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Upheld convictions, reduced terms for men in Egypt gay marriage video case


         Eight people sentenced to three years in jail after joining an illegal gay wedding ceremony are seen behind the bars in Cairo,
         Egypt, on November 1, 2014. The men were found guilty of spreading 'indecent images' and 'inciting debauchery' over a video
         that appeared to show them celebrating a gay marriage in Cairo. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Eight people sentenced to three years in jail after joining an illegal gay wedding ceremony are seen behind the bars in Cairo, Egypt, on November 1, 2014. The men were found guilty of “inciting debauchery” over a video that appeared to show them celebrating a gay marriage in Cairo. Credit: Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday upheld the convictions but reduced the sentences of eight men who appeared in a same-sex wedding video.

Last month, the men were convicted of “inciting debauchery” and sentenced to three-year prison terms after a video surfaced online of them at what appeared to be a gay wedding, the Associated Press reported. The sentences were cut to one year.

“Over the years, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested, tortured, and detained men suspected of consensual homosexual conduct,” Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement following the arrests of seven of the men in September.

“These arrests represent another assault on fundamental human rights and reflect the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law,” Reid said.

All of the men have consistently denied the charges.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Egypt and while homosexuality is not an offense, in a country dominated by conservative Muslim values, gays have been charged with violating laws of morality, Reuters reported.

The most recent and high profile of these cases occurred in 2001. Known as the Queen Boat Trials, more than 50 men were arrested and charged with “habitual practice of debauchery,” after being detained on a cruise ship discotheque. Others were also charged with “contempt of heavenly religions.”

Nearly half of the men in the Queen Boat Trials were convicted, and served sentences ranging from two to five years.

Gay rights activists say that at least 150 men in Egypt have been arrested in connection to alleged homosexual behavior in the last 18 months.

The post Upheld convictions, reduced terms for men in Egypt gay marriage video case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

News Wrap: Southeast Asia marks 10 years since catastrophic tsunami

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Friends and relatives lined up this afternoon at the wake for a New York City policeman, Rafael Ramos. He was one of two officers shot dead last Saturday by a gunman, who then killed himself.

Hundreds turned out at a church in Queens, a day before the Ramos funeral. At the same time, a spontaneous memorial of flowers and candles kept growing at the site of the shootings in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, Christmas night protests over recent police killings of black suspects turned violent. A crowd smashed windows and even wrecked a public Christmas tree.

In Syria, there’s new word of government airstrikes that killed more than 50 people in the last two days. Activists and witnesses report airplanes and helicopters dropped barrel bombs on two towns near the key city of Aleppo. The aerial assault hit residential and industrial targets in both towns, now held by Islamic State fighters. In addition to the dead, at least 175 people were wounded.

Nations all around the rim of the Indian Ocean marked 10 years today since the tsunami that left almost 230,000 people dead. Survivors and relatives of the victims gathered at services from Indonesia to India.

Jackie Long of Independent Television News reports.

JACKIE LONG: A gentle smattering of flowers, quiet remembrance in Indonesia for the day the tsunami struck.

The devastating effect of the wave that day touched countries across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Indonesia suffered the highest number of causalities. This is Aceh province, one of the worst-hit areas of the country.

Today, in Banda Aceh in Indonesia, the message is a simple one. “Thanks to the world,” they say. Thirty-five countries helped in the rescue and rebuilding operation in Indonesia alone.

The Ocean Queen Express heads along the coastline south of Colombo in Sri Lanka, a potent symbol of this country’s attempts to move on. A thousand passengers were killed when the tsunami ripped the train from the tracks 10 years ago.

For some, rebuilding their lives has been more of a struggle. Ramachandran, a fisherman in a coastal town in Tamil Nadu in India, lost five members of his family. Much has been done to make the area safer should another tsunami hit, but he says the people still live in fear.

MAN (through interpreter): Now things are normal, but we never know when it will come again. Even though they put these stones here to stop the water from coming in, we are brave to still live here on the coast.

