A human rights watchdog believes North Korea may be expanding its system of oppressive hard labour at prison camps.
Amnesty International has published a report on the communist regime, entitled "North Korea: Continued Investment in the Infrastructure of Repression". The lobby group's report analyses two of the country's biggest political prison camps or 'kwanliso' using satellite images, as well as new testimonies from former prison staff.
Many of the kwanliso inmates are imprisoned because they are related to alleged political criminals and considered 'guilty by assocation'. A thorough assessment of new satellite images of Kwanliso 15 and 16 concluded there is on-going development at the prisoner camps, including new housing blocks, production facilities, and relentless security.
In 2011, an estimated 20,000 people were believed be imprisoned at Kwanliso 16. Now the latest images from May 2013 show a slight increase in that prison's population, with new housing blocks clearly visible.
Conversely, it appears accommodation facilities in Kwanliso 15 have decreased.
The recent images of the prison camp indicate 39 housing blocks have been demolished in the two years since Amnesty International last assessed satellite pictures of it in 2011; only six new housing blocks have been built. The decrease in Kwanliso 15's housing could indicate a slight reduction in the kwanliso prisoner population, but Amnesty International is unable to verify inmate numbers or the fate of the missing detainees.
A former security official from Kwanliso 16 interviewed by Amnesty last month revealed the horrors he had witnessed at the labour camp - dangerous working conditions, human rights abuses of men, women and children, and cruel methods of execution. Satellite images of both Kwanliso 15 and 16 also show increased industrial activity such as mining, logging and agriculture, pointing to increased hard labour, and growing demands on the prisoners.
"The gruesome reality of North Korea’s continued investment in this vast network of repression has been exposed. We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those prisoners of conscience held in political prison camps and close the camps immediately."
Rajiv Narayan, East Asia Researcher - Amnesty International
- press rls/ RBG News
Yet another New Zealander has taken out the top individual award in the rugby world.
All Black Number 8 Kieran Read has been named the International Rugby Board Player of the Year 2013. He becomes the third Kiwi to score the accolade.
The 28-year-old Crusader is admired on and off the field - for his hugely influential presence in scrums and lineouts, his tackling prowess, and his key contributions in creating or scoring tries. A family man, the young father-of-two has also proved himself to be a capable captain, showing humility and leadership in Richie McCaw's leave of absence this year.
Read's statistics are admirable, his consistent performance over 61 tests ranking him the most prolific try-scoring number 8 in world Rugby.
While the Player of the Year prize has been awarded at a lavish dinner in previous years, Read revealed his was a rather unspectacular announcement, saying he woke up to a text this morning from someone telling him he had won. He is also expected to be named New Zealand player of the year in tomorrow night's national awards.
Kieran Read is the third All Black to be crowned IRB Player of the Year - preceded by team-mates Dan Carter (2005, 2012) and Richie McCaw (2006, 2009, 2010).
- Newstalk ZB/RBG News
The Christian community in India is in shock after the senseless murder of a child.
Last week, Gospel for Asia reported that the body of a seven-year-old boy was found the day after he went missing. Evidence of torture, as well as previous threats against his family, indicate young Anmol was killed because of his faith.
The son of a Christian, Anmol was abducted after attending Sunday School at a Believers Church on November 17th in northern India. His father, Harish, reported Anmmol's disappearance the next day; and by that evening the boy's body was found floating in a pond. Autopsy reports showed Anmol had been horribly abused before drowning to death. The identity of the perpetrator(s) remains undisclosed for now.
GFA's international director, K.P. Yohannan, condemned this attack as particularly heinous -
"Persecution of Christians is a weekly occurrence, but this intensity of brutality against a child is unthinkable. In this horrible tragedy, we find strength and hope in Jesus."
At least 200 people attended Anmol's funeral, many of whom became Christian at around the same time that his father Harish did 10 years ago, after his brother was miraculously healed in Jesus' name. Since their conversion, the community of believers has been persecuted over the past decade.
GFA estimates that attacks against Christians in India have more than quadrupled in recent years. The organisation is asking for prayer that believers will be protected, that Anmol’s grieving family may find consolation, and that the persecutors would repent and accept Christ.
- GFA/ RBG News
A Texan oil giant, here to drill for oil in New Zealand waters, is unfazed by the prospect of legal action opposing its agenda.
Greenpeace is taking the fight against Anadarko's oil exploration of the Waikato Coast from the sea to the courtroom. The Oil Free Seas Flotilla that surrounded Anadarko's drillship, the Noble Bob Douglas, at its drilling site is now heading home; while Greenpeace members have filed for an urgent judicial review of the decision that allowed the drilling operation.
Anadarko spokesperson, Alan Seay, is unperturbed, saying they will let the cards fall where they may. He is adamant the oil company has
done everything required by authorities,and trusts the court process will see that.
