Big Tech CEOs told ‘time for self-regulation is over’ by U.S. lawmakers

By Diane Bartz and Elizabeth Culliford

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before Congress on Thursday to answer questions about extremism and misinformation on their services in their first appearances since rioters assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc; and Twitter Inc CEO Jack Dorsey are testifying before the joint hearing by two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Lawmakers began the hearing by criticizing the social media platforms for their role in the riot and in the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, as well as concerns about children’s mental health.

“You failed to meaningfully change after your platform has played a role in fomenting insurrection and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties,” said Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce committee.

“Your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable,” he added.

Some lawmakers are calling for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online platforms from liability over user content, to be scrapped or rejigged. There are several pieces of legislation from Democrats to reform Section 230 that are doing the rounds in Congress, though progress has been slow. Several Republican lawmakers have also been pushing separately to scrap the law entirely.

In written testimony released on Wednesday, Facebook argued that Section 230 should be redone to allow companies immunity from liability for what users put on their platforms only if they follow best practices for removing damaging material.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg said polarization in the country was not the fault of social media: “I believe that the division we see today is primarily the result of a political and media environment that drives Americans apart.”

Republicans on the panel also criticized the tech giants for what they see as efforts to stifle conservative voices.

Former President Donald Trump was banned by Twitter over inciting violence around Jan. 6, while Facebook has asked its independent oversight board to rule on whether to bar him permanently. He is still suspended from YouTube.

The three CEOs have all appeared in front of Congress before, with Facebook’s Zuckerberg clocking up seven appearances since 2018.

Lawmakers’ scrutiny of misinformation on major online platforms intensified after U.S. intelligence agencies said Russia used them to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Lisa Shumaker)

China’s Xi says ‘happiness’ in Xinjiang on the rise, will keep teaching ‘correct’ outlook

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said levels of happiness among all ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang are rising and that China plans to keep teaching its residents a “correct” outlook on China, Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.

China has come under scrutiny over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and claims of alleged forced-labor abuses in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying one million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

China has repeatedly denied mistreating Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centers that are needed to tackle extremism, accusing what it calls anti-China forces of smearing its Xinjiang policy.

“The sense of gain, happiness, and security among the people of all ethnic groups (in Xinjiang) has continued to increase,” Xi told a ruling Communist Party conference on Xinjiang held on Friday and Saturday, Xinhua said.

Xi said it was necessary to educate Xinjiang’s population on an understanding of the Chinese nation and guide “all ethnic groups on establishing a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality”.

“Practice has shown that the party’s strategy for governing Xinjiang in the new era is completely correct” and it should be a long-term approach, he added.

In July, Washington imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

(Reporting by Engen Tham; Editing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie)

New York Hanukkah machete attack suspect to face federal hate crime charges

(Reuters) – The man accused of stabbing at least five people in a machete rampage at the home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration is due to face federal hate crime charges in White Plains, New York, on Monday.

A federal grand jury indicted Grafton Thomas, 37, late last week with additional counts of hate crimes for the Dec. 28 stabbing of members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York, bringing the number of federal charges he faces to 10.

Each count carries a maximum prison term of life.

One of the victims, a 72-year-old man who suffered devastating machete blows to his head, arm and neck, is comatose and unlikely to recover, according to family members.

Federal prosecutors have said Thomas targeted his victims because of their Jewish faith. In a criminal complaint filed last month, they cited journals they seized from the suspect’s home containing references to Adolf Hitler, Nazi culture and the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, identified by experts in extremism as an anti-Jewish hate group.

Thomas also faces state charges for the attack, which his attorney, pointing to his client’s long history of mental illness, has said was likely an expression of psychosis rather than bigotry.

The attack in Monsey capped a string of incidents in which Jews have been physically attacked or accosted in the New York metropolitan area in recent weeks, including a shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey that left two members of the Hasidic community dead.

