TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria Oct. 21, 2014 Herman Verwey—Reuters

The Paralympic gold medalist was acquitted of murder last month

Athlete Oscar Pistorius was sentenced Tuesday to five years imprisonment for the Valentine’s Day killing of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old double-amputee was found guilty of culpable homicide after shooting Steenkamp through the toilet door of his home in Pretoria on Feb. 14, 2013.

The “Blade Runner,” as Pistorius is known due to his trademark prosthetic limbs, claims he thought an intruder lurked inside, but the state maintained that he shot four times with the intention of killing Steenkamp after the couple had argued.

The South African was acquitted of murder by Judge Thokozile Masipa last month after a high-profile trial that was televised around the world.

In sentencing Pistorius, Masipa said she weighed, “The personal circumstances of the accused and interests of society.”

She added: “A non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community, but a long sentence would also not be appropriate.”

Pistorius made history as the first Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics. He has apparently been suffering from depression since Steenkamp’s death.

A separate firearms charge received three years imprisonment, suspended for five years.

Read next: Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

TIME South Korea

South Korea Must End the ‘Rampant Abuse’ of Migrant Farm Workers, Says Amnesty

Rice Harvest In South Korea Ahead Of Import And Export Price Indices
A South Korean farmer is silhouetted as he sits on a sack of rice on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. SeongJoon Cho—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Far from the glitz and glamour of Seoul, a migrant underclass endures horrific abuse

South Korea’s farming industry is rife with exploitation of migrant labor, according to a report by Amnesty International released Monday, which alleges violence, squalid housing, excessive working hours, no regular rest days and mandatory unpaid overtime.

Moreover, the rights group says that the Seoul government is directly complicit in ongoing abuses through its Employment Permit System (EPS), which involves some 20,000 migrant agricultural workers from poorer nations such as Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The exploitation of migrant farm workers in South Korea is a stain on the country,” said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific migrant-rights researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement, decrying a “shameful system that allows trafficking for exploitation and forced labor to flourish.”

Many migrant laborers build up enormous debts equivalent to two years’ salary in order to be included in the EPS scheme, according to Amnesty’s Bitter Harvest report, which is based on dozens of interviews with migrant workers in 10 different locations across South Korea.

While EPS employers have the right to sack migrants without justification, those employed under the scheme have no right to quit or change jobs without a release form, leaving gaping avenues for exploitation. Migrants who quit without permission are labeled “runaways” and are liable for arrest and summary deportation.

“My boss told me that he will never release me and will use me for three years and not allow me to extend my contract,” a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman, who claimed not to have been paid by her employer, told Amnesty.

Other migrants told of physical abuse. One Cambodian worker described being set upon after he sat down in a field due to a sore back. “The manager became furious and grabbed me by the collar,” he said. “The manager’s younger brother held me by the neck while the manager beat me.”

Many migrants spoke of only being paid for days worked during harvest-time despite signing three-year contracts, leaving them destitute and unable to find alternative employment during the harsh winters.

Amnesty International has urged the South Korean government to ensure reasonable work conditions and allow EPS workers to take up alternative employment while complaints are being investigated, among other reforms.

“If South Koreans were trapped in a similar cycle of abuse, there would rightly be outrage,” adds Muico.

TIME Thailand

Thai Dictator Faces Ire Over Bungled Investigation Into Murder of British Tourists

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
Thai military General Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a press conference after receiving the royal endorsement as the military coup leader on May 26, 2014, in Bangkok The Asahi Shimbun—2014 The Asahi Shimbun

The shoddy handling of the case has provoked international criticism

Thailand’s military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha is facing fierce protests on his maiden trip overseas, with Thai exiles in Italy rallying Thursday against his May 22 coup, and an indignant crowd expected to gather in London on Friday to protest the botched investigation into the brutal murder of two British backpackers on the resort island of Koh Tao.

Two Burmese casual workers, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, have been arrested for rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and murder of her friend David Miller, 24, who were found bludgeoned to death on the island’s idyllic Sairee Beach.

The mishandling of the case has made headlines around the globe.

On Tuesday, ignoring a litany of procedural irregularities, Prayuth told representatives from the British and Burmese governments that their role would be “limited to observation” as both nations must “respect our processes,” reported the Bangkok Post.

The investigation has been dubbed “a perfect job” by Thai police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang, but is in fact an “appalling mess” according to Felicity Gerry QC, a prominent British defense lawyer specializing in high-profile sexual-assault cases.

Her condemnation echoes those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Thailand’s forensics’ chief, the U.K. government and the victims’ families.