He says the activism has not caused any major delays to Anadarko's timetable; and added they even marked a drilling milestone when they reached a new oil well this morning.
However, Greenpeace is hopeful that once a hearing date is set, legal action will put a halt to that. The lobby group's chief policy advisor, Nathan Argent, believes the Environmental Protection Agency signed off on Anadarko's Waikato project without looking at key documents on oil spill modelling.
"We haven’t seen these documents, so we don’t know what’s in them. Apparently government ministers haven’t seen these documents, so they don’t know what’s in them. And even the EPA, who gave the go-ahead to Anadarko, haven’t seen these documents, so they don’t know what’s in them."
Mr Argent says that is "shockingly lax", and belies claims that Anadarko has been through a rigorous application process.
Drilling got underway this morning, but the environmental group is hopeful the court review can stop the company within days.
- Newstalk ZB/ RBG News
Hawke's Bay's five councils could be set to become one.
The Local Government Commission has released its preferred option for the council structure and is opting for a single unitary authority. That means there would be one mayor and nine councillors for the whole Hawke's Bay region. Five community boards from Waipawa, Waipukurau, Napier, Hastings and Wairoa would support the new authority, with a total 37 members to be elected to the boards.
Napier's MP agrees five mayors and five councils are no longer necessary. Chris Tremain says while each council may have done its best, technology has made it possible to run the region efficiently from a single hub.
Local Government Commission chair, Basil Morrison, says Hawke's Bay faces a number of social and economic challenges in the future. He believes a single authority is the best way to deal with those expected population trends and economic development.
- Newstalk ZB
The South Taranaki District Council is today defending what it considers its right to put fluoride in its water.
The council's fluoridation of the water supply for Patea and Waverley has led a health organisation to challenge the council in a landmark judicial review. New Health New Zealand has brought its case against the council to the High Court at New Plymouth.
New Health says local authorities don't have the power to fluoridate; and by then doing so, they're taking away citizens' right to refuse medical treatment. However, the South Taranaki District Council's lawyer argues it is legal for the local body to fluoridate under the Local Government and Health Acts.
Duncan Laing says while fluoride in the public's water has health benefits it isn't crossing into the realm of medical treatment, as a health professional isn't giving it to a patient to treat a medical condition. He compared it to iodised salt, which is not regarded as a medical treatment even though it has some health benefits.
The central Ministry of Health supports fluoridation, and 48 percent of the New Zealand population drinks fluoridated water.
Meanwhile, this week will see Hamilton City Council decide whether to go back to fluoridating the city's drinking water. Earlier this year, a tribunal voted to remove the chemical; but a referendum revealed overwhelming public support for fluoridation.
The council has three options: to keep its water fluoride-free; to recommence fluoridation; or to have the city's main water supply fluoridated, while providing an area with untreated water if people want.
The last option would cost between $200,000 and $300,000.
- Newstalk ZB
There is mixed reaction to the interim nuclear arrangement that Iran has come to with world powers.
Iran has agreed to curb its controversial uranium-enrichment nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions on the regime. President Hassan Rouhani says years of punitive sanctions are starting to crumble; and Iranians are trumpeting the deal between Tehran and six Western governments as a victory for the newly-elected President, who has the support of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in this matter.
President Rouhani is calling it a breakthrough and, coming as it does after a decade of failed diplomacy and rising tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions, New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs tends to agree. Murray McCully says it is the most positive development in 10 years of nuclear talks with Iran. However, he points out there is more work to be done for a long-term solution, as this deal only lasts six months.
Not everyone is celebrating the agreement, dismayed at the human cost. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) declared that today, the United States betrayed one of its own.
ACLJ has been working for more than a year to secure the release of US citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini from Iran. The American Iranian Christian was in the country building orphanages when he was imprisoned in September 2012, purportedly for threatening national security. He spent 13 months in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison and was recently moved to the even worse conditions of Rajai Shahr prison.
ACLJ's legal team had urged that Pastor Saeed's pardon as a pre-condition of negotiations between the US and Iran, and thus found the weekend's agreement to be hypocritical and ironic. A spokesman described it as "reprehensible" that the Obama Administration could agree to provide humanitarian relief to Iran even as Pastor Saeed continues to languish in an Iranian prison for his faith.
In a press release, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow stated that by failing to secure Pastor Saeed's release as a condition of any deal, "the Obama Administration sends a troubling message to the Iranian government that Americans are expendable."
Meanwhile, Pastor Saeed's wife continues to campaign for her husband's release, and pray that God is bringing many people to Himself through the situation. From their home in the US, Naghmeh Abedini has lobbied politicians tirelessly, organised prayer vigils, and shared her personal journey via blogs and social media. While her heartbreak at the latest development is evident, Naghmeh remains unshaken in her belief:
"Obama makes deals with Iran with no mention of Saeed. Although I am extremely disappointed at this administration, my hope and trust is in Jesus. He is still in control." (Naghmeh Abedini, Facebook post)
- RBG News
The disgraced former boss of an iconic Canterbury business is to be imprisoned for fraud.
