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Monday, January 6, 2014

Egyptian Bloggers Who Mobilized Support for 2011 Uprising in Jail or Under Threat

Egyptian activists discuss the recent wave of arrests of protesters and dissidents by the military-backed government in a video report from the Cairo film collective Mosireen.

Despite an apparent lack of evidence connecting her to the crime, Mona Seif, a scientist and blogger who is also one of Egypt’s most prominent rights activists, was convicted on Sunday of having taken part in a reported arson attack on the campaign headquarters of Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, nearly two years ago.

It remains unclear what actually happened at the Shafik villa in an upscale Cairo district on May 28, 2012, when the Mubarak loyalist secured a spot in the final round of that year’s presidential election, angering many revolutionaries. Less than three weeks after the reported attack, however, no major damage was visible to reporters who waited for returns with the Shafik campaign staff in the building on the night their man lost the election to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

Last year, when a prosecutor appointed by Mr. Morsi filed arson charges against 12 defendants â€" including Ms. Seif and her brother, the activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, as well as Ahmed Abdallah, a leader of the April 6 Movement â€" the case was widely seen as an attempt to stifle critics of the increasingly authoritarian Islamist president. Mr. Shafik even issued a public statement on Twitter expressing his surprise at the time, explaining that he had withdrawn his legal complaint in the matter before fleeing the country in 2012.

Initial reports on the incident said that a member of the Shafik campaign claimed to have witnessed the vandalism, but the activists flatly rejected any involvement. Ms. Seif testified that she was in another part of Cairo when the incident had taken place; Mr. Abd El Fattah said that he had gone to the villa that night hoping to protest against the candidate, but the demonstration had ended by the time he got there, so he simply went home.

On Sunday, supporters of the defendants said that the verdict, and the court’s decision to issue one-year suspended sentences, was part of a crackdown on dissent by the military-backed government that forced Mr. Morsi from office in July.

Laila Soueif, the mother of the two activists, said in a Facebook statement: “this is another example that the judiciary is no longer concerned with justice; it’s simply handing down politicized sentences. If my children are arsonists, how come Mona can walk free? If they are innocent, why not find them innocent?”

The British-Egyptian journalist and blogger Sarah Carr echoed that theme in a Twitter comment.

For her part, Ms. Seif, who campaigns against military trials for civilians in the post-Mubarak era, left the courtroom vowing that “this attempt to suppress protest and scare us into giving up our rights will not succeed.” Pointing out that there were several other prosecutions pending against activists, including her brother, who was recently accused of violating a new ban on unlicensed protests, she added: “Now we need to concentrate on all the others, unjustly detained, who have been targeted by the Adly/Sisi regime.”

A video profile of Mona Seif, a founder of Egypt’s No Military Trials for Civilians movement.

The next day she posted a link on Facebook to another blogger’s dry “summary” of Egypt’s revolution in less than one minute. The remixed news footage showed Hosni Mubarak’s portrait being removed from the presidential palace after his ouster in February, 2011, and then reinstated, as the video played in reverse.

A video blogger’s summary of Egypt’s revolution.

Ragia Omran, one of the defense lawyers representing the activists, explained on Twitter that the suspended sentences would come into effect if they were convicted of any other offenses, including any violation of the new, restrictive law that makes almost any public protest a crime. She added that the activists plan to appeal the sentence, despite fearing that the justice system is so politicized that it is almost impossible to get a fair trial.

Ms. Seif noted on Twitter Monday that her brother’s cell was at least close to that of the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, part of a news crew whose reporting for the Qatari network has been interpreted by the authorities as lending support to terrorism.

Another member of the Al Jazeera team, the Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, has been held in a section of Cairo’s Tora prison reserved for Egypt’s worst criminals, according to Nancy Youssef, a McClathcy correspondent who managed to pay him a brief visit on Monday after he was transferred to another facility for interrogation.

Ms. Seif, her brother and other activists from the April 6 Movement played an important role in mobilizing support for the 2011 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power. Now, as the third anniversary of that revolt approaches, many of these activists, who experienced persecution during Mubarak’s rule and were highly critical of Mr. Morsi before his ouster, are facing extended prison terms for daring to protest the military-backed government that took power in July.

On Monday, Hossam el-Hamalawy, an activist blogger, posted an image of Alaa Abd El Fattah in Tahrir Square during the 18-day uprising in 2011.

One of the major catalysts for the uprising that began on Egypt’s Police Day, Jan. 25, in 2011 was the death of Khaled Said, after a brutal beating by two undercover police officers in Alexandria in 2010.

Among the young revolutionaries jailed recently were eight activists sentenced to two-year prison terms last week for attending a small protest last month outside the court in Alexandria where the officers accused of killing Khaled Said are still standing trial.

Video of the Khaled Said trial this week from Egypt’s state newspaper Al Ahram.