One of the suspects in that attack had also expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites. He died in the attack.

The most recent national numbers from Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found 780 anti-Semitic incidents reported to or detected by the organization in the United States in the first half of 2019, compared to 785 incidents reported for the same period in 2018.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists
By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States remains deeply troubled by multiple reports that the Chinese government has “harassed, imprisoned, or arbitrarily detained” family members of Uighur Muslim activists and survivors of Xinjiang internment camps who have made their stories public, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

“In some cases, these abuses occurred shortly after meetings with senior State Department officials,” Pompeo said in a statement, reiterating Washington’s call for Beijing to release those detained.

China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.

China has denied any mistreatment of Uighurs, and insists Xinjiang is its internal affair.

Any escalation of tensions between Beijing and Washington worries investors, as the world’s two largest economies are also embroiled in a 15-month old trade war. Beijing also views U.S. support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as interfering with its sovereignty.

In his statement, Pompeo referred to several individuals whose families he said were directly impacted by the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs, including Zumrat Dawut, who was one of the speakers at an event in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September.

Dawut had spoken on how she was detained by Chinese authorities earlier this year and was kept in a camp.

“Most recently, Ms. Dawut learned her elderly father, who was reportedly detained and interrogated multiple times by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang in recent years, recently passed away under unknown circumstances,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. government last month widened its trade blacklist to include some of China’s top artificial intelligence start-ups and announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang region.

“We once again call on Beijing to cease all harassment of Uighurs living outside of China… and to allow families to communicate freely without repercussions,” Pompeo said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Russia widens Jehovah’s Witnesses crackdown with new jailings

Adherents of the Christian denomination Jehovah's Witnesses Konstantin Bazhenov, Alexei Budenchuk, Felix Makhammadiev, Roman Gridasov, Gennady German and Alexei Miretsky pose for a picture inside the building of a regional court in Saratov, Russia in this undated handout photo. Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDI

By Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has widened a crackdown against Jehovah’s Witnesses, jailing six adherents of the Christian denomination for extremism in a move rights activists said was unjust and flouted religious freedom.

A regional court in Saratov jailed six Jehovah’s Witnesses on Thursday for up to three-and-a-half years, a court spokeswoman said on Friday.

“Yes they were convicted,” the spokeswoman, Olga Pirueva, said. “Punishments ranged from three years and six months down to two years (in jail).”

The court found the six men guilty of continuing the activities of an extremist organization, a reference to a 2017 ruling from Russia’s Supreme Court which found the group to be an “extremist” organization and ordered it to disband.

The U.S.-headquartered Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin. Orthodox scholars have cast them as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.

The latest jailings follow the conviction in February of a Danish builder in Russia for his association with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dennis Christensen was found guilty of organizing an extremist group and jailed for six years.

Over 250 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are facing criminal charges, according to the group, with 41 in detention and 23 under house arrest.

‘SPECULATIVE THESIS’

Under Thursday’s ruling, Konstantin Bazhenov and Alexei Budenchuk were sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail, Felix Makhammadiev to three years, and Roman Gridasov, Gennady German, and Alexei Miretsky to two years in prison each.

The court also banned them from holding leadership positions in public organizations for five years.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say Russia’s constitution guarantees their adherents’ right to exercise freedom of religion and deny wrongdoing.

“The whole logic of the accusation was based on the speculative thesis that faith in God is ‘a continuation of the activities of an extremist organization’,” Jarrod Lopes, a U.S.-based spokesman for the group, said in a statement.

“Instead of searching and proving the guilt of the defendants, the aim of the investigation was to prove their religious affiliation, despite the fact that no religion is prohibited in Russia.”

Lawyers for the men plan to appeal what they regard as absurd convictions, said Lopes.

With about 170,000 followers in Russia and 8 million worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, and rejection of military service and blood transfusions.

They believe the end of the world as we know it is imminent, an event “the obedient” will survive to inhabit the Kingdom of God they believe will follow.