JACKIE LONG: A police boat swept a mile inland by the tsunami was the focal point for official commemorations in Thailand. Nearly 5,500 people were killed here, half of them foreign tourists.

But away from the speeches, on the sands of beaches where so many died, relatives and friends paid their own tributes, making sure the memories of their loved ones will never disappear.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recent history.

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists began a major prisoner swap today involving some 370 soldiers and rebels. The exchange near the rebel-held city of Donetsk was the biggest since fighting began in Eastern Ukraine earlier this year. A September cease-fire largely failed, but the level of fighting has slackened in recent weeks.

NATO has condemned Russian intervention in Ukraine, but, today, the Kremlin struck back. President Vladimir Putin approved a new military doctrine that names the Western alliance as the number one military threat to Russia. The change came as Putin’s government is battling an economic slowdown brought on in part by Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Back in this country, Wall Street closed out Christmas week with new highs. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 23 points to close at a record 18053. The Nasdaq rose 33 points to close near 4807, its best finish since march of 2000. And the S&P added almost seven to finish at 2088, also a record. For the week, the Dow gained nearly 1.5 percent; the Nasdaq and the S&P rose just under 1 percent.

The post News Wrap: Southeast Asia marks 10 years since catastrophic tsunami appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Civilian suffering and sliding morale in Islamic State territory

INSIDE THE ISLAMIC STATE monitor

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to Iraq and Syria, where the brutal advance by the Islamic State has been at least partially checked in both countries.

The nearly five-month-long U.S. and allied bombing campaign against the Islamic State group continued yesterday and today, with 39 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The strikes came across a large swathe of territory held or under attack by the faction also called ISIS or ISIL, two days after the group captured a Jordanian pilot whose fighter jet crashed in Islamic State-controlled territory.

Today’s attacks went from Kobani, Syria, through the group’s makeshift capital in Raqqa, on to Sinjar, Iraq, near Kirkuk, and in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a prize the group took in June, forcing out the Iraqi army while barely firing a shot.

On Wednesday, Gwen Ifill spoke with Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author and former lawmaker who’d recently spent 10 days within the Islamic State area of control.

GWEN IFILL: You spent time in Iraq and in Syria, in Raqqa and in Mosul. Was there a difference in what you saw in those two places?

JURGEN TODENHOFER, Author: Here, I only can give an impression.

I had the impression that, in Mosul, their support is stronger, because in Mosul now, you have only Sunnis, because the Shias, the Yazidis and the Christians have been killed or forced to flee, and that in Raqqa, Bashar al-Assad is still at least as strong as I.S.

He is still playing — paying salaries to his people in Raqqa and it seems to work.

GWEN IFILL: So, what were your impressions about how strong ISIS is? There is some debate here and around the world about the scope of the Islamic State forces, whether it functions as a government, whether it has a justice system and what its ultimate goal is. What impressions did you take away?

JURGEN TODENHOFER: I got the impression that I.S. is much stronger than our Western politicians think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The group’s military strength has been matched by an online media onslaught. Its now-infamous films showing its grisly murders of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers are paired with videos showcasing an idyllic life under its control, marketplaces flush with goods, children eating ice cream in parks.

But that idealized portrait is at odds with reality, according to an article in today’s Washington Post. It describes failing infrastructure, power cuts, skyrocketing prices for sparse goods, and hunger.

And that article was written by Liz Sly. She’s The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Lebanon. She’s in England right now, where I spoke to her just a short while ago via Skype.

And a note: The noise you hear during the interview was a small glitch with her computer.

Liz Sly, thank you for talking with us.

Your article describes collapsing government services, people living in miserable, even unsafe conditions. Fill out the picture for us.

LIZ SLY, The Washington Post: Well, yes.

For a long time, I think the Islamic State has made it part of their reputation, not only are they a fearsome fighting force, but they also deliver this great government.