According to Mada Masr, a new English-language news site in Cairo (which was designed by Alaa Abd El Fattah, a web developer by trade), a defense lawyer for the officers charged with beating Mr. Said to death claimed in court on Monday that the charges against his client, propelled by leaked images of his bruised and disfigured corpse, were a “Zionist creation” intended to shake Mr. Mubarak’s grip on power.

As the Cairo-based journalist Bel Trew reported, one of the activists sentenced for protesting outside the Khaled Said trial was Mahienour El-Massry.

Ms. Massry explained her work last year in a video interview for a series on female activists who took part in Egypt’s revolution.

“Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution,” Episode 10: Mahienour El-Massry.

In Video and on Twitter, Glimpses of Rodman’s North Korea Trip

A Sky News reporter spoke with Dennis Rodman during his travels to North Korea.

Dodging tough questions about politics, Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea to play basketball, this time accompanied by former National Basketball Association players who will star in an exhibition game with a local team as part of celebrations Wednesday on the birthday of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

In videos and on social media, Mr. Rodman’s trip is being portrayed as upbeat, even as he and teammates get tough questions thrown at them about the country’s politics and human rights record. Mr. Rodman, who has repeatedly called his visits “basketball diplomacy,” brushed aside any suggestion that he use his influence with the North Korean leader for anything other than sports.

The British television channel Sky News recorded Mr. Rodman being asked why he would not speak to Kim Jong-un about the country’s prison camps, considering he has called him a “friend for life” and has access to the North Korean leader. Mr. Rodman replied that it was not his role to do so, that he was leading a team to play basketball, and that he felt “love” for the soon-to-be 31-year-old North Korean leader.

The Associated Press quoted Mr. Rodman as saying after he arrived in Pyongyang on Monday that he was not a “politician” or an “ambassador.”

A.P. video of Dennis Rodman and Charles Smith speaking about their North Korea trip on Monday.

Social media postings suggested a buoyant mood in the Rodman camp. Michael P. Spavor, a Canadian consultant accompanying Mr. Rodman, has been providing a glimpse of Mr. Rodman’s latest venture into the secretive nation, posting photographs on Twitter of unrelated scenes: the centerpiece of what looks like a banquet table; the hotel room in Pyongyang; nighttime streets devoid of any other traffic but their own, taken from their car window; and a self portrait or two in which he stands for a close-up, with the players in the background of the airplane or on the tarmac.

On his website, Mr. Spavor, who is originally from Calgary, Canada, says he now lives in China and works as a full-time consultant specializing in business, sports and cultural exchanges with North Korea. He speaks the North Korean dialect and at one time lived in North Korea.

In an interview last month with Maclean’s, Canada’s weekly current affairs magazine, Mr. Spavor, who has accompanied Mr. Rodman on previous visits, was quoted as saying: “In the media, Marshall Kim Jung-un is portrayed as serious. But we were able to see a more charismatic, friendly side to him. He has a good sense of humor.”

On his Twitter account, @mpspavor, Mr. Spavor posted photographs of some of the members of the American basketball team, which includes Charles D. Smith, Jerry Dupree, Vin Baker, Eric (Sleepy) Floyd) and Doug Christie.

Joseph D. Terwilliger, a geneticist who is affiliated with Columbia University’s Genome Center in New York City, also accompanied the group. On his Twitter account, he posted messages about his excitement just before arriving there with Mr. Rodman and the other players.

Mr. Terwilliger also posted a photograph taken from a previous trip to North Korea with Mr. Rodman.

Koryo Tours, which arranges tours to North Korea, posted images on Google Plus of some of the tourists who left to attend the exhibition game.

Mr. Rodman’s latest visit also follows in the wake of the execution last month of Kim Jong-un’s uncle for plotting a military coup, an announcement that was a highly unusual admission of instability from the reclusive, nuclear-armed country.

The news organization NKNews.org reported on Monday that growing criticism led Irish betting giant Paddy Power to pull out of sponsoring a previous trip by Mr. Rodman on Christmas Eve, citing “changed circumstances.”

“We have been reviewing the partnership on an ongoing basis, and with the benefit of hindsight, we probably got this one wrong,” a company spokesman for Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaking company, was quoted as saying.

In a segment on Mr. Rodman’s trip, Karl Penhaul, a correspondent for CNN, noted that it was unclear what the financial arrangements were after the withdrawal of the Paddy Power bookmakers.

CNN reported on Monday from Beijing with interviews of the players before they left for North Korea.

Speaking with CNN, Mr. Smith, one of the former N.B.A. players accompanying Mr. Rodman, said: “The extreme views on North Korea come about because most people have not been there. And because people have a sense of fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge, it becomes an illusion. We have an opportunity to take that illusion and make it factual.”

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

New Rules for Workers From Europe’s East Prompt Xenophobia in the West

The European Union’s easing of work restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians on New Year’s Day has revived a continent-wide debate on immigration, spurring both irrational alarmism and a caustic backlash against the perceived anti-immigration mania.

Nine European Union member states, including Britain, France and Germany, placed temporary labor limits on the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria â€" among the most impoverished countries in the 28-member organization â€" when they joined the organization in 2007.

