TIME Burma

Seventy Burmese Students, Activists Charged for Taking Part in ‘Illegal’ Rally

Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Yangon, Burma.
Khin Maung Win—AP Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Rangoon, Burma

They face up to six years in prison for protesting an education bill they saw as regressive

Dozens of protesting Burmese activists and students are facing jail time on charges of insulting civil servants and refusing to disperse at an illicit demonstration.

The 70 protesters face up to six years in jail after violence broke out during a march from Mandalay to Rangoon calling for educational reforms, reports the BBC.

Although it was technically illegal, authorities had let the rally pass until they reached the town of Letpadan. There, incensed by the presence of a police line, the group attempted to break through.

Scores of students were injured in the ensuing confrontation. In one photo, four police prepare to strike an unarmed, prone man with their batons.

The quasi-civilian government of Burma, officially now known as Myanmar, insists it is legitimately prosecuting participants in the mid-March protests. However, critics see the case as proof of the Southeast Asian nation’s lingering authoritarianism despite the much-lauded transition from junta rule.

“People’s expectations are high because we’re a country in transition, but you can’t fulfill everything in one term,” said Burmese President Thein Sein told the BBC.

More charges relating to the protests are expected in coming weeks.

[BBC]

TIME Egypt

An Egyptian Activist Shot by Police Died Because She Was ‘Very Thin,’ Official Claims

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed by police in January

A spokesman for Egypt’s Medical Forensics Authority claimed in a broadcast Saturday that an activist shot by police in January near Cairo’s Tahrir Square succumbed to her injuries because she was underweight.

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, 31, died from close-range bird-shot pellets in a senseless killing that shocked the world after photographs of her death appeared in international media. A police officer is to face manslaughter charges for her death, reports the New York Times.

According to the Times, medical official Hisham Abdel Hamid said, “She was very thin. She did not have any percentage of fat. So the small pellets penetrated very easily, and four or five out of all the pellets that penetrated her body — these four or five pellets were able to penetrate her heart and lungs, and these are the ones that caused her death.”

MORE: Egyptian Activist Shot and Killed During Peaceful Protest in Cairo

Hamid argued that a man marching next to al-Sabbagh, who was also struck by police fire, survived the shots because he had more body fat.

The theory has elicited skepticism from activist groups. “These sorts of ridiculous claims just add a thick layer of absurdity to the government’s endless record of killings and impunity,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson.

[NYT]

TIME brazil

Watch Tens of Thousands Demand Brazil President Rousseff’s Impeachment

Protesters say the President knew about a huge graft scandal at the state oil company Petrobras

More than 1 million people took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday to demonstrate against President Dilma Rousseff.

Many were calling for her impeachment over a massive corruption scandal while she was head of the state oil company Petrobras, Agence France-Presse reports.

Rousseff, 67, also faces anger over rising inflation and a weak economy, especially among lower-income voters who traditionally back her Workers’ Party, locally known as PT.

The biggest demonstration was in São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, where some 500,000 people took to the streets, dressed in the yellow and green of the national flag. “Get out, Dilma; get out, PT!” they chanted. Rallies took place in 83 other towns and cities across the country, including the capital, Brasilia, where 40,000 people marched toward Congress.

Opposition parties backed the protests but didn’t go so far as to call for the President’s impeachment.

Petrobras officials allegedly accepted bribes totaling a whopping $3.8 billion in exchange for contracts for refineries, oil tankers and deep-sea platforms, with payments channeled to powerful politicians and political parties.

An investigation into dozens of prominent political figures is under way, but the President, who was chairwoman of the company’s board at the time, has not been directly implicated and denies any involvement.

After the protests, the government said it would introduce measures to fight corruption and impunity.

[AFP]

TIME Burma

Burma Cracks Down on Education Protest at Rangoon Pagoda

Min Thu Kyaw, a student protest leader, talks to journalists March 5, 2015, in Yangon, Burma
Khin Maung Win—AP Min Thu Kyaw, a student protest leader, talks to journalists March 5, 2015, in Yangon, Burma

Students oppose Burma's new education law, which activists say restricts academic freedom

(RANGOON, Burma) — Police cracked down on students and other activists opposing Burma’s new education law Thursday, charging protesters with batons and dragging them into trucks at a landmark pagoda in the heart of the old capital.

Several demonstrators were slightly injured and at least 15 were arrested, witnesses and an activist said.