So, I set out to find out how they do that. And what I actually found out from other people I spoke to is that they’re not really delivering government, they’re not really delivering services, that services that are being delivered are coming from government workers who are still receiving their salaries and doing what they can under very difficult circumstances.

But they’re being paid, and paid by the government, not by the Islamic State. And there’s a little bit of Western aid getting in. But, otherwise, really, people are starting to suffer a lot from shortages of medicine, unsanitary water, a lack of food, very high prices, and very, very little help reaching them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you describe victim rules that are being imposed? At one point, you wrote about hospital workers at a meeting, and then they were detained because a couple of them were smoking?

LIZ SLY: It’s one thing to impose strict rules. It’s another thing to actually make society work.

They are continuing to impose very strict rules. People are being executed for cursing God. They are being detained for smoking. But society, as we normally think of it, is not actually functioning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have just been talking about the reporting done by a German journalist, Jurgen Todenhofer, who wrote, of all the insurgent groups he’s seen, he thinks Islamic State is the most determined, the most effective, the strongest. This is a very different picture, isn’t it?

LIZ SLY: Well, I’m not sure it’s an entirely different picture.

I have seen his reporting. I have seen his conclusions. I don’t think this means they are going to be defeated militarily soon. I wasn’t looking at them, the military aspect of their structure and organization. I was looking at their ability to deliver on-the-ground government for the people who they claim to be ruling in the name of Islam.

They are not delivering that government. I still think they have a very formidable fighting force, that they are militarily capable. There are no alternatives from the ground. So, I don’t — the fact that their governance is failing I don’t think means that they are necessarily going to be defeated any more easily in the short-term under current circumstances.

But I think, in the long term, it calls into questions how sustainable the project that they have envisaged for themselves is and whether, in the long run, people won’t start to turn against them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do also write about the morale among some of the fighters. You said it’s starting to slide. What did you find about that?

LIZ SLY: Well, yes, that’s another interesting aspect that I think we’re only starting to see right now, which is that we’re starting to get these reports of fighters on the ground not being necessarily happy.

I have heard a number of anecdotes of fighters who are trying to leave. It’s very hard to leave because they confiscate your passports and identity documents, whether you’re Syrian, Iraqi or a foreign fighter. It’s not easy to leave. But I have heard of people trying to leave, people trying to swap documents with other Syrians, so that they can get out of the country using those documents.

We have also heard of a new police force that has been set up to go around and detain fighters who are shirking their duties and hiding at home. So, I also think that things might not be entirely good on the military side as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just finally, you feel confident about your sources for this?

LIZ SLY: Well, yes.

I — you can meet people who live there very easily. You can go to Turkey. People travel back and forth. People come for medical treatment. They have relatives there. The only goods that are getting in and out of the Islamic State at the moment are coming from places like Turkey.

So, you can meet people and talk to them face to face about this. And some of these are people who have direct experience of delivering governance in those areas. They didn’t want their identities disclosed, because that’s very dangerous for them. But I talked to a lot of people, and I built up a very clear picture of things not quite being as rosy in the Islamic State as they themselves portray it to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Liz Sly, reporting for The Washington Post, we thank you.

LIZ SLY: Thank you.

The post Civilian suffering and sliding morale in Islamic State territory appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Republicans cite rise of ISIS, Democrats point to Ferguson fallout as top stories of 2014, poll finds

Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June
         30, 2014. Many Americans feel the rise of ISIS is the most important news story of 2014, reveals an AP poll. Photo by Reuters

Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. Many Americans feel the rise of ISIS is the most important news story of 2014, reveals an AP poll. Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON — Americans are closing out 2014 on an optimistic note, according to a new Associated Press-Times Square Alliance poll. Nearly half predict that 2015 will be a better year for them than 2014 was, while only 1 in 10 think it will be worse. There’s room for improvement: Americans give the year gone by a resounding ‘meh.’