Though the restrictions were lifted on Jan. 1, Romanians and Bulgarians are still not part of the passport-free Schengen area and will continue to face border controls when traveling in many European Union countries. Some, like Britain, are also tightening some rules so that migrants can’t claim out-of-work benefits for three months after arriving.

An already rancorous debate on immigration in Britain was further stirred up on Sunday when Prime Minister David Cameron said he was considering pushing for a limit on workers from Europe and making the reduction of migrants a key priority in his planned overhaul of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr. Cameron also defended government plans to begin charging migrants for medical treatment in accident and emergency departments.

Mr. Cameron’s seemingly more strident take comes against a backdrop of rising anti-immigrant sentiment by the country’s influential tabloid newspapers along with an increasingly trenchant anti-immigrant discourse by the far right.

Ahead of the policy changes, some British tabloids have predicted an invasion of downtrodden citizens from the east, intent on begging, stealing jobs and collecting welfare checks. Under the headline “Cheeky Beggars,” the tabloid The Sun on December 31 featured a front-page story on the first busload of Britain-bound Romanians, including a purported convicted thief and others who the newspaper said had boasted of their plans to steal scrap metal and rake in generous benefits.

Others, however, have loudly praised the opening of immigration as a catalyst for economic growth. In Romania, Britain and elsewhere, the anti-immigrant backlash has spurred a backlash against the backlash. The Romanian government has insisted that Britain is not even Romanians’ first choice of destinations.

Last year, the Romanian newspaper Gandul launched a campaign to counter fear-mongering about immigration, urging Britons to come to Romania and seek job opportunities. “We May Not Like Britain, But You Will Love Romania,” the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, a small army of Britons mocked the spiraling fears on Twitter. Giles Goodall, a Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament, posted an image of a deserted border post with a sarcastic caption about the anticipated invasion from the east that had yet to materialize.

Al Murray, a writer, expressed his disappointment at coming down for breakfast on New Year’s day and not finding any Romanians or Bulgarians.

Darren, a self-described introverted barista from Glasgow, claimed that “The average British person will swallow up to 8 Bulgarians in their sleep in the first week of 2014 alone.” David Turner, another writer, wrote a mock letter to the Daily Mail, a tabloid, asking the paper what to do after waking up and finding his children speaking Bulgarian.

In France, the relaxation of the rules has spurred fears of a Roma influx from Romania and Bulgaria, stoked by members of the far-right National Front who have blamed Roma, or Gypsies, for brazenly stealing and disturbing the peace. This summer, the political group’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, called the Roma community in Nice “smelly” and “rash-inducing.”

In Germany, the conservative Christian Social Union â€" one of three governing parties â€" has warned that migrants who seek to unfairly bilk the welfare system should be expelled from the country.

So far, immigration experts in Britain say the stampede of migrants predicted by some has not materialized.

Victor Spirescu, a 30-year-old construction worker, was one of a small handful of Romanians on board a Wizz Air flight from Targu Mures on Jan. 1 who suddenly found himself barraged by British journalists desperate for a comment. The flight was three quarters full, with a majority of the 146 passengers returning to jobs in Britain following Christmas vacation.

A bemused Mr. Spirescu told the reporters he had learned English from watching MTV and had already secured a job washing cars. He said he loved to work. Asked about workers applying for benefits, he said he had never even heard of Britain’s National Health Service.

“I don’t come to rob your country,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC. “I come to work and then go home.”

Palko Karasz contributed reporting.

‘Polar Vortex’ Brings Coldest Temperatures in Decades

Waking up in Madison, Wis., this morning? Monday’s forecast is 21 degrees below zero. In Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago it is minus 15. And in Fargo, N.D., it’s 32 degrees below zero.

With an arctic air mass bringing “dangerously low temperatures” to the center of the country, the wind chill temperature could make it feel like 50 degrees below zero in parts of the northern Plains and Midwest. The so-called polar vortex, as some meteorologists are describing this weather pattern, will also bring the coldest temperatures in years as far south as Atlanta and Nashville, where the high on Monday is expected to be 10 degrees.

As a precaution against the record low temperatures, the governor of Minnesota shut public schools statewide Monday, the first time in 17 years. And, with a weekend storm dumping more snow and ice in Indiana and Illinois, the mayor of Indianapolis banned driving. Chicago also ordered its public schools shut Monday after officials initially said over the weekend they would be open.

Already, more than 2,500 flights have been canceled around the country on Monday, according to Flightaware, an online flight tracking service, on top of thousands of flights canceled or delayed in recent days. At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, 1,200 flights were canceled on Sunday.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the morning temperature was a balmy 54 degrees in New York on Monday. But, as the arctic air moves east, temperatures are expected to steadily fall throughout the day and hover over around zero on Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service, a look at reported wind chill temperatures in the hardest hit states.



NAVAJO 1 N -61
NOHLY 12 WSW -54
VIDA 9 S -50


RAY 2 W -58

LONG LAKE 10 W -50