The protest in front of the Sule Pagoda in Yangon drew around 30 people, including prominent activist Nilar Thein and other student leaders. They were calling on the government to amend an education law they say restricts academic freedom.

Minutes after telling the group to disperse, baton-wielding police and thuggish men hired to carry out the crackdown started chasing down protesters.

Since Burma started moving from a half-century of brutal military rule toward democracy four years ago, the government has found itself grappling with the consequences of newfound freedoms of expression. Many of the early reforms that marked President Thein Sein early days in office have stalled or started rolling back, with particular sensitivities shown toward public rallies and criticism in the press.

Late Wednesday, police detained more than a dozen workers protesting for higher wages and better working conditions at factories in two industrial zones just outside Yangon. Hundreds of people have been arrested in the last four years, many of them farmers speaking out against land grabs by the rich and powerful.

In recent days, the government warned it would “take action” if student protesters who were stopped at a monastery in Letpadan tried marching to Yangon, 140 kilometers (95 miles) to the south.

The groups at Letpadan and at Sule Pagoda have similar aim: They want the government to scrap a law passed by parliament in September that puts all decisions about education policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely made up of government ministers. Students say the law undermines the autonomy of universities, which are still struggling to recover after clampdowns on academic independence and freedom during the junta’s rule.

A prominent activist Kyaw Min Yu from the 88 Generation Open Society confirmed that at least a dozen people, including his wife, Nilar Thein, were arrested in Thursday’s crackdown. The couple were both former political prisoners during the days of dictatorship.

“Those detained are taken to an interrogation center and we are waiting for the news,” Kyaw Min Yu said.

“Authorities are using the old technique by needlessly cracking down the peaceful protesters,” he said.

TIME Venezuela

Venezuela Is Slowly Coming Apart—and President Nicolas Maduro May Pay the Price

A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.
Carlos Eduardo Ramirez—Reuters A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.

Hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods have Venezuelans angry—and looking for new leadership

CARACAS – Amid the death of a 14-year-old boy killed by a policeman during anti-government unrest, the arrest of a key opposition mayor by armed government intelligence agents and talk of a coup plot against the government spearheaded by Washington, this last week also saw another another turn in Venezuela’s growing crisis. At DolarToday, a website little known outside of Venezuela that has become a key indicator of the country’s black market exchange rate, the bolívar local currency passed the psychological barrier of 200 per greenback. Four years ago, the dollar cost eight bolívares per dollar; five months ago it was 100; now it is already at 221 and counting. This rapid deterioration in the value of the local currency, 61% drop against the dollar over the last year, is one of the best indicators of just how much trouble Venezuela—and President Nicolas Maduro—is in.

While many in Venezuela have little direct engagement with the dollar—the country’s foreign exchange is strictly controlled—the currency crisis pervades everyday life. It means many doctors and engineers earn the equivalent of just a dollar a day and prefer instead to drive taxis or smuggle pasta or gas across the border to Colombia. It means that those who want to buy basic goods for their families must line up for hours every day due to shortages, and hoping all the time that shelves won’t be empty. It means that stealing is more valuable than working, fueling one of the world’s highest crime rates and the murder of one police officer nearly every day.

It means that people like Yormina Alguilera, a street cleaner earning the same as the minimum wage of doctor or engineer, are giving up. “We’re in crisis,” she said, taking a break from the sun at a fruit stall in the square at Caracas’ 23 de enero barrio, as murals of Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez loom over. Alguilera voted for Maduro and his predecessor Chávez, “but never again,” she said. “At least under Chávez I could get things. It’s a mess with Maduro and there’s no end in sight. Things are getting worse every day.”

Maduro, who was elected after the death of Chávez in 2013, is in serious trouble. His approval ratings are in the low twenties, according to Datanálisis, a respected local pollster. This time last year, the president faced down Venezuela’s biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade, and now they appear to be starting up again. In San Cristóbal, on the country’s border with Colombia and where unrest was sparked last February by similar though less severe economic problems, 14-year-old Kluiberth Roa was killed with a rubber bullet by police. That tragedy has only sparked further public anger.

