France accuses Azerbaijan of interfering in New Caledonia

France accused Azerbaijan of interfering in the conflict in New Caledonia, and spreading anti-French propaganda on social media to enflame the unrest in the French overseas territory. The charge was based on a report published by the French state investigative agency Viginum, alleging that Azerbaijan has disseminated “manifestly inaccurate or misleading content…blaming France for its handling of the situation in New Caledonia in the context of the riots.” The report came one day after French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused Azerbaijan of making an agreement with the New Caledonia independence leadership, implying that this was retaliation for French support of Armenia in the conflict between the two Caucasus nations. Darmanin further added that France will not cede to the violence, and that it maintains sovereignty over New Caledonia. (Photo: New Caledonia protesters fly flag of Azerbaijan alongside that of the independence movement. Credit: @BabakTaghvaee1)


Tuvalu regains full sovereignty over security relations

Australia and Tuvalu released a joint statement announcing new commitments to improve security relations, and remove the veto power Australia previously had over the small island nation’s security relations with other countries. The announcement concerned implementation and interpretation of the Falepili Union, a bilateral treaty entered into last November, which expands upon the Australia-Tuvalu Security Partnership of 2017. However, it eliminates the 2017 provision that limited Tuvalu’s sovereignty in foreign affairs—a sensitive matter given Australia’s growing regional rivalry with China. (Image via Pixabay)

North Africa

Tunisia: lawyers strike amid crackdown on dissent

In an unprecedented move, striking lawyers from across Tunisia rallied in front of court buildings in Tunis, effectively bringing all proceedings to a halt. The unified action comes in response to what legal professionals are describing as a dangerous escalation by the government targeting their community. The Tunisia Lawyers Council called for a nationwide strike after police conducted a raid on the headquarters of Tunisia’s bar association and arrested Sonia Dahmani, a prominent attorney and critic of the government. The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) joined other civil society organizations in lending their support to the striking lawyers. (Photo: Abir Khlif/Jurist)


Iraq: harsh backlash hits sexual, cultural dissidents

Iraq’s parliament has passed a law criminalizing same-sex relations, with a punishment of 10 to 15 years in prison. An earlier draft of the law had proposed the death penalty. The new law also includes prison terms for those who “promote homosexuality” or “intentionally” act “effeminate.” Just as the law was being passed, Iraqi TikTok star Om Fahad was shot dead outside her home in Baghdad. Om Fahad, whose real name was Ghufran Sawadi, won nearly half a million followers for sharing videos of herself dancing to pop music. In February 2023, she had been sentenced to six months in prison after a court found that her videos contained “indecent speech that undermines modesty and public morality.” (Image via Instagram)

Planet Watch
air pollution

Lower emissions from US power grid (at least)

The US Department of Energy released its preliminary estimate for the nation’s carbon emissions in the previous year. While falling far short of the kind of drop needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, a dip in emissions was recorded—almost entirely due to changes in the electric power sector. US carbon emissions have been trending downward since 2007, when they peaked at about six gigatonnes. The COVID-19 pandemic produced a dramatic drop in emissions in 2020, bringing the yearly total to below five gigatonnes for the first time since before 1990, when DoE monitoring began. Carbon releases rose after the return to “normalcy“; 2023 marked the first post-pandemic decline. The drop is largely due to the phase-out of coal-burning power plants. However, electricity generation remains the second source of emissions, behind transportation. (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

New York City

Google fires employees who protested Israel contract

Google fired 28 workers after dozens of employees participated in sit-ins at the company’s offices in New York City and Sunnyvale, Calif., to protest a cloud computing contract with the Israeli government. Several were arrested at both locations. Tensions had been building between management and activist employees over Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion joint Google-Amazon deal to supply the Israeli government with cloud services, including artificial intelligence. Google employees affiliated with the group that organized the sit-ins, No Tech for Apartheid, said in a statement that the firings were “a flagrant act of retaliation.” The use of artificial intelligence to generate potential targets appears to have contributed to the destructive nature of the current war on the Gaza Strip, an investigation by progressive Israeli website +972 recently revealed. (Photo: Q Sakamaki/The Village Sun)