Reports have emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (The Thai police robustly deny the allegations.)

They were also forced by police into a macabre re-enactment of the murder, which, Gerry tells TIME, is “bound to prejudice everything and does the victim and victims’ families no good at all.”

Tourists have also been allowed to visit the crime scene and the handling of evidence has been condemned.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a witness hearing was called by Koh Samui Court, but the defense team, having just flown in from Bangkok, was permitted just half an hour to meet the suspects.

It was “just enough time to explain what is a lawyer, why you need a lawyer and what does a lawyer do for you,” says Andy Hall, a Thailand-based migrant labor activist helping to organize the defense.

A request to postpone the hearing to allow adequate time for the defense to prepare was thrown out by the judge, who claimed defense witnesses posed a flight risk, even though the witnesses were employed and legally resident in Thailand — coveted status for migrant Burmese.

“It makes absolutely no sense why, in such a sensitive case, the court would rush hearings and it once again undermines the accused’s right to a fair trial,” says Hall.

Back in the U.K., the distraught families of Miller and Witheridge can only watch and pray. “As a family we hope that the right people are found and brought to justice,” said Witheridge’s family in a statement last week.

TIME Hong Kong

Claims of Police Brutality Threaten to Escalate the Hong Kong Protests

Police have been caught on video beating up a political activist

In a case that has shocked Hong Kong and inflamed tensions in a city now in its third week of mass pro-democracy protests, six police officers have been caught on video kicking and beating a prominent political activist.

The man allegedly assaulted was Civic Party member and social worker Ken Tsang, who was one of 45 people arrested early Wednesday as demonstrators attempted to throw up fresh barricades across a major thoroughfare leading to the main financial district.

(PHOTOS: See Inside Hong Kong’s Protests)

In the video, Tsang offers no resistance to police.

Mabel Au, local director at Amnesty International, said there was little doubt of “excessive force” after Tsang was filmed being “taken to a dark corner” and “kicked and beaten up by the police for four minutes” with hands secured behind his back. “We are very shocked and disappointed by such behavior,” she said.

Video of the attack has been repeatedly broadcast on local television news and the officers involved have been assigned to other duties.

A spokesman for Tsang told TIME the police’s actions were “clearly criminal” and reassignment was not enough. “They should be arrested,” he said.

A police statement early Wednesday expressed “concern” over the video and promised that the police would conduct an investigation “impartially.”

Trouble sparked shortly before 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when several dozen demonstrators stopped traffic at the Lung Wo Road tunnel, a key artery that runs by Hong Kong’s government headquarters and parallel to the main protest site.

After attempting to intervene, some 30 police officers became trapped in the tunnel, hemmed in by protesters on either side. Scuffles broke out and the police retreated.

Protesters then set about reinforcing defenses. Hollow median dividers were filled with water and steel railings intertwined with cable ties, car tires and plastic wrap. Concrete blocks were hauled out of the tunnel’s gutter and secured by steel wire to block the roadway. Meanwhile, hundreds gathered on the lawns of Tamar Park, beside the shimmering waters of Victoria Harbour.

Demonstrators also built a symbolic grave for the head of the city’s government, Chief Executive (CE) Leung Chun-ying, also known as “C.Y.” Protesters are demanding the 60-year-old resigns and his successor chosen by free elections in 2017. The central government in Beijing insists that it must screen all candidates first.

“Everyone wants C.Y. to step down, but if that’s all that happens the next [CE] will be just the same and nothing will change without first changing the political system,” says Angel, a 30-year-old protester.

An uneasy calm held over Lung Wo Road until around 3 a.m., when hundreds of police brandishing batons and pepper spray bore down to clear the area. Davis Matthews, 27, showed TIME video footage of an officer firing pepper spray into his face.

“I wasn’t protesting anything, or shouting, but just documenting what was going on,” he said. “It was like a military action. We made eye contact just before he sprayed me and he didn’t seem happy.”

Police and legislators insist the demonstrations are an issue of law and order, and that officers are simply reclaiming public roads. Supporters of the democracy movement insist the conflict—now the most politically significant protest in China since the Tiananmen occupation of 1989—can only be solved by dialogue.

“We are eager, we are happy to engage in dialogue, but they turn us down,” pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau told a Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club luncheon Tuesday. “The way out is for the government to have talks.”

However, the potential for meaningful negotiation is hindered by a lack of leadership. The democracy movement is comprised of a disparate collection of students, liberal politicians and activist groups—and protest actions, such as last night’s attempt to barricade Lung Wo Road, are happening spontaneously.

Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Students’ Federation, admitted Wednesday that the previous evening’s foray “wasn’t the students” at all. “It was an action launched by people discussing it online … launched by the citizens,” he said.

Fred Choi, 35, a radio engineer speaking by the westernmost barricades on Lung Wo Road, told TIME “We are not [from any of the main political groups] but independents who care about democracy.”

On Thursday, Chief-Executive Leung—whose approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 42%—is due to address the Legislative Council, but students have pledged to block his path, giving renewed potential for clashes with police.

Many ordinary citizens are becoming frustrated by the continued disruption caused by the protests. The city’s subway is at breaking point, as commuters try to find alternatives to taking motor transport through the protest areas. Retail businesses near the protests are also hard hit.

However, the video of police officers apparently assaulting a peaceful demonstrator will galvanize support for the protesters, who have planned a large demonstration outside the city’s police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon.

Kai Ming Wong, a 43-year-old engineer, tells TIME he couldn’t focus on work after hearing about the police violence. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “How are we going to trust the police in the future? It’s never been like this in Hong Kong before.”

—With reporting by Per Liljas, David Stout, Elizabeth Barber and Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

As Hong Kong Police Remove Barriers, Clashes Break Out at Protest Sites

Police swooped in early morning, taking sleeping demonstrators by surprise, with the situation growing more volatile into the afternoon

Update: Oct. 13, 4:19 a.m. E.T.

Police removed some barricades from protest sites around central Hong Kong early Monday morning, while many students still lay sleeping in tents, with skirmishes between pro- and antidemonstration groups erupting later in the afternoon.

Officers swooped in at 5:30 a.m. ostensibly to allow traffic to resume flowing around this freewheeling financial hub, large swaths of which have been paralyzed since Sept. 28 by a student-led civil-disobedience movement now dubbed Occupy Hong Kong.

Tense standoffs took place in several locations early Monday, with escalating skirmishes breaking out in the afternoon between demonstrators and those opposed to the continued disruption.

Protesters manning a barricade on Queensway Road were reportedly attacked by about 30 masked men with tattoos and dyed hair who strutted out of the local subway station brandishing knives and pliers.

Two trucks then attempted to remove barricades with an attached crane, prompting pro-democracy protesters to rush in to block it. Furious democracy activists demanded to know why the police did not defend them from the mob, but were simply ushered away.

Pro-democracy protester Gary Yeung, 25, a businessman, suffered a cut to his hand in the melee. “[Anti-Occupy demonstrators] approached us and they started cutting at the roadblock; they said, ‘We come in peace,’ but at the same time they were literally pushing people over,” he tells TIME.

“I nearly got stabbed because they were cutting through the barricade and I got cut on the finger. While this was happening, police were standing by despite people’s calls for help.”

Protest leaders have repeatedly alleged that shadowy underworld groups, like Hong Kong’s notorious triad gangs, have been used to break up the otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

Chants of “explanation” were hurled at police over their apparent unwillingness to confront the anti-Occupy mob, while still attempting to arrest individuals on the opposing side.

On Monday, Occupy Central With Love & Peace, one of the main protest organizing groups, issued a statement to condemn the perceived inaction of the police.

“We urge the police to enforce the law and prevent certain people from damaging the peaceful occupy movement, and avoid any suspicion that the government may be trying to use the masses to attack the masses,” it read. “We expect non-violence from protesters of all backgrounds.”

Pro-democracy activists began to rebuild barricades at Queensway after the afternoon clashes had subsided at around 4 p.m. They are demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and free elections for his successor, beginning in 2017.

On Sunday, Leung gave a televised interview in which he refused to resign, decrying the protest movement as “out of control” and deeming the possibility of Beijing acquiescing to protesters’ demands for more democratic polls as “almost nil.”

A police statement Monday morning said they were working to “relieve traffic congestion” and “reduce the chance of traffic accidents,” but would not forcibly remove protesters. Barriers on the periphery of the main protest area on Hong Kong Island, and at another location across Victoria Harbor in Kowloon, were cleared, police said.

Scenes earlier in the day were tense but peaceful. On Connaught Road in Central district, over 200 officers clad in riot gear converged on some 60 protesters wearing gas masks and manning a section of barricade beside the prestigious Hong Kong Club at around 8 a.m.

Christy Ma, 19, a dance student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, told TIME on Connaught Road that she didn’t think the police would use tear gas again after its deployment early in the protests galvanized support and brought tens of thousands more onto the streets.

“If the protest ends now it’s not really a complete success, but it has achieved something to raise people’s attention that we are not politically apathetic and we care about society,” she said, seated cross-legged in front of a mangled collection of steel fences. Unfurled umbrellas, the adopted symbol of the pro-democracy movement, were arrayed across the tops of the barricade to protect protesters from police pepper spray.