Rachel Denber of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch condemned the court’s ruling, saying the men had been jailed for nothing.

“They should be freed,” Denber said on social media.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Founder of site linked to mass shootings says he created ‘a monster’

Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan listens to questions during an interview in Manila, Philippines, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Blaza

By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – The creator of a far-right online message board connected to three mass shootings that killed dozens of people has described himself as “naive and ignorant”, likening the platform 8chan to Frankenstein’s monster, with no limit to its extremism.

Fredrick Brennan, 25, who lives in the Philippines, said the free-wheeling web board he created in 2013 had become a hive of white supremacy, anonymous hate, and Neo-Nazism since he sold it to a fellow American, and said he felt a sense of guilt, “sometimes”.

“If I could go back and not create 8chan at all, I probably would,” he told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. cyber security firm Cloudflare has terminated 8chan as a customer, after a gunman whom authorities believe had posted on 8chan about a “Hispanic invasion” killed 22 people on Saturday at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

The site was also used by a shooter who in March attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and providing inspiration for a shooting a month later of a man at a synagogue in Poway, California.

“It’s gotten to a point where if a mass shooter wants to go to a killing spree, they choose 8chan to post their manifesto,” Brennan said.

8chan’s main page prominently displays the phrase “embrace infamy”, attracting people with deep-seated anger, he said.

“It seems there’s nowhere else to go in terms of how extreme it is.”

Brennan agreed to media interviews because he had hoped to stop 8chan. However, he said the El Paso shooting was the turning-point, rather than the deadlier New Zealand attack.

“I did not call for it to be shut down like I’m calling for it now,” he said.

The site’s owner, army veteran Jim Watkins, is also based in the Philippines. Reuters made repeated attempts to reach Watkins, without success.

‘RABID CONSERVATIVE’

Asked if he had attempted to reach law enforcement authorities to warn them about the dangers of 8chan, Brennan said: “If the PNP (Philippine National Police) wants to talk to me, no problem at all. I will tell them anything I know.”

The PNP on Monday said it was investigating 8chan.

Brennan said he had no qualms about selling 8chan to Watkins who seemed liberal, fun-loving and “pretty chill”. He said he stopped communicating with Watkins after his character changed and he became “a rabid conservative” supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Brennan said he sold the site for both financial reasons and after being overwhelmed as its administrator and having to deal with child pornography, which he had wanted to ban.

“It was getting so difficult to try to control. It’s like letting the mental patients run the asylum,” he said.

“I was having too much mental stress dealing with it.”

He added: “It was pretty difficult to be 8chan’s administrator so there is some sympathy I have for them. Of course, that sympathy has its limits.”

Brennan said he had contacted El Paso police offering help in confirming the shooter’s manifesto, based on 8chan archives.

“Whenever there’s a shooting and the details are still fuzzy, I am always worried there’s gonna be an 8chan connection,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Martin Petty, editing by Ed Osmond)

Facebook shares drop as executives quit, Christchurch live-stream shooting stirs outrage

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Shares of Facebook Inc fell as much as 5 percent on Friday to their lowest in nearly three months after the surprise departure of Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, at a time when the company is again being scrutinized over its handling of privacy, extremism and political content.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

Cox, a Wall Street favorite who has worked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for 13 years, led the social network’s business development team and helped define the business model of its messaging service WhatsApp.

“We believe Cox played a critical role in establishing FB’s mission, values, and culture, and he was extremely well-regarded inside and outside the company, including by Wall Street,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note.

Also departing is WhatsApp Vice President Chris Daniels, adding to a string of recent high-profile exits from Facebook’s product and communications teams.

Facebook, Twitter and Google were also facing another round of public discussions over extremist content on their platforms on Friday, after video footage of mass shootings in New Zealand was live streamed and widely shared online.