Supermarket lines often run into the hundreds if not thousands due to shortages of the most basic goods, from shampoo to condoms. Inflation last year was near 70%. The economy, which has long been propped up by high crude prices, is crumbling as oil has tumbled over the last few months. (A barrel of Venezuela oil sells for half what it did a year ago; the country obtains 96% of foreign currency from oil.) Maduro has blamed this on an “economic war” being waged by the opposition with a hand from the United States, but many ordinary Venezuelans don’t believe that. “They talk about an economic war but we’re certainly not winning it,” said Aida Guedez Álvarez, a 61-year-old housewife buying a watermelon in 23 de enero. “I voted for Maduro but I’ve been deceived, like everybody else.”

Maduro’s government faces tough legislative elections later this year. “The government isn’t necessarily falling but it is weak and losing its leadership,” said Reinaldo Manrique, 24, an accounting student and student leader who was one of the very first detained for protesting in San Cristóbal, last year, sparking nationwide unrest. “But you know what? The leaders of the opposition are even more weak.”

Though former Chavistas are much angrier than they were a year ago, they do not see the opposition, led loosely by two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, as a viable alternative. “Of course I’d never vote for Capriles,” said Alguilera, the street cleaner. “I give up. No one will change things.” Rather than protest, students are talking of finishing their studies and leaving the country. Many who took to the streets last year have left. “I’m studying to become a primary teacher,” said Leonardo Díaz, 25, in Caracas’ Plaza Altamira, a bastion of protest. “But as soon as I graduate, I’ll leave. All my friends at university are the same.”

Capriles, who stood against both Chávez and Maduro in presidential elections, is the more moderate face of the opposition. He continues to govern the state of Miranda and at least on paper lead the opposition. The government has cracked down on its more hardline critics. Leopoldo López, a major opposition heavyweight, has remained behind bars for more than a year for his role in inciting last year’s protests. “The government is working in a barbaric way to steal from public funds, destroy the country, rob the country’s oil while it says it’s constructing a homeland!” López’s father, also called Leopoldo, told TIME. Antonio Ledezma, Caracas’ mayor, was arrested and charged earlier this month in a conspiracy to overthrow Maduro.

María Corina Machado, another more radical leader, was charged in December with involvement in a plot to assassinate Maduro. “With Maduro there is more persecution than ever,” she told TIME. Next on the government’s list appears to be Julio Borges, an opposition party coordinator. The government requested a probe into his alleged conspiracies against Maduro this week. “Every year there are elections but this is the first time the government is up with a political crisis of this magnitude,” Borges told TIME. “In Venezuela everyone is scared—including the government.”

Maduro has remained tough. “Every fascist has his day,” the president said on Ledezma’s arrest. And he still has some support. As he completed a crossword on a park bench in the wealthy La Castellana area of Caracas, Emilio Neumann backed the government’s stance. “Lopez and Ledezma are exactly where they deserve to be, behind bars,” said the 69-year-old public administrator. “After calling so many people to the streets and committing who knows how many murders.”

President Maduro must hope, if he is to see out the next couple of years, that he can persuade people like Neumann to stay on side. To do this he must turn the country’s economy around, though with three official exchange rates as well as a black market on the dollar — with a spread between the highest and lowest of them of some 3,400 per cent — it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Pragmatic moves such as consolidating those exchange rates or raising the price of gas, currently the world’s lowest at just a few cents per tank, are politically dangerous especially when Chavistas are turning away from Maduro.

TIME Greece

Violence Erupts in Greece Ahead of German Vote on Bailout

Minor clashes in Athens
ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU—EPA Riot policemen try to avoid a molotov cocktail during clashes after the end of an antigovernment protest called by leftist groups in Athens on Feb. 26, 2015

Protesters clashed with police, throwing stones and setting cars on fire

Violence broke out in Greece’s capital, Athens, on Thursday for the first time since the new government came to power a month ago, and one day before Germany is set to vote on whether to extend the European bailout of the debt-ridden country.

Around 50 of the 450 protesters that took to the streets on Friday clashed with riot police, throwing stones and petrol bombs and burning vehicles, the BBC reports.

The outrage is directed toward new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power promising to end austerity measures imposed on the country because of its spiraling debt. Tsipras is now defending a four-month financial-aid extension on the condition of government reforms, causing dissent even within his own Syriza party.

Although the bailout extension has been approved by the euro zone’s Finance Ministers, it will only go into effect following votes from the parliaments of several European nations.

