect for the institutions and the dignity of the people,” it said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

The prosecutors’ 19-page court filing indicates Garcia was known as “the Apostle” and children were told they were defying God if they were disobedient.

The complaint says three minors and one adult woman were abused, with one child and the woman raped. Others were forced to perform sex acts and “flirty” dances for Garcia wearing “as little clothing as possible”, the complaint added.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Tuesday. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state.”

CHURCH DENIES ACCUSATIONS

The filing did not refer to any response by Garcia.

But his church said it trusts the U.S. legal system and the principle of innocence unless proven otherwise, adding: “We categorically reject the false accusations that have been made against him.”

In their statement late on Tuesday, prosecutors said Garcia and co-defendants committed a total of 26 felonies in south California over a period of about four years.

The victims were not named.

He is being held in jail on $25 million bond on 14 charges related to sex crimes, the prosecutors said.

It was unclear if he had an attorney.

The other individuals named in the complaint are Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, all affiliated with La Luz Del Mundo, prosecutors said.

Ocampo and Oaxaca were also arrested and held on multi-million dollar bonds. A warrant has been issued for Melendez, officials said.

Internet sites say the church has between 1 and 5 million followers worldwide in more than 50 countries including many followers in the United States.

The church’s roots go back to the 1920s in Mexico and adheres to “nontrinitarianism”, rejecting a mainstream Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It says it adheres to the earliest doctrines of the Christian church teachings.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Deputy of Venezuela’s Guaido arrested and dragged away by tow truck

FILE PHOTO: Juan Guaido (R), new President of the National Constituent Assembly and lawmaker of the Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will (Partido Voluntad Popular), and lawmaker Edgar Zambrano of Democratic Action party (Accion Democratica), leave the congress after Guaido's swearing-in ceremony, in Caracas, Venezuela January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

By Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan intelligence agents detained opposition leader Juan Guaido’s congressional deputy on Wednesday, using a tow truck to drag his vehicle away with him inside, prompting the U.S. government to warn of “consequences” if he was not released.

The SEBIN intelligence agency seized Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Guaido heads, in the first arrest of a lawmaker since Guaido tried to spark a military uprising last week to bring down President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Venezuela’s pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly agreed on Tuesday to strip Zambrano and six other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity to allow their future prosecution. The opposition does not recognize the assembly’s decisions.

The Supreme Court had earlier accused those lawmakers of conspiracy, rebellion and treason, and accused another three opposition legislators of the same crimes on Wednesday.

The opposition says Maduro has stacked the court with his own supporters, while the U.S. government this week threatened to sanction all its members.

The U.S. government’s Venezuelan embassy, now based in Washington, said Zambrano’s “arbitrary detention” was “illegal and inexcusable.”

“Maduro and his accomplices are those directly responsible for Zambrano’s security. If he is not immediately freed, there will be consequences,” the embassy said on Twitter.

An attempted uprising last week led by Guaido, recognized by the United States and other Western countries as the rightful head of state, failed to dislodge Maduro, as have a series of U.S. sanctions against his government. Maduro decried the events as an attempted coup.

“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent Assembly, said in comments broadcast on state television.

“They will have to pay before the courts for the failed coup that they attempted,” he said.

‘KIDNAPPED’

Zambrano said on Twitter at about 6.40 pm local time (2240 GMT) SEBIN agents had surrounded his vehicle outside the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas’ La Florida district.

“We were surprised by the SEBIN, and after refusing to let us leave our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly transfer us directly to the (SEBIN headquarters) Helicoide,” he said. It was not yet clear if Zambrano was already at the Helicoide.

Guaido said on Twitter: “The regime has kidnapped the first vice president.”

Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Maduro as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent. Maduro has overseen the collapse of Venezuela’s economy, which has shrunk by half over the past five years, forcing more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate.

The Constituent Assembly removed Guaido’s parliamentary immunity in early April. Authorities have not tried to arrest him since then, but Maduro has said he will “face justice.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened Maduro’s government with a harsh response should it ever detain Guaido.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s head, Maikel Moreno, rebuffed the U.S. government’s threats to sanction his court’s members if they did not reject Maduro’s government and Guaido.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s constitutional chamber in 2017 for rulings that “usurped the authority” of the National Assembly.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the Trump administration would soon sanction the 25 remaining members of the court. Pence said the United States was lifting economic sanctions on a former Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro in order to encourage other Maduro allies to follow suit.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said: “We demand the SEBIN stop the intimidation, respect the lawmakers’ parliamentary immunities, and immediately release Edgar Zambrano.”

(Reporting by Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

U.S. charges Assange after London arrest ends 7 years of solitude in Ecuador embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at the Westminster Magistrates Court, after he was arrested in London, Britain April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

By Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) – British police dragged Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy on Thursday after his seven-year asylum was revoked, paving the way for his extradition to the United States for one of the biggest ever leaks of classified information.