“The live-streaming of New Zealand’s shooting will certainly bring on more questions of regulation and scrutiny over Facebook. It helped provide a platform for today’s horrific attack and will undoubtedly be called into question for facilitating the spread of this,” said Clement Thibault, analyst at global financial markets platform Investing.com.

The gunman, who was part of attacks that killed 49 people in New Zealand, broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one of the mosques, leading to calls for more content moderation by the social network.

Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid said social media firms must take action to stop extremism on their channels after Friday’s shootings.

“You really need to do more @YouTube @Google @facebook @Twitter to stop violent extremism being promoted on your platforms,” Javid wrote on Twitter.

The social media companies have said they would take down content involving the mass shootings, which were posted online as the attack unfolded.

Facebook has been investing heavily to weed out fake content from its platform and has hired thousands of employees for moderating content and suspended hundreds of suspicious accounts in different countries.

The company’s shares were down 2.5 percent at $165.83 in midday trade.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Bernard Orr)

China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps

Islamic studies students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. Picture taken January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

By Ben Blanchard

URUMQI/KASHGAR/HOTAN, China (Reuters) – China will not back down on what it sees as a highly successful de-radicalization program in Xinjiang that has attracted global concern, but fewer people will be sent through, officials said last week in allowing rare media access there.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.”

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training centre in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training center in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Last week, the government organized a visit to three such facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for a small group of foreign reporters, including Reuters.

In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.

Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.

Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Shohrat Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin.

“As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said.

Shohrat Zakir said he could not say exactly how many people were in the facilities.

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

“One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism – that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor,” he said, stressing they were temporary educational facilities.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based exile group the World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters the Chinese government was using extremism as an excuse to lock people up.

“What they are trying to do is destroy Uighur identity,” he said.

INSIDE THE CENTERS

Human rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to abuse. They said detainees did not receive vocational training.

Seeking to counter that narrative, the government took reporters to three centers, in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, all in the heavily Uighur-populated southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the violence has taken place in recent years.

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

In one class reporters were allowed to briefly visit, a teacher explained in Mandarin that not allowing singing or dancing at a wedding or crying at a funeral are signs of extremist thought.

The students took notes, pausing to look up as reporters and officials entered the room. Some smiled awkwardly. Others just looked down at their books. All were Uighur. None appeared to have been mistreated.

In another class, residents read a Chinese lesson in their textbook entitled “Our motherland is so vast.”

There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.

Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials. Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.

All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.

Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”

Pazalaibutuyi, 26, told reporters at the Hotan center that five years ago she had attended an illegal religious gathering at a neighbor’s house, where they were taught that women should cover their faces.

“At that time I was infected with extremist thought so I wore a face veil,” she said, speaking clear Mandarin after a year at the center.

Government officials came to her village to talk to the villagers and after that, she said, “I discovered my mistake.”

In the Kashgar center, Osmanjan, who declined to give his age, said he had incited ethnic hatred, so village police suggested he go for re-education.

“Under the influence of extremist thought, when non-Muslims came to my shop I was unwilling to serve them,” he said in unsteady Mandarin.

It was not possible to independently verify their stories. All the interviewees said they had not been forewarned of the visit.

Residents said they can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalization and legal knowledge. They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones. They are provided with halal food.

Only minimal security was visible at any of the three centers.

Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some.

‘A GOOD LIFE’

The situation in Xinjiang has stirred concern in Western capitals.

At least 15 Western ambassadors wrote to Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, late last year seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns. Chen did not meet reporters on the trip.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the ambassadors did not get a response.

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher, said international pressure needs to increase.

“The fact that they feel they need to put on a show tour is a sign that this pressure is working,” she told Reuters.

Both Wang and Dilxat Raxit noted that the tight control over the visits and interviews showed China’s concern about their true nature.

Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that “all of the reports are fake” when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang. He dismissed worries about U.S. sanctions.

“We, including Party Secretary Chen, are working all out for the people of Xinjiang to have a good life,” Xu said. “If the U.S. won’t allow me to go, then I don’t want to go there. That’s the truth.”