Here’s what Americans thought of 2014:

Gains at Home, Slips Abroad
On a personal level, about a third (34 percent) think 2014 was better than 2013, while 15 percent say 2014 was worse and half see little difference. Slightly fewer feel their year was a step down from the previous one than said so in 2013, when an AP-Times Square poll found 20 percent thought 2013 was worse than 2012.

Americans are slightly more likely than they were a year ago to believe that the current year was better than the last for the United States— 30 percent say so this year, while 25 percent said so in 2013. On the other hand, Americans are more likely than in the 2013 poll to say this year was worse than last for the world as a whole, with 38 percent saying so now after 30 percent said so a year ago.

A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse
         demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 20, 2014. Brown's
         death, along with the death of Eric Garner and the ensuing protests were the most important story to Americans who identified
         as Democrats in the AP's year-end poll. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 20, 2014. Brown’s death, along with the death of Eric Garner and the ensuing protests were the most important story to Americans who identified as Democrats in the AP’s year-end poll. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Three Stories Share Top Spot
Americans are divided on the most important news event of 2014, with the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, protests over the killings of black men including Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police officers, and the Ebola outbreak each named by about 1 in 10 Americans. In a separate Associated Press survey of news directors and editors, the killings of unarmed men by police stand out more clearly as the top story, with 22 of 85 respondents choosing it as the top news, about twice as many as the Islamic State or Ebola stories.

Among the public, Democrats are most likely to name the unrest over Brown and Garner’s deaths as most important (14 percent), while Republicans are most likely to list the rise of the Islamic State (16 percent). Non-whites are more apt to cite the protests around Brown and Garner’s deaths than whites (14 percent among non-whites, 8 percent among whites). The poll was conducted before the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers by a man who threatened retaliation for the police killings of unarmed black men.

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown December 17, 2014. Photo by Baz
         Ratner/Reuters

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola victim for burial at a cemetery in Freetown December 17, 2014. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Asked separately to rate the importance of 10 key stories, majorities call the expansion of the Islamic State militant group, the Ebola outbreak and the U.S. midterm elections extremely or very important stories. Nearly half rate immigration as that important, while 43 percent say so of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner stories. Only a third think the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the situation between Russia and Ukraine, or the rising number of states with legal same-sex marriage were deeply important stories.

Americans

The death of Robin Williams stands out for AP poll respondents as the most memorable entertainment story of the year.


The Year In Pop Culture
Few Americans rate this year’s crop of pop culture events as memorable, with one big exception: The death of Robin Williams, and the ensuing discussion of mental health issues. About two-thirds call that a memorable event.

Slightly more say it was more memorable (39 percent) than forgettable (34 percent) that CVS stopped selling cigarettes, and they’re divided equally on whether the ubiquitous ice bucket challenge was memorable (37 percent) or forgettable (37 percent). Thirty percent say the pitching performance of Mo’ne Davis, the first female pitcher to win a Little League World Series game, was memorable, while 41 percent say it was forgettable. Women are more likely than men to see Davis’s performance as memorable, 33 percent of women say so versus 26 percent of men.

Another sports first: Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL, is rated forgettable by about half.

Events rating as forgettable by a majority of Americans include the leak of hacked celebrity photos on Reddit, Ellen DeGeneres’s selfie at the Oscars, Taylor Swift going pop, and the marriages of George and Amal Clooney and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

Ringing In The New Year

About half of Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home this year, while 2 in 10 say they’ll do so at a friend or family member’s home. Fewer than 1 in 10 plan to celebrate at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while about a quarter don’t plan to celebrate at all.

Six in 10 Americans plan to watch the televised New Year’s Eve events in Times Square, including two-thirds of women and over half of men.


The AP-Times Square Alliance Poll of 1,017 adults was conducted online Dec. 12-14, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll is a cooperative effort between AP and the organizers of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. The Alliance is a nonprofit group that seeks to promote Times Square, and Countdown Entertainment represents the owners of One Times Square and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

The post Republicans cite rise of ISIS, Democrats point to Ferguson fallout as top stories of 2014, poll finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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