The frail-looking WikiLeaks founder, with white hair and a long beard, was carried head first out of the embassy in London shortly after 0900 GMT by at least seven men to a waiting police van, after shouting “This is unlawful, I’m not leaving.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the news in parliament, to cheers and cries of “Hear, hear!” from lawmakers.

“The whole House will welcome the news this morning that the Metropolitan Police have arrested Julian Assange, arrested for breach of bail after nearly seven years in the Ecuadorean embassy,” May said.

Appearing before a London court, Assange said he was not guilty of failing to surrender in 2012. District judge Michael Snow, who cast Assange as a “narcissist”, convicted him of skipping bail. Sentencing will be at a later date.

Assange’s lawyer in Quito said his life would be in danger if he were to be extradited to the United States.

Police said they had arrested Assange, 47, after being invited into the embassy following the Ecuadorean government’s withdrawal of asylum. Assange was carried out of the building carrying a copy of Gore Vidal’s “History of The National Security State”, which he continued reading in court.

Just hours later, U.S. prosecutors said they had charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

The arrests, after nearly seven years holed up in a few cramped rooms at the embassy, mark one of the most sensational turns in a tumultuous life that has transformed the Australian programmer into a rebel wanted by the United States.

Supporters of Assange, who gave a thumbs up in handcuffs as he was taken from a police station to the court, said Ecuador had betrayed him at the behest of Washington, that the ending of his asylum was illegal and that it marked a dark moment for press freedom.

To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined U.S. security.

WikiLeaks angered Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

Assange made international headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

The extent of the diplomacy that led to the arrest was not immediately clear. The Kremlin said it hoped his rights would not be violated.

UNITED STATES

Assange’s indictment arose from a long-running criminal investigation dating back to the administration of former President Barack Obama.

It was triggered in part by WikiLeaks’ publication in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.

The U.S. Justice Department said Assange was arrested pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, and accused him of involvement in one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.

The indictment said that Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.

“The charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” the U.S. Justice Department said.

He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted, the department said.

Britain said no man was above the law.

“Julian Assange is no hero, he has hidden from the truth for years and years,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

“It’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorean embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorean embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, behind the luxury department store Harrods, in June 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.

Sweden dropped that probe in 2017, but Assange was arrested for breaking the rules of his bail in London in connection with the case.

A Swedish lawyer representing the alleged rape victim said she would push to have prosecutors reopen the case, but a retired senior prosecutor and chairman of NGO Victim Support Sweden, said he thought that may be difficult.

YEARS OF SOLITUDE

Friends of Assange said the solitude he had experienced in the embassy had hurt him most.

“It was a miserable existence and I could see it was a strain on him, but a strain he managed rather well,” said Vaughan Smith, a friend who visited Assange. “The thing that was most difficult for Julian was the solitude.”

“He was very tough, but the last year in particular was very difficult. He was constantly being surveilled and spied upon. There was no privacy for him.”

WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated his political asylum in violation of international law.

“Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom,” said Edward Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who fled to Moscow after revealing massive U.S. intelligence gathering.

Assange’s relationship with his hosts collapsed after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about President Lenin Moreno’s personal life.

Moreno said Assange’s diplomatic asylum status had been cancelled for repeated violation of conventions. He said he had asked Britain to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to any country where he might face torture or the death penalty.

“The British government has confirmed it in writing,” Moreno said. “The asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable.”

(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, Andrew MacAskill, Henry Nicholls, Peter Nicholls, Dylan Martinez in LONDON; Anna Ringstrom, Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard in STOCKHOLM; Mark Hosenball in Washington and Nathan Layne in NEW YORK; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Chinese woman arrested by Secret Service at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – A Chinese woman who passed security checkpoints at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida carrying a thumb drive coded with “malicious” software was arrested on Saturday for entering a restricted property and making false statements to officials, according to a court filing.

Documents filed by the Secret Service on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida say that shortly after noon on Saturday, Yujing Zhang approached a Secret Service agent screening visitors to Mar-a-Lago seeking entrance to the club.

Zhang produced two Chinese passports displaying her photo and said she wanted to go to the pool. Secret Service officers could not initially find her name on an access list for the property, according to the Secret Service affidavit filed with the court.

A club manager said that a man named Zhang was a club member, and even though Yujing Zhang did not give a clear answer as to whether the man was her father, the Secret Service affidavit says resort officials allowed her on the property on the assumption she was related to a member.

Resort personnel became suspicious after Zhang appeared to have trouble explaining why she was visiting Mar-a-Lago, according to the affidavit.

Zhang initially said she was there for an event staged by a group called the United Nations Chinese American Association. But resort staff found no such event was scheduled, according to the court filing.

A receptionist then contacted Secret Service personnel who questioned Zhang and concluded she did not have “any legitimate documentation” authorizing her entry to Mar-a-Lago, according to the filing.