The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Shohrat Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin.

Officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success.

Urumqi’s Exhibition on Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang, normally closed to the public, displays graphic images and footage from what the government says are attacks.

“Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters.

One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically.

“You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, petrol stations are still surrounded by barbed wire and heavy security barriers. Residential areas are dotted with small police stations.

The stations have broader public service in mind, Zhang Yi, commander of one of the stations, told reporters. The one reporters visited provided pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, including how to legally change your sex.

Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that “stability is the best human right.”

“The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, he said, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack.

“Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian?” he said. “No. So Uighur won’t vanish here.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Turkey says recognizing Jerusalem as capital would cause catastrophe

Youth hold their prayer shawls as they stand in front of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayers site in Jerusalem's Old City May 17, 2017.

ANKARA (Reuters) – A formal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would cause catastrophe and lead to new conflict in the Middle East, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Monday.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Bozdag, who is also the government spokesman, said Jerusalem’s status had been determined by international agreements and that preserving it was important for the peace of the region.

“The status of Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been determined by international agreements. It is important to preserve Jerusalem’s status for the sake of protecting peace in the region,” Bozdag said.

“If another step is taken and this step is lifted, this will be a major catastrophe.”

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed it, declaring the whole of the city as its capital — a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law said Trump had not yet made a decision on whether to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would break with decades of U.S. policy.

Past U.S. presidents have insisted that the status of Jerusalem — home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions — must be decided in negotiations.

On Saturday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which they discussed the status of Jerusalem, sources in Erdogan’s office said.

The sources said Erdogan told Abbas that preserving the status of Jerusalem was important for all Muslim countries, adding that international laws and United Nations decisions should be followed on the issue.

Any move by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would fuel extremism and violence, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday.

A senior Jordanian source said on Sunday that Amman has begun consultations on convening an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation before Trump’s expected declaration this week.

 

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

 

Asia security forum to push social media use to fight extremism

Motorists drive past an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017.

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – More than two dozen Asian countries will agree to utilize social media to counter the spread of violent extremism in the region, according to a draft statement being prepared ahead of a top security gathering on Monday.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and from 17 dialogue partner-countries are expected to create a regional mechanism to address the security threat.

“The ministers expressed strong condemnation of recent acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” said the draft chairman’s statement seen by Reuters, reflecting discussions expected at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.

“They also took note of the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists’ narratives online.”

The ARF is expected to discuss creating a mechanism to boost efforts on Security of Information Communication Technology, which Japan, Malaysia and Singapore have volunteered to lead.

The Philippines, which is hosting the ASEAN meetings, is among those most affected. Authorities have said Islamic State’s radical ideology is taking a hold in the country’s south, with local groups using social media as a primary means of recruiting fighters, which include Indonesians, Singaporeans and Malaysians.

Philippine troops have been battling Islamist militants who seized control of parts of the mainly Muslim Marawi City more than two months ago. Close to 700 people have died and more than 400,000 displaced in the intense fighting.

Philippine authorities believe the problem goes beyond Marawi and militants may be preparing to attack other cities.

ASEAN ministers were ready to act because they have seen how extremists exploited social media to promote their ideology, recruit and inspire attacks, a senior Philippines foreign ministry official familiar with the issue told Reuters.

“They spread violent videos on Twitter and Facebook and communicate through Telegram messaging apps,” he said, adding the ministers decided to counter the threat using those same platforms.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, Philippine military spokesman, said many countries were making progress in that regard but “there is a need for ASEAN to do more.”

“We can do more beyond the traditional military cooperation,” he said, acknowledging support from Indonesia and Malaysia through information and intelligence exchanges and coordinated maritime border patrols.

“This is a very robust engagement that we wish to increase not only with Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said. “This challenge that we face in Marawi has its effects also in the whole region.”

 

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Bill Tarrant)