“I understand it’s not easy to take a great leap forward to have universal suffrage, but at least people start to care about it,” she added. “Even if people disagree with us at least they are now talking about it.”

A large area of central Hong Kong still remains under the control of the students, who have erected a tented village, complete with study areas, food and water stations, first-aid posts, recycling points, showers, stages and public artworks. Some protesters have even numbered their tents to make themselves easier to find.

The well-organized protest area — named Umbrella Square by the movement — has become something of a sightseeing attraction in recent days, with joggers and skateboarders passing through and tourists and families posing for photographs.

On Friday, Goldman Sachs slashed Hong Kong’s fourth-quarter gross-domestic-product (GDP) growth forecast to 2% from 2.5% because of lower than expected tourist spending due to the protests.

— With reporting by Zoher Abdoolcarim, Elizabeth Barber and Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Thailand

The Investigation Into Thailand’s Backpacker Slayings Is Officially a Farce

Two workers from Myanmar, suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, on the island
Two Burmese workers, wearing helmets and handcuffs, suspected of killing two British tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime on Oct. 3, 2014, on the spot where the bodies of the tourists were found on the island Reuters

Allegations of torture, procedural irregularities and wild speculation in the press: Thai authorities are botching a high-profile murder probe

Murdered British backpacker Hannah Witheridge was finally laid to rest in England on Friday. But 6,000 miles away in Thailand, the investigation into her tragic death, and that of her friend David Miller, whose funeral took place Oct. 3, spiraled further into farce.

The main suspects in the killings, which took place on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao, have reportedly claimed that they were tortured into a confession, and public prosecutors rejecting the police report.

“The two victims and their families deserve justice, which will only be possible if there is a fair and transparent process,” says Kingsley Abbott, Bangkok-based adviser for the International Commission of Jurists. Above all, he adds, “the burden of proof rests on the prosecution,” as the “two men must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

On Sept. 15, the bloodied bodies of Witheridge, 23, and Miller, 24, were discovered on the island that is famous among scuba divers and sandal-clad tourists for its pristine beaches and coral reefs.

Burmese nationals Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, were arrested last Friday and quickly confessed to the double murder. They had apparently worked illegally on the island for a number of years and were driven, say police, by a desire to rape Witheridge after seeing the young British couple canoodling on the white sand.

The Thai authorities then dragged the two suspects to the rocky outcrop where the tourists’ bodies were found for a grisly re-enactment. Wearing helmets and body armor, they demonstrated for assembled media how the bludgeoning, using a garden hoe and wooden stake, took place and prayed for forgiveness. Both could face a death sentence if convicted.

Yet a litany of questions and inconsistencies hang over the investigation. Other than the apparent retraction, proffered by an official at the Burmese embassy, there has been a rejection of the police’s investigation report, with public prosecutors on Wednesday asking the authors to supply “more crucial information,” “fix certain flaws” and make the 850-page document “more succinct.”

Numerous character witnesses have come out to defend Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun and they have no criminal record. Essentially, the case against them hinges on five strands of evidence:

  1. Their Confessions. The most damning evidence in any case is a confession. However, reports have since emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (Other irregular workers questioned have alleged they were alternately offered bribes and doused with boiling water.) It also emerged that the translator used was a Rohingya — a member of a distinct Burmese ethnicity that suffers periodic pogroms at the hands of west Burma’s Rakhine majority, to which the accused both belong. There are unconfirmed rumors that the interpreter, who has since even given interviews, actually participated in the beatings. In addition, upon initially being picked up, neither the accused were apparently provided with a lawyer as they were being questioned under the Immigration Act rather than as part of a murder inquiry. (It is unclear at what stage a legal counsel was eventually provided.)
  2. Three DNA Samples. These were found on two cigarette butts close to the crime scene, two of which — from Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun — are purportedly matches for samples recovered from Witheridge’s body. The third is apparently that of Maung Maung, a friend of the accused who says he was with them drinking beer and playing guitar on the beach shortly before the attack. However, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunan, director general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science and the country’s leading forensics authority, on Thursday decried the collection of evidence as a “weak point” and said the police committed a major error when they failed to involve a forensic pathologist.
  3. Maung Maung’s Testimony. This forms the third strand of evidence, although it is no slam dunk. He admits being with his two friends on the beach but leaving them at around 1 a.m. They wanted to keep on drinking, he said, so he went to see his girlfriend. He claims not to have seen any evidence of a crime, according to media reports.
  4. CCTV Footage. This shows the three Burmese riding a motorbike by a convenience store, where they apparently bought cigarettes and three bottles of beer. It corroborates Maung Maung’s version of events, but is circumstantial at best.
  5. Miller’s Cell Phone. It was discovered at lodgings of Zaw Lin, according to police. The device, a black iPhone 4, was apparently smashed and discarded as it did not work inside Thailand. But why would Zaw Lin do that when he could have sold it for at least a month’s salary? And if he was concerned about possible incrimination, why keep it at home?