After detaining her, investigators found in Zhang’s possession four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive device and a thumb drive, the Secret Service court filing says. Initial examination of the thumb drive determined it contained “malicious malware,” the Secret Service said.

“While the Secret Service does not determine who is permitted to enter the club, our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property,” the Secret Service said in a statement.

Responding to a question on the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday: “I have no understanding of the situation you mention.”

In a court filing on Tuesday, a public defender representing Zhang said she was invoking her right to remain silent.

A Justice Department spokeswoman had no comment on the arrest.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Teen arrested over racist threat that closed Charlottesville schools

FILE PHOTO: Messages are left on a chalkboard wall ahead of the one-year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

(Reuters) – Police arrested a 17-year-old boy on Friday over a racist threat of violence posted online that prompted authorities to close all the schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, for two days.

The boy, who has not been publicly identified, was charged with threatening to cause bodily harm on school property, a felony, and harassment by computer, a misdemeanor, police said in a statement.

City leaders have worked to ease racial tensions in the city since a white nationalist rally in August 2017 descended into violence, with a white nationalist killing a counter-protester and injuring others after he drove into a crowd.

The threat against Charlottesville High School was reported to the police on Wednesday afternoon, according to the police department.

School officials then quickly decided to close all schools in the city. According to U.S Census Bureau data, African Americans make up around 19 percent of Charlottesville’s population of nearly 50,000 people.

“We would like to acknowledge and condemn the fact that this threat was racially charged,” Charlottesville City Schools said in a letter sent to parents and posted on its website on Thursday evening notifying them of Friday’s closures. “The entire staff and School Board stand in solidarity with our students of color.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that a person claiming to be a student at Charlottesville High School, one of the region’s largest schools, warned white students to stay at home so they could shoot dead non-white students in an act of “ethnic cleansing.”

The boy arrested on Friday is not a student at any of the city’s schools, the Times-Dispatch reported, citing the schools superintendent.

There was widespread condemnation for the white nationalists involved in the violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

But U.S. President Donald Trump drew strong criticism in the days after the Charlottesville rally for equating white supremacists with counter-protesters and saying he thought there were “fine people” on both sides.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Nick Carey and Susan Thomas)

I did it for my daughter, says woman arrested for headscarf protest in Iran

Azam Jangravi poses during an interview with Reuters, at the unknown location, February 7, 2019. REUTERS

By Emily Wither

(Reuters) – Azam Jangravi’s heart was pounding when she climbed atop an electricity transformer box on Tehran’s busy Revolution Street a year ago. She raised her headscarf in the air and waved it above her head.

A crowd formed. People shouted at her to come down. She knew all along she was going to be arrested. But she did it anyway, she says, to change the country for her eight-year-old daughter.

“I was telling myself: ‘Viana should not grow up in the same conditions in this country that you grew up in’,” Jangavi recalled this week in an interview in an apartment in an undisclosed location outside Iran, where she now awaits news on an application for asylum.

Azam Jangravi holds hands with her daughter in a park, at the unknown location, February 7, 2019. REUTERS

Azam Jangravi holds hands with her daughter in a park, at the unknown location, February 7, 2019. REUTERS

“I kept telling myself: ‘You can do this, you can do this’,” she said. “I was feeling a very special kind of power. It was as if I was not the secondary gender anymore.”

After her protest, she was arrested, fired from her job at a research institute and sentenced to three years in prison for promoting indecency and wilfully breaking Islamic law.

The court threatened to take her daughter away, but she managed to escape Iran – with Viana – before her jail term began: “I found a human smuggler with a lot of difficulty. It all happened very quickly, I left my life, my house, my car behind,” she said.

As she spoke, Viana sketched pictures. They showed her mother waving the white hijab in the air.

Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution 40 years ago this week, women have been ordered to cover their hair for the sake of modesty. Violators are publicly admonished, fined or arrested.

Jangravi was one of at least 39 women arrested last year in connection with hijab protests, according to Amnesty International, which says another 55 people were detained for their work on women’s rights, including women who tried to enter football stadiums illegally and lawyers advocating for women.

Authorities go to “extreme and absurd lengths to stop their campaign”, said Amnesty’s Iran researcher Mansoureh Mills. “Like searching people’s homes for pin badges that have ‘I am against forced hijab’ written on them.”

The badges are part of continued efforts to highlight the hijab issue, along with a campaign for women to wear white headscarves on Wednesdays.

Jangravi recalls stories her mother told her about life before the revolution: “She told me that the revolution caused a great deal of sexism and they separated men and women.”

She was inspired to act after two other women were arrested for similar protests on the same street.

“Of course we don’t expect everyone to climb up the platform in Revolution Street,” she said. “But this made our voices heard by the entire world. What we girls did made this movement into something that continues.”

(Editing by Peter Graff)