[BBC]

TIME On Our Radar

Turkish Photographer Wins Two Top Awards at World Press Photo

http://time.com/66907/execution-stopped-iran-balal/
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images A young girl is pictured after she was wounded during clashes between riot-police and protesters in Istanbul on March 12, 2014.

World Press Photo, the premiere photojournalism competition, has recognized Agence France-Presse Bulent Kilic as one of the best wire photographers of the year

Last year was a great one for Agence France-Presse photographer Bulent Kilic. For this work in 2014, he was named Wire Photographer of the Year by TIME and by The Guardian, he won First Place in the Pictures of the Year International competition, and has now bagged the first and third prizes in the Spot News Singles category at World Press Photo, the most prestigious photojournalism contest.

Kilic’s winning image was the moody and powerful portrait of a girl wounded during clashes between riot police and protestors in Istanbul in March 2014. Just days before he shot that image, Kilic had come back from two months of reporting in Ukraine. He had planned to take a few days off to rest. That’s when a 15-year-old Turkish boy, Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma after being hit by a gas canister during street protests in June of 2013, died. “I felt that I needed to shoot this situation,” Kilic told TIME. “It was my responsibility, and I didn’t ask for any time off and just went to photograph the boy’s funeral.”

Those photos helped defined the 35-year-old photographer as one of the best wire photographers of 2014 – a distinction only made stronger in October when he captured, in a series of four photos, an airstrike on Islamic State militants on the Tilsehir hill in Syria near the Turkish border. One of these frames won Kilic Third Prize in the Spot News Singles category at this year’s World Press Photo.

“A lot of people ask me if it was easy to see these people killed in front of me. They ask me if I felt something,” Kilic told TIME. “It wasn’t easy. But this is war, and these people are also killing other people. Sometimes, you can’t really feel anything. Sometimes, you don’t want to talk about it.”

Read TIME LightBox’s interview with Bulent Kilic, TIME’s Wire Photographer of the Year 2014.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Authorities Look to Identify, Prosecute Looters

US-CRIME-POLICE-RACE-UNREST
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images People walk past a collapsed building where protesters and looters rampaged businesses following the grand jury decision of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., on Nov. 25, 2014.

Law enforcement officials are combing through surveillance footage to identify looters

Investigators in Ferguson, Mo., are working to identify arsonists and looters in order to potentially bring charges against them. A trail of destruction was last in the city during protests over the killing of Michael Brown last year.

Police are searching for the people responsible for setting over two dozen fires in the wake of a grand jury’s decision in Nov. 2014 not to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the death of the 18-year-old Brown. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the arson investigations.

The looting investigations are being handled by the St. Louis County Police Department. Police are watching surveillance videos, a spokesperson for the police department said. Law enforcement officials are taking screenshots every time they get a clear image of someone’s face. Five hundred images have been captured so far, but only about 10 individuals have been positively identified, the spokesperson said, and no arrests have been made yet. Police are distributing 250 screenshots to local media and posting them on social media in order to identify the looters.

Police will be releasing videos to the public every Tuesday to see if they can help identify any suspects. Right now, the spokesperson said, they’re focused on finding repeat offenders. If identified, some of the more egregious offenders could face prosecutions, although authorities specified that non-looters who were caught in mass-arrests would not face charges.

TIME Behind the Photos

The Story Behind the Photo of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s Dying Moments

Egyptian photographer Islam Osama captured the moment Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed during peaceful protests in Cairo on Jan. 24

In the week since her death, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh has become a symbol against Egypt’s military rule.

The leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party died on Jan. 24 after suffering shotgun pellet injuries while peacefully marching to commemorate the hundreds of demonstrators killed during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.

Egyptian photographer Islam Osama, 23, captured her dying moments. His powerful portrait of Sayyed Abu el-Ela holding the severely injured protestor has drawn international attention, taking on an iconic status similar to the footage of Neda Agha-Soltan’s dying breath during the 2009 Iranian protests.

Osama, a photojournalist with the Egyptian Youm El Sabea newspaper, was covering a press conference in Cairo when he heard about the Socialist Popular Alliance Party’s march, and headed over to cover it. “It was an ordinary day,” Osama told TIME. “We didn’t expect any clashes or violence from the police. The streets were almost empty.”

The march was on one side of a street leading to the iconic Tahrir Square, and the police stood on the other side. “[There were] only 25 people, and the demonstration only lasted two minutes,” Osama said. “Suddenly, without any warning, the dispersal began with the shooting of teargas and birdshot [pellets].”