Belarus: dissident rock band gets correctional labor

A district court in Minsk sentenced a dissident Belarusian rock band to two and a half years of correctional labor after members were convicted of participation in group actions that violated “public order.” The three members of the band, Nizkiz, have been behind bars since their arrest in January for their participation in anti-government protests in 2020. On top of their sentence of correctional labor, the three were also added to the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ list of extremists. The 2020 protests erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko secured his sixth term in office through evident fraud. Nizkiz released a song entitled “Rules,” which became an anthem of the protest movement. The band also filmed a music video at one of the demonstrations. Belarusian rights organizations have declared the band members political prisoners. (Image via Bandcamp)


Germany: ISIS suspect arrested for war crimes

The German Federal Criminal Police arrested a suspect identified as Sohail A, said to be a former member of the Syrian insurgent group Liwa Jund al-Rahman and the Islamic State. Both are designated “terrorist organizations” by the German government, making membership an offense under the Criminal Code. Sohail A is also accused of participating in war crimes including forced displacement. Liwa Jund al-Rahman, or Brigade of the Soldiers of the Merciful God, carried out a 2013 “cleansing operation” in Deir ez-Zor province, in which Shi’ite residents were forcibly expelled. According to the German Prosecutor General, Sohail A glorified the operation on social media platforms as part of the group’s propaganda department. (Photo via Syria Call)

Watching the Shadows

Podcast: free speech, propaganda and the Facebook dilemma

This week’s Meta outage plunged millions around the world into panic. No sooner did Bill Weinberg get back on Facebook than its robots slapped restrictions on his account for supposedly promoting “dangerous organizations”—precisely in response to his protests against online stanning for extremist groups! Apart from subjection to such Orwellian diktats from Meta’s robotocracy, Facebook has tweaked its algorithm to sideline links to news articles and instead boost “reels” and “memes,” with high entertainment value but little informational content. This has tanked hits for news outlets and resulted in ominous layoffs across the news industry. In Episode 216 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill reiterates his call for a meme moratorium, as the only means of consumer resistance to Meta’s profiteering, anti-social agenda—but also asks what can be done about the more fundamental question of this corporate Borg’s assimilation of every sphere of human reality. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

Africa mining

Appeals court dismisses child labor case against Big Tech

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a child labor case against technology companies and refused to hold them accountable for complicity in the use of children in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Former cobalt miners and their representatives filed a lawsuit against Alphabet (Google), Apple, Dell Technologies, Tesla and Microsoft under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). The TVPRA penalizes anyone who “knowingly benefits financially from participating in a venture that engaged in trafficking crimes.” They claimed that the companies were involved in a “venture” with their suppliers that engaged in forced labor of children to obtain the metal. The court rejected these claims and dismissed the lawsuit, upholding a lower court’s decision. (Photo via Africa Up Close)

East Asia
ĂśrĂĽmqi Road

China: activist filmmaker faces prison

Police in China charged Chen Pin Lin, director of documentary Not the Foreign Force, with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to Chinese human rights monitors Weiquanwang and Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch. The charge, an offense under Article 293 of China’s Criminal Act, has been widely criticized for its elusive definition and use against dissidents and human rights defenders. The film, also known as ĂśrĂĽmqi Road in Chinese, depicts the nationwide protests against COVID-19 lockdown measures in China. Posted online by Chen under the pseudonym “Plato,” the film criticizes the Chinese government for attempting to blame foreign forces for the protests. (Image via YouTube)

Southeast Asia

Burma: investigate killing of journalist Myat Thu Tan

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for the Burmese military government to investigate the killing of journalist Myat Thu Tan and prosecute the perpetrators. The journalist’s remains were found buried in a bomb shelter at a military camp in Rakhine state. The body, bearing signs of torture, was discovered along with six other political detainees after the camp was overrun by the insurgent Arakan Army. Since September 2022, authorities had held Myat Thu Tan in pre-trial detention. At the time of his death, he had not been tried or convicted of any offense. He was accused of disseminating “defamatory material” on social media, in violation of the Burmese Penal Code. According to Human Rights Watch, the offense is used “to target those speaking critically of the military” following the coup of February 2021. (Map: PCL)