Kenneth James Anderson was one of two defendants sentenced in the Christchurch District Court today on charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The charges are in relation to Christchurch clothing manufacturer, Lane Walker Rudkin Industries (LWR), for fraud amounting to losses of 70 million dollars.
Mr Anderson had pleaded guilty in Court last month to four representative charges, including fabricating financial documents to gain loans from Westpac bank. The second defendant - who had also pleaded guilty for their part in the use of false documentation to obtain funds under a letter of credit facility - was fined $2000.
Today, Ken Anderson's crimes saw him sentenced to six years in jail.
SFO Director, Julie Read, expressed sympathy for LWR's staff who became victims when the once-successful company collapsed due to the defendants' activities; and added, "The SFO hope this result will help deter similar crimes and maintain the integrity and credibility of New Zealand businesses."
Mr Anderson was emotional during sentencing in Court this afternoon, as the presiding judge announced her decision. Judge Jane Farish said it was clear the 66-year-old Cantabrian was now a broken man who had lost everything he had built, including his family, over what had been a long and successful business career.
She told him that although he had been trying everything possible to keep his iconic business afloat and save jobs in a tough economic climate, the length and premeditation of the crime could not be ignored.
- Newstalk ZB/RBG News
Attention to events in Syria may have shifted more towards the destruction of chemical weapons rather than the plight of persecuted citizens.
According to one Middle East commentator, media coverage of human atrocities in that country has all but ceased, and the global community has been slow to take note. Raymond Ibrahim says it has been a month since one of the worst Christian massacres, and "the U.S. government and its 'mainstream media' mouthpiece are, as usual, silent (that is, when not actively trying to minimize matters)."
The latest massacre took place over the week from October 21st to 28th, in the small Orthodox Christian town of Sadad, which is home to 15,000 Syrians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on the attack this week, referencing survivors' accounts of murder, torture and execution of residents - including children, women and the elderly - at the hands of Syrian rebels before goverment forces reclaimed the town.
CBN reported that they ostensibly captured key parts of Sadad due to the town's strategic location, but the militants' actions belied their claims. HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said the opposition fighters who invaded and occupied Sadad broke their promises not to harm civilians.
"There is no excuse for indiscriminate or targeted attacks against civilians or civilian sites. Opposition fighters should never execute or directly target civilians or anyone in their custody or target civilian sites, including religious sites."
Sadad is understood to be the ancient town northeast of Canaan referred to in the Old Testament, and one of the few places that Aramaic is still spoken. Raymond Ibrahim says all 14 of Sadad's churches, including historic buildings, were ransacked and destroyed in October's violent occupation by those he describes as "US-supported jihadi rebels".
The information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Agenzia Fides, also reported that the rebels were Islamic militia while CBN linked them to Al Qaeda. Fides say 45 Christians were martyred, estimating 1,500 families in total were terrorised in Sadad for that tragic October week, while 2,500 managed to flee to Damascus, Homs, and other towns.
In September, another ancient Christian town, Ma'loula, was also attacked. Raymond Ibrahim quoted the last words of one man to rebels: "I am a Christian, and if you want to kill me for this, I do not object to it."
Following the most recent massacre, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, had this to say about the lack of support in Sadad's hour of need -
"We have shouted aid to the world but no one has listened to us... I think of all those who are suffering today in mourning and discomfort: We ask everyone to pray for us". (Agenzia Fides)
- RBG News
Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could be destroyed at sea if other countries refuse to dispose of them on home soil.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) revealed last week that the UN joint mission's first inspection of the production facilities declared by Syria confirms those sites have been rendered inoperable. However, Damascus still needs to eliminate over 1000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and other nerve agents, which are too dangerous to dispose of amid the ongoing conflict in the country.
1,300 tonnes of weapons are still in limbo, after Albania's Prime Minister declared his country will not host their dismantling as per the plan suggested by OPCW last week at the United States' behest. Mr Edi Rama's announcement came on November 15th, the same day that the OPCW accepted Damascus' proposals for destroying its weapons cache.
Using Albania had been one of several solutions suggested by the 41 member states of the Organisation’s Executive Council, as it revealed the next stage of plans for Syria's chemical arsenal. A final roadmap to disposal will be approved by December 17 in the hope that all the illegal weapons will be destroyed by the middle of next year.
The OPCW intends for the chemical weapons to be transported outside Syrian territory for destruction in the 'safest and soonest manner', and the operation to be completed no later than 30 June 2014.
- Newstalk ZB/ RBG News