Osama believes the police didn’t purposefully target Al-Sabbagh. “[They] fired in the general direction of the march.” The photographer, who was behind Al-Sabbagh when she was hit, saw her fall to the ground. He took six photos in a sequence.

At first, Osama didn’t realize he had captured such a powerful image. “The most important thing in that moment was Shaimaa herself,” he said. “I realized immediately that I had to leave. I had to send the photos to the newspaper, fast. If I waited a moment too long there was a chance that my camera could be taken and the memory card erased by the police.”

Using a USB data dongle and his laptop, he uploaded the photographs to his editor at Youm El Sabea. “From a human perspective, [my editor] had a strong emotional reaction to the image,” which has dominated the paper’s coverage since the incident.

Osama never expected to see his photograph make international headlines. “It was a big surprise,” he said. “I didn’t expect this kind of reaction. When I see this, of course I feel proud. But the most important thing is that I was able to bring Shaimaa’s message to the world… As a photographer, it’s my job to transmit this reality to the world.”

And, the current political situation in Egypt hasn’t made his job easy. “Photojournalists [here] are not safe. If you carry a camera in the street, you’re a target. People consider anyone with a camera [to be] with Al Jazeera, the Muslim Brotherhood, or a traitor to the nation.”

For Osama, his job is not to take sides, he said. “I’m not against the police. I’ve photographed policemen who [were] injured and killed, who [were] targeted by terrorism. My photos show reality.”

Interview by Jared Malsin in Cairo

TIME On Our Radar

A Personal Exploration of Egypt’s Turbulent Years

Laura El-Tantawy's photobook In the Shadows of the Pyramids is out now

Laura El-Tantawy’s newest book, In the Shadow of the Pyramids, might appear to be a straight-up exploration of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, but when asked to describe the project, she finds it easier to explain what it’s not about.

“It’s not a book about Egypt,” she tells TIME. “It’s a personal exploration; dark, chaotic, sentimental and passionate. It’s not informational or educational [either]. It is a factual book that explores a place of personal significance through imagery that is predominantly impressionistic.”

El-Tantawy — who grew up in Cairo but left with her family in 1998 — has spent most of her life outside the country. But in 2011, when the revolution began, she felt a deep urge to return, to both document what was happening, and to explore her own relationship with its people and culture.

This book, she says, expresses the conflict she experienced in trying to establish a sense of belonging in a place that was going through massive political upheaval, and one that she had been absent from for many years. “The juxtaposition of past and present is key,” she continues, nodding to a series of self-penned, diary-like recollections that pepper the work, “since these memories have been my strongest tie to Egypt.”

She hopes readers will gain insight into the inner workings of her mind through a project that reveals fragilities she would normally keep secret. “I couldn’t compromise the honesty of the book by hiding,” she adds. “The book is an experience, the images guide you through it and the text punctuates it. It is edited to look like it is all happening in one night,” El-Tantawy says. “Peace and tranquility by day turning to chaos and darkness [like] something really nasty is happening. Then a new day begins.”

In the Shadow of the Pyramids will have a relatively small print run (just 500 copies) because she says it is a special, and very personal, project. “There is attention to the finest details and it all fulfills the delicate and personal nature of the work,” she adds. “I see this book appealing to book collectors, art lovers, people with a specific interest in Egypt.” She is also keen to produce an alternative and cheaper version of the book for an Egyptian audience.

“I decided to go at it alone,” she adds, speaking about her decision to self-publish. “I did all the work and invested all the money to make sure I produce a beautifully realized book. I made sure to work with the best in the business, from design (SYB), to the lithography (Colour & Books), printing (Jos Morree) and binding (Handboekbinderj Geertsen). At the start of the process I had cold feet because I was terrified of failure since this is my first book. The response I received based on the dummy version was impressive and this made making hard decisions easy,” she says.

Her advice to photographers who may be thinking of self-publishing? “The most important is being confident in what you want and having a good reason to make a book to start with. This allows you to make brave decisions. The work never stops. [So] I made sure to surround myself by people who knew much more about book making than I ever will.”

And the potential payback for all the hard work, for both El-Tantawy and other self-publishers? “The book gives me a sense of personal closure,” she says. “I feel released and now I can move on.”

Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photographer. Her book In the Shadow of the Pyramids is available for order now.

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