But there are numerous other threads to tug. Given that Burmese migrants were in the spotlight from the outset, and this pair were well-known on the island and frequently seen in the vicinity of the crime scene, why were they not hauled in for DNA tests and questioning sooner?

In addition, there have been significant procedural irregularities, including allowing tourists into the crime scene before all evidence was collected. CCTV footage has been produced, but with significant gaps, and only from a selection of the many sources available. The defense team will want to examine this all. There is also no complete, undisputed timeline of Witheridge and Miller’s movements prior to the attack. Considering the notoriety of the case, and the victims’ sociable nature in this small community, that is very odd.

Finally, there has been rampant press coverage of the unsubstantiated remarks made by local officials. In the latest, the chief of the prison where the suspects are being held told a reporter Thursday he “is afraid they may commit suicide” because they are “feeling guilty for the crime.”

Thailand does not have jury trials and so the press has free reign to report on ongoing investigations, with the presumption that the sitting judge will be able to discount all speculation and concentrate on the evidence in hand. Even so, it is clearly prejudicial to the suspects to have individuals from such diverse sources as Burmese embassy, the Myanmar Migrant Labour Association and the Thai police, among others, talking openly to the media about what the suspects supposedly think and feel.

“That all these people are coming out and making these statements is incredibly detrimental to a fair trial,” says British labor-rights activist Andy Hall, who, as part of a monitoring mission, has met with the accused, the police, the prosecution team and British Ambassador Mark Kent.

Abbott agrees that normal procedure for a defense counsel would be to stop any further comment. “Our primary concern at this stage is to ensure the two suspects are provided with the assistance of a competent lawyer of their choosing,” he says, adding that whoever is chosen must have “adequate time and facilities to review the evidence.”

Otherwise, we may have to mourn not two, but four lives senselessly lost that night on Koh Tao.

TIME Crime

WATCH: Florida Police Officer Tasers Unarmed 62-Year-Old Woman in Back

He has been put on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation

A Florida police officer is under investigation after he was caught on camera firing a Taser into the back of a 62-year-old woman.

Terry Mahan of the Tallahassee Police Department was with colleagues responding to reports of brazen narcotics sales on Tuesday afternoon when the incident occurred.

Three people were arrested at the scene, after which a woman, Viola Young, approached the squad car apparently to inquire about one of the detainees.

She was advised to stay back, according to a police statement Wednesday, and an altercation ensued. At one point Mahan yanked Young’s arm and then fired the Taser as she attempted to walk away.

Tallahassee Police chief Michael DeLeo said that the video was strong enough evidence to put Mahan on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident,” he said. “We want to be transparent with the community by sharing what we can at this point, including the video.”

Neither Young nor the three others arrested have been charged with any drugs offenses.

TIME Philippines

Imelda Marcos Has Had Part of Her Art Collection Seized

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-Philippi
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos is seen in her apartment in Manila on June 27, 2007. Romeo Gacad—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities claim artworks were bought with embezzled state funds

A number of art works belonging to Imelda Marcos, wife of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, have been seized by authorities, who claim they were bought with embezzled state funds.

Works by Picasso and Gauguin are believed to be among the pieces still in the former First Lady’s possession, reports the BBC, as is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Authorities are keen to trace the other artworks.

The 85-year-old Marcos, who was elected to the Philippine congress in 2010, has repeatedly denied her estimated $10 billion fortune was acquired illicitly.

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 until his ouster in 1986. He died three years later.

[BBC]

TIME ebola

People on Twitter Are Replacing Parts of Movie Titles With ‘Ebola’

Not everyone sees the funny side

Twitter users have reacted to the news of America’s first confirmed case of Ebola by inserting the virus’s name into their favorite films, with the hashtag #ReplaceMovieTitleWithEbola trending on the social network.

Health officials confirmed Tuesday that a patient in Dallas has the disease, which has so far claimed more than 3,000 lives in West Africa and brought several nations to the brink of collapse. Alongside various expressions of concern and sympathy, a bizarre game emerged on social media.

Of course, not everyone saw